Vinoba Bhave

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Vinoba Bhave was widely regarded as the spiritual heir of Mahatma Gandhi. Born to a devout Brahmin family in Bombay, he had wavered in his youth between pursuing the life of a spiritual seeker or joining the resistance to British colonial rule. The dilemma was resolved in 1916 when he met Gandhi and found in him a model of holiness in the pursuit of social transformation. He understood that Gandhi aimed at something greater than independence from Britain—nothing less than the kingdom of God. 

In 1940 Gandhi selected Vinoba to initiate a campaign of civil disobedience, resulting in his arrest and imprisonment for five years. After Independence and Gandhi’s death in 1948, Vinoba vowed to carry on the struggle for the wider goal, a nonviolent society dedicated to “the welfare of all.” Through his travels he perceived that Independence meant little for the majority of India’s rural poor. In 1951 he launched the “Bhoodan” (land-gift) movement, appealing for contributions of land for the poor. The movement achieved surprising success. By 1954 he had collected 2.5 million acres. His goal was nothing less than a revolution of kindness. 

Ultimately the movement foundered. The structures of poverty were deeper than could be reached through Vinoba’s appeals alone. If his effort was a heroic failure, it provided a glimpse of a society organized around appeals to goodness and solidarity rather than self-interest and greed. He died on November 15, 1982. 

“All revolutions are spiritual at the source. All my activities have the sole purpose of achieving a union of hearts.” 

—Vinoba Bhave 

Robert Ellsberg

Robert Ellsberg is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Orbis Books and the author of several award-winning books, including All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time; Blessed Among All Women; and The Saints' Guide to Happiness.