[Part 2] Lessons from Life of Indian Thinker: Mahatma Gandhi
Principle of Character
Gandhi idealizes a moral and ethical character. Character comes from within. It is the key to success. One’s character must be clear, truthful and self-controlled. Gandhi believed that the true test of a civilization and culture is the degree to which these are able to inculcate moral-ethical values in the character of an individual. It is a moral character that guides the human beings towards progress. A weak character breaks in the wake of adverse situations; but a strong and stable character faces every adversity with courage. Also, a good character radiates itself to the society, bringing goodness all around. Thus, a noble character alone can make an impact on the masses.
One’s language reflects one’s character, as it is more reflected in one’s thought that one’s deeds. Literary training fails to bring about a good impact, unless it is supplemented with a good character. Character building is an independent process from literary training.
Gandhi says: “If Wealth is lost, nothing is lost; If Health is lost, something is lost; but If Character is lost, everything is lost”.
Principle of Satyagraha
For Gandhi, Ahimsa is the highest duty of mankind. Ahimsa is practiced through one’s soul-force, or Satyagraha. It is important to remember that satyagraha is not a weapon of the weak, as a weak person would not be able to carry the courage required to practice satyagraha. The life of satyagraha requires a training of the soul, in highest of values. It implies, countering violence and hatred with love and sacrifice. That is why, satyagraha has been distinguished from passive resistance, as the latter is practiced by the weaklings due to their incapability to counter violence with violence.
Gandhi hated the evil, but not the evil-doer. Satyagraha seek to uplift the evil-doer of the wrong path, and tries to convince the opponent of his wrongfulness. Thus, selfishness is not compatible with satyagraha. The satyagrahi adheres to the principles of truth and non-violence, till his last breath. Only a person of high character and courage, can use non-violence against a violent adversary. Thus, the performance of satyagraha requires cultivation of moral values.
Principle of Morality
Truth is the highest of all values. It can only be realized through a moral path. Thus, morality is the only way to achieve the ideal character. Only through morality, can one achieve true self-realization. A lack of moral base pushes an individual towards the wrong path, and subsequently, brings suffering and degradation.
Gandhi believed in the concept of Karma. Thus, we cannot demand something from the society, unless we contribute some good to it. The moral course of actions are not limited to the sages and leaders. But it is to be followed by every individual. Gandhi attacked the groups that preach a moral propaganda without applying it to themselves. Gandhi believed in the idea of-
‘being what you want the other to be’.
Gandhi believed in the performance of one’s moral duties to the society. These duties are- satya, ahimsa, brahmacharya, asteya (non-stealing) and aparigraha (non-possession). All these values have their source in the religious scriptures in India. However, what makes Gandhi unique is his insistence that these values and duties should not form a rigid system, but should be applied dynamically, to suit the needs and requirements of the society.
Truth can only be realized through non-violence. Since no individual can claim to be knowing the absolute truth, the pursuit of truth should be a joint pursuit. Gandhi believed in the relative theory of truth. Every person understand a particular conception of truth, which is partly true and partly untrue. Therefore, using violence to shut others, only suppresses his conception of truth. This prevent the possibility of realization of a comprehensive truth. The pursuit of truth can only be done through a mutual pursuit, based upon non-violence and high values.
Gandhi viewed participation in political life of the nation as a means to the religious life. Politics, for him, is the application of religion in a certain sphere of life. Thus, Gandhian view of politics is spiritual. His ideas are not like those of ‘real polik‘ but highly ethical and moral. Also, religion, for Gandhi, is the trust in the moral organization of the universe. While different religion might choose different roads for their followers, the end of every religion is the same. The same principles of morality form the foundation of different religions.
Principle of Swaraj
Gandhi broadened the scope and meaning of swaraj to great level. He transcended the conception of swaraj held by the earlier leaders and included a revolutionary idea in it. He believed in the exercise of governmental authority ‘for the people’, and a general democratization of the social life. For him, Democracy meant the art and science of mobilizing the entire physical, economic and spiritual resources of the various sections of the society, in the service of the common good of all. Democracy, thus, is not a mere form of government, but an attitude that needs to be cultivated.
A nation can be democratic only when the people feel independent at mind and heart; when they are fearless, and has self-respect. Such a democracy requires great discipline, which can be developed only through a spiritual transformation of the masses.
Gandhi viewed the problems of a democracy from a moral-ethical perspective, rather than a political one.
Principle of Sarvodaya
Some sections of scholars see Gandhi as a moral anarchists, for see saw the greatest good of all only in a classless, stateless democracy, based on autonomous self-sufficient village communities. However, this is not an anarchist framework, as the villages of Gandhi are an exemplary of high values and discipline. Such arrangement seek to uphold the principles of non-violence, renunciation of acquisition, individual initiatives, decentralization and cooperation.
Such local self-sufficient villages would work on the principles of true democracy. The members, having high character, would facilitate the mutual growth of capability, with minimum governmental control. Life, in such framework, would be one of mutual sharing and caring.
A Sarvodaya society will be based on truth and non-violence, in which there will be no distinction of caste and creed, no opportunism, no exploitation, and a full scope of mutual development.
On Indian Civilisation
Gandhi viewed India as a microcosm of the world, with different cultures and traditions. Indian civilization has been a harmonious blend of different cultures and people. Indian civilization is merely the Hindu, or Muslim culture, but an amalgam of different traditions and lived experiences. That is why, we have a history of tolerance and acceptance, which has given a unique spirit to the Indian mind. This kind of mind existed freely in the ancient ages, which was spirit-centric.
However, the modern times have witnessed a degradation of the character and mind of the Indians, due to the hordes of materialism, that has invaded our society. As a result, our society has become body-centric. The main culprit behind degradation is the Modern/Western Civilization, which is morally corrupt. Gandhi was a staunch critic of the western civilization, for its materialistic attitude, and lack of moral depth. Under the influence of the western civilization, our society has lost the moral guidance, that was provided constantly by our ancient civilization. As a result, man has been de-humanized and ripped of the values that are noble. The cult of violence has invaded our souls, leading to severe degradation.
Modern civilization is being carried forward on the principles of greed and want. It teaches the practice of subordination and the idea of survival of the fittest. It places no restriction on one’s desire, and unleashes the limitless desires of the human body. Thus, it is immanently immoral and anti-social. Gandhi also criticized the agents of the modern civilization- the state, railways, lawyers, doctors, industries etc…
Spirit of Humanity
Gandhi rejected any idea/theory that used violence as a means of addressing the human concerns. For violence begets violence. An ideal society can only be achieved through love and cooperation. A Satygrahi needs to persuade his adversary to join in the pursuit of truth. Violence is degrading to both- the victim as well as the oppressor.
Gandhi’s concern for humanity was very broad. He wanted to rid the country of divisions and discord, and develop discipline, love, cooperation, self-respect, and social equality. He also decried against the subjugation of women, and fought relentlessly for the cause of the untouchables. Gandhi viewed women, as a repository of strength, ability, love, sacrifice, character and determination. He played an important role in the emancipation of women during the freedom struggle.
Self-development, to him, implied learning to be a human. This process should be marked by self-transformation and inner illumination.
Education, for Gandhi, meant an all round drawing out of the best in the child and man’s body, mind and spirit. Literacy is merely an aspect of the education. Gandhi advocated the principle of self-sufficiency for every school. Children should be taught the art of handirafts. Physical drill, handicrafts, drawing and music should be in integral part of the education system. Gandhi mentioned that character building is independent of literary training. He also advocated in favor of introducing sex education in the school system.
Gandhi was far-sighted. He realized the disastrous impacts of the humans on their environment. This contemporary model of development is premised on a flawed foundation. Thus, he pleaded for a sensible approach and greater awareness towards the ecological concerns.
Gandhi recognized the factors that were responsible for the environmental degradation- unlimited urbanization, massive industrialization and the spread of industrialization. All these phenomenon are devoid of any ethical principle, thus creating misery for the nature as well as humans. Environmental degradation is a result of man’s growing greed.
Gandhi refused any distinction among the human beings, based on purity and pollution. He refused to accept the assertions of superiority of any particular varna. He viewed the practice of untouchability as a pathological sign in Hinduism. It denies the spiritual unity of all men, and is disruptive of the moral tie that binds us. Thus, Gandhi devoted a significant part of his life in fighting against the practice of untouchability.
Self and Society
Gandhi distinguished between self-interest- which means the legitimate needs, and selfishness- which implies an illegitimate greed. As a moralist, Gandhi was deeply concerned towards the issue of personal integrity and individual responsibility. He wanted to evoke and evolve an enlightened public opinion, which alone can sustain an ethical society. Every individual possess a free will, which needs to be made ethical.
Gandhi was also against cultural and religious parochialism. We advocated a harmonious blending of the different cultures and religious ideas, in order to do away with the ill of the society. Gandhi, himself, was greatly influenced by numerous sources and cultures. This gave him, his composite attitude and comprehensive understanding.
One of the important principle of Gandhian philosophy is the purity of the means. As against the consideration of the ends, Gandhi strongly advocated for the purity of the means that guide us towards the ends. Immoral means cannot bring moral ends.
Gandhi idea of an ideal social order is a deep religious element. His ideas are linked deeply with those of the moral law, divine power, and the dignity of man. In his ideal society, self development of an individual is brought through participation in the political-social processes.
Gandhi also believed in the respect of manual labour. No work is degrading. Thus, he introduced a variety of manual work in his schools and ashrams. To bridge the gulf between the well-off and the poor, Gandhi encouraged the well-off sections to help the poor in uplifting the latter.
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