“Thus a ruler can imprison a person’s body, but the spirit is incapable of being imprisoned. It was this spiritual leverage that Gandhi fastened on to, and we fasten on to in Gandhi. It was with this power that Gandhi faced the might of an empire.”
There are hundreds of biographies and histories detailing the fascinating life of Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi: A Spiritual Biography by Arvind Sharma, however, centers on the less explored but equally interesting idea that Gandhi’s struggle was mainly one for spiritual liberation. Sharma illuminates aspects of Gandhi’s rich inner world and connects them with his outward actions, exploring how he became a vehicle through which new norms of human conduct were established. The book also attempts to determine the source of Gandhi’s strength and power, which Sharma believes is rooted in spirituality. By exploring the religious atmosphere Gandhi was raised in, his belief in karma and rebirth, his idea that morality and religion are synonymous, and the events of his life, Sharma sheds new light on how Gandhi was able to help liberate the colonially imprisoned bodies of millions.
The first half of the book follows Gandhi’s life chronologically, focusing on the events that relate to his spiritual life. Sharma explores Gandhi’s first marriage as a child of only thirteen, how he was brought to God by the fear of goblins and thieves, his affection for the Hindu god Rama, his travels abroad to London and Africa, and the relationships created with others along the way. This section also examines how Gandhi’s spirituality influenced the origins of satyagraha, or passive resistance, and the desire for Purna Swaraj, or complete independence from Britain.
The second half of the book relates more directly with the subject of Gandhi’s spirituality and looks at his life through the idea that we are spiritual beings having a human experience. Sharma studies how those viewed as saints, and therefore Gandhi, go about considering virtue, the transformative power of commitment, and also Gandhi’s concept of contradiction between thought and life, principle and practice. Sharma delves deeper into these ideas by investigating Gandhi’s life and spirituality as related to vegetarianism, celibacy, the Bhagavad Gita, and his relationships with other spiritual leaders. The book finishes by demythologizing Gandhi and relating his spiritual story to contemporary history, giving the reader even more concepts to consider and a chance to relate Gandhi’s ideas to life today.
Arvind Sharma presents a spiritual interpretation of Gandhi’s life in a way that is accessible to those who know little of him while also still being insightful and interesting for those who have studied Gandhi before. Gandhi: A Spiritual Biography enhances our understanding of one of history’s most influential figures and is a great read for knowledge seekers and Gandhi lovers.