Tagore Professor of Humanities, Madras University


Human civilization, as we have learnt from its history, long chequered and punctuated by several crises, has taken several steps in its onward march. Each time it does so, it is due to the stimulus of some pregnant values or under the force and drive of some great personality, a Mahapurusha or a Mahatma, who is an embodiment of a comprehensive harmonious view and way of life. Mankind has taken several steps forward in its civilization. The advance in civilization has not been indefinite or automatic. There is no dialectical inevitability about it, for there have been dark ages many set-backs and retreats into humanity and the ethics of the jungle. Taking the studies of civilization in a sweep, we find that millions of men are miles away from the primitive and at least a good number of them cherish human values like truth, love compassion, God, etc., and seek to realize them.


The values of civilization and the eternal varieties of religion do not stay out, for they evolve with the growth of knowledge and wisdom, with the result some of the values are superseded by others which mankind holds and welcome as worthy of acceptance. The personality of Mahatma Gandhi and his teachings mark the opening of a new era (Nava Yuga) in the annals of human civilisation, and he has reared up before mankind the conception of a new social order, Sarvodaya, in the image of social justice and individual freedom. He looks at life in the face and has disciplined all his impulses into a harmony. He is the symbol of a man who represents an honest effort to realise the entire potentialities in men. He is never tired of telling us that he is an average man with all his foibles and lack of learning. He has fought temptations.


His autobiography, his post-prayer utterances in Delhi, his writings in Young India and later in Harijan and his single book Hind Swaraj disclose to us the entire gamut of his manifold Sadhana for a single goal in his life. He has advanced through life, step by step, gathering fragments of truth one by one and piecing them together in the crucible of his life, ever ready to look at facts, understood their significance, face any consequence in the pursuit

of a case, suffer any penalty for the mistakes he commits, recover the lost ground again, but always advancing open-mined without fear. He was no born Mahatma, but made himself into one. With the sensitivity and astuteness of a sculptor of a statue, he carved his personality. As a statue-maker he cuts away all that is excessive, straightened all that is crooked and brings light on all aspects of his life and laboured hard to make all glow into one human personality of beauty and holiness.


Gandhiji looked upon speculation and the purpose of human thinking as action. He never believed in vain speculation or unconsidered action. He lived life intensely with an unique awareness of its multiple significance. His was an attitude of an experimentor. He called his autobiography “The Story of my Experiments with Truth” and he actually experimented with every aspect of human life. He experimented with food, dress, health and cure, politics, ethics, reforms, economics and education. His experimental findings enabled him break new ground. He cherished the spiritual values of human life as dearest to him and as the foundation of human civilization. Above all values he asserted the supremacy of Truth and Non-violence. The one is the goal and the other is the means to it. Non-violence he said is “Love in action.”


Gandhi’s teachings and values are a part of the moral evolution of man and civilization. He discovered the technique and the attitude to life and called it non-violence or Satyagraha. When we refer to non-violence as a technique, it should not be conceived after a gadget or a material weapon for, in a sense, it is a spiritual force. He discovered it and found its efficacy in South Africa where he fought racial domination on behalf of the coolies. The psychology and the ethics of this force deserve close study reverent admiration. It is the essence of Gandhi. It is the Second great Gandhian value, the first being Truth. Man according to Gandhiji is a bundle of miscellaneous impulses. The impulses lead to conflict among men and nations. They need to be harmoised unless we achieve that harmony, we cannot live in peace and friendly relation with fellow-beings. Conflict arises through a lack of harmony and when desires compete with one another we have the spectacle of the complex horrors of modern industrialism.


The fundamental value Gandhiji upheld is the dignity and divinity of man. To preserve this, a necessary atmosphere and discipline have to be created. To uphold man’s dignity and supreme value, he has to assert by his effort the nobler impulses in him and leave down the ape in him. The chief expression of the ape in man is violence in all its forms, in thought, word and deed.


Non-violence is the law of our species as violence is the law of the brute. The spirit is dormant in the brute. He knows no law but that of physical might. The dignity of man requires obedience to a higher law, to the strength of spirit. The Rishis who discovered the law of non-violence in the midst of violence were greater men than Newton. Having themselves known the use of arms, they realised their uselessness and taught a weary world that its salvation lay not through violence but through non-violence.


Non-violence is soul force. It is not negative. It is a Positive attitude to life. It is a splendid way of life. It is more than the mere determination not to use violence. It is no more negative than the term Nirguna Brahman of Sankara or the Nirvana of Buddha. It is not the passive resistance of Christianity asking us to show the right cheek when one slaps the left. It is not passive in allowing the aggressor to work as he likes. It does not imply running away from the spot of the conflict. Like Casablanca, one must stand at the burning deck, offering resistance with soul force. It is not meek submission to authority. Gandhiji used to say to the Satyagrahi, “Take me before you take my country.” It is not the desire to save one’s skin. Non-violence is not for the weak, for it is the virtue of the strong. It is not non-resistance. It is an active resistance of evil and not a surrender to evil. It is opposing evil with soul force, not inflicting violence on the aggressor, but at the same time not leaving him to triumph till there is energy and life left in the Satyagrahi. On occasions, Gandhiji has said that he had no doubt about what should be preferred if we are to choose between ‘cowardice’ and ‘violence.’ It is better to be violent than be a coward. Non-violence, in the words of William James, is the ‘moral equivalent of War’. Gandhiji feels non-violence is innate in the nature of man and it is natural to man. It is submerged by our passions. We have only to call it into action by appropriate action.


Our generation by a process of miseducation blast the charities in the hearts of men and blow out every grace and put men in uniforms and ask them to shoot our enemies. Violence is thus artificially built in the hearts of men and hatred is instilled in their lives. After miseducating our youth, we complain that violence is natural to men and is the history of man and non-violence is a beautiful little dream. Gandhiji writes, “It is the moral nature of man by which he rises to good and noble thoughts.” The different sciences show us the world as it is. Ethics tells us that it ought to be. It enables man to know how he should act. “Man has two windows to his mind. Through the one he can see his own self as it is, through the other he can see what it ought to be.”


The discovery of satyagraha has very significant implications. These implications get strengthened with its application to policy and all the branches of life and their success in getting us freedom. The inescapable implication is the refutation of the current view that the physically weak is doomed to destruction and cannot offer battle to the strong, he must surrender or die. Gandhiji countered this view by declaring that every man has a potential moral force and can draw upon that unfailing moral resource, to battle against brute force and win...It is the exercise of our moral soul force that alone can enable us to live as men and women. Possessing our minds and souls, not as censored and driven by regiments with no virtue but obedience. The exercise of freedom keeps alive the emblem of human dignity. The exercise of the soul force is non-violence in action. It is the determination not to fare better than the best. It is the antidote for all forms of exploitation of fellow men. It is the full realisation of the great truth that there cannot be happiness for any of us until it is won for all.”


The non-violence of Gandhiji is based on the faith in the unity of existence and fellowship of man. From it follows that happiness and sorrow are indivisible. It is this outlook on life that made Gandhiji declare his faith in memorable epigrams, e.g., “I have no pleasure from living in this world if it is not united...The world is one in fact, and it must become one in truth in the minds and all hearts of men...All my actions have their rise in my inalienable love of mankind…All men are brothers. The welfare of all should be our aim.”


Non-violence is based on the powers of truth, and achieve love. No man is so lost as to be incapable of setting into operation the reserves of his soul force. No sceptic can use non-violence. It is based on faith in the ultimate, innate absolute goodness of man. We have all forgotten the existence and ignored the power of our soul force is ours. We have not heeded to its call and have silenced its voice and muffed its cry. Our sensate culture is greatly responsible for it. We live sense-bound existence, gratifying all the time the interminable lusts of the eye, of the flesh and body. Our activities have almost eclipsed the existence of the soul force in man. We have come to recognise only the power of might, the way of violence and the strength of curing. It is this that has landed us in a state of existence where untruth and lovelessness have taken roots and produced the alarming nuclear developments. In this context, there is no use in arguing with the crusaders. The fanatic and the fool are absolutely dogmatic about the virtues of violence. The exercise of nuclear power does not mean destruction of this nation or that nation, but the extermination of the entire humanity. It is held by the scientists that it will not only blast the fertility of the soil and render it sterile, but also affect the genetic state of the unborn.


Sensate culture and sense-bound existence are short-sighted in their outlook on life. They confuse reality to the world of appearance and deny all else.


Gandhiji, like all great prophets, asks us to pursue truth. He identifies God with Truth. After Some time, he reversed the process and declared Truth is God. Gandhiji writes, “I have come to the conclusion that for myself God is Truth. But two years ago, I went a step further and stated “Truth is God.” You will see the fine distinction between the two statements “God is Truth” and “Truth is God”–for I have never found a double meaning in connection with truth and not even the atheists have demurred to the necessity and power of truth.” Gandhiji identified Truth with God.


To Gandhiji, Truth was God, and in this formulation he was farthest from the affirmations of the fundamentalists of any theology. When Truth is equated with God, God becomes the daily presence and not the distant Sultan in the sky witnessing the drama of the universe from its wings. Truth, the supreme Gandhian value, is the consummation of what is the essence and spiritual in man. He laments the great ingenuity and passion spent by theologians in defining God instead of doing His will. It is described in the Upanishads as “the soul of truth, as the anchor of life, the bliss of the the mind and full of peace.” The pursuit of truth is the high destiny of man.


Our sense-bound existence and impulse-propelled life necessarily involves conflict when others come in the way of the gratification ,by obstructing our desires or denying them to us. To overcome this conflict we employ violence in some form or other. The operation of violence has a self-defeating result. Violence gives rise to greater violence. Greater violence is met by still greater violence; with the result we have treaties like that of Versailes. What we need to do is to put down the impulse for violence itself. When this is done the very conditions of the situation and the relationship of opposition changes between the aggressor and the victim. With the change of psychological conditions, the instinct of defiance and the question of individual prestige disappear. This enables us to educate the aggressor and bring home to him his crime. The result is a friendly solution to the problem becomes possible. Non-violence is at once thrice sacred. It is a form of self-purification, mass-purification and enemy-purification.


According to the Gandhian view, there is no possibility of defeat in a non-violent struggle. If a little non-violence fails, we are asked to intensify it. There is no metal that does not melt at a particular temperature. There is human heart that does not change by the impact of non-violence. That is the great faith which Gandhiji wanted mankind to imbibe. When Gandhiji was asked as to how long he will preach non-violence, his answer was, ‘‘as long as there is one non-convert to it.” He wanted to effect a very big change in human nature. Human history does not furnish any instance prior to Gandhi of using non-violence for struggles. It has to be tried. But the verdict of history is plain that violence has not helped civilization to grow or advance in the desirable direction. Non-violence becomes significant in the contest of world history and the nuclear developments. Man’s greatest enemy today is not disease or famine or demographic explosion but the alarming development of nuclear weapons. It is an urgent imperative of our age on the agenda of man’s charter of duties.


Non-violence is an absolute value for Gandhi. In the history of the ethical thought of the world, for the first time Gandhi proclaimed that violence in any form and in any context of life and against any is fundamentally an evil, opposed to the dignity of man and antagonistic to the spirit of true religion. The need for non-violence and the necessity to outlaw war is not what spiritualism has recommended. Russell reminds that it is simple common sense and to ignore it is suicidal insanity. He writes, “We are all in peril, in deadly peril, ourselves, our children–not our great grand children, unless we are successful for, if we fail we shall have none. In comparison with this peril, all other questions are insignificant. What will it matter who was right and who was wrong when no human being has survived? Survival depends on us.” It was Burke who observed pertinently, “We can never walk surely but by being sensible of our blindness.” Violence is insanity.


Whenever there is crisis in the life of men, there are two emotions that confront men–fear and hope. Fear freezes us and hope suggests a way out. Every crisis is a challenge and opportunity for man. There are two potentialities in men, one for violence, cruelty and bloodshed, and the other for mutual aid and peace. We should by the use of our intelligence hold back the destructive impulse and restore the play for the peace instincts. “Safety is the sturdy child of terror and survival, the twin brother of annihilation.” While hope is possible, despair is a coward’s part. Gandhiji was unconquerably persuaded of man’s good nature triumphing over evil. It is this basic faith in the fundamental goodness of men that has confirmed Gandhiji’s faith in non-violence which is unqualified and absolute. Violence even in self-defence is not a virtue. The ethical nature of violence is immoral and not a moral.


Some comparison with Hindu thought will situate Gandhiji’s non-violence in the history of ethical thought. The Hindu ethical thinkers like Manu have looked upon ahimsa as a virtue necessary for all (sadharana dharma). But they did not insist on its unexceptionable (or absolute nature) application to all the defined and undefined eventualities in life. They held animals could be killed in sacrifice, because such killing is enjoined by the scriptures. The sacrificial act is said to purify the agent and the animal, hence it was declared not as unethical. Kings were allowed to kill forest animals for sport. In self-defence we are asked to use violence, even kill those that aim at our life, property, our women, poison us and burn our houses. These criminals are called atatayis Hindu ethics contemplate on the advisability of use of violence in warfare. The Bhagavad Gita stands for the principle of collective security and Krishna commands Arjuna, not to sob or sentimentalise but shoot his bad enemies as a supreme duty but with no hatred in the heart. Jesus too did not rule out violence completely. He did use on occasions violence against the shopkeepers in the temple at Jerusalem.


The unqualified declaration that violence in any form and under any context is unethical is the distinct contribution of Gandhian ethics. He said, “If blood is to be shed, let it be our blood. Cultivate that quiet courage of dying without inflicting violence on the opponent. Man lives in his readiness to die, if it need be at the hands of his brother.” Gandhiji told his secret by not to fuss about anything. “If you are arrested, go to the prison quietly, if assaulted bear it cheerfully, if shot dead die peacefully.” Gandhiji’s faith in non-violence is the result of his conviction of the unity of existence.


Gandhiji’s supreme call is to get us out of the rut of spiritualistic indolence and make us believe in the hidden powers of men and women. He has given the inward conviction. We are all the time careless of habit, tied down to selfish interests and running in grooves passively, declining to break the spell of routine and determined not to exercise spiritual freedom or undertake any moral enterprise. Gandhiji has raised our drooping faith in the moral values and spiritual truths by offering their efficacy.


Gandhiji is a constructive and practical idealist. He knew that faith in non-violence does not grow like grass. So he conceived the necessity for an elaborate discipline, in all the aspects of human life. Without a successful discipline, we cannot make the ideal operative and strong for the establishment of the higher side of our nature to be in the ascendancy and secure inward harmony. Discipline and attention to concrete details is remarkable in the Gandhian view and way of life. He showed it by his practice. He did not repress the natural desires that make for a healthy life. To him, the ill health of his body is fatal to the spirit. He looked upon the human body as the temple of God. He ate such food as gave him the utmost vitality in consonance with the findings of the scientific laws of dietetics. He never gave up his exercise or spinning. He kept his sense of humour and capacity to laugh even at the most trying circumstances and difficult times. Few can laugh so heartily as he did and infect others with it. His asceticism was balanced and clicks well with the Gita teaching. He shut out nothing from his mental and physical life which did not weaken his will or his undying strength.


Fearlessness characterises all the activities of Gandhiji. His hope for our world is non-violence. Gandhiji describes in memorable words his conception of the future world, in the course of an article in the journal Liberty of London:


“The world of tomorrow will be and must be a society based on non-violence. It may seem a distant goal, an un-practical utopia, but it is not in the least unobtainable since it can be worked from here and now. An individual can adopt this view of life of the future without having others to do so.”


All the great reforms that Gandhiji achieved and preached are the application of the principle of non-violence. He hated the British oppression of Indians, because of its exploitation. It is in the same context he fought untouchability as a social crime, repugnant to justice. Thanks to him, we have embodied in our Constitution, as the seventeenth article, under which provision, untouchability is punishable; and so is drink under section forty-seven.


Gandhiji felt untouchability as a blot against Hinduism. He gave the untouchables the name of God’s Men (Harijans). He refused to go into those temples in which they did not have entry of the untouchables. He brought up an untouchable boy and insisted on Kasturi Bai attending on him when he was sick. To her annoyance he was prepared to make it an issue for deserting her. Kasturi Bai’s unfailing loyalty made her carry out the wishes of Gandhi.


Gandhiji’s celebrated words before the minority committee in the Second Round Table Conference are:


“Let this committee and through it the whole world know that there is a body of Hindu reformers who feel that untouchability is a shame not on untouchables but on orthodox Hinduism, and that they are pledged to remove this blot. I would wish rather Hinduism died than untouchability lived. I want to say with all the emphasis I command that if I was the only person to resist this thing I would resist it with all my life.”


Gandhiji’s tolerance is the mental manifestation of his non-violence. It is at the root of his philosophy and religion. He pleaded for the equality of all religions, not merely for their tolerance. He is no narrow theologian who holds the view that he is in possession of the absolute truth, and that all others are in total error. He looks upon all religious ultimates as the multi-personal manifestations of reality. To represent truth and the conception of ultimate reality under the rigid framework of some limited concepts is a sin against spirit. He took the best in all the religions and asked each man to follow his own and not to seek to convert others to his creed. His mind was open to all good influences. He writes: “I do not want my house to be walled on all sides and my windows stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible, but I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.”


His concept of new social order Sarvodaya is the opening up the well-being of all. It is not mere number that he likes. He does not envisage the rule of the majority as is in a parliamentary type of democracy, nor does he seek to merely raise the State as the almighty and quell the individuals with the minimum diffusion. His is not a theocratic state based in closed concepts of caste and rigid doctrines of theology, repugnant to the enlightened social conscience of men. His democracy pleads for the good of all. All may not be equal but all are equally necessary for society. Each work is as sacred as the other and has equal moral worth in the eyes of God. The Gandhian social philosophy does not envisage the doctrine that all are equal, Sarve janah samo bhavantu, but all must be happy, Sarve janah sukhino bhavantu.




“Religions are different roads converging to the same point. What does it matter that we take different roads, so long as we reach the same goal? In reality, there are as many religions as there are long as there are different religions, every one of them may read some distinctive symbol. But when the symbol is made into a fetish and an instrument of proving the superiority of one’s religion over other’s, it is fit to discard.”