Mahatma Gandhi has been perhaps the most important leader of India in recent times. He is fondly called the ‘Father of the Nation’ by Indian people. He was a great spiritual leader and hence given the title of ‘Mahatma’ by Noble Laureate Rabindranath Tagore. He drew inspiration from all religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Jainism. He was greatly inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God is Within You and John Ruskin’s Unto This Last. He translated the latter into Gujarati Sarvodaya (Well Being of All).
Gandhi was deeply impressed by the philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita. He said, ‘When doubts haunt me, when disappointments stare me in the face and I see not one ray of hope on the horizon, I turn to Bhagavad Gita and find a verse to comfort me; and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming sorrow. Those who meditate on the Gita will derive fresh joy and new meanings from it every day.’
He considered Gopal Krishna Gokhale to be his teacher, who embodied the goal of spiritualising in politics.
Ethical Ideas of Gandhi
He believed that the good of the individual is contained in the welfare of all. If we don’t grow together, we grow apart. All people have the same right of earning their livelihood from their work. He believed in the sacredness of the physical work and hence always engaged himself in menial activities like weaving khadi, cleaning toilet etc. He stated that a life of labour is a life worth living.
2. Faith in God
He believed in the gods of all religions and considered them as ‘One God’, but called by different names. For him God is an impersonal force and a benevolent governor of the world. God is present in every being in the form of Atman/soul. Hence, the best way to discover God is to discover your voice of soul. He often relied upon his inner voice or the voice of his soul to guide him on the right path. He believed that the Kingdom of God is within every man and that God communicates with us in the form of our inner voice.
He advised people to follow the path of love, truth, non-violence and service to realise God instead of following numerous rituals. He believed that God does not have any form and He is nirguna (no quality) and nirankara (no form). The idols of God in temples are only a symbolic representation of Him. According to him, God and His laws are one and the same. Hence the best form of worship of God is to follow the teaching of God as given in the scriptures. If you wish to be a true Christian, you should live like Jesus Christ. He called God Sat-Chit-Ananda (Truth-Knowledge-Bliss).
Gandhi was a great votary for truth. He called his religion as the ‘religion of truth’ and he believed that Truth and God are one. Hence, if you are truthful, you are closest to God. He once said,
The word satya (Truth) is derived from Sat which means ‘being’. Nothing is or exists in reality except Truth. That is why Sat or Truth is perhaps the most important name of God; In fact it is more correct to say that Truth is God than to say God is truth. On deeper thinking, however, it will be realised that Sat or Satya is the only correct and fully sign fact name for God.
He shows his philosophical and contemplative mind by equating Truth with God. It reminds us of the famous words by Aristotle for his teacher, ‘Plato is dear to me, but dearer still is truth’.
4. Service to Society
When you believe that God is present in every human being, it is natural that the service to human beings becomes the service to God. Gandhi believed that God can be realised only by service to humanity. He thus followed the ideals of Christianity in this regard and the teaching of Jesus Christ that service to poor is service to God. It is said in the Bible (by God): ‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in… Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’.
5. Cleanliness and Purity of Heart
Gandhi once said, ‘Cleanliness is next to godliness’. The ‘Swachch Bharat Abhiyan’ (Clean India Mission) by the Government of India is dedicated to Gandhiji. However, he believed not only in the cleanliness of the body, house or streets, but also the purity of heart. He preached self-purification by following the ideals of one’s religion.
6. End and Means
Gandhi rejected Machiavelli’s principle that ‘end justifies means’. He believed that end and means are one and the same thing. You can’t achieve noble ends by following evil means. According to him, one’s means must be as pure as the ends. If one tries to achieve noble ends by evil means, he can’t succeed in the end.
7. Human Nature
Gandhi saw God in everyone’s heart. Hence, he rejected the concept that man is inherently evil and selfish. He believed that every person is inherently good and spiritual by nature. He did not accept the theory of ‘survival of the fittest’ which implied that man has to resort to violence to survive in this world. He rather believed that violence and selfishness are not natural to man. Every person has a spark of God (atman) within himself and they are willing to accommodate other points of views.
8. Ahimsa (Non-violence)
Gandhi believed that ‘Ahimsa’ is natural to a man who is spiritual because a spiritual person sees himself in everyone and everyone in himself. Once you are spiritually connected with everyone, there is no reason for being violent. Violence is essentially due to the separation of the self from others which is due to our ignorance. People should not only refrain from killing or hurting others but they should also love all living beings just as they love themselves. He once said, ‘I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.’
He strongly believed that man can realise God and Truth only through non-violence as violence and truth are incompatible with each other. He believed in the dictum ‘Hate the sin and love the sinner’. He made this famous statement to condemn violence, ‘An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind’.
9. Non-cooperation with Evil
He believed that good people should never cooperate with evil forces for the perpetration of evil practices. He followed the ideal of civil disobedience taken from Henry David Thoreau’s Resistance to Civil Government and his autobiography A Yankee in Canada. He said that we must ignore the authority of the government and oppose the unjust laws imposed by them without resorting to violence because all social, political, economic and religious problems are due to violence. He used fasting as a weapon for Satyagraha (instance of truth) which he believed increases the power of prayer. According to him, the main qualities of a Satyagrahi are as follows:
• Harbour no anger
• Suffer the anger of the opponent
• Never retaliate to assaults or punishment; but do not submit to an order given in anger
• Voluntarily submit to arrest or confiscation of your own property
• Do not curse or swear
• Do not insult the opponent
• Joyfully obey the orders of the leaders of the civil disobedience
Gandhi’s Economic Ideas
Gandhi believed in the virtue of labour. People should earn their bread through manual labour. He did not consider wealth as an evil, but he was against the accumulation of wealth. He advised people to reduce their wants and live a simple life.
He advised the rich people to act as the trustees of wealth instead of considering themselves as the owners of wealth because ultimately all wealth belongs to God. Hence, all the excess wealth belongs to society and should be used for supporting the poor. He, however, opposed the forceful distribution of wealth proposed by Karl Marx, because he believed it would lead to violence.
Seven Sins According to Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi published a list of ‘seven sins’ on 22 October 1925 in his weekly newspaper, Young India. Later, he gave this same list to his grandson, Arun Gandhi, written on a piece of paper on their final day together, shortly before his assassination. The seven sins according to Gandhi are as follows:
1. Wealth without Work: We must work not only for earning our wages, but also to contribute to the society. When people don’t work, they stop contributing to the society while keep using the society for their own advantage.
2. Pleasure without Conscience: If one derives pleasure by doing illegal and unethical deeds against the conscience, it is harmful to the self and the society.
3. Knowledge without Character: Knowledge is power and power may corrupt people. Hence, the people with power should also have great character to use it in the interests of the people.
4. Commerce without Morality: While profit is the motive for any business or commerce, it also has a social purpose. One must be moral while doing business and not seek undue profit.
5. Science without Humanity: The purpose of all scientific inventions is to serve the society. If science ignores the human aspect, it becomes a sin because it harms the society.
6. Religion without Sacrifice: All religions teach us that God is in every living being. Hence, the true purpose of religion is to serve people who are less privileged. We must be willing to sacrifice for the benefit of others.
7. Politics without Principle: Politics is about power which should be used to make a better society using the right principles. Without principles, power corrupts and harms the society.