The report in the newspapers about Gandhi's speech at the newly founded Benaras Hindu University attracted Vinoba's attention. Being too shy to approach the Mahatma, Bhave wrote a letter instead. After an exchange of letters, Gandhi invited him to join the ashram at Sabarmati. When Gandhi learned that his new follower had not written to his family for several years, he sat down himself and wrote to Bhave's father: "Your Vinoba is with me. His spiritual attainments are such as I myself attained only after a long struggle."
Vinoba went and met Gandhi on June 7, 1916. This meeting changed the course of Vinoba's life. He had said later "When I was in Kashi, my main ambition was to go to the Himalayas. Also there was an inner longing to visit Bengal. But neither of the two dreams could realise. Providence took me to Gandhi and I found in him not only the peace of the Himalayas but also the burning fervor of resolution, typical of Bengal. I said to myself that both of my desires had been fulfilled.”
Bhave was restless at Sabarmati, however, and went away to study more Sanskrit, telling Gandhi that if he did not find peace of soul he would be back in a year. Over the ensuing months, the others in the ashram forgot his promise, but one morning at prayers, the Mahatma said that this was the day Vinoba had promised to return. Vinoba was back before nightfall.
Asked by Gandhi to take charge of the ashram at Wardha, Vinoba went to Wardha on April 8, 1921. In 1923, he brought out `Maharashtra Dharma', a monthly in Marathi (regional language), which had his essays on the Upanishads. Later on, this monthly became a weekly and continued for three years. His articles on the Abhangas of Sant Tukaram (a saint poet) published in it became popular. A time passed Vinoba continued his search for the self which task him to spiritual heights. His involvement with Gandhi's constructive programmes related to Khadi, village industries, new education (Nai Talim), sanitation and hygiene also kept on increasing.
Jail Visits and his literary works
He was associated with Mahatma Gandhi in the Indian independence movement. The jails for Vinoba had become the places of reading and writing. In 1923, he was jailed for months at Nagda jail and Akola jail for taking a prominent part in the flag satyagraha at Nagpur.
In 1925, he was sent by Gandhi to Vykon (in Kerala) to supervise the entry of the Harijans to the temple.
In 1932 he was sent to Dhulia jail for six months by the British colonial government for his conspiracies and fights against British rule by taking part in Gandhi's civil-disobedience movement. There he gave a series of talks about the different subjects of the Gita, in his native language Marathi, to his fellow prisoners. He saw the proofs of his book `Gitai' (Marathi translation of Gita) here. Lectures given by him on Gita to the colleagues in the Dhulia jail collected by Sane Guruji were later published as a book. Writing of the book "Swarajya Shastra" (the treatise of self rule) and the collection of the bhajans (religious songs) of the saint Gyaneshwar, Eknath and Namdev were completed.
These highly inspiring talks were later published as the book "Talks on the Gita", and it has been translated to many languages both in India and elsewhere. Vinoba felt that the source of these talks was something above and he believed that its influence will endure even if his other works were forgotten. This work sold about a quarter of a million copies.
"The Gita is prepared to go to the lowest, the weakest and the least cultured of men. And it goes to him not to keep him where he is, but to grasp him by the hand and lift him up. The Gita wishes that man should make his action pure and attain the highest state."
The Gita prescribes three paths for the soul's union with God: karma-yoga, the way of action, Jnana-yoga, the way of knowledge, and bhakti-yoga, the way of love. The poem is set in the frame of bloody battle, a great battle on the plain of Kurukshetra. Although most Indian scholars believe that the poem refers to a real battle, Gandhi was so deeply committed to nonviolence that he convinced himself that the battle of Kurukshetra was an allegory, that it portrayed the conflict of good & evil in the human heart.
In December 23, 1932, he shifted to Nalwadi (a village about two miles from Wardha town), from where he experimented his idea of supporting himself by spinning alone. Later, when he was sick in 1938, he shifted to what he called Paramdham Ashram in Paunar, which remained his headquarters. Vinoba's involvement in the freedom movement during this period remained.
Till 1940, Vinoba Bhave was known only to the people around him. Mahatma Gandhi, on 5 October, 1940, introduced Bhave to the nation by issuing a statement. He was also chosen as the first Individual Satyagrahi (an Individual standing up for Truth instead of a collective action) by Gandhi himself against the British rule.
He was jailed thrice during 1940-41 for individual satyagraha at Nagpur jails; first time for three months, second time for six months and third time for one year.
Vinoba took part in the Quit India movement of 1942 for which he got an imprisonment of three years at Vellore and Seoni jails. In Nagpur jail, 'Ishavasyavritti' and 'Sthitaprajna Darshan' were written in the Seoni jail. Four languages of the South India were learnt by Vinoba at Vellore jail and the script of Lok Nagari was also created here after research.
His writings covering diverse areas of religion, philosophy, education and Sarvi are thought-provoking and yet accessible to the common people. The popularity of his writings has proved his ability to relate to the people. The competence of this multi-lingual scholar as an editor was also of high order as displayed by his editing of `Maharashtra Dharma' (mentioned earlier), Sarvodaya (in Hindi) and Sevak (in Marathi). Of the many teachings of the Gita which Vinobaji highlighted in his talks, one of the most important was the role of self-help.
Around 1953 Vinoba Bhave read only three books: Euclid's Elements, Aesop's Fables and the Bhagavad Gita. For him, as for Gandhi, the Bhagavad Gita is the supreme book of human guidance. This great Sanskrit poem, imbedded in a larger work called the Mahabharata, is later than the Vedas and the Upanishads, and fills a role in the Hindu holy books something like that of the New Testament in the Bible.
Vinoba was a scholar, thinker, writer who produced numerous books, translator who made Sanskrit texts accessible to common man, orator, linguist who had excellent command of several languages (Marathi, Hindi, Urdu, English, Sanskrit), and a social reformer. He wrote brief introductions to, and criticisms of, several religious and philosophical works like the Bhagavad Gita, works of Adi Shankaracharya, the Bible and Quran. His criticism of Dnyaneshwar's poetry as also the output by other Marathi saints is quite brilliant and a testimony to the breath of his intellect.
In order to know the best mind of Islam he gave one year to the study of Koran in the original. He, therefore, learnt Arabic. He found this study necessary for cultivating contact with the Muslims living in the neighborhood.