He was the only the Jain representing Jainism at the first parliament of world religion held in Chicago in 1893. Due to his success and popularity at the conference, he stayed a further two years in the USA and delivered many hundreds of lectures on Jainism, Yoga, Indian systems of philosophy, Indian culture, occultism, and spiritualism at various institutions.
His lectures on Jaina philosophy have been published in a book-form under the title ‘The Jaina Philosophy’ in 1910 and 1924. In these lectures he made the Jaina positions comprehensible to a non-Jain and non-Indian audience. For his approach was the most non-sectarian and rational.
The Karma Philosophy:
His lectures on the Jaina theory of Karma have also been published under the title ‘The Karma Philosophy’ in 1913 and 1924.
Indian systems of philosophy agree with the conception that each action entails its fruit or its result; none can escape the consequences of one’s own actions. This fundamental idea on which the doctrine of Karma is based holds crucial importance in the development of ethical thoughts of ancient Indians. The Jaina version of it is illuminating in more ways than one.
V. Glasenapp, a well-known German scholar on Jainism, wrote his doctoral dissertation on the Jaina doctrine of Karma; and acknowledged Gandhi’s lectures as his sole influence. Even today, these lectures remain unsurpassed and serve as an independent source of enlightenment on the subject. Gandhi’s exposition is so lucid and brilliant that no serious student of Indian philosophy in general, and Jaina philosophy, can afford to ignore it.
Various systems of Indian Philosophy:
His lectures on the various systems of Indian philosophy have been compiled by Shri K. K. Dixit and published under the title ‘The Systems of Indian Philosophy’ by Shri Mahavira Jaina Vidyalaya, Bombay in 1970. It explains the various Indian philosophies, which are Sankhya, Yoga, Nyaya (Vaisesika), Mimamsa, Vedanta, Buddhism, and Jainism.
In these lectures, we have an exposition of the non-Jaina systems of Indian philosophy by a liberal but convinced Jaina. But Gandhi’s own ideological affiliation does not prevent him from making maximum honest efforts to get at the heart of the various non-Jaina systems of Indian philosophy.
His presentation of the positions of various systems of Indian philosophy is faithful and his clarity is praiseworthy. Gandhi explains as to what a particular system has to say on a problem. These lectures reveal his deep and extensive study of the subject. As a scholar of Sanskrit, he could properly understand all the systems of Indian philosophy. He draws parallels from Western philosophers, compares the position of one system with that of another, quotes Western scholars to support his arguments, removes misconceptions, and makes intelligent and impartial observations.
These lectures bear testimony of his powers of comprehension, his philosophical acumen, and his profound learning. To understand Indian philosophical thought, one should first acquaint oneself with the spirit of Indian culture. His love for this culture is represented in his speeches for he speaks with the zeal of a missionary and the reason of an honest scholar.
He is particularly conscious of the fact that the true strength of India lies in what is moral and spiritual in Indians. He draws no distinction among Brahmanic (Hindu), Jain, or Buddhist cultures. According to him, the basic Indian culture is neither Hindu, nor Jain nor Buddhist. By giving an impressive account of Indian life, he draws a true picture of the social and moral status of ancient Indians. He is particularly conscious of the fact that the true strength of India lies in what is moral and spiritual in Indians. He says, “The wonder is that notwithstanding these foreign attacks, India and her people have survived; that notwithstanding the demoralizing influences of foreigners, India still leads in spirituality and morality.
His exposition of Yoga philosophy and its technique of eight-fold yoga to achieve the suppression of the manifestations of mind entailing the unagitated pure state of mind, is brilliant. He aptly discusses the interesting topic of miraculous powers, which a yogi acquires by reason of performing the highest form of concentration on the required event, aspect, or thing.
The source of the positive power, therefore, lies in the soul. In the very wording of the definition of yoga is involved the supposition of the existence of a power which can control and suppress the manifestations, of the mind. The power is the power of the soul – otherwise familiar to us as freedom if the will. So long as the soul is subject to the mind it is tossed this way or that in obedience to the mental changes. Instead of the soul being tossed by the mental changes, the mind should vibrate in obedience to the soul vibrations. When once the soul becomes the master of the mind, it can produce any manifestations It likes.
Gandhi’s exposition of Buddhist philosophy is confined to early Buddhism. By this, he gives an account of the fourfold ‘ noble truths’, the seven jewels of the Buddhist law, the Buddhist conception of nirvana, and the Buddhist understanding of the ‘law of karma’. All these topics are ethics-religion. The only metaphysical doctrine he incidentally dealt with is that of ‘five skandhas’ along with its corollary, the doctrine of ‘no-soul’. Gandhi says that Buddhist’s acceptance of the ‘law of karma’ is incompatible with the denial of ‘soul’.
Virchand R Gandhi passed away in 1901 when he was only thirty seven.
A Brilliant exponent of indian philosophy by Dr. Nagin J Shah
Two heros of parliament of religions by Swami Nikhtleshwarananda