Gandhiji on Fundamental Unity
A SEMINAR- CUM- PANEL DISCUSSION
Date:- 30th January 2004 & 2007
Place:- Gandhi National Memorial, Agakhan Palace, Nagar Road, Pune –411006
Gandhiji’s views on spirituality and religion have great significance for our age. It was Gandhiji’s firm conviction that the basic values of all great religions are essentially the same and true, and that inter-religious dialogue would be conducive to lasting inter-religious harmony: “I believe in the fundamental truths of all religions of the world ……… And I believe that, if only we could all of us read the scriptures of different faiths from the stand points of the followers of those faiths we should find that they were at bottom all one and were all helpful to one another.” Since various religions do have fundamental differences in the realm of metaphysics, it is obvious that the above view of Gandhiji is essentially true with reference to the ethics of various great religions.
He sees clearly that all religions rightly consider that enlightened selfless ethical life of love constitutes the core of Truth, i.e. of the ultimate goal of life, and pursuit of selfless ethical life of love, serving selflessly one’s society to the best of one’s ability through some work required for the general good and making constant effort to progress towards ethical perfection, constitutes the core of its means. They explicitly or implicitly accept that an enlightened selfless ethical life of love is intrinsically blissful and invaluable for us: peace and happiness in a liberated life are not only everlasting but also of the highest kind. Any person through conscious effort can progress in the path of Truth from evil to good life, from selfish good life to unselfish good life, from unselfish good life to enlightened selfless good life and from it finally to Truth, i.e. to perfect enlightened selfless good life. They explicitly accept that pursuit of wealth and pleasure within the limits of ethics is essential not only for the pursuit of the ultimate goal of life, but also for sustainable development and prosperity in society.
For Gandhiji, Truth is the ultimate goal of life and Non-violence its means. Contrary to the widely accepted view that spirituality belongs to the domain of mysticism, for Gandhiji it belongs essentially to the domain of ethics. Unlike for most modern intellectuals, for Gandhiji “to lead a spiritual life”, and “to lead a religious life”, essentially means the same as to lead a selfless ethical life of Love and “to realize God”, “to realize Truth”, “to realize self”, “to realize liberation”, essentially mean the same as to realize a perfect enlightened selfless ethical life of love. Unlike them, he explicitly accepts that spiritual knowledge as well as ethical knowledge is essentially some kind of empirical scientific knowledge. We can do experiment with Truth and non-violence and acquire first-hand scientific knowledge about the deeper aspects of selfless ethical life of love through leading an unselfish ethical life of love and making constant effort to grow spiritually higher and higher and trying to understand it rationally.
For Gandhiji to acquire spiritual knowledge is not to acquire knowledge through some extraordinary perception about some mystical entity called soul or self, but to acquire knowledge with the help of reason based on one’s spiritual experiences about the distinction between the life of selfless ethical love and the life of selfishness, and the means to spiritual perfection from the life of selfishness. It was his firm conviction that “the man who discovered for us the law of love was a far greater scientist than any of our modern scientists,” and the “the victories of physical science would be nothing against the victory of science of life, which is summed up in love which is the law of our being.” Thus unlike them he would consider seers like Vyasa, Patanjali, Buddha, etc. to be great human scientists: they provide us a true comprehensive scientific theory of the distinction between spiritual and non-spiritual life and the means to transform a non-spiritual life in to a perfect enlightened spiritual life.
It was his firm conviction that our civilization, which is the only living great ancient civilization and which is the mother of so many great religions, has the moral and spiritual resources to provide the world a rational culture of Truth and non-violence in the context of our present technological age, where all religions could grow harmoniously, in spite of their differences in the realm of metaphysics: our ancient Indian civilization is highly tolerant to religious metaphysical pluralism. The first step we must take in the direction to have a rational religious culture will be to introduce a critical study of ethics from the very beginning of our education. It would certainly be a major step in the direction to have a permanent rational culture of inter-religious harmony. Gandhiji firmly believed that “a child before it begins to write its alphabet and to gain worldly knowledge, should know what the soul is, what truth is, what love is …. A child should learn that, in the struggle of life, it has to conquer hate by love, untruth by truth, and violence by self-suffering.” We must study critically the views of great religions, and of great teachers and thinkers of mankind about various fundamental issues of ethics concerning the form and content of good life and good society, their value and their means. It is greatly agonizing, anguishing to note that our philosophers and human scientists have totally failed to give us the ethics education necessary to build a rational ethical culture: under the influence of modern western civilization, they have excluded ethics education from educational curricula from school to university education level.
In the beginning of 20th century in his Hind Swaraj, Gandhiji made a severe condemnation of modern western civilization and articulated an alternative to it involving essentially retelling the basic values of the great teachers and seers of our classical Indian civilization in the context of our present technological age. It was his firm conviction that in the materialization of his vision lay the true freedom of India, and through India of the world at large. He considered the modern western civilization to be essentially an irreligious false civilization in the sense that selfless ethical love, which constitutes the essence of religious life, has no place or only peripheral place in it, and what it considers to be the ultimate goal of life is essentially false. It fails to see not only the true value of spirituality, i.e. of selfless ethical love, for human life but also the truth about many traditional ethical principles such as non-violence to all life, non-slavery to passions and senses, abstention from avarice, contentment, external and internal purity, body-labour, non-adultery, etc., which all great religions accept to be eternal ethical principles. Gandhiji did not change his view about modern Western civilization till the end of his life.
Today when the modern western civilization, which Gandhiji denounced to be a soulless civilization of lust for pleasure and wealth, is spreading like a wild fire throughout the country, and the basic values of our classical Indian civilization, which he considered to be essentially a true civilization, are disappearing from the core of our hearts, and inter-religious hatred continues to be one of our major unsolved problems, it would be most appropriate to make an intensive critical study of Gandhiji’s views about morality, spirituality and religion, which has great significance for our age, and initiate a national and global debate on it. It would be a fitting tribute to the apostle of Truth and non-violence of our age in the centenary year of his Satyagraha in South Africa.