Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Power of Ramanama

A correspondent had written a letter mentioning Gandhiji’s statement in a speech that he had thrice been saved from sin by Ramanama. Pointing out that a local paper, Saurashtra, had commented on this statement and drawn inferences which were not clear, he had asked Gandhiji himself to explain what he had meant.Gandhiji answered the corresspondent in Navjivan. What I produce here is a part of the letter which directly deals with the question. In the text which I have not produced here, Gandhiji had requested such readers to send the copy of the newspaper report they wish to speak about and pointed out the reasons for that. This letter not only shows the Mahatma's belief in god, but also shows his truthfulness.


On the first occasion, I went to the place1 out of false regard for the friend and, if God had not saved me, I would certainly have fallen. This time the woman whose house I had entered herself threw me out with contempt. I simply did not know what to say or how to behave in such a situation. Prior to this incident, I always regarded it as shameful even to sit near a public woman, so that I was trembling even when entering that house. After going in, I could not even look at her face and I do not know what her face was like. What could that smart woman do to such a fool but turn him out? She said a few angry words to me and asked me to go away. At that time, of course, I did not realize that God had saved me. I left feeling miserable. I felt crest fallen and even unhappy about my stupidity! I felt that I lacked manliness. It was later I realized that I had been shielded by my stupidity. God had saved me by making me behave like a fool. Else how could I, who had entered a house of ill-fame with evil intention, have been saved?

The second occasion was more dreadful than the first one. I was not so innocent then as I was at the time of the first incident, though I was of course more vigilant. Moreover, I had the protection of a vow administered to me by my revered mother.2 But this time the place was in England. I was in the very flush of youth. Two of us friends were lodged in one house. We had gone there only for a few days. The land-lady was as good as a prostitute. Two or three of us sat down to play cards with her. In those days I used to play cards on occasion. In England, a mother and a son can, and do, play cards for innocent amusement. On this occasion too, we sat down to play, following the usual custom. The beginning was completely innocent. I, of course, did not know that the landlady lived on her body. But as the play warmed up, the atmosphere changed. The woman started making gestures. I was observ-ing my friend. He had abandoned all restraints. I felt tempted. I was flushed in the face, for lust had entered me and I had become impatient. But who can harm him whom Rama protects? To be sure, His name was not on my lips at that hour, but He ruled my heart. On mylips was the language of lust. My good friend noticed my behaviour. We knew each other very well. He had seen me in difficult sutuations in which I had, with an effort of will, kept my purity. But he saw that on this occasion evil had entered my mind and that, it the night progressed while I was in that mood, I too would fall like him.

It was this friend who first made me realize that even immoral men have good instincts. He felt unhappy to see me in that plight. I was younger than he. Rama came to my help through his person. He aimed arrows of love at me: “Moniya!” (This is an affectionate form of “Mohandas”. I remember that I used to be called by that name by my mother, my father and the eldest cousin in our family. The fourth person to call me so was this friend who, through his goodness, proved a brother to me.) “Moniya, be careful. You know that I have fallen.But I shall not let you fall. Recall the promise you have made to your mother. This thing is not for you. Be off from here. Go to bed. Are you gone? Throw off the cards.”

I do not remember whether I replied to him. I put down the cards. For a moment I felt unhappy. I felt ashamed and my heart began to beat fast. I got up and went to bed.

I woke up. I started repeating the name of Rama.“How miraculously I have been saved, how He has saved me! All honour to my promise! All glory to my mother! All glory to my friend ! All glory to Rama!”—I kept saying to myself. For me this was indeed a miracle. If my friend had not shot at me the invincible arrows of Rama, where would I have been today?

He on whom Rama’s arrows have lighted—
he knows what they are.
He on whom love’s arrows have lighted—
he knows what they are.

For me, this was an occasion when I first became aware of the existence of God.If today the whole of world told me that there is no God, no Rama, I would say it lied. If I had fallen on that terrible night, I would not today be waging battles of satyagraha, would not be washing away the filth of untouchability, would not be repeating the holy name of the spinning-wheel, would not regard myself fit to be blessed by the darshan of millions of women, and would not be surrounded by hundreds of thousands of them who sit near me without fear as they sit around a child. I would always be running away from them, and they would have quite justifiable kept themselves at a distance from me. I look upon this occasion as the most perilous in my life. Seeking pleasure I learnt self-restraint. On the path to forsake Rama’s name, I had his darshan. A miracle indeed.

Oh scion of Raghu’s race, protect my honour,
I am a fallen man, old in my evil ways;
Take my boat safely to the other shore.

The third incident is amusing. During one of my journeys, I came into fairly close contact with the ship’s captain, as also with an English passenger. In every port where the ship weighed anchor, the captain and some passengers would go and search for brothels. The captain once invited me to go with him and see the port. I did not know what that meant. We went and stood before a prostitute’s house. Then I knew what was meant by going to see a port. Three women were produced before us. I was completely taken aback, but felt too embarrassed to say anything. Nor could I run away. I had of course no wish to indulge in this immoral pleasure. Those two went into the rooms. The third woman led me into her own room. While I was still thinking what I should do, the other two came out of the rooms. I donot know what that woman must have thought about me. She stood smiling before me, but that did not have the slightest effect on me. Since we spoke different languages, there was no question of my talking to her. Those friends shouted for me and so I went out. I certainly felt a little humiliated. They had seen that I was a fool in these matters. They even joked between themselves on this point. They pitied me, of course. From that day, I was enrolled among the fools of the world, as far as the captain was concerned. He never invited me again to see a port. If I had remained in the room longer or if I had known that woman’s language, I do not know what would have been my plight. But I certainly realized that day, too, I was not saved by my own power, but that it was God who had protected me by having made me stupid in such matters.

I remembered only these three incidents at the time of the speech in question. The reader should not think that I have not been through more of similar experiences. But I certainly wish to state that every time I escaped, thanks to Ramanama. God gives strength only to the weak who approach Him in utter helplessness.
So long as the elephant trusted to his own strength,
So long his efforts availed him not.
Let the weak appeal to Rama’s strength,
He will come to help before the name is uttered in full.

What, then, does this Ramanama mean? Is it something to be repeated parrot-like? Certainly not. It that were so, all of us would win deliverance by repeating it mechanically. Ramanama ought to be repeated from the depth of one’s heart; it would not then matter if the words are not pronounced correctly. The broken words which proceed from the heart are acceptable in God’s court. Even though the heart cries out “Mara, mara”, this appeal of the heart will be recorded in one’s credit column. On the contrary, though the tongue may pronounce the name of Rama correctly, if the lord of that heart is Ravana, the correct repetition of Rama’s name will be recorded in one’s debit column.

Tulsidas did not sing the glory of Ramanama for the benefit of the hypocrite who “has Rama’s name on his lips and a knife under his arm”. His wise calculations will go wrong, while the seeming errors of the man who has installed Rama in his heart will succeed. Rama alone can repair one’s fortunes and so the poet Surdas lover of God, sings:

Who will repair my fortunes?
O who else but Rama?
Everyone is a friend of his on whom good fortune smiles,
None of his whom fortune has forsaken.

The reader, therefore, should understand clearly that Ramanama is a matter of the heart. Where speech and the mind are not in harmony with each other, mere speech is falsehood, no more than pretence or play of words. Such chanting may well deceive the world, but can Rama who dwells in man’s heart be deceived? Hanuman broke open the beads in the necklace which Sita gave him as a gift, wanting to see whether they were inscribed with Rama’s name. Somecourtiers who thought themselves wise asked him why he showed disrespect to Sita’s necklace. Hanuman’s reply was that, if the beads were not inscribed with Rama’s name inside, then every necklace given to him by Sita was a burden to him.The wise courtiers there upon smilingly asked him if Rama’s name was inscribed in his heart. Hanuman drew out his knife and, cutting open his chest, said : “Now look inside. Tell me if you see anything else there except Rama’s name.” The courtiers felt ashamed. Flowers rained on Hanuman from the sky, and from that day Hanuman’s name is always invoked when Rama’s story is recited.

This may be only a legend or a dramatist’s invention. Its moral is valid for all time : only that which is in one’s heart is true.
[From Gujarati]
Navajivan, 17-5-1925

---------------------------CWMG Vol. 31, Art. 211, page 346------------------------------

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