India in 1915 and the first years of his struggle against the British in India.
Although it tells barely half the story of his life, it gives as intimate an insight into his life and character as can be found in the life of any great man.
Gandhi called this book The Story of my Experiments with Truth and this is an exact description of it (Cape, 16s.). All Gandhi's life was a search for Truth, and by Truth he meant nothing less than God.
As he himself said: What I want to achieve—what I have been striving and pining to achieve these thirty years—is self-realisation: to see God face to face. to attain Moksha (that is "liberation" or salvation).
The Hindu background to this conception of life is obvious, yet it is remarkable that Truth in Gandhi's eyes was not so much metaphysical truth or mystical experience, which is the normal goal of Hinduism. as moral truth. Gandhi was above all a moralist and the truth he sought with such consistency was truth to conscience.
This was what gave such an extraordinary integrity to his character and made him so formidable a figure in political life. Yet it is precisely here that one feels that Gandhi owed more to the West than to the East.
A strict moral code is certainly to be found in Hinduism, but the idea of bringing the moral law to bear on political life as Gandhi did, the striving for absolute truthfulness to conscience in every decision, is something which in him seems to be due to western influence. Even his conception of ahinrsa (that is "non-violence"). though deeply-rooted in Hindu tradition, may have owed more in practice to Ruskin and Tolstoy and the Sermon on the Mount than to Hindu models.
What is more one finds in Gandhi the typical limitations of the moralist which are strange to Hinduism. One is struck throughout the autobiography with his obsession about food, which made him as he himself confesses something of a crank. In the same way his attitude to sex strikes one as puritanical.
Both these attitudes were bound up in him with his striving for absolute purity, but they show the limitations of his character in a way that is typical of the West rather than of the East.
Gandhi himself confesses in a touching conclusion to the Introduction to this book : It is an unbroken torture to me that I am still so far from Him who, as I fully know, governs every breath of my life, and whose offspring I am. 1 know that it is the evil passions within that keep me so far from him, and yet I cannot get away from them.
This seems to me a confession at once of his weakness and his real greatness. There is something in this which is far nearer to a Christian than a Hindu way of thought.
Gandhi was haunted all his life by the figure of Christ, and many were the occasions when Christians tried to convert him. But he remained faithful throughout to his Hindu inheritance, while striving all the time to be true to his vision of Christ. In this, as In so much else, he is a prophetic figure. In him the drama of Christ in the soul of India was worked out with extraordinary intensity, and it is a drama whose end is not yet in sight.