Mahatma Gandhi, A Memorial Service

Mahatma Gandhi, A Memorial Service  (1948) 
by John Haynes Holmes and Donald Harrington

Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi A Memorial Service - Cover.png

A Memorial Service




January 30, 1948

A darkness drifts across the winter sun.
And in the groping mind a numbing grief;
Yet for ourselves we weep, because the one
Fixed star of love shaming our faint belief
No longer shines for us, nor will again
The strident fears loosed by atomic lords
Be answered by a frail and naked man
Shielded by soul-force and by peaceful words.
But even as we weep an echo falls
Across the years: "If I be lifted up ..."
What if the Son of Man still stands and calls
His brother men to drink love's poignant cup?
"I will draw all men." So may Gandhiji,
Released from earth, lead us to unity.

Winifred Rawlins


This booklet contains the Memorial Service held in tribute to Mahatma Gandhi at The Community Church of New York on February 1st, 1948, two days after his assassination. The presiding ministers were John Haynes Holmes and Donald Harrington. The Service is published upon request of many of the more than seventeen hundred persons who came to pay homage to the greatest man of our time. The drawing on the cover was given by Russell O. Berg, artist, and friend of the Church.

Memorial Service


“Three Chorale Preludes”

J. S. Bach


From all that dwell below the skies,
Let words of Love and Peace arise;
Let joyful songs of Praise be sung,
Through every land by every tongue.


Let us call to remembrance the dead yet ever-living who have passed the doors beyond which we cannot see. As they kept the faith in time of trial and held fast to righteousness in the hour of temptation, so inspired by their example, may we, when danger is near and the flesh is weak, triumph over every trial and temptation, and finally attain unto everlasting life.

Eternal God, in whom the spirits of the just do rest from their labors: we bless thee for the memory of the righteous, and especially for those most dear to us, who have lived in faith and departed in peace. May we follow their good example, and, truly loving and serving thee on earth, be gathered with them into thy heavenly kingdom. Amen.


For all thy saints, O Lord,
Who strove in thee to live,
Who followed thee, obeyed, adored.
Our grateful hymn receive.

For all thy saints, O Lord,
Accept our thankful cry,
Who counted thee their great regard.
And strove in thee to die.

They all in life and death,
With thee, their Lord, in view,
learned from thy Holy Spirit’s breath
To suffer and to do.

For this, thy name we bless,
And humbly beg that we
May follow them in holiness
And live and die in thee.

—Richard Mant


Bhagavad Gita, Part XII, read by Mr. Holmes

“Tell me, O Lord, which of those who worship and serve Thee, with earnest minds well-mastered, serve Thee most worthily and best? Which are on the best path, those who worship Thee as God in thy revealed form; or those who worship Thee as The Absolute—The Unmanifest—The Infinite.

“Those, who have concentrated their minds fixedly upon me as God, and who serve Me with unwavering zeal and impregnable and steady faith—are regarded by Me as being most devoted. But, also, those who worship Me as The Absolute: The Unmanifest; The Unknowable; The Unthinkable; The Ineffable; The Invisible; The Eternal; The Immutable; The All; such so worshipping, and mastering the mind and senses, and regarding all things in nature as good and deserving to fare well, and rejoicing in the welfare of all equally—verily, these also cometh unto Me. . . .

“Place thy mind firmly upon Me, O Prince, and let thine understanding penetrate into My being, and then, of a truth, shalt thou enter into Me. But if thou art not able to hold thy mind firmly fixed upon Me, then seek to reach Me by the path of Practice and Discipline. And if even by Practice and Discipline thou art still unable to attain, then shalt thou seek me by the path of Service through Right Action. For by the performance of Right Actions, solely for My sake, shalt thou then attain perfection. . . .

“Verily, I say unto Thee, that he is very dear and near to Me, who harboreth no malice or ill-will to any being or thing: who is the friend and lover of all Nature; who is merciful, free from pride and vanity and selfishness; who is undisturbed by pleasure or pain, being balanced in each; who is patient under wrong and injustice, and who is forgiving, contented, ever devout, with mind, senses and passions ever under control, and whose mind and understanding is ever fixed upon Me.

“He, also, is dear to Me, who neither fears the world of men, nor is feared by it; and who is delivered from the turbulence of anger, joy, impatience, or fear, regarding finite things or happenings.

“And he who desireth nothing; who is just and pure; impartial; free from anxieties; and who hath abandoned all finite rewards or hopes of rewards, is also dear to me. . . .

“And dear to Me, also, is he who regardeth equally both friend and foe; who sees repute and disrepute as one to the wise mind. Such a one regardeth not solicitously the passing of events; and to him praise and condemnation are the same. He is silent and well satisfied with whatsoever befall him or come to pass in the world. He, of whom I have just spoken, is of a steady and equable mind, and devotion is ever manifested by him—he verily loveth Me, and I him.”


“Love Never Faileth” Root
Sung by Raymond Keast


Matthew Arnold’s “Balder Dead,” read by Mr. Holmes

“So on the floor lay Balder dead ...
And all the Gods and all the Heroes came,
And stood round Balder on the bloody floor.
Weeping and wailing; and Valhalla rang
Up to its golden roof with sobs and cries ...
But otherwise was Odin’s will.
And thus the father of the ages spake:—
‘Enough of tears, ye Gods, enough of wail!
Not to lament in was Valhalla made.
If any here might weep for Balder’s death,
I most might weep, his father; such a son
I lose today, so bright, so loved a God.
Balder has met his death, and ye survive—
Weep him an hour, but what can grief avail?
For ye yourselves, ye Gods, shall meet your doom,
All ye who hear me, and inhabit Heaven,
And I too, Odin too, the Lord of all.
But ours we shall not meet, when that day comes.
With women’s tears and weak complaining cries—
Why should we meet another’s portion so?
Rather it fits you, having wept your hour.
With cold dry eyes, and hearts composed and stern.
To live, as erst, your daily life in Heaven.
Meanwhile, bring wood to the seashore to Balder’s ship.
And on the deck build high a funeral-pile.
And on the top lay Balder’s corpse, and put
Fire to the wood, and send him out to sea
To burn; for that is w’hat the dead desire.’

“(Then came the next, the warrior Thor),
And over Balder’s corpse these words did say:—
‘Brother, thou dwellest in the darksome land.
And talkest with the feeble tribes of ghosts.
Now, and I know not how they prize thee there—
But here, I know, thou wilt be miss’d and mourn’d.
For haughty spirits and high wraths are rife
As among those whose joy and work is war;
And daily strifes arise, and angry words.
But from thy lips, O Balder, night or day.
Heard no one ever an injurious word
To God or Hero, but thou keptest back
The others, labouring to compose their brawls.
Be ye then kind, as Balder too was kind!
For we lose him, who smoothed all strife in Heaven’...

“But now the sun had pass’d the height of Heaven,
And soon had all that day been spent in wail;
But then the Father of the ages said:—
‘Bring now the gather’d wood to Balder’s ship;
Heap on the deck the logs, and build the pyre.'...
(And) when the Gods and Heroes heard, they brought
The wood to Balder’s ship, and built a pile,
Full the deck’s breadth, and lofty; then the corpse
Of Balder on the highest top they laid.
Then they put fire to the wood....
And wreathed in smoke the ship stood out to sea.
Soon with a roaring rose the mighty fire,
And the pile crackled; and between the logs
Sharp quivering tongues of flame shot out, and leapt.
Curling and darting, higher, until they lick’d
The summit of the pile, the dead, the mast,
And ate the shrivelling sails; but still the ship
Drove on, ablaze above her hull with fire.
And the Gods stood upon the beach, and gazed.
And while they gazed, the sun went lurid down
Into the smoke-wrapt sea, and night came on.
But through the dark they watch’d the burning ship
Still carried o’er the distant waters on,
Farther and farther, like an eye of fire.
And long, in the far dark, blazed Balder’s pile;
But fainter, as the stars rose high, it flared,
And as, in a decaying winter-fire,
A charr’d log, falling, makes a shower of sparks—
So with a shower of sparks the pile fell in,
Reddening the sea around; and all was dark.

“But the Gods went by starlight up the shore
Silent, and waited for the sacred morn.
(And lo, the voice of Balder:)
‘Mourn not for me! Mourn (rather) for the Gods;
Mourn for the men on earth, the Gods in Heaven,
Who live, and with their eyes shall see that day!
The day will come, when fall shall Asgard’s towers,
And Odin, and his sons, the seed of Heaven:
But what were I, to save them in that Hour?
For I am long since weary of your storm
Of carnage, and find (within) your life
Something too much of war and broils, which make
Life one perpetual fight, a bath of blood.
Mine eyes are dizzy with the arrowy hail;
Mine ears are stunn’d with blows, and sick for calm.
Inactive therefore let me lie, in gloom,
Unarm’d, inglorious; I attend the course
Of ages, and my late return to light.

In times less alien to a spirit mild,
In new-recover’d seats, the happier day....
Such for the future is my hope; meanwhile,
I rest'”


Mr. Harrington

O Thou Most Holy One, within the vastness of Whose Overlife we live and move and have our being, Our God, Our Father’s God, the God of all whom we love in the Great Unseen, we turn to Thee in this hour because we need Thy reassurance, Thy calm consolation, Thine unfailing strength, and the benediction of Thy Peace.

O God, our hearts are full of anguish. For again among us Cæsar has conquered; armed violence has had its way; the armored car and the iron curtain their victory. The warrior has swept away the peacemaker—and the little Father, who loved all men, who walked with the humblest, who lifted up the lowliest, who trusted his enemies, who forgave those who tried to kill him, is gone.

Make us remember in this hour, O God, how we left him to fight alone for our peace—how we laid the chastisement of our peace upon his frail, little brown body. Make us remember that though we are glad to sing his glory today, we followed him not, nor did the things which he said. Had a few of us who honor him today shared the cross he bore, perhaps he need not have died.

Yea, O God, he hath borne our sorrows and by his pangs have we been healed. All we like sheep had gone astray, and he took upon himself the iniquities of us all, and this is the condemnation, that thy light came into our world, but we preferred our darkness.

Yet we know, O God, that Gandhiji is not dead. His spirit singeth still within our souls, and dwelleth on high with Thee in glorious brightness. And we too can turn again from the ways of hate and greed and war to the way of Thy Spirit We can repent us of our warlike madness and turn to the way of Thy forgiveness and love.

And as the little Father of India blessed his assassin, so would we forgive in his name all our enemies, all the sad and violent wanderers in the way of wickedness, all the unrepentant and criminal—so would we also sacrifice that love might dwell upon the weary face of earth.

And thus, O God, would we seek to follow the dear ones who have gone on to Thee in the way of brotherhood and righteousness and peace. Amen.


“O Captain, My Captain”


Sung by Raymond Keast


This is reputed to be Gandhi’s favorite hymn. It was often sung at his evening prayer meetings.

Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to thee.
Take my moments and my days;
Let them flow in ceaseless praise.

Take my hands, and let them move
At the impulse of thy love.
Take my feet, and let them be
Swift and beautiful for thee.

Take my voice, and let me sing
Always, only, for my King.
Take my lips, and let them be
Filled with messages from thee.

Take my silver and my gold;
Not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect, and use
Every power as thou shalt choose.

Take my will, and make it thine;
It shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is thine own;
It shall be thy royal throne.

Take my love; my Lord, I pour
At thy feet its treasure-store.
Take myself, and I will be
Ever, only, all for thee.

Frances Ridley Havergal


John Haynes Holmes

As I saw the sensational headlines in last Friday's newspapers announcing the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, I thought of how different it all would have been had this dreadful deed taken place thirty, or twenty, or even ten years ago. An assassination, even of an inconspicuous individual, is always a sensational event But a few inches in an inside page of the newspaper would have sufficed to tell that story. In this case, however, it was the man who was the sensation, and not “the deep damnation of his taking off.” Gandhi’s death in any form today, from old age, or as a consequence of fasting, would have shaken the foundations of the world. So important had he become in the life of our time, and so eternally momentous was his significance for the human race.

A generation ago, just think of it, Gandhi was almost entirely unknown outside the borders of his native land, or known only as a queer sort of person, who was doing extraordinarily queer things with his fellow countrymen. Here was a man who strode the countryside of India, clad only in a loin cloth, bare-footed, and leaning on a beggar’s staff. A man who lived by deliberate choice among the poorest of the poor of the common people of his land! A man who deliberately made the cause of the despised untouchables his own, and in token of his faith and sincerity, adopted into his own family, to live in his home, to eat at his table, to share his life, an orphan girl of the untouchable class! A man who actually taught in all sincerity the crazy doctrine of non-violence, and dared to challenge the mightiest empire of the world, on behalf of the freedom of India, with no weapon available except non-violent non-cooperation. Winston Churchill called him, in scorn and contempt, a “half-naked fakir,” and the world laughed in merriment. And that, my dear friends, was only a few years ago.

Then slowly, as the years went by, this man began to grow, and like a mountain emerging from clouds of mists, to dominate the whole landscape of our world. We came to recognize in him the great nationalist leader who was liberating four hundred millions of his countrymen from the armed tyranny of alien rule; and this, in an unprecedented and unparalleled war which made no resort to force, violence, or bloodshed. Then gradually, and very much I think to our own surprise, we found that we were reverencing Gandhi as a saint of pure and humble life, worthy in every word and deed of the beatitude, bestowed upon him in his own lifetime, of Mahatma, “the Great Soul.” And then strangely, and almost unconsciously, we developed an affection for this man, an affection which left us stricken as though by a deep personal loss when the word came across the seas that he was dying. Jane Addams writes in the pages of her autobiography, entitled Twenty Years at Hull House, in remembrance of the day when she saw her father break down and cry when he heard of the death of Abraham Lincoln. She says this made a great impression upon her, for up to that time she had thought that only children ever cried. There must have been something of that kind of a convulsion in the hearts of many of us when there came the fatal news on Friday morning from New Delhi.

When something of the initial shock and horror of this assassination had passed away, there remained, at least in my mind, a burning sense of the supreme irony of it all, an irony as tragic as any that I have ever found in the pages of Greek drama. That Mahatma Gandhi, of all men living in the world, should have to die this way! The irony, for example, that Gandhi, who never cherished an unkind thought, and never did an unkind deed, who fought England for forty years with never a feeling of bitterness toward any Englishman anywhere, who forgave Moslems and Hindus alike for the injury they were doing to one another, and asked them only to love one another as he loved them both—that this man should die beneath the stroke of hate and vengeance! The irony that Mahatma Gandhi, the supreme preacher and practitioner, not only in our time but in all the ages gone by, of the great principle of nonviolence, should himself be called upon to fall as the victim of outrageous violence. The irony again, that with his life purpose accomplished, with India free and India’s people, after an initial ordeal of wild bloodshed, entering under his guidance upon the sure pathways of reconciliation and peace, he should he struck down on the very threshold of his sublime triumph. History, as you know, seems to delight in ironies of this kind. Socrates, the servant of truth, made to drink the hemlock; Jesus of Nazareth, the prophet of God’s kingdom upon the earth, the victim of crucifixion; Abraham Lincoln, the sweetest and gentlest of men, struck down by a murderer’s bullet. And now, as the crown and climax of all this historic irony, Mahatma Gandhi dead at the hand of a wild assassin. I wonder, O, I wonder, have we always needed the purging of these woes, and do we need it still, to teach us of our own sins of violence and hate, and show us, however bitterly, the better way of life!

How clearly do I remember the first time I ever heard of Gandhi. I have told the story more than once, but I must tell it again on this occasion. How in 1921 I came across his name, up to that moment unknown to me, in the pages of a magazine, and in the space of a few paragraphs of the article, read the epic story of Gandhi’s experience in South Africa. That was in many ways the turning point of my life. Here I had been told, in a sort of a vague way through many years, that the ideals of the spirit which I had cherished within my soul—to love our enemies, resist not evil, to forgive men not seven times but seventy times seven—that these ideals were impracticable. That Jesus did not really mean what he seemed to mean when he said these things! That these principles were laws laid down for an ideal kingdom of God, and not for an existing society upon the earth! And here, lo and behold, I discovered that there was a man now, far away in South Africa, who took these ideals seriously, and made them the rule and precept of his life, and was actually proving them to be practicable and effective. I felt at that moment as Christopher Columbus must have felt when he looked upon the shores of San Salvador shining in the noon-day sun. I felt, I think, as Madame Curie must have felt when she saw that little spark of radium all aglow with an incredible brilliance in the dark shadows of her laboratory. I felt like the astronomer, described by John Keats, in his immortal sonnet, “On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer,” who was gazing through a telescope at the midnight sky and suddenly, without warning, “saw a new planet swim into his ken.” From that moment on, the conviction dwelt within my soul that our world had no parallel to Gandhi. And as the years passed and Gandhi grew in greatness, power and beauty, I came to feel that even mankind through the centuries gone by had only a few great names that could be matched with his.

How clearly do I remember the first time 1 saw Gandhi, in 1931, at Folkestone, on a cold, foggy and rainy day, when I waited with a few others on the pier to greet him, when, crossing the English Channel, he landed upon English shores to take his seat at the famous Round Table Conference of that day. I found myself talking with an English policeman, who suddenly pointed up the coast to the chalky cliffs of the channel, and said: “Do you know, just ’round those cliffs, is the place where Julius Caesar came when he invaded Britain.” Then, after a moment’s silence, he turned in the other direction, and said: “Only a few miles down the coast there, beyond that fog-bank, is the place where William the Conqueror landed just before the battle of Hastings.” Just at that moment, or so it seemed, the prow of the Mahatma’s ship came poking through the fog. And for once in my life I had an inspiration. I said within myself, “Here comes the third and greatest conqueror of Britain.” Little did I realize at that time that it would take only sixteen years for Britain to retire from India, and for Mahatma Gandhi thus to stand the conqueror of the greatest empire the world had seen since the decline and fall of Rome. He was a curious looking conqueror! I can see him now as he came from the ship and went pattering up the wet and foggy pier to the train that was waiting to take him to London. Julius Caesar and William the Conqueror had been clad in mail, but Gandhi wore only his loin cloth, and a small kaddar shawl drawn closely around his shoulders. Caesar and William had carried unsheathed swords to slay their enemies, but Gandhi only carried a grotesque umbrella to protect him from the rain. Caesar and William had been followed by armed legions of trained soldiery to wreak havoc on the land, to lay waste the fair island of Britain, but Gandhi was surrounded only by a little company of men and women, his disciples who were accompanying him to London.

What a strange, and I say again, grotesque panorama it was! But I saw Gandhi on that happy and ever memorable day, as I did not really know at that time, the conqueror not only of the British Empire, but also of the world. Think of what happened yesterday in Delhi! I can see it, for I have looked upon that city, and seen the place of this immortal and indescribable spectacle. A procession miles long, made up of men and women of every religion, race, nationality and creed. More than a million of them gathered upon the banks of the Jumna River, to see Gandhi’s body burned in blazing light and lifted up to heaven. And these people, even though they were more than a million in number, merely a token of those who spiritually were gathered in that procession of mourning and sorrow. For all India, from north to south and east to west, was marching yesterday in that great procession. And not only all India but all the world, for the world was standing still and silent, in reverence of this one man, as his frail body was burned, and his mighty soul liberated into eternity. I say to you, and I say it advisedly, measuring my words, that the greatest statesman who ever lived, and the mightiest soldier, never received such a tribute as this, and I venture to prophesy never will. Gandhi had captured the heart of mankind. There wasn’t any man anywhere who did not love—him such is the power of the spirit. And Gandhi had conquered as well not only the affections of our hearts, but the convictions of our minds. As the world bowed in homage before this man, what was it but a confession of sin that he was right, and we knew it; and that all the dreadful ways of force and violence, which we have followed through the centuries, were not only wrong but criminal and wicked. When yesterday we thought of nothing but New Delhi and the dead Gandhi, it was with penitence within our souls that he should have walked the way of life alone, or a few of us, perhaps, following afar and wishing unto God that we had the strength and courage and patience and long-suffering to be even as he. Yes, Gandhi is the immortal and omnipotent conqueror, for he possesses the hearts of men forever, and as long as there is a human race upon this planet, will be remembered and revered. When all the kings and princes and great captains of our time, who make so much noise and occupy so central a place upon the stage, when these have long since been forgotten, every one of them, the Mahatma will still be known and revered as the greatest Indian since Gautama the Buddha, and as the greatest man since Jesus Christ.

When I lectured on Gandhi in India—and it lifts up my heart to remember this day that I had the blessed opportunity of going to India and talking to great Indian audiences in love and homage of their great prophet—I used to think at the time of how impudent it was, that I, a man from the militant West, should come to India to talk to Indians about Gandhi. In every address that I made on Gandhi, I always started out with a fervent word of apology. But at this moment it rings like bells of joy within my heart that I had the chance to speak, and to say how I loved this man. Always in my lectures I used to say that Gandhi’s life, as I understood it and could analyze it, was divided into three great periods, and every period was an epic in itself, an incomparable chapter of history which mankind will never forget. Think of it in passing, my dear friends, that you and I should be privileged to live in an age which has seen these chapters of history written, and to hear the words and feel the presence of this consummate spirit.

The first period of Gandhi’s life is a period of twenty years, from 1894 to 1914, and the scene of the great drama is South Africa. Gandhi as a young man and a young barrister, went to South Africa on a piece of legal business. He was absolutely unconscious of the way in which he was setting his feet. He saw not the slightest vestige of the destiny that was awaiting him. But when he came to South Africa, he felt within his own life what it was to be a colored man in a world dominated and ruled by white men. For the first time in his experience he was made to face and suffer prejudice, discrimination and insult. He was thrown off a train, for example, because in South Africa at that time colored people were not supposed to ride on trains with white people. On one notable occasion he was refused admission to a Christian church, because he was dark-skinned, and only people who were fair-skinned went to that church of Jesus Christ. But Gandhi was not so much overwhelmed and humiliated by what happened to him as by what he saw happening to his fellowmen and fellow-countrymen—the tens of thousands of coolies in South Africa, the poorest of the poor and the meanest of the mean, who were treated in that part of the world as Negroes are treated in the United States of America. And his heart went out to these people. And deliberately he stepped out of his place in life, left behind his appointed caste, gave up the practice of the law, sacrificed his property and his repute, and associated himself with these wretched coolies, and undertook single-handed the great task of their legal and social emancipation. It was in this endeavor that he worked out his program of non-violent non-cooperation, which means on the one hand, negatively speaking, non-cooperation with evil and evil doers, and on the other hand, positively speaking, willingness to suffer but never to wreak suffering upon other men, and to love without stint and without discrimination enemies as well as friends.

I have no time this morning to tell the story of that twenty years’ struggle in South Africa, which ended, of course, in victory, for non-violence is irresistible, unconquerable, when it is implemented by a soul that really believes it and is not afraid to practise it. This chapter of Gandhi’s life is really important not in itself, but in its relation to the later tale of what happened in India. Its place is that of an overture in relation to an opera. It was the beginning of his task and the announcement of the themes which were going to dominate his soul throughout the remainder of his days. South Africa was a kind of laboratory where Gandhi tested the practicability of his non-violent principles and proved that they would work. South Africa was a school wherein he disciplined his own life to the patience, the courage and the long suffering that fitted him to live as the practitioner of non-violence. South Africa was a training ground where he learned how to organize thousands of his fellowmen to strict obedience to the principles which he would lay upon their souls. Gandhi in these twenty years suffered everything. He met humiliation and insult; of course he went to prison, more times than at this moment I can seem to remember; and it was here that for the first time he was felled to the ground by a would-be assassin. For a wild man in South Africa, like a wild man in New Delhi yesterday, sought to take his life, and Gandhi was left in the gutter by the side of the road as one who was dead. Fortunately he was picked up in time and taken to the hospital, and the first thing he did when he awakened to consciousness, was to ask that the young assassin be brought to him. And when the frightened young man, now brought to his senses, was led to Gandhi’s bedside, the dear man opened wide his arms, as though to clasp him to his bosom, and he said, “Oh my dear young man, my son, what have I done that you were moved to do this thing?” And the young man fell in penitence and tears upon the ground before the Mahatma, and for years lived as one of the most devoted of his followers. I remember, in the light of this divinely beautiful story, that when Gandhi was shot last Friday at his prayer meeting, in that brief interval of time when he was conscious, knew what had happened, and realized that his last moment had come, even before he crumpled helplessly to the ground, he was able to lift his hand to his brow in the Hindu salute of forgiveness, and therewith to die with the blessing of his heart upon the wild assassin. These things Gandhi learned in South Africa. The story of those twenty years is one of the immortal epics of human history, likely perhaps to be forgotten, so small it seems as brought into comparison with the stupendous drama of India itself, but never really to be forgotten, since it was those years and their discipline and their ultimate triumph that made Gandhi to be the man that he was in his greatest days.

The second period of Gandhi’s life is the period from 1914 to 1947, the years when Gandhi was the leader of the Indian people in the stupendous struggle for national independence. It is interesting and rather ironical to recall that when at the close of the Great War, Gandhi and his associates submitted their terms to the British Empire, Gandhi was at that time not seeking the full freedom of his country. All that he asked for and all that he expected in 1919 was a grant of dominion status to India. And how ironical it is to remember that had Great Britain been wise enough in 1919 to grant this dominion status, there probably never would have been any struggle for national independence. But it was a case at that time, as so often, of too little and too late. When Great Britain reached the time when she was ready to grant dominion status, Gandhi and the Great army of Indian liberators had moved beyond that point. It was now full liberty or nothing.

The real struggle began in 1921, with the opening of Gandhi’s first non-cooperative and non-violent campaign for freedom. It is the testimony of Lord Lloyd, the Governor at that time of the Province of Bombay, that in 1921 and 1922 Gandhi came within the breadth of an eyelash of securing the emancipation of his people. So unconquerable is the non-resistant, so powerful the man who wields not the sword of steel but the sword of the spirit! Remember, dear friends, that Britain, like the Roman Empire yesterday, knew exactly what to do with a man who came armed against her. Every empire, every military power, knows how to handle an attack of violence. They have fought the armies of their foes through so many years that they have nothing new to learn, no effective instrument of violence is beyond their knowledge and their use. But when a man, or rather an army of men, comes against an empire bare-handed and barefooted, armed not even with stones or staves, practicing not violence in any form but absolute non-violence, loving their enemies and seeking to serve them even as they love and serve their friends, the empire doesn’t know what to do. The New York Times, in its great leading editorial yesterday morning, spoke of the British Empire as being baffled by Mahatma Gandhi’s campaign of non–resistance. Of course the Empire was baffled! All that it could do was to take Gandhi and his associates and put them in prison. And behind the prison bars Gandhi learned that he was more powerful than he was anywhere else. In a moment of that charming humor which always characterized his life, he said that he early discovered that he could make the best bargains when he was in jail. So it was in 1921 and 1922 that he began his fight for India, and it was a fight such as the world had never seen before. There were certain things that Gandhi did that nobody else had ever done, or had ever thought of doing. This campaign was his campaign, marked by the peculiar genius of his life, and dominated by the sublime influence of his spirit.

For one thing, from the very beginning, Gandhi insisted upon identifying his life with the lives of the great masses of the people of India. There had been champions of Indian independence before Gandhi. He wasn’t the first! But these men were men far separated from the Indian masses. They were men who had been educated in the western world, who wore western clothes, who insisted upon talking the English language; and between these westernized Indians and the Indian people, there was a vast gulf that never was bridged. Then Gandhi came along and he identified himself with the common people, just as they were. This was the reason why he insisted upon wearing the loin cloth. For years here in the western world we simply couldn't understand why Gandhi did that grotesque thing. We thought it meant that he was a queer man, and probably, perhaps, a little cracked. But this Gandhi did deliberately, as a symbol of his faith and of his life. Since unnumbered millions of Indians could wear nothing but the loin cloth, then he would wear that loin cloth himself, that he might identify himself the more closely with the great masses of men and women whom he would serve. This was the reason also why he made himself propertyless, stripping himself of practically every possession in the world. The reason was very simple. The multitudes of the Indian people owned nothing, and that being the case, he would be one with them, and himself own nothing. I think I can say that when he died, as through all these years gone by, Gandhi owned only two or three loin cloths, and a shawl or two, a pair of spectacles, a one dollar Ingersoll watch, a fountain pen, and a few sheets of paper. That’s all the property he owned or wanted to own, just that he might be identified with the life of the Indian people. This was the reason he organized his Ashram and for years lived with his followers in this Ashram. The Ashram was really nothing in the world but a kind of a duplicate of a typical Indian village. And since there were seven hundred thousand of these villages in India, in which hundreds of millions of his fellow countrymen lived, he also would live in such a place, that he might be the more close to the people whom he loved and whom he sought to lead.

In the last letter that I received from the Mahatma, a letter awaiting me on my return from India, he expressed, in his humorous way, some little regret that I had traveled so fast and so far in India, by planes on the one hand and railroad trains on the other. He reminded me that India was a land of the bullock cart, and that if I hadn’t been so much of an American, I might wisely have chosen to travel by this native vehicle from place to place. A little suggestion, perhaps, that I hadn’t come so very close to the Indian people when flying in an airplane! Gandhi, when so traveling, would certainly have gone in the bullock cart, but for years he chose to walk. For since the majority of the Indian people always walked, sometimes hundreds of miles when they journeyed from one place to another, so also did Gandhi choose to walk, a kind of a pilgrim into the hearts of his people, living their lives and cherishing their destiny.

Another thing that Gandhi did in his great campaign for freedom! He taught his people for the first time the secret of personal dignity and self-respect. For nearly two hundred years the Indian people had lived subject to the alien rule of the British Empire. They had become as slavish and subservient in spirit as they were subject under the operation of British law. They bowed obsequiously before the westerner, daring not even to say or to show that perhaps their souls might still remain their own. And then Gandhi came along, dowered first of all with his own supreme sense of dignity and his belief in the integrity of his people, and conveyed to the unlettered and illiterate millions of his fellow-countrymen, that same sense of dignity and honor, of power and right, that lived within himself. It was under the influence of the Mahatma that the Indians raised themselves from out the dust, dared for the first time to stand erect and look an Englishman straight in the face. When, after years of teaching and of discipline, he thus lifted up the people from debasement and subjection, and had taught to them the dignity and honor of their own manhood, he knew that his fight was won. For once self-respect was achieved within the masses, their power was of course supreme.

In the third place, Gandhi organized the Indian people unashamedly around his own personality. For years Gandhi spent most of his time just traveling from village to village throughout all the vast area of continental India. When he had lived in a village for a few days and then had gone upon his way as a pilgrim to the next village, he left behind what we have learned to call in this day a kind of a cell, an organized group of men and women, just a few of them in each village, who understood and were ready to act. They knew what Gandhi meant by non-violent non-cooperation. They had been taught the discipline of that kind of a life, and there they were as his representatives and his followers to obey his word and do his work. It can be said that, after a period of years, Gandhi had organized the whole Indian people around himself in the great undertaking of national independence, and the power of such organization, led by such a personality, was indeed, as it proved to be, irresistible.

Another thing that Gandhi did, and a supreme evidence of his imagination and creative genius! Gandhi was able to give to the masses of the Indian people something to do in their great struggle for liberty. You know how often the question is asked in matters of reform—What can I do? I think I can almost say that I never made a speech before a public forum about any problem of reform but what somebody got up and said, What can I do? And I have always been baffled by this question. I haven’t got imagination enough to conceive a right answer. And so I usually suggest, as other Americans do in answer to such an inquiry, that we write our congressman, or perhaps the President. But Gandhi was an intellectual as well as a spiritual genius. Gandhi had an answer to this question. Why do you suppose, years ago, that Gandhi equipped himself with a spinning-wheel, and devoted a couple of hours of every day for a period of years to spinning khaddar cloth upon this wheel? This seemed to me, as it did to others, a waste of precious time and strength. But what was Gandhi really doing? He was teaching the unnumbered millions of his fellow-countrymen that here was something that they could do for independence. That if everyone would make a spinning-wheel to whirl within the home, and all of them give themselves thus to the manufacture of cotton cloth, India upon the instant would be delivered from the economic tyranny of the British cotton trade, and economically if not politically, would be free. He gave the Indians something to do, and millions of spinning-wheels have turned and turned for years, in obedience to the example of the Mahatma. Then there was the famous march to Dandi, when Gandhi and his followers walked dramatically across the Indian countryside to the seashore, and Gandhi, in almost melodramatic fashion, waded into the sea, lifted up a pail of the sea-water, and brought it to the shore that it might be distilled into salt, and therewith delivered the people from the tyranny of the iniquitous salt tax imposed upon them by the Empire. Gandhi was not only himself resisting the rule of Britain by this act, but he was teaching the millions of his fellowcountrymen that here was something that each one of them could do. They could wade into the sea, distill the salt, and therewith prove themselves rebels against the British crown and the British law.

Gandhi was the man who found out comparatively early in his career, that one thing that everybody could do was to go to prison. He chose to go to prison, and herewith he proved the enormous effectiveness of serving a sentence behind bars. And since Gandhi had done it, then everybody could do it, and English prisons became so flooded that English authorities didn’t know what to do with the men, women and even children who volunteered for service. You know, when you go to India today, you have a curious experience. Sooner or later when you are talking with your host, who may be a governor of a province, a vice chancellor of a university, or something of the sort, you discover that this man has a prison record, and that he’s very proud of it. By the time I left India I had the feeling that everybody who was worthwhile in India had a prison record. I knew this because they referred to it so easily, and were so glad to tell me of the experiences they had in prison. So different from our country! When a man has a prison record in America, he does not say anything about it. He keeps it quiet. But here was a noble service that Gandhi taught the Indian people they could offer on behalf of their great cause. And so I say to you that by supreme creative and imaginative genius, Gandhi found great answers to the question as to what the humblest of Indians could do to help his country.

Lastly, Gandhi gave to the Indian people the weapons wherewith to carry on their fight, weapons of unimaginable power, weapons that guaranteed eventual victory, and in Gandhi’s own time, praise be to God, won the victory that he could see. Gandhi’s program of non-violent resistance is unprecedented in the history of mankind. The principle itself, resist not evil and love your enemies, is nothing new. It is at least as ancient as the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth in the Sermon on the Mount. But Gandhi did what had never been done before. Up to his time the practice of these non-resistant principles had been limited to single individuals, or to little groups of individuals. Gandhi worked out the discipline and the program for the practicing of this particular kind of principle by unnumbered masses of human beings. He worked out a program, in other words, not merely for an individual, or a small group of individuals, but for a whole nation, and that, I say to you, is something new in the experience of man.

I can best sum up the significance of this second period of Gandhi’s life, which ended on the 15th day of August, 1947, with the triumph of Indian freedom, by quoting to you a remarkable paragraph from a book entitled The Tragedy of Europe written by a great scholar, Dr. Francis Neilson. This is the way he puts it. “Gandhi,” he says, “is unique. There is no record of a man of his position challenging a great empire. A Diogenes in action, a St. Francis in humility, a Socrates in wisdom, he reveals to the world the utter paltriness of the methods of the statesman who relies upon force to gain his end. In this contest, spiritual integrity triumphs over the physical opposition of the forces of the state.” That was Gandhi’s triumph. That was his achievement. That marks his place in history.

The third period of Gandhi’s life began on the 15th day of August, 1947 and ended only at the moment when he died on Friday last. This was the period when it seemed as though India was about to exercise the prerogatives of freedom by plunging into the terror and horror of a civil war. What happened is understandable enough. Here was where partition operated, and partition meant the vivisection of a nation, and those people who were called upon to suffer the agony of vivisection, in Bengal and also in the Punjab, went momentarily crazy with pain and grief. As violence and massacre swept these provinces, it seemed for a moment as though all Gandhi’s teaching were in vain. I have heard people say that Gandhi in the end failed in his great mission. Gandhi himself encouraged that idea, for in the supreme humility of his spirit, he was moved to talk about his failure as well as about his sorrow. But I have insisted from the beginning, as I would insist today, that this last period in Gandhi’s life was the greatest period of all. In my last letter to the Mahatma, written just as I was leaving India, I put it this way—and you will pardon me if I read my words. “Of course,” I said, “you have been sad, wellnigh overborne by the tragedies of recent months, but you must never feel that this involves any breakdown of your life work. Human nature cannot bear too much, it cracks under too great a strain, and the strain in this case was as terrific as it was sudden. But your teaching remained as true and your leadership as sound as ever. Single-handed you saved the situation and brought victory out of what seemed for the moment to be defeat. I count these last months to be the crown and climax of your unparalleled career. You were never so great as in these last dark hours.” I wrote those words, and I have read them to you now, in token, first, of my conviction that it was the influence of Gandhi through the discipline of thirty years gone by that prevented the spread of the conflagration, so that less than five per cent of the Indian people were involved in the riots and, less than ten per cent of India’s territory, and through those dreadful days, through the vast range of Indian life. Moslems and Hindus lived peacefully side by side. And secondly, my belief that it was by Gandhi’s own personal presence and influence at those places where the fire was burning the fiercest, that it was straightway extinguished! When I was in Delhi, tension was everywhere in the air, but everybody agreed. Moslem and Hindu alike, men great and men humble, that it was the presence of Gandhi that had brought peace to that great city which a few days before had witnessed the massacre of thousands of people in the public streets. Gandhi came to Delhi, thus stricken, bleeding and frigntened, and as Jesus calmed the storm on the sea of Galilee, so Gandhi calmed and ended this storm of hate and madness.

And now he is dead. When his last breath had passed from his body, the newspapers tell us that his granddaughter, in whose arms he died, came to the reporters and said. “Bapu” (a word meaning “little father”), “Bapu is finished.” As I read that pathetic phrase, I thought instantly of the last words of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament, when he said upon the cross, “It is finished.” But as little in the case of Gandhi as in the case of Jesus is it really finished, for as Jesus came to his own only after the fell moment of his death and has lived serene and potent in the hearts of unnumbered millions to our own time, so Gandhi will live and assert his magic influence upon the souls and hearts of men forever. For us, however, it is finished. That ineffable presence, that sweetest of all smiles, those eyes that had depths of beauty like visions of the eternal, that infinite tenderness and grace, that lovely hospitality of friendship, it is all gone with the frail and feeble body that fell beneath the shot of the assassin’s pistol.

On Friday when the news suddenly and terribly came to me, I was seized by such an unexpected convulsion of emotion that I was frightened. And all that day I wept for Gandhi in my heart. On Saturday, yesterday, I could think of nothing but the great funeral pyre, and the blazing flame, and the soul of Gandhi liberated into eternal light. And now today, after I have read the dramatic account of the burning of Gandhi’s body, I feel, beautifully and serenely, a kind of calm, the calm that follows after death, and the secret of which is to be found in that sense of possession of precious things which can never be taken away. Instinctively this morning I went to the shelves of my library, and there I found what I was seeking, something near, and intimate, and very close, in tribute to my friend. A little sonnet written years ago by George Santayana, the great poet and philosopher:

With you a part of me hath passed away
For in the peopled forest of my mind
A tree made leafless by this wintry wind,
Shall never don again its green array.
Chapel and fireside, country road and bay
Have something of their friendliness resigned.
Another, if I would, I could not find,
And I am grown much older in a day.
But yet I treasure in my memory
Your gift of charity, and young heart’s ease,
And the dear honor of your amity.
For these once mine, my life is rich with these,
And I scarce know which part may greater be,
What I keep of you, or you rob of me.

Let us pray.

Almighty God our heavenly father, the spirit of thy life is within us all, and in thee we live and move and have our being. We pray thee, that we may look on death as a part of life, and find in death and life together the living witness of thy spirit. Wilt thou bring comfort to our souls, and give us strength anew, and teacn us to walk steadfastly in the way of brotherhood and peace wherein the great and good have trod. And so may the peace of God which passeth all understanding, that peace which the world can neither give nor yet take away, rest upon our minds and hearts this day and evermore.



“Solemn Melody”


Organist, Jesse Walker Chairman, Board of Ushers, Hector Piazza

The Pulpit Flowers were given by the Community Church in memory of Mahatma Gandhi.

The Gandhi Bust on the church platform was done by Mrs. William Floyd.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was legally published within the United States (or the United Nations Headquarters in New York subject to Section 7 of the United States Headquarters Agreement) between 1923 and 1977 (inclusive) without a copyright notice.