Gandhi's fundamental contribution in the field of religion was to give primacy to Truth rather than conformity to traditional practices. In fact he made Truth the basis of all morality by declaring: "I reject any religious doctrine that does not appeal to reason and is in conflict with morality…..God did not create men with the badge of superiority or inferiority; no scripture which labels a human being an inferior or untouchable because of his or her birth can command our allegiance. It is denial of God and Truth which is God".
Though a deeply devout Hindu, his approach was 'sarvadharma samabhav' (equal respect
for all religions) and a "spiritualized humanism". All religions had
equal status and were different paths to the same goal of achieving
union with the Divine. His religion was that "which transcends
Hinduism, which changes one's very nature, binds one indissolubly to
the truth within and ever purifies. It is the permanent element in
human nature which leaves the soul restless until it has found
itself". He affirmed "For me different religions are beautiful
flowers from the same garden or branches of the same majestic tree".
He often said he was as much a Moslem, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist,
Jain and Parsee as he was Hindu and added "The hands that serve are
holier than the lips that pray". At his prayer meetings there were
readings from all the holy books. His favorite hymn began with the
line "He alone is a true devotee of God who understands the pains
and sufferings of others".
He affirmed "Independent India as conceived by me will have all Indians
belonging to different religions, living in perfect friendship." In
1931 he wrote in Young India "It has been said that Swaraj will be
the rule of the majority community i.e. the Hindus….If this were to
be true, I for one would refuse to call it Swaraj and would fight it
with all the strength at my command, for to me Hind Swaraj is the
rule of all the people and the rule of justice." On January 23,
1948, just a week before his assassination he declared "It would
spell the ruin of both the Hindu religion and the majority community
if the latter, in the intoxication of power, entertains the belief
that it can crush the minority community and establish a purely
Lauding this enlightened approach Fischer wrote "Mahatma Gandhi, a supremely
devout Hindu, was incapable of discriminating against anyone on
account of religion, race, caste, colour or anything. His
contribution to the equality of untouchables and to the education of
a new generation which was Indian instead of Hindu or Moslem or
Parsee or Christian has world significance."
Gandhi's great respect for Christ is revealed in his following statements:
"What does Jesus mean to me? To me, he was one of the greatest teachers humanity has
"Jesus was the most active resister known perhaps to history. His was non-violence
"Jesus expressed as no other could, the sprit and will of God. It is in this sense
that I see him and recognize as the Son of God. And because the life
of Jesus has the significance and the transcendency to which I have
alluded, I believe that he belongs not solely to Christianity but to
the entire world, to all races and people. It matters little under
what flag, name or doctrine they may work, profess a faith or
worship a God inherited from their ancestors"
On seeing a painting of the crucified Christ in Rome, Gandhi remarked "What
would not I have given to be able to bow my head before the living
image of Christ crucified. I saw there at once that nations like
individuals could only be made through the agony of the cross and in
no other way. Joy comes not out of infliction of pain on others but
out of pain voluntarily borne by oneself."
"The New Testament gave me comfort and boundless joy, as it came after the revulsion
that parts of the Old Testament had given me. Today, supposing I was
deprived of the Gita and forgot all its contents but had a copy of
the Sermon on the Mount, I should derive the same joy from it as I
do from the Gita" (Young India 22-12-27)
Gandhi's knowledge of and respect for Christ however came after he went to England and
South Africa. In his youth he had in fact a strong aversion to
Christianity. In his autobiography he writes that whereas from his
parents, who had many Jain and Moslem friends, he had learnt to
respect religions other than his own "Christianity at that time was
an exception. I developed a sort of dislike for it and for a reason.
In those days Christian missionaries used to stand in a corner near
the high school and hold forth, pouring abuse on Hindus and their
Gods. I could not endure this. I must have stood there only once but
that was enough to dissuade me from repeating the experiment. About
the same time, I heard of a well known Hindu having been converted
to Christianity. It was the talk of the town that when he was
baptized he had to eat beef and drink liquor, change his clothes and
thenceforth go about in English costume including a hat. I also
heard that the new convert had begun abusing the religion of his
ancestors, their customs and their country. All these things created
in me a dislike for Christianity."
In London, towards the end of his second year there, he was first introduced to
Theosophy, and then to the Gita and Buddhist teachings. Soon
thereafter he met a devout Christian in a vegetarian boarding house,
who spoke to him about Christianity.
Gandhi revealed to him his aversion to it from his school days in Rajkot. The Christian
replied "I am a vegetarian. I do not drink. Many Christians are meat
eaters and drink; but neither meat eating nor drinking is enjoined
by scripture. Do please read the Bible". Gandhi accepted his advice
and began reading the Bible. The Old Testament bored and parts of it
repelled him, but the New Testament, particularly the Sermon on the
Mount "went straight to my heart" and "I tried to unify the teaching
of the Gita, the 'Light of Asia' and the Sermon on the Mount. That
renunciation was the highest form of religion appealed to me
greatly" he wrote.
When his concept of Trusteeship was criticized as too idealistic and impractical
Gandhi wrote "The question we are asking ourselves today was
addressed to Jesus two thousand years ago. St. Mark has vividly
described the scene. Jesus is in a solemn mood. He talks of eternity
but is the greatest economist of his time. He has succeeded in
economizing time and space; he has transcended them. To him comes a
young man, kneels down and asks "Good Master, what shall I do that I
may have Eternal Life? Jesus replies "Thou knowest the commandments.
Do not commit adultery, do not kill, do not steal, honour thy father
and mother." The youth answers "Master, all these I have observed
from my youth" Then Jesus says to him "Then go, sell whatever thou
hast, give to the poor and thou shall have treasure in heaven". At
this the youth goes away grieved for he had great possessions, and
Jesus says to his disciples "It is easier for a camel to go through
the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of
God." Here you have an eternal rule of life stated in the noblest
words in the English language…. I will not insult you by quoting in
support of what Jesus said, writings and sayings of our own sages
which are even stronger. The strongest testimony in support of it
however are the lives of the greatest teachers of the world, Jesus,
Mohammed, Buddha, Nanak, Kabir, Chaitanya, Shankara, Dayananda, and
Ramakrishna. They all deliberately embraced poverty as their lot.
In volume 1 of his ten volume 'The Story of Civilization' eminent historian Will Durant
lauds Gandhi thus "He did not mouth the name of Christ, but acted as
if he accepted every word on the Sermon on the Mount. Not since St.
Francis of Assisi has any life known to history been so marked by
gentleness, disinterestedness, simplicity and forgiveness of enemies."
For Martin Luther King: "Mahatma Gandhi was the first person in human history to lift
the ethic of love of Jesus Christ, above mere interaction between
individuals and make it into a powerful and effective social force
on a large scale. If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable.
We may ignore him at our own peril". When an American churchman
upbraided him for this he replied "It is ironic yet inescapably true
that the greatest Christian of the modern world was a man who never