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BUDDHISM AND CHRISTIANITY
OR more than eight years, I have kept in my writing-case the copies of some letters, which I sent from South Africa to the Poet, Kabindranath Tagore, at Shantiniketan. During that troubled time in Africa, at the close of the Passive Resistance movement, Shantiniketan Shantiniketan was to me from
afar a symbol of peace, towards which my mind continually returned for its inspiration and support. These letters were a connecting link, binding me to the Ashram.
The letters I wrote were all of a religious nature. I discussed them each one with Mahatma Gandhi before sending them to the Poet. The subject of them so occupied my mind, that the stirring political events in which we were engaged seemed as nothing in comparison. For my mind was passing through a religious crisis, and a period of suffering had come to me in my inner life, which was to usher in the birth of a new intellectual freedom. At such a time, it was an infinite strength to me to be able to turn away my thoughts from external things altogether, and seek the peace of Shantiniketan, by sitting down in silence and writing to the Poet.
The change of atmosphere in the new and alien environment of South Africa, was so confusing at first, and the pressure with which it thrust itself upon me was so strong, that for a
time I almost bewildered. The solid ground under my feet seemed to be shaken. I could not understand what was happening; where it would all end; and to what final conclusions it would lead me. The fact has to be taken into account,. that I was an Anglican clergyman, still exercising the functions both of a clergyman and a missionary. Though I had seen in India already things that had greatly shocked me within the church, yet I had never seen anything in all my life before to compare with the hard, arrogant, intolerant and utterly unchristian racialism, which was rampant in South Africa.
It was natural, at such a time of stress, to seek help and guidance from my friends. To Susil Kumar Rudra in Delhi, I wrote at length, covering the same ground as my letters to the Poet in Shantiniketan. Mahatma Gandhi, as I have related, was with me. I talked over all my questionings with him, and read over to him what I had written to the Poet. He advised to keep the new material I had gathered by me, and not to publish anything on the subject for at least three
"If what you have experienced is the Truth," he said to me, "Truth can very well afford to wait. Meanwhile, on your return to India you will have
time to sift out your present thoughts and revise them in quiet meditation, at Shantiniketan. Then publish these, but not now."
In this matter I determined to abide by his advice. Indeed I have now waited much beyond the period he mentioned.
When I reached London from Capetown, I found Mr. Gokhale suffering from the illness which was so soon, alas! to prove fatal to him. The doctors would allow very few visitors. They forbade excitement of any kind whatever. But when I was with him and had related to him my inner thoughts about religions, he asked me to tell him the whole story. Before I had started for South Africa, he had said to me at Delhi,-"This visit is going to be a great shock to your Christianity.
I reminded him of this and told him that his words had proved to be literally true. He read over very carefully indeed the copies of the letters I had written to the Poet. It was of supreme interest to me, to find how deeply he had already pondered over the very problem with which I had been faced. It was clear to me, that in that last illness of his and in his lonely life of retirement, the things relating to the religious history of mankind had a great fascination for him. The political issues were temporal: the spiritual search for Truth was eternal.
The envelope that contained the copies of these letters, is still with me. It has become brown, and the ink is faded; upon it, is still legible the name of Mr. Gokhale. This brown envelope in my writing-case, worn with age, recalls vividly to my mind a room in the National Liberal Club, Charing Cross, with Mr. Gokhale reclining on his couch, his face drawn with the suffering of his ill-. ness, yet filled with the light of intellectual vision. He would listen to me with an almost fatherly affection, and he could follow all that I told him. For he had only recently returned from South Africa and had passed through the same bitter experience.
Those days in England passed all too hurriedly. There was much to be done, and I had to come back to India at the earliest
possible moment. After my return, these same questionings that had arisen in South Africa were rarely absent from my mind. A further time of critical enquiry and fresh illustration came to me when I was with the Poet in the Far East and for the first time I was in a position to trace out the history of the great Buddhist movement in that quarter. Then, on my return to India, I stayed alone at Boro-budur in Java. The days I spent there in silence, all alone, marked a new departure in my thoughts and a new outlook.
These old letters had gone with me all the while in my writing-case, and I had looked at them occasionally and thought of publishing them. But I was slowly making up my mind to write a complete book instead of merely publishing the letters. At last, a few weeks ago, I nearly lost them altogether. They were in my writing-case along with many other papers, when it was stolen and rifled by a train thief. By a singular accident, these papers almost alone remained when the writing-case was found. Nearly all the other papers that were of value had been destroyed.
Therefore, I have now made up my mind at last to publish them, only reminding the reader beforehand, that they represent the first shock of discovery rather than a final judgment. On the whole, the substance of what I have written has stood the test of time, but on reading them through again I can see that there are many overstatements. I still hope to be able to work out the subject more thoroughly in a book form. Nevertheless the letters may perhaps have a personal and emotional value, which a book may fail to reproduce. In editing them, I have ventured here and there, for the sake of clearness, to expand the thought. Otherwise they remain practically as they were first written to the Poet, more than eight years ago.
"This country of South Africa makes the heart grow sick with its eternal colour problem. What you have been telling me so silently is quite clear to me