15. RELIGIOUS FERMENT
It is now time to turn
again to my experiences with Christian friends.
Mr. Baker was getting anxious
about my future. He took me to the Wellington Convention. The Protestant
Christians organize such gatherings every few years for religious enlightenment,
or in other words, self-purification. One may call this religious restoration
or revival. The Wellington Convention was of this type. The chairman was
the famous divine of the place, the Rev. Andrew Murray. Mr. Baker had hoped
that the atmosphere of religious exaltation at the Convention, and the
enthusiasm and earnestness of the people attending it, would inevitably
lead me to embrace Christianity.
But his final hope was the efficacy
of prayer. He had an abiding faith in prayer. It was his firm conviction
that God could not but listen to prayer fervently offered. He would cite
the instances of men like George Muller of Bristol, who depended entirely
on prayer even for his temporal needs. I listened to his discourse on the
efficacy of prayer with unbiassed attention, and assured him that nothing
could prevent me from embracing Christianity, should I feel the call. I
had no hesitation in giving him this assurance, as I had long since taught
myself to follow the inner voice. I delighted in submitting to it. To act
against it would be difficult and painful to me.
So we went to Wellington. Mr.
Baker was hard put to it in having a 'coloured man' like me for his companion.
He had to suffer inconveniences on many occasions entirely on account of
me. We had to break the journey on the way, as one of the days happened
to be a Sunday, and Mr. Baker and his party would not travel on the Sabbath.
Though the manager of the station hotel agreed to take me in after much
altercation, he absolutely refused to admit me to the dining-room, Mr.
Baker was not the man to give in easily. He stood by the rights of the
guests of a hotel. But I could see his difficulty. At Wellington also I
stayed with Mr. Baker. In spite of his best efforts to conceal the little
inconveniences that he was put to, I could see them all.
This Convention was an assemblage
of devout Christians. I was delighted at their faith. I met the Rev. Murray.
I saw that many were praying for me. I liked some of their hymns, they
were very sweet.
The Convention lasted for three
days. I could understand and appreciate the devoutness of those who attended
it. But I saw no reason for changing my belief--my religion. It was impossible
for me to believe that I could go to heaven or attain salvation only by
becoming a Christian. When I frankly said so to some good Christian friends,
they were shocked. But there was no help for it.
My difficulties lay deeper.
It was more than I could believe, that Jesus was the only incarnate son
of God and that only he who believed in Him would have everlasting life.
If God could have sons, all of us were his sons. If Jesus was like God,
or God Himself, then all men were like God and could be God Himself. My
reason was not ready to believe literally that Jesus by his death and by
his blood redeemed the sins of the world. Metaphorically there might be
some truth in it. Again, according to Christianity, only human beings had
souls, not other living beings, for whom death meant complete extinction;
while I held a contrary belief. I could accept Jesus as a martyr, an embodiment
of sacrifice, and a divine teacher, but not as the most perfect man ever
born. His death on the Cross was a great example to the world, but that
there was anything like a mysterious or miraculous virtue in it my heart
could not accept. The pious lives of Christians did not give me anything
that the lives of men of other faiths had failed to give. I had seen in
other lives just the same reformation that I had heard of among Christians.
Philosophically there was nothing extraordinary in Christian principles.
From the point of view of sacrifice, it seemed to me that the Hindus greatly
surpassed the Christians. It was impossible for me to regard Christianity
as a perfect religion or the greatest of all religions.
I shared this mental churning
with my Christian friends whenever there was an opportunity, but their
answers could not satisfy me.
Thus if I could not accept Christianity
either as a perfect, or the greatest, religion, neither was I then convinced
of Hinduism being such. Hindu defects were pressingly visible to me. If
untouchability could be a part of Hinduism, it could but be a rotten part
or an excrescence. I could not understand the raison d'etre of a
multitude of sects and castes. What was the meaning of saying that the
Vedas were the inspired Word of God? If they were inspired, why not also
the Bible and Koran?
As Christian friends were endeavouring
to convert me, even so were Musalman friends. Abdulla Sheth had kept on
inducing me to study Islam, and of course he had always something to say
regarding its beauty.
I expressed my difficulties
in a letter to Raychandbhai. I also corresponded with other religious authorities
in India and received answers from them. Raychandbhia's letter somewhat
pacified me. He asked me to be patient and to study Hinduism more deeply.
One of his sentences was to this effect: 'On a dispassionate view of the
question I am convinced that no other religion has the subtle and profound
thought of Hinduism, its vision of the soul, or its charity.'
I purchased Sale's translation
of the Koran and began reading it. I also obtained other books on Islam.
I communicated with Christian friends in England. One of them introduced
me to Edward Maitland, with whom I opened correspondence. He sent me The
Perfect Way, a book he had written in collaboration with Anna Kingsford.
The book was a repudiation of the current Christian belief. He also sent
me another book, The New Interpretation of the Bible. I liked both.
They seemed to support Hinduism. Tolstoy's The Kingdom of God is Within
You overwhelmed me. It left an abiding impression on me. Before the
independent thinking, profound morality, and the truthfulness of this book,
all the books given me by Mr. Coates seemed to pale into insignificance.
My studies thus carried me in
a direction unthought of by the Christian friends. My correspondence with
Edward Maitland was fairly prolonged, and that with Raychandbhai continued
until his death. I read some of the books he sent me. These included Panchikaran,
Mumukshu Prakaran of Yogavasishtha, Haribhadra Suri's Shaddarshana
Samuchchaya, and others.
Though I took a path my Christian
friends had not intended for me, I have remained forever indebted to them
for the religious quest that they awakened in me. I shall always cherish
the memory of their contact. The years that followed had more, not less,
of such sweet and sacred contacts in store for me.