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The Essence of Hinduism - Mahatma Gandhi

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  • The Essence of Hinduism - Mahatma Gandhi

    THE ESSENCE OF HINDUISM


    By


    M. K. GANDHI


    Complied and edited by


    V. B. KHER


    NAVAJIVAN PUBLISHING HOUSE


    AHMEDABAD-380 014 Fifty Rupees


    The Navajivan Trust, 1987


    First Edition, 2,000 Copies, August, 1987


    Second Edition, Copies, May, 1996


    Printer and Publisher


    Jitendra T. Desai


    Navajivan Mudranalaya


    Ahmedabad-380 014 TO THE READER


    I would like to say to the diligent reader of my writings and to


    others who are interested in them that I am not at all concerned with


    appearing to be consistent. In my search after Truth I have discarded


    many ideas and learnt many new things. Old as I am in age, I have no


    feeling that I have ceased to grow inwardly or that my growth will


    stop at the dissolution of the flesh. What I am concerned with  is my


    readiness to obey the call of Truth, my God, from moment to moment,


    and therefore, when anybody finds any inconsistency between any two


    writings of mine, if he has still faith in my sanity, he would do well to


    choose the later of the two on the same subject.


    M. K. Gandhi


    Harijan, 29-4-1933, p. 2


    [iii] [iv]


    EDITORIAL NOTE


    Hinduism differs from other faiths like Christianity and Islam in


    two ways. First of all, it does not believe in any dogma and rejects the


    exclusive claim of any individual, however highly evolved, to the


    monopoly  of  Truth.  It  believes  that  the  Supreme  Being  may  be


    approached  through  several  paths  such  as  Knowledge  (Dnyana),


    Devotion (Bhakti), Action (Karma), and Yoga (Psychical Control). In


    fact, in actual life, the path trodden by a seeker may be a combination


    of two or more of these disciplines, depending on the choice of the


    individual in consonance with his temperament aptitude and attitude.


    Hinduism is not founded by any individual; it has grown or evolved


    naturally,  and,  therefore,  remains  gloriously  undefined.  In  fact,  it


    cannot be defined precisely as any other religion can be. However, the


    following description thereof by a foreign thinker is nearer the mark


    than any other: HInduism “is hardly a dogma but a working hypothesis


    of human conduct adapted to different stages of spiritual development


    and different conditions of life”. Starting with this working definition,


    let us probe a little more into the subject.


    What is really meant by Dharma or Religion? Broadly speaking,


    the  universal  moral  law  governing  both  the  sacred  and  temporal


    aspects of human life is known as Dharma. Confucius has described in


    very significant and profound words how the universal moral law


    operates. He says:


    “The ordinance of God is what we call the law of our being. To


    fulfil the law of our being is what we call the moral law. The moral


    law when reduced to a system is what we call religion.


    “The moral law is a law from whose operation we cannot for


    one instant in our existence escape. A law from which we escape is


    not  the  moral  law.  Wherefore  it  is  that  the  moral  man  watches


    diligently. . . over his secret thoughts.


    “When the passions such as joy, anger, grief and pleasure have


    not  awakened,  that  is  our  true  self,  or  moral  being.  When  these


    passions awaken and each and all attain due measure and degree, that


    is the moral order. Our true self or moral being is the great reality of


    existence, and moral order is the universal law in the world.


    [iv] [v]


    “When    true  moral  being  and  moral  order  are  realized,  the


    universe then becomes a cosmos and all things attain their full growth


    and development.”1


    The above question succinctly brings out how integration of the


    moral being and moral order alone can usher in the universe the


    Kingdom of Heaven.


    It is undeniable that a Law  of Power higher than human will


    regulates events. We may all have our different definitions of the Law


    or Power. In fact, there would be as many definitions of the Law as


    there are men and women. “But beyond all that variety of definitions


    there would be a certain sameness which would be unmistakable. For


    the root is one.” Gandhiji describes the Law as “that indefinable


    something which we all feel but which we do not know”. If it were


    possible for the human tongue to give the fullest description of that


    Law or Power in one word, Gandhiji would call it TRUTH,  as it


    tends  to  disaram  any  criticism  naturally.  And  a  continuous  and


    relentless search, after Truth would by the  summum bonum of human


    life.


    Speaking of this conception of the scientific ideal in his famous


    letter to Charles Kingsley, T. H. Huxley observed, “Sit down before


    fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion,


    follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses Nature  leads or you


    shall  learn  nothing.”  This  pursuit  of  Truth  is  also  the  ideal  of


    Hinduism though the means for discovery of physical and spiritual


    laws  must  naturally  vary  but  the  basic  scientific  attitude  and


    temperament  are  identical  in  both  the  cases.  A  scientist  tries  to


    understand the ultimate Truth through a series of steps, meticulously


    analysing each step. But in ancient India sages  went straight to the


    Reality  with  the  help  of  certain  mental  paradigms  (meditation


    formulae).2  Says  Paul  Deussen,  “That  India  more  than  any  other


    country  is  the  land  of  symbols  is  owing  to  the  nature  of  Indian


    thought, which applied itself to the most abstruse problems before it


    was even remotely in a position to treat them intelligently.”3


    The  advice  of  Buddha,  one  of  the  greatest  of  Hindus,  to


    Kalamas, a Kshatriya tribe of Kosaldesh, was also in keeping with this


    scientific ideal. He said, “Do not accept what I have said to you


    1 Juan Mascaro, Lamps of Fire, Methuen, London, 1961, p. 32.


    2 Prabuddha Bharat, Editorial, May 1981, p. 202 at p. 206


    3 Paul Deussen, The Philosophy of the Upanishads, Dover Publication


    Inc., New York, 1950, p. 120 [vi]


    because it has been so said in the past; do not accept it because it has


    been handed down by tradition; do not accept it thinking it may be so;


    do not accept it because it is also in the holy scriptures; do not accept


    it because it can be proved by inference; do not accept it  thinking it is


    wordly wisdom; do not accept it because it seems to be plausible; do


    not accept it because it is said by a famous or holy monk; but if you


    find that it appeals to your sense of discrimination and conscience as


    being conducive to your benefit and happiness, then accept it and live


    up to it.”


    When stoning to death for apostasy was sought to be defended


    by heads of many Islamic bodies as being enjoined in the Koran,


    Gandhiji  questioned  the  morality  of  the  method  under  any


    circumstance whatsoever and wrote in a forthright manner:


    “Every formula of every religion has, in this age of reason, to


    submit to the acid test of reason and universal justice if it is to ask for


    universal assent. Error can claim no exemption even if it can be


    supported by the scriptures of the world.” (Young India, 20-2-1925, p.


    74)


    “I would like to say that even the teachings themselves of the


    Koran cannot be exempt from criticism. Every true scripture only


    gains by criticism. After all we have no other guide but our reason to


    tell us what may be regarded as revealed and what may not be. ... I


    fully endorse the Maulana’s statement that error is a relative term. But


    we know as a matter of fact that some things are universally accepted


    as errors. Death by torture is, I expect, such an error.” (Young India, 5-


    3-1925, p. 181)


    “Everything has to submit to the test of reason. . . . There are


    undoubtedly things in the world which transcend reason. We do not


    refuse to bring them on the anvil of reason but they will not come


    themselves. By their very nature they defy reason. Such is the mystery


    of the Deity. It is not inconsistent with reason, it is beyond it.” (Young


    India, 26-3-1925, p. 110)


    The above extracts from Gandhiji’s articles truly sum up the


    attitude of Hinduism to the questions which arise for decision in the


    application of the criterion of Truth to matters pertaining to public


    morality and general humanity.


    The Hindu classical religious thought is classified under two


    groups,  viz.  Shrutis  and  Smritis including  Dharmashastra.  Shrutis


    which include Vedas and Upanishads contain knowledge of ‘Reality


    As It Is’ which can be verified and is universal in its character. As [vii]


    such  it  may  be  characterised  as  PHILOSOPHIA  PERENNIS    or


    Perennial  Philosophy.  “The  Perennial  Philosophy  is  primarily


    concerned with the one, divine Reality substantial to the manifold


    world of things and lives and minds. But the nature of this one Reality


    is such that it cannot be directly and immediately apprehended except


    by  those  who  have  chosen  to  fulfil  certain  conditions,  making


    themselves loving, pure in heart, and poor in spirit. Why should this


    be so? We do not know. It is just one of those facts which we have to


    accept, whether we like them or not and however implausible and


    unlikely they may seem. . . . It is only be making physical experiments


    that we can discover the intimate nature of matter and its potentialities.


    And it is only by making psychological and moral experiments that we


    can discover the intimate nature of mind and its potentialities. In the


    ordinary circumstances of average sensual life these potentialities of


    the mind remain latent and unmanifested. If we would realize them, we


    must fulfil certain conditions and obey certain rules, which experience


    has shown empirically to be valid.”4


    The eternal Truth may also be explained in another way. “This


    great Universe is pervaded by the Spirit. The Spirit (Self) is one


    unmoving; He (It) is swifter than the mind. The senses cannot reach


    Him (It). He (It) is ever beyond them. Unmoving, He (It) outruns the


    pursuit by senses. Out of the Spirit (Self) comes the breath that is the


    life of all things. He (It) moves and He (It) moves not. He (It) is  far,


    and He (It) is near. He  (It)  is within all, and He (It) is outside all.”


    (Ishopanishad, 4 and 5). In other words, the Spirit or the Power that


    sustains the Universe is immanent, universal and transcendental. But


    that Spirit which is consciousness raised to infinity, in order to become


    immanent, must rule and transform the human heart. With Nishkama


    Karma or desireless action and pure and single-minded devotion, the


    seeker  of  Truth  can  overcome  death  and  with  the  transcendental


    knowledge can have direct perception of the Divine Reality and attain


    immortality. (Ishopanishad, 11 and 14)


    Smirits derive  their origin and also authority from a personal


    founder and deal with social and religious rules and regulations. These


    laws can be modified or altered, as a code that sustains the society in


    one  age  may  choke  it  in  another  age.  And  as  socio-economic


    conditions  change  with  the  changing  technology,  which  in  turn


    influence  the  political  structure,  laws  need  to  be  recast  and


    4.  Aldous  Huxley,  The  Perennial  Philosophy,  Chatto  &  Windus,


    London, 1946, Introduction, pp. 2-3 [viii]


    reinterpreted in the light of the milieu and context of the changing


    conditions. If the laws do not keep pace with or are out of step with


    the changing conditions, they can be the cause of strangling the social


    organism or of social upheavals, sometimes violent and bloody. So it


    is prudent and in social interest to leave the formulation, amendment


    and reinterpretation of laws to the political constitutions and social


    conscience. That’s how the Hindu Law has been codified by the Loka


    Sabha after the attainment of independence by India, to bring it in line


    with the modern life, conditions and ideas.


    The division of religious thought into the Knowledge of the


    Spirit or Divine Reality and the Religious and Social Code of Conduct


    is a unique feature of Hinduism and is not to be found in other


    religions said to be ‘revealed’. The wisdom of this course of action


    can be studied from the record of Hinduism. No wars have been


    fought  in  the  name  of  Hinduism  (which  includes  Buddhism  and


    Jainism) unlike the medieval religious crusades between Islamic and


    Christian potentates. Nor have there been any inquisitions in Hinduism


    for questioning any religious belief. Even though, Buddhism was the


    State Religion of the kingdom founded by Ashoka, the wisest and the


    greatest king in human history, it was truly secular in outlook and did


    not discriminate against Hindusim and Jainism. It was again a Hindu


    king in Gujarat who gave shelter to Parsis when they fled from Persia


    to escape religious persecution at the hands of Muslim zealots.


    The flexibility and catholicity of Hindu civilization enables her


    “at once to renew herself in terms of her own essential nature and to


    change herself so as to bring herself in harmony with the form of age


    in which we live. In plain terms, the ancient Indian spirit takes on a


    new form without ceasing to be itself. India’s religions have all been


    natural religions. They have grown and prospered naturally. They were


    not self-aware because they were expressions of the cosmic reality.


    They did not define themselves. But when the Christian challenge


    arose,  they  had  to  define  themselves.  They  did.  Lokamanya’s,


    Gandhiji’s and Aurobindo’s commentaries on the Gita were part of


    that effort at self-definition. . . . The Gita and the two epics, Ramayana


    and Mahabharata, now sell in lakhs of copies year after year. This


    intellectualization of the life of the Spirit, if we may so describe this


    phenomenon, has deprived it of some of its natural flow but it has also


    given a strength which is valuable in our days.”5


    Contrasting the response of the world of Arab-Islam to Western


    culture, Girilal Jain opines that refusing to be similarly creative and [ix]


    flexible in the interpretation of the Koran, the Hadith and the Sunnah,


    it has not only denied itself a similar advantage but as a result, fallen


    into a deep state of shock and despair. It is undeniable that because a


    large  majority  of  Indians  profess  Hinduism  that  democracy  has


    succeeded in India while it has failed to take roots in other countries


    of the third world. Hinduism abhors stagnation. Hinduism is like the


    mighty Ganges which has been joined in its onward flow by other


    streams and tributaries. Unfortunately Islam and Christianity which


    came to India as appendages of foreign conquerors, did not mingle


    with  the  main  stream  though  they  undoubtedly  inter-acted  with


    Hinduism and influenced each other.


    Another distinctive feature of Hinduism is the doctrine of karma


    and rebirth. Transmigration is not a theory but a fact. Gandhiji also


    believed  in  further  life  and  in  the  continuity  of  karma    through


    successive births. What we sow here, we must reap here and elsewhere


    –  there  is  no  escape.  The  law  of  karma  is  relentless.  However,


    repentance even during one’s last moments will wash away sin and


    sterilize it of consequences. Among Hinduism’s contributions to the


    world are the ideas of man’s identity with the dumb creation and four


    ashramas. The reader will find references to these and many other


    ideas in the pages of this Book.


    One of the texts in the Smritis says that whatever is followed by


    the  learned,  the  good  and  those  who  are  free  from  anger  and


    attachment and whatever is experienced in the heart is dharma or


    religion. Gandhiji though not an acharya or an erudite scholar like Adi


    Shankaracharya, is the authentic voice of age-old Hinduism in modern


    times  who  has  given  it  a  new  turn  and  direction.  He  called  his


    autobiography The Story of My Experiments with Truth. He found


    after a long, arduous and relentless search for Truth that Hinduism


    satisfied all his highest moral aspirations and he found solace and a


    friend, guide and philosopher in the Bhagavad Gita. He says, “It (the


    Gita) 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.”


    To all Gandhiji recommends without any hesitation Nama and


    prayer  for  purification  of  their  minds  and    transcending


    5. Girilal Jain, ‘Assessing India’s Progress’, Times of India, Bombay,


    dated 15-8-1986


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