Gandhiji on Truth and Non-Violence
A SEMINAR- CUM- PANEL DISCUSSION
Date:- 30th January 2006
Place:- Gandhi National Memorial, Agakhan Palace, Nagar Road, Pune –411006
Not only the masses but even our intellectuals in general have a very shallow understanding of Gandhiji’s view about Truth and non-violence. Although India’s independence was brought as the result of a great mass non-violent political struggle under his leadership, which perhaps has no parallel instance in the entire history of mankind, they even fail to see that the Gandhian nonviolent mass-struggle against various forms of mass-injustice which exist in the world today on the basis of differences in species, class, gender, race, color, caste, religion, language, etc. is the surest and best means to root out them from the world. “There are two ways of defence. The best and the most effective is not to defend at all, but to remain at one’s post risking every danger. The next best but equally honorable method is to strike bravely in self-defence and put one’s life in the most dangerous position.” “You need not be afraid that the method of non-violence is a slow long-drawn out process. It is the swiftest the world has seen, for it is the surest.” Non-violent means “ results in the long run in the least loss of life and what is more it ennobles those who lose their lives and morally enriches the world for their sacrifice.” They fail to see that a non-violent movement is a process of self-purification and a bloodless revolution of “thought and spirit.”
Gandhiji is the apostle of Truth and non-violence of our age. According to him, 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, Gandhiji sees clearly that it belongs essentially to the domain of ethics. Unlike for most modern intellectuals, for him “to lead a spiritual life”, and “to lead a religious life” essentially mean the same as to lead a selfless ethical life of love, and non-violence constitutes the essence of ethics; unlike for them, for him “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 sees clearly that a liberated human life is eternally the best form of life: the peace and happiness which involves in a liberated life are not only everlasting but also of the highest kind. He sees clearly that any person through conscious effort can pursue Truth and progress towards it 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. He sees clearly that such a life necessarily involves leading a life of selfless service to one’s society to the best of one’s ability through some division of work required for general good, making constant effort to purify ones inner world, and earning ones livelihood through it, which constitutes the foundation of Varnashrama system of classical Indian civilization. He firmly rejects the present caste system: “ The present caste system is the antithesis of varnashrama. The sooner public opinion abolishes it the better.”
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 love and the life of selfishness, and the means to spiritual perfection from the life of selfishness. Gandhiji firmly believes that religious knowledge as well as ethical knowledge is essentially empirical scientific knowledge. 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.” He writes, “Modern science is replete with illustrations of seemingly impossible having become possible within living memory. But the victories of physical science would be nothing against the victory of the Science of Life, which is summed up in Love — the Law of our Being.” Gandhiji thus can be regarded as the apostle of the scientific religious life of our age.
Although Gandhiji did not write any comprehensive theoretical treatise on human life, his thoughts on various aspects of human life do provide a systematic understanding of human life, which is essentially the same as the understanding of human life of our great ancient teachers and seers. The great teachers and seers of our classical Indian civilization do have a common deep comprehensive scientific understanding of human life, although they do have differences in the realm of metaphysics: they do 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 into an enlightened perfect spiritual life. Gandhiji admits that our tradition has been swept by many evils such as castism, gender-injustice, etc, and considers it to be our supreme duty to make systematic efforts to root them out.
He sees clearly fundamental ethical unity and truth of all great religions. He sees clearly 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 truth of all great 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.” It was his firm conviction that India has the moral and spiritual resources to provide the rest of the world a culture of Truth and non-violence in the context of our technological age where all religions could grow harmoniously, in spite of their differences in the realm of metaphysics
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 eternal ethical principles such as universal non-violence, 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. The votaries of modern civilization explicitly reject some of these eternal ethical principles and do not even take note of some others. Gandhiji did not change his view about modern Western civilization till the end of his life.
Contrary to the popular belief, Gandhiji is not against machinery per se. But he is certainly against the replacement of body-labour by machine-work, but not against making physical work more joyful with the help of the machines. It is his firm belief that willing obedience to the law of body-labour brings contentment and health. He would certainly oppose the present Western form of development, which has caused the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species, resulting in greater damage to the natural system sustaining life and health, but he would not be against development based on the principle of Non-violence. He is not against the pursuit of wealth and pleasure within the bounds of ethics.
Gandhiji supports neither a blind rejection of the modern Western civilization nor a blind acceptance of classical Indian civilization. He writes: “There is nothing to prevent me from profiting by the light that may come from the West. Only I must take care that I am not overpowered by the glamour of the West. I must not mistake the glamour for the light.”
Since the basic values of all great religions are essentially the same, the rejection of the Gandhian alternative to modern western civilization essentially means the rejection of the basic values of all great religions. Today modern western civilization is spreading like wildfire throughout our country and the basic values of our classical Indian civilization, which is the only living great ancient civilization today, are disappearing fast from the core of our life. The temptation of the glamour of the modern western civilization is becoming too strong to resist. Let us make an in-depth critical study of the Gandhian alternative and initiate a national debate on it before it is too late. It will be a fitting tribute to the apostle of Truth and non-violence of our age.