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The Wit and Wisdom of Gandhi
By Mohandas Gandhi, Homer A. Jack
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1979 Homer A. Jack
All rights reserved.
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 individuals.
Humbug there undoubtedly is about all religions. Where there is light, there is also shadow.
It is not the Hindu religion which I certainly prize above all other religions, but the religion which transcends Hinduism, which changes one's very nature, which binds one indissolubly to the truth within and which ever purifies.
Religion which takes no account of practical affairs and does not help to solve them is no religion.
I came to the conclusion that all religions were right, and every one of them imperfect, because they were interpreted with our poor intellects, sometimes with our poor hearts, and more often misinterpreted. In all religions I found to my grief that there were various and even contradictory interpretations of some texts.
A man who aspires after [Truth] cannot afford to keep out of any field of life. That is why my devotion to Truth has drawn me into the field of politics; and I can say without the slightest hesitation, and yet in all humility, that those who say that religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means.
The test of the possession of the religious sense really consists in one's being able to pick out the "rightest" thing out of many things which are all "right" more or less.
The study of other religions besides one's own will give a grasp of the rock-bottom unity of all religions and afford a glimpse also of the universal and absolute truth which lies beyond the "dust of creeds and faiths." Let no one even for a moment entertain the fear that a reverent study of other religions is likely to weaken or shake one's faith in one's own.
After long study and experience, I have come to the conclusion that (1) all religions are true; (2) all religions have some error in them; (3) all religions are almost as dear to me as my own Hinduism, in as much as all human beings should be as dear to one as one's own close relatives.
One's own religion is after all a matter between oneself and one's Maker.
If we are imperfect ourselves, religion as conceived by us must also be imperfect. We have not realized religion in its perfection, even as we have not realized God. Religion of our conception, being thus imperfect, is always subject to a process of evolution and reinterpretation. Progress towards Truth, towards God, is possible only because of such evolution.
For me religion is one in essence, but it has many branches, and if I, the Hindu branch, fail in my duty to the parent trunk, I am an unworthy follower of that one indivisible, visible religion.
A religion has to be judged not by its worst specimens but by the best it might have produced. For that and that alone can be used as the standard to aspire to, if not to improve upon.
Religion deals with the science of the soul.
The most spiritual act is the most practical in the true sense of the term.
I cannot conceive politics as divorced from religion. Indeed religion should pervade every one of our actions. Here religion does not mean sectarianism. It means a belief in ordered moral government of the universe.... This religion transcends Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, etc. It does not supersede them. It harmonizes them and gives them reality.
Religions are not for separating men from one another, they are meant to bind them. It is a misfortune that today they are so distorted that they have become a potent cause of strife and mutual slaughter.
His own religion is the truest to every man even if it stands low in the scales of philosophic comparison.
[God] is even the atheism of the atheist.
There are some who in the egotism of their reason declare that they have nothing to do with religion. But it is like a man saying that he breathes but that he has no nose. Whether by reason, or by instinct, or by superstition, man acknowledges some sort of relationship with the Divine. The rankest agnostic or atheist does acknowledge the need of moral principle, and associates something good with its observance and something bad with its non-observance.... Even a man who disowns religion cannot, and does not, live without religion.
It is the fashion, now-a-days, to dismiss God from life altogether and insist on the possibility of reaching the highest kind of life without the necessity of a living faith in a living God.
I tolerate unreasonable religious sentiment when it is not immoral.
Intolerance is a species of violence and therefore against our creed.
Intolerance betrays want of faith in one's cause.
The golden rule of conduct is mutual toleration, seeing that we will never all think alike and we shall see Truth in fragments and from different angles of vision. Conscience is not the same thing for all. Whilst, therefore, it is a good guide for individual conduct, imposition of that conduct upon all will be an insufferable interference with everybody's freedom of conscience.
If you cannot feel that the other faith is as true as yours, you should feel at least that the men are as true as you.
So long as there are different religions, every one of them may need some outward distinctive symbol. But when the symbol is made into a fetish and an instrument of proving the superiority of one's religion over others, it is fit only to be discarded.
Just as preservation of one's own culture does not mean contempt for that of others, but requires assimilation of the best that there may be in all the other cultures, even so should be the case with religion.
Even as a tree has a single trunk, but many branches and leaves, so there is one true and perfect religion, but it becomes many, as it passes through the human medium. The one religion is beyond all speech. Imperfect men put it into such language as they can command, and their words are interpreted by other men equally imperfect. Whose interpretation is to be held to be the right one? Everybody is right from his own standpoint, but it is not possible that everybody is wrong. Hence the necessity of tolerance, which does not mean indifference to one's own faith, but a more intelligent and purer love for it.... True knowledge of religion breaks down the barriers between faith and faith.
I do not like the word tolerance.... Tolerance may imply a gratuitous assumption of the inferiority of other faiths to one's own, whereas ahimsa teaches us to entertain the same respect for the religious faiths of others as we accord to our own, thus admitting the imperfections of the latter.
If all faiths outlined by men are imperfect, the question of comparative merit does not arise. All faiths constitute a revelation of Truth, but all are imperfect and liable to error. Reverence for other faiths need not blind us to their faults. We must be keenly alive to the defects of our own faith also, yet not leave it on that account, but try to overcome those defects. Looking at all religions with an equal eye, we would not only not hesitate, but would think it our duty, to blend into our faith every acceptable feature of other faiths.
See also the section on "Missionaries" in Chapter 12.
Many of the "conversions" are only so-called. In some cases the appeal has gone not to the heart but to the stomach; and in every case a conversion leaves a sore behind it.
Converts are those who are "born again" or should be. A higher standard is expected of those who change their faith, if the change is a matter of the heart and not of convenience.
I do not believe in people telling others of their faith, especially with a view to conversion. Faith does not admit of telling. It has to be lived and then it becomes self-propagating.
A convert's enthusiasm for his new religion is greater than that of a person who is born in it.
I should not think of embracing another religion before I had fully understood my own.
My own veneration for other faiths is the same as that for my own faith; therefore no thought of conversion is possible.
We do not need to proselytize either by our speech or by our writing. We can only do so really with our lives. Let our lives be open books for all to study.
If a person, through fear, compulsion, starvation or for material gain or consideration, goes over to another faith, it is a misnomer to call it conversion. Real conversion springs from the heart and at the prompting of God, not of a stranger. The voice of God can always be distinguished from the voice of man.
Scriptures cannot transcend reason and truth. They are intended to purify reason and illuminate truth.
Spirituality is not a matter of knowing scriptures and engaging in philosophical discussions.
Divine knowledge is not borrowed from books. It has to be realized in oneself. Books are at best an aid, often a hindrance.
Error can claim no exemption even if it can be supported by the scriptures of the world.
Knowledge of religious books is not equivalent of that religion.
Nothing can be accepted as the word of God which cannot be tested by reason or be capable of being spiritually experienced.... Learning ... lives in the experiences of its saints and seers, in their lives and sayings. When all the most learned commentators of the scriptures are utterly forgotten, the accumulated experience of the sages and saints will abide and be an inspiration for ages to come.
Truth is the exclusive property of no single scripture.
See also Chapter 12; and the section on "Religious Faith" in Chapter 13.
Hinduism ... is the most tolerant creed because it is non-proselytizing and it is as capable of expansion today as it has been found to be in the past. It has succeeded, not in driving out (as I think it has been erroneously held), but in absorbing Buddhism. By reason of the Swadeshi spirit a Hindu refuses to change his religion, not necessarily because he considers it to be the best, but because he knows that he can complement it by introducing reforms.
Unfortunately, Hinduism seems to consist today merely in eating and not eating.... Hinduism is in danger of losing its substance if it resolves itself into a matter of elaborate rules as to what and with whom to eat.
Hinduism is not an exclusive religion. In it, there is room for the worship of all the prophets of the world. It is not a missionary religion in the ordinary sense of the term.... Hinduism tells everyone to worship God according to his own faith or dharma, and so it lives at peace with all religions.
A man may not believe even in God and still call himself a Hindu. Hinduism is a relentless pursuit after Truth and if today it has become moribund, inactive, irresponsive to growth, it is because we are fatigued and as soon as the fatigue is over, Hinduism will burst forth upon the world with a brilliance perhaps unknown before.
Hinduism is like the Ganges, pure and unsullied at its source, but taking in its course the impurities in the way. Even like the Ganges it is beneficent in its total effect. It takes a provincial form in every province, but the inner substance is retained everywhere.
The Gita is, in my opinion, a very easy book to understand.... The general trend of the Gita is unmistakable. It is accepted by all Hindu sects as authoritative. It is free from any form of dogma. In a short compass it gives a complete, reasoned, moral code. It satisfies both the intellect and the heart. It is thus both philosophical and devotional. Its appeal is universal. The language is incredibly simple.
Brahmanism that can tolerate untouchability, virgin widowhood, spoliation of virgins, stinks in my nostrils. It is a parody of Brahmanism. There is no knowledge of Brahman therein. There is no true interpretation of the scriptures. It is undiluted animalism. Brahmanism is made of sterner stuff.
The Gita is the Universal Mother. She turns away nobody. Her door is wide open to anyone who knocks. A true votary of the Gita does not know what disappointment is. He ever swells in perennial joy and peace that passeth understanding.
Hinduism is not a religion.... It is a way of life. Many who do not practice formal religion are nearer to this way of life than some who do.
See also the section on "Missionaries" in Chapter 12.
God did not bear the Cross only 1,900 years ago, but He bears it today and He dies and is resurrected from day to day. It would be poor comfort to the world if it had to depend upon a historical God who died 2,000 years ago. Do not then preach the God of history, but show Him as He lives today through you.
I have not been able to see any difference between the Sermon on the Mount and the Bhagavad Gita. What the Sermon describes in a graphic manner, the Bhagavad Gita reduces to a scientific formula. It may not be a scientific book in the accepted sense of the term, but it has argued out the law of love—the law of abandon as I would call it—in a scientific manner. The Sermon on the Mount gives the same law in a wonderful language. The New Testament gave me comfort and boundless joy, as it came after the repulsion that parts of the Old had given me. Today, supposing I was deprived of the Gila, and forgot all its contents but had a copy of the Sermon, I should derive the same joy from it as I do from the Gita.
My difficulties [with Christianity] lay deeper. It was more than I could believe that Jesus was the only incarnate son of God, and that only he who believed in him would have everlasting life. If God could have sons, all of us were His sons. If Jesus was like God, or God Himself, then all men were like God and could be God Himself. My reason was not ready to believe literally that Jesus by his death and by his blood redeemed the sins of the world. Metaphorically there might be some truth in it. Again, according to Christianity only human beings had souls, and not other living beings, for whom death meant complete extinction; while I held a contrary belief. I could accept Jesus as a martyr, an embodiment of sacrifice, and a divine teacher, but not as the most perfect man ever born. His death on the Cross was a great example to the world, but that there was anything like a mysterious or miraculous virtue in it my heart could not accept. The pious lives of Christians did not give me anything that the lives of men of other faiths had failed to give. I had seen in other lives just the same reformation that I had heard of among Christians. Philosophically there was nothing extraordinary in Christian principles. From the point of view of sacrifice, it seemed to me that the Hindus greatly surpassed the Christians. It was impossible for me to regard Christianity as a perfect religion or the greatest of all religions.
For many years I have regarded Jesus of Nazareth as one among the mighty teachers that the world has had, and I say this in all humility. I claim humility for this expression because this is exactly what I feel. Of course, Christians claim a higher place for Jesus of Nazareth than I, as a non-Christian and a Hindu, am able to feel. I purposely use the word "feel" instead of "give" because I consider that neither I nor anybody else can possibly arrogate to himself the claim of giving a place to a great man.... Jesus occupies in my heart the place of one of the great teachers who have made a considerable influence on my life.
Do not confuse Jesus' teaching with what passes as modern civilization.
If Jesus came to earth again, he would disown many things that are being done in the name of Christianity.
He [Jesus] affects my life no less because I regard him as one among many begotten Sons of God. The adjective "begotten" has for me a deeper, possibly a grander meaning than its literal meaning. For me it implies spiritual birth. In his own times he was the nearest to God.
Christianity became disfigured when it went to the West. It became the religion of kings.CHAPTER 2
There can be but one universal creed for man, that is loyalty to God. It includes, when it is not inconsistent, loyalty to King, Country, and Humanity. But it, equally often, excludes all else.
God is the greatest Revolutionist the world has ever known or will know. He sends deluges. He sends storms where a moment ago there was calm. He levels down mountains which He builds with exquisite care and infinite patience.
God is that indefinable something which we all feel but which we do not know. To me God is Truth and Love. God is ethics and morality. God is fearlessness, God is the source of light and life and yet He is above and beyond all these. God is conscience.... He transcends speech and reason. He is a personal God to those who need His touch. He is the purest essence. He simply Is to those who have faith. He is long suffering. He is patient but He is also terrible. He is the greatest democrat the world knows. He is the greatest tyrant ever known. We are not. He alone Is.
Excerpted from The Wit and Wisdom of Gandhi by Mohandas Gandhi, Homer A. Jack. Copyright © 1979 Homer A. Jack. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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Table of ContentsPreface (John Haynes Holmes)
Glossary of Indian Terms
Religion. Atheism. Tolerance. Conversion. Scriptures. Hinduism. Christianity.
God. Man and Human Nature. Prayer. Worship. Salvation. Confession. Death. Immortality. Faith. Reason. Free Will. Good and Evil.
3. Personal Ethics
Morality. Honesty. Humility. Silence. Friendship. Fearlessness. Determination. Resolution. Restraint. Simplicity. Health. Diet. Fasting. Experimentation. Continence (Brahmacharya)
4. Social Ethics
Love. Truth. Justice. Reverence for Life. Non-possession and Poverty. Body Labor.
Reform. Leadership. Identification with Poor. Organizational Work. Organizational Financing.
Origins. Means and Ends. Sacrifice. Suffering. Fasting. Imprisonment. The Opponent. Non-cooperation. Civil Disobedience. Non-violence (Ahimsa). Violence and Hate (Himsa). Methodology.
7. International Affairs
Great Britain and the British. The United States. Soviet Russia and Communism. Germany and Hitler. World War II. War. War Resistance. World Government.
8. Political Affairs
Democracy. Freedom. Civil Liberties. Racial Discrimination. Economic Justice. Labor. Class Struggle. Machines and Industrialization. Socialism. Prohibition.
9. The Family
Women. Marriage. Birth Control. Prostitution. Parenthood.
Theory. The Child. The Student. The Teacher. The Curriculum. Religious Education. Crime.
11. Culture and the Professions
East vs. West. Western Culture. Languages. The Arts. The Press. The Law and Lawyers. Science. History.
12. Indian Problems
India. Independence (Swaraj). Home Industry (Swadeshi). Vernacular vs. English. Villages and Agriculture. Untouchability. Caste (Varna). Family Affairs. Guru. Communal Unity. Pakistan. Missionaries.
13. About Himself
Religious Faith. Family Relations. Western Ways. Health Habits. Jail Experiences. Under Discriminations. Titles. Consistency. Limitations. Mission. Assassination.
A. The Major Works by Gandhi in English
B. Collections of Gandhi's Writings in English
C. Selected Writings about Gandhi's Life and Teachings
Index of Topics