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Hey Ram

Mahatma Gandhi's mind reveals both the individual and collective shaping of India's mind. Why does Ram hold the place he does in the Indian psyche? Also, why is Krishna difficult for people?

By Alok Vajpayee
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Mahatma Gandhi in deep thought | Representative image | Photo courtesy: Special arrangement

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Mahatma Gandhi, in his lifetime, practised even before he preached. His life truly remained an experiment until Nathuram Godse shot him on the fateful evening of January 30, 1948. He fell with a thud and uttered "Hey Ram!" The man who had said, "My life is my message," left another message in his last utterance.

No aspect of human life was left untouched by him, in thought or action. His transparency and honesty are beyond doubt, but even the best of aware minds do have deep unconscious processing that is glimpsed in moments of heightened emotion. This unconscious is shaped by lifelong conditioning from education, religion, mythology, and experiences, mostly throughout brain growth until young adulthood and then through neuroplasticity throughout life.

Jungian psychoanalysis would explain this as both individual and collective unconscious, with culture and mythology shaping both.

Mahatma Gandhi's mind reveals both the individual and collective shaping of India's mind. Why does Ram hold the place he does in the Indian psyche? Also, why is Krishna difficult for people?

Beyond his prayers and unorthodox religiosity, Gandhi, as we know from his writings and other historical accounts, talked about Rama Rajya often. But what he sought answers from was Krishna, calling the Bhagavad Gita his mother. Indeed, it is a great psychological lesson, but a man who looks up to the Gita for guidance in life, in his deepest moment of release where no cognitive deception would work, just before death, calls out for RAM.

No one pondered over this, but it could hold great significance not only for Gandhi's life but for the Indian unconscious too. The average mind, which believes in incarnations, would not mind Ram or Krishna because they figure in epics (Ramayana and Mahabharata respectively); the other two human incarnations are extremes—Parshuram and Buddha, one at the violent end and the other at renunciation. The middle-trotting mind prefers the softer and more humane Ram and Krishna with their worldly engagements, strengths, and weaknesses that each of us exhibits.

This is where desire and temperament mix to create a schism between action and intent. The epics describe Ram and Krishna as distinct personalities within different social structures, neither hierarchical nor comparative.

Ram was serene, obedient, serious, sacrificing, and worked within the frame of societal rules, even at the cost of significant personal suffering. He never complained and often reacted to situations within the protocol. He had to be reminded of his godliness and continued traditions both in space and time.

Ram represented order, while Krishna represented entropy.

Krishna broke the old order and established a new one, both in time and geography. He provoked wars and stretched the limits of societal norms not only for himself but for those he loved as well. All that was serious in Ram’s mind became a play in his life.

No wonder his actions and life were full of contradictions so much so that those who worship him cannot comprehend the full extent of Krishna. While Ram, as a linear god, is a guidebook for straight, simple living, Krishna’s life becomes a 'leela' that is beyond human comprehension.

The tsunami of impulses and emotions, the rage and the sexual, the loving and the killing in Krishna’s life is within everyone; only Krishna could remain equanimous to it, THE STITHAPRAGYA, who could rise above the inner and outer conflicts and their results.

So it is Ram who maintains society and structures, weeds out evil, and ensures justice—ideal for a nation. No wonder he was Gandhi’s ideal too for a nascent country.

Gandhi himself knew his tsunamis—rage and sexuality that he fought all his life. No wonder Gandhi sought the point of balance of Krishna amidst all the raging conflicts within and without. The war was fought within where the Gita stood as the foremost beacon. But he did not wish to fuel such wars in a society and country that were already torn with gaps. Ram and his ideals were the best for a cohesive nation after all; Gandhi had waged a civilizational war like Ram and Ravana. The Mahabharata possibly reminded him of an internal conflict.

Ram became a yearning, an unfulfilled desire for Gandhi, while Krishna guided him.

The Indian psyche is no different. Ram provides an ideal frame of existence in life, even if the Indian male has usurped it to a patriarchal positioning.

Krishna is difficult because he calls for a huge internal transformation and courage.

But the deepest point of confluence is in suffering. Indian thought has always pined for a patient handling of suffering; Ram was an epitome of it. Krishna managed the same suffering with a certain playfulness and never lost the bliss.

Gandhi’s life hinged on creating and balancing suffering, as his various experiments prove, all for others. This same sacrifice propelled Ram.

We still secretly wish to achieve Ram but seek the bliss of Krishna. To learn from them is an act of both intellect and intuition.

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