Monday, December 19, 2016

Gandhi an Outlook and Philosophy

If philosophy is wisdom, Mahatma Gandhi was among our foremost philosophers. He had the wisdom of Socrates, the humility of St. Francis of Assisi, the mass appeal of Lenin, the saintliness of the ancient Indian Rishis and the profound love of humanity of the Buddha. He was a revolutionary  who was committed to the overthrow of all forms of tyranny and social injustice but who never overthrow of all forms of tyranny and social injustice but who never bore ill-will towards anyone, who led a mighty movement against British imperialism but never allowed the movement to  be accompanied by hatred, rancor or resentment against Englishmen. He was not an intellectual in the conventional sense of the term. He was not an academic philosopher propounding his philosophy in a precise, dry and formal manner. It would not be difficult to find inconsistencies and contradictions in some of his statements but he was supremely consistent in his devotion to truth. He was like the ancient sages, an earnest seeker after truth, a spiritual explorer or a scientist experimenting all his life to discover truth and apply it to the practical problems facing man. His sources of inspiration were not confined to his country or to his religion. His receptive mind was open to various influence. From his very childhood he was brought into contact with religious and moral ideas. He studied the Ramayana, the Bagavata, Vaishnava poets of Gujarat and the popular writings of the Jains. During his stay in England he studied Buddhism and Gita, met Quakers and missionaries, road the Upanishadas in translation, Ruskin’s unto his last, theosophist literature and books of Islam. He was also profoundly impressed by Thoreau and Tolstoy. Thoreau taught him that it was more honourable to be right than to be law-abiding-a revolutionary concept which inspired his philosophy of passive resistance. Tolstoy’s “The kingdom of God is within you,” taught him now man could liberate himself and control evil through suffering.
Gandhi ji was throughout his life a God-conscious, God-fearing man. He never, passed through the valley of doubt and darkness. Nothing could shake his confidence and faith in God and his scheme of life. God with him was not an abstraction of a mere metaphysical concept, but an intensely felt reality. Belief in God was with him a question, of faith and conviction. He needed no arguments to establish God’s existence. His whole being was permeated with God-consciousness; his heart vibrated with it.  Gandhi ji was no mystic who communicated with God in his trances or in moments of ecstasy but a man of action not living in forests and meditating, on eternal verities but living amidst men, engaged in an epic struggle against alien rule. He had, however, the ability to withdraw himself from life of excitement and meditate even amidst actions. The Mahatama described God in various ways. God to him was kind just and loving, who always responded to prayer and love. He was truth and love. A logical corollary to this belief is that the universe is organized on moral principles and that it presents a harmonious design, there being no contradiction or inconsistency in the laws of Nature and moral and spititual principles. Gandhi ji’s faith in God was not shaken when he beheld Natural red in truth and claw, when he saw earthquakes, floods and other natural calamities overwhelming man and causing infinite suffering, Evil and destruction also had a meaning, a significance, a purpose despite appearance to the contrary. If God was truth , love benevolence and justice, Gandhi ji asserted, man too was fundamentally moral and spiritual – an image of God, not a naked ape, not one or a divided nature, not one with a divided nature, not being at the mercy of his subconscious being an dominated by his instincts, biological drives and passions. Society also was not a mechanical or biological organism but a fraternity of spiritual beings. Gandhi ji was no fatalist. He believed in the doctrine of Karma and in punishment for the wrongs done, but he asserted that man was fundamentally a free agent gifted with a moral will and that he made or marred his own fortune.
Mahatma Gandhi’s bold affirmations of faith in God, in the moral nature of the universe, inhuman society as an association of kindred souls and in free will may be criticized by the modern cynics on the ground that no valid intellectual grounds have been offered, but none can dispute the fact that his faith leads to a ways of life which is in complete harmony with the needs of the times. If God is love or truth, there can be no bar to the realization of God through diverse ways. Religion does not divide people, unless it is understood in the sense of universal love and tolerance, of profound reverence for all great religions which are so many ways of apprehending the reality and identifying ourselves with its purpose. Distinctions of race, nationality and sect have no room in Gandhian ethics. Patriotism is not enough. A truly religious man does not restrict his allegiance to any country or nation. His loyalty is to the whole of humanity. He acknowledges all great religious as embodying the truth and, therefore, worthy of deep reverence. Mahatma Gandhi was an admirer of all religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Islam, Christianity and others. This does not mean that he accepted everything, they preached. “He does not mouth the name of the Founder of Christianity”, writes Will Durant in his appreciation of the Mahatma, “but he acts as if the Serman on the Mount were his perpetual guide.” If God is truth and if truth is God, then there is nothing which stands in the way of persons of various religious affiliations coming together on the same platform as seekers after truth. Even an earnest atheist trying to explore the reality is a truly religious man. What is repugnant to the Gandhian way of life is dogmatism, fanaticism, intolerance, selfishness. Mahatma Gandhi was a secularist in the sense that he was against any discrimination between citizen and citizen on grounds of religion, sect and caste. But he firmly believed that a State or society would be stable only to the extent to which it was based on ethical and spiritual ideals.
A man so profoundly religious as Gandhi ji will never subscribe to the cynical view that in promoting ends considered desirable, the nature of the means employed is of no importance and that means are justified by the ends. Gandhi ji attached the highest importance to both ends and means. In all spheres of life, the Mahatma pleaded, to both ends and means. In all spheres of life, the Mahatma pleaded, “We must refuse to meet hatred with hatred, violence with violence, evil with evil, but must love even our enemies, for in reality there are no enemies”. He always preached Satyagraha---truth force, non-violence, universal love. Man, he argues, was a spiritual being; love and non-violence were part of his nature. Force, hatred, vindictiveness, were centray to it. Non-violence was not the weapon of the weak and timid but of a strong man, of a bold man who would not tolerate any manifestation of evil or injustice or tyranny but would resolutely fight it and willingly suffer the consequences of rebellion. What Ghandhi ji condemned most was cowardice, weakness of will, acquiescence in evil. He wanted man to create an ideal society by his soul-force, not to remain satisfied with things as they are. He was a great revolutionary, a great rebel, a great social reformer, but his weapon always was man’s defiant spirit permanently committed to non-violence and love. Gandhi ji was an apostle of non-violence and love because, while violence and hatred brutalized men, love ennobled them and brought out the best in them. Christ and Buddha liberated mankind form misery and tyranny. They achieved this liberation through their gospel of love, charity, gentleness and sympathy. Non-violence as a method of agitation, the Mahatma believed, was bound to succeed because there was no man, however tyrannical, domineering, and acquisitive, who could indefinitely hold out against Satyagraha, against the appeal of the fighter for justice voluntarily submitting himself to suffering and sacrifice. Those who were not moved by appeals to reason or by display of physical force would not fail to respond to the appeal to their heart and to their soul. Underlying Gandhiji’s faith in Satyagraha is his belief that man is fundamentally a spiritual being and cannot long deny the spirituality within himself. Satyagraha involves both the fighter for justice as well as the wrong-doer. Fasting, civil disobedience and non-cooperation with the tyrant aroused. They are not a kind of blackmail or pressure tactics. They are no intended to coerce a man or to intimidate him. They are not a form of exploitation.
Mahatma Gandhi was a great idealist, whose thinking was always on the highest level. But he also  claimed to be a realist. He did not think that “Satyagraha” as he conceived it was beyond man’s power. Nobody can say what man can and cannot do. Is man still at heart a naked ape or is he capable of being an angel? It was said about Gandhi ji that he had the power of making heroes out of clay. All great leaders in history had this gift to making heroes out of clay. All great leaders in history had this gift of making heroes out of ordinary mortals. Man has tremendous potentialities which can be brought out by dynamic leadership, by training and educations, by religious and spiritual discipline. The human race has become so used to the employment of force by rebels and men in authority, the appearance of great religious leaders with a spiritual message notwithstanding, that my other method seems utopian. All great ideas which are accepted as axiomatic today were once regarded as utopian and dismissed as unworthy of serious consideration. Force has come down to us form remote antiquity because our social order is oppressive and unjust. The philosophic anarchist believes that the need for force would be obviated if private property is abolished and society is organized in a voluntary co-operative basis. If society is organized on the Gandhian ideals and the people are educated on the right lines, force would disappear. It is now universally recognized that was is not a necessary evil which must periodically appear but something abhorrent, which can be ended if mankind organized on an international basis if individuals are educated to respect the rule of law. There is nothing utopian about Mahatma Gandhi’s ideals and techniques.
It cannot be denied that Satyagraha is a very lofty weapon and that even Gandhiji’s own followers had not fully imbibed his ideas. Congress leaders were not absolute pacifists. They accepted the Satyagraha technique party because they were convinced that it was a morally superior weapon. Indian tradition of non-violence associated with Upanishad’s teaching and Buddhism and Jainism is very firmly rooted in the minds of men---- and partly because it promised better results. Nehru publicity confessed that non-violence was adopted as a method of agitation because we have not the material or the training for organized violence and individual or sporadic violence is a confession of despair. He said that the great majority of Congressmen had judged the issue not on moral but on practical grounds, and if they had rejected the way of violence it was because it promised no substantial results. If the congress or the nation, he added, came to the conclusion at any future time that the method of violence would the conclusion at any future time that the method of violence would help achieve independence, it would have no hesitation in adopting help achieve independence, it would have no hesitation adopting it. The Congress would certainly have fought the Axis Powers shoulder to shoulder with the Allies if it had been won over by the British Government by an imaginative and generous gesture, whereas Gandhiji was prepared to extend only moral support to the Allied cause and would have fought Japanese with Satyagraha. The Mahatma was fully aware of these differences. As a man of action committed to the liberation of this country from foreign yoke, Gandhiji could not insist that his followers should submit themselves to the discipline of non-violence. The criticism that the Mahatma was deliberately deceiving himself by believing that his followers had faithfully adopted his technique is patently meaningless. It is said that Satyagraha was regarded by the persons against him whom it was directed as coercion, and that Gandhiji’s fasts did not melt the hearts of his opponents and the sufferings of the participants in civil disobedience movement did no impress the British. Tyrants are not easily moved. If they could be easily moved, consciously or unconsciously, when they find themselves using brutal methods against peaceful people protesting against exploitation. When men in authority with no pretensions to legitimacy talked of Gandhiji’s methods as coercive, did they realize they represented the forces of tyranny? Would they have responded if appeal had been made to their reason? Only in a democratic set-up where a peaceful social change is possible can we say that direct action should be abjured.
Satyagraha is one way of eliminating injustice and oppression. The other way is to create a social order in which all forms of exploitation may disappear and the need for Satyagraha or for the employment of force may be obviated. Such a social order implies a World Government democratically elected a democratic national State, socialist economy and decentralization of power. The World Government would establish the rule of law among nations and exploit world resources on a scientific basis for the benefit of the human race as a whole. It would have some force at its disposal to deal with any act of aggression or with a recalcitrant nation. Nobody can object to the use of this force because it will always be employed to upload the rule of law. The democratic State will look after a people’s internal affairs and maintain the police to crush anti-social forces. Obviously there is nothing wrong with the use of force by a duly constituted public-spirited authority in defense of the rule of law. This force would be very sparingly used because causes of social tension and social conflicts are very few where every citizen is guaranteed the basic conditions of good life and disparities in the standards of living are not very marked. Force is reduced to the minimum possible in a healthy social order in which it is a safeguard against unruly elements. Mahatma Gandhi would have preferred the technique of Satyagraha for undoing wrongs not have objected to the use of force by the community in self-defense.
Mahatma Gandhi was a kind of philosophic anarchist in whose ideal society the coercive authority of the State would disappear; economic activity would be organized not on the basis of acquisitiveness and self-interest but on that of co-operation and service, and every individual would perform his duties and work for the common good. He distrusted the highly centralized modern State because, while apparently doing good by minimizing exploitation and promoting welfare, it destroyed individuality and thereby impeded progress. The State in this represented force in a most concentrated and organized form. With all his sympathy for the poor and the down-trodden, he was no socialist using the instrument of the State to relieve distress, ensure an equitable distribution of wealth and provide employment through planned scientific exploitation of the national resources. He was a decentralist who wanted all political and economic power to be decentralized who wanted all political and economic power to be decentralized so that the people might really feel free and not slaves of a centralized authorities in which the participation was only nominal. Gandhiji advocated village autonomy, each village, more or less, autonomous and self governing through panchayats, and a loose federation of villages for the satisfaction of common needs. As a spiritualist, he urged social reform, not through legislation but through self-discipline, moral restrain and persuasion. Gandhiji had no love for capitalism. Its acquisitive nature, its stress on self-interest, its exploitation of the poor was all repugnant to him. He did not, however, want to abolish capitalism by law but to transform it by moral force, by appealing to the rich to act as trustees of the national wealth. In his ideal society, the rich classes would use their wealth for the benefit of the people, taking as their share only the minimum amount necessary for a simple and austere life. Reform achieved through moral appeal, Gandhiji felt, would be more lasting and would be attending by no ill will or social tension. The best government’, he said, was not a welfare State with vast functions but a government which governed least’.
Mahatma Gandhi was thoroughly dissatisfied with the present economic system and the growing trend towards materialism. He was against the modern craze for multiplicity of wants and ostentations living and against ever-increasing mechanization of production and huge industrial combines relentlessly expanding their operations and pushing our small producers. He favored simple and noble living, production through cottage and small-scale industries, village self-sufficiency, manual labor and self-help. He wanted everyone to be employed and assured of the basic conditions of good life, such as food, clothing and shelter. He was not opposed to the employment of machinery, but he wanted machines to save man, not to enslave him. It would be wrong to call Gandhiji and conservative in his views. His views were conditioned by his knowledge of life in the country where the standards of living were deplorably low, unemployment had assumed staggering proportions and the privileged few were leading a most sophisticated life. Gandhi ji did not have any soft corner in his heart for the rich. His conception of trusteeship has often been misunderstood. Trusteeship is a means of property extent to extent regarded by the community as essential for its welfare. The State may regulate trusteeship, lay down minimum and maximum incomes, the proportion between them to be reasonable and just and the difference between them to be progressively reduced expropriation, he favored Satyagraha and non-cooperation with landlords and capitalists to persuade them to act merely as trustees of their wealth. Production, according to the Mahatma, should be regulated not by the whim or greed of the producer but to satisfy social needs. He would not hesitate to nationalize an industry if capitalists and workers did not function as trustees of an industry.
Mahatma Gandhi was a great champion of individual freedom, but while he conceded to the individual certain fundamental rights, he laid equal stress, if not more, on duties. Gandhiji was no individualist as the term is ordinarily understood, a man impelled by self-interest, working for self-aggrandizement and conceding to society the minimum right to regulate his conduct. He was an advocate of individualism in the moral and spiritual sense of the term---the sense of man whose nature made him an end in himself, who needed freedom to develop his moral nature and contribute to the enrichment of the corporate life of the community and who was always God-conscious, bound in his actions by Dharma. Gandhiji was against every custom the degraded man and made a mockery of his spiritual nature. He saw in the pernicious practice of untouchability man’s most deadly sin. He denounced intoxicating drugs and drinks as brutalizing men and doing violence to their spiritual nature. Gandhiji’s views on educations were also inspired by the consideration for forming a sound character. Education should not only help in acquiring knowledge and arousing intellectual curiosity, but should inculcate right ideals through knowledge of national social and cultural heritage. The Mahatma rejected the caste system based on birth as immoral. He wanted the organizations on the ground that they helped to transmit knowledge and skill to the succeeding generations. The Mahatma approached labor problems from a spiritual stand point. He was stoutly opposed to exploitation of labor but he also reminded workers of their duty towards their employers, their work and their nation. Neither, workers nor employers had any right to work only for their self-interest. With the Mahatma, society was neither capitalistic not socialistic. It was an association of noble men and women conscious of their duty towards their fellow men, living not in isolation but fully participating in the corporate life of the community---the village society, the nation and the international community.
Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of life has been criticized on the ground the independent India has completely repudiated it. Modern India is committed to the operation of highly centralized parliamentary government, the creation of a socialistic order, large scale industrialization on the Western pattern and modern science and technology. But the Mahatma’s views on autonomous villagers, his advocacy of cottage industries, Charkha and Khaddar, his general opposition to mass-production, big labor-saving machines and imitation of Western production, big labor-saving machines and imitation of Western production methods should be considered in the context of the conditions prevailing in the country. Besides, we must consider the spirit underlying his proposals. Mahatma Gandhi was not a philosopher or a metaphysical thinker, and a modern sceptic may legitimately claim that he has thrown no new light on the ultimately claim that he has thrown no new light on the ultimate reality, the nature of the universe, the existence of evil and free-will. But he has given the world a new way of life, a way which is also as old as civilization itself. His greatest contribution to modern thought lie in his insistence that main s fundamentally a spiritual and moral being and that society is an association of human spirits---an association which is not limited in any way by considerations of nationality race, creed or sex. This is a simple doctrine, yet how profoundly revolutionary. He wants men and women who are noble, public spirited, disciplined; who are always bound by the laws of Dharma, who are fully conscious of their social obligations and who think not in terms of self-interest and self-aggrandizement but of service to the community and its corporate life. He also wants a society in which every man would be able to live in freedom and achieve creative self-expression.
In this world, divided by nationality, race, religion, sex and caste and class, in the world where a large part of humanity lives under a totalitarian tyranny, in this world where man seeks only endless pleasure in the acquisition of the material things of life, in sex and drugs and drink, in new sensations and excitement, the message of the Mahatma has a significance which mankind cannot of village republics has not found favor with the farmers of our Constitution, but all eminent political and social thinkers are agreed that political and economic authority should be decentralized if man is to be truly free and is to participate in the democratic process of decision-making. One may dissent from the Mahatma’s extreme views on pacifism and may regard the use of force by the State as justified in dealing with anti-social elements or by rebels protesting against an unjust social order, but if war among nations is to be eliminated, Gandhism provides the only way. Science and technology cannot be rejected and industrialization on a big scale is unavoidable for a modern, viable and self-sustaining economy, but is it wrong to insist that the aim of the economy should be the promotion of human welfare and individual freedom rather than endless multiplication of wants, inhuman conditions of work, loss of craftsmanship, gigantic organizations dwarfing man and ever increasing urbanization which denies man any contact with nature? Machines to be sure, are needed, but must they make men their slaves?
The ideal society of Mahatma’s dreams may appear to be too utopian. His distrust of the State seems unwarranted. The modern democratic State is the agent of the community and represents the collective wisdom of the masses. There is nothing wrong with democratic legislation to bring about a social change. No coercion is involved in it. It does not violate individual freedom but promotes it. Gandhiji relied too much on persuasion, too little on the conscience of the community embodies in Parliament. But with all his limitations as a thinker, he represented a great moral force and a new way of life which promises to relieve the anxiety of the modern age and put humanity on the road to sanity and health.


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