The Influence of Christ on Mahatma Gandhi

The Influence of Christ on Mahatma Gandhi
The Influence of Christ on Mahatma Gandhi

The Sermon on the Mount

Sermon on the Mount by Carl Bloch (1877)
Sermon on the Mount by Carl Bloch (1877)

Gandhi met a devout Christian at a vegetarian boarding house in London. He persuaded Gandhi to read the Bible in order to understand the true meaning of Christianity. Though Gandhi found the Old Testament hard to grapple with, the New Testament Gandhi states, “went straight to my heart”[1]. The Sermon on the Mount had a deep impact on Mahatma Gandhi. Verses such as ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’, ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness’, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart’, ‘Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness’, all these verses articulated a profound Truth that Gandhi sought desperately to see in the world. Looking into the life of Gandhi one can clearly see that he embodied the message of Christ in both his personal as well as his political life. The philosopher and historian Will Durant states, “He did not mouth the name of Christ, but acted as if he accepted every word of the Sermon on the Mount. Not since St. Francis of Assisi has any life known to history been so marked by gentleness, disinterestedness, simplicity and forgiveness of enemies.”[2]

Gandhi and Sacrifice

A man who was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act.

– Mahatma Gandhi on Jesus Christ

Gandhi believed that nothing lasting could be achieved without sacrifice. On seeing a painting of the crucified Christ in Rome, Gandhi remarked, “What would not I have given to be able to bow my head before the living image of Christ crucified. I saw there at once that nations like individuals could only be made through the agony of the cross and in no other way. Joy comes not out of infliction of pain on others but out of pain voluntarily borne by oneself.”[3]

Here are a few examples where Gandhi embodied the notion of self sacrifice in order to achieve a higher ideal:

Gandhi adopted the practice of self-sacrifice through fasting as a means to influence his people of the truth he believed in. He never meant it as a means of coercion but as the greatest weapon of love. Gandhi undertook 17 public fasts during India’s independence movement. The longest of which lasted for 21 days.

Of the seven deadly sins that Gandhi outlined, ‘Worship without sacrifice’ was one of them. Gandhi believed that all work was an act of worship to God and it had to be done in and through an attitude of sacrifice. The Chakra symbolised this act of worship through sacrifice. It was integral during the swadeshi movement.

Gandhi believed that one should hold firmly to the truth without any compromise, regardless of the consequences. Throughout his life, Gandhi faced numerous instances of hardships and injustice because of his unperturbed stand for what is right. Gandhi was jailed eleven times in his life though he committed no crime.

The Kingdom of God

John 18:36- Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not of this world; if it were, My servants would fight to prevent My arrest by the Jews. But now, My Kingdom is not of this realm.”

Chauri Chaura Incident- 1922

Gandhi strived to bring the ethics of the Kingdom of God in the nation’s struggle for independence. One instance where this is highlighted is during the Chauri Chaura incident. After Gandhi launched the Noncooperation movement, there were large scale protests all over the country. But in Chauri Chaura, the police opened fire on the group of protestors which infuriated the marchers. The protestors then attacked the police and burned the police station, killing about 23 policemen.

A newspaper cartoon depicting suspension of Civil Disobedience Movement after the Chauri Chaura incident

A newspaper cartoon depicting suspension of Civil Disobedience
Movement after the Chauri Chaura incident

Gandhi responded to the atrocity by suspending the movement completely. Though the movement was pioneered by Gandhi and had captured the imagination of the nation, Gandhi believed that it was his duty to suspend the movement. His own party leaders were furious with him for calling back one of the largest unified protests in Indian history. But it was not the success of the movement that Gandhi cared about but the principle behind the movement. Gandhi believed that even if one act of violence or hatred lingered in the movement then it desecrated the virtue of the Kingdom of God. The movement to achieve the Kingdom of God had to be a nonviolent movement. It had to be a movement that embraces sacrifice rather than inflict violence on others.

Gandhi claimed that the book that influenced him greatly was, ‘The Kingdom of God is within you’ by Leo Tolstoy whose title comes from the words of Jesus Christ in Luke 17:21. Gandhi and Tolstoy wrote letters to each other, particularly concerning the theological applications of the Kingdom of God.[4]

Throughout the Independence movement we see Gandhi radically applying the teachings of Jesus regarding the Kingdom of God. He pushed for equality and the eradication of untouchability. He held on to the verse in the Gospel of Matthew 19:24 which says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” and stripped himself of all luxuries and lived with bare minimum. He believed that all work could be done for God and that there was no labour that was below the dignity of anyone.

What makes Gandhi exceptionally unique is that he not only exemplified the values of the Kingdom of God in his personal life but applied it on a mass political scale in a way that is almost unparalleled in all of history.

“Christ furnished the spirit and motivation while Gandhi furnished the method.”

― Martin Luther King Jr.

The Impact of Gandhi on the Life of Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King Jr. first encountered the methods of Mahatma Gandhi during his days in seminary. He was amazed at the way in which Gandhi was able to apply the ethics of Jesus Christ on a mass political scale. Gandhi was able to apply the ethic of love and nonviolence to liberate the Indian people from tyranny.

King was so profoundly moved by his methods that he embarked on a journey to understand the Indian independence movement and the Gandhian technique in greater detail. The methods used by Gandhi resonated deeply with the message of Christ that King as a Baptist minister knew all too well.

A few years later, King was able to apply the Gandhian methods of nonviolence and civil disobedience, to combat racial inequality in America.

Other Great Leaders who were deeply impacted by Mahatma Gandhi’s method of Nonviolence:

Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela
Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi
Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh
Barack Obama
Barack Obama

[1] Gandhi, M.K. (1927): An Autobiography or The Story of My Experiments with Truth, Ahmedabad: Navjivan Publishing House, p. 49

[2] Durant, Will (1935), The Story of Civilization, Vol. 1: Our Oriental Heritage, New York: Simon & Schuster, p. 628

[3] Gandhi, MJK. (1955), My Religion, op cit. p. 25

[4] B. Srinivasa Murthy, ed. (1987). Mahatma Gandhi and Leo Tolstoy: Letters.

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