Letter 11

Acharya Vinoba Bhave

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The person of Ideas


15th April, 1990

My dear Pranav,

Vinoba did not claim to be a philosopher. In fact, he said, "I am a retail dealer" (1). He took ideas from all the great sages, and other religious thinkers and presented in simple language to us.

His basic contribution lies in Samanvaya (reconciliation). He has summarized many religious texts, selected ideas from each of them and presented them to our people, indicating their similarity (param samya).

He believed in ekam sat (Truth is One). he "sees" that all these numerous paths lead to one goal. That one is GOD, Brahman. Truth or ultimate reality. In fact, he composed a sarvadharma prarthana, wherein he has compiled the various names which various religions have given to their highest goals.

It is called "Nam Mala". It is a common prayer in all the ashrams of Vinoba. It is also a recommended song in many schools of Maharashtra.

Sankaracharya was Vinoba's first motivator. He learnt his logical tools and intellectual arguments from Sankaracharya (Truth). His compassion (Prem and Karuna) he has taken from Jnaneshwar and Tulsidas.

He was greatly inspired by the transparent sincerity of Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi and Vinoba were almost like father and son. Mahatma Gandhi rated him high, and whenever he had any philosophical or practical problems, he would refer them to Vinoba. From 1916 to 1948, except as the first individual satyagrahi in 1940, Vinoba remained studying and teaching in his ashram. He developed the Gandhian ideas of ahimsa, satya, khadi and trusteeship with his impeccable logic. He provided the intellectual base to all Gandhian ideas. From 1948 to 1970, he practised them through Bhoodan, Gramadan, Sampattidan and Trusteeship. The last twelve years he devoted to adhyatma and goraksha (protection of the cow).

Vinoba was a walking university. All these ideas evolved in his mind in the course of his work. They grew with him. This is the most important period of his life. He gave three talks a day and traveled for 14 years on foot to all parts of India. In this, he followed his first guru, Sankaracharya. His perception of village India was thus based on actual contact and observation. He saw a unity in the diversity of India with his own eyes, and experienced it. No other Indian has matched that feat so far.

Still, he never claimed the total view of a philosopher. The beauty of Indian philosophy is that it is called 'perception' or 'darsana'. It is never claimed as the whole Truth. Each one of us has to perceive this truth for himself or herself. No one gives you, a blue-print of it. It is always evolving and you have to explore for yourself. "Who am I?" is the question.

No Indian philosopher therefore claims any new philosophy or thought construct. He interprets the old texts and puts forward his viewpoint or darsana. Vinoba follows the same path. His emphasis is, therefore, on ideas. He rejects blueprints or institutions. He treats them as traps or obstacles.

With love,


L. N. Godbole

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