When I for the first time came to India, 1954, I stayed for two weeks at Sabarmati Ashram and then at Sevagram. My first impression was that they were a sort of museums. The ashrams carried on activities which had been a few years earlier revolutionary and most useful. My problem was - and is still - what is "Truth".
Gandhi answered to the question, what is Truth, by saying that "it is what
the voice within tells you". This idea is purely formal, it does not
reveal any content. It rather refers to the method, how one may get the
required insight. Gandhi adds that "the human mind works through
innumerable media and the evolution of the human mind is not the same for
all." The answer also includes the idea, that it is a person, an
individual, who is the authority of this knowledge. It is not the cultural
tradition, a Holy Book nor any social or state organisation to determine
the content of Truth. It is an individual and he alone, in the final
analysis, after discussion with others and seriously pondering, to make the decision.
Gandhi said that in the march towards Truth "anger, selfishness, hatred,
etc., naturally give way, for otherwise Truth would be impossible to
attain". In the Western philosophy we may call this method
"ascetic-phenomenological". "Ascetic" in this context refers in strict
moral requirements, used e.g. in the Western Medieval philosophy- not so
much in the contemporary phenomenology.
Gandhi used to say that "Truth" and "God" were synonyms. He said that "my
own experience has led me to the knowledge that the fullest life is
impossible without an immovable belief in a Living Law in obedience to
which the whole universe moves".
Whenever satyagraha is used, Truth seems to indicate, as a role, a goal
for a group of people. Here the Western term "natural law" or "natural
right" could be used as an adequate translation of satya. The doctrine of ius naturalia implies a higher law opposed to the
positive law of the state or a strict custom of a nation.
According to Gandhi, satyagraha means "scrupulous regard for truth". This
regard itself seems to be individual. Gandhi says that "no power on earth
can make a person do a thing against his will". In this respect satyagraha
as a "soul-force" is based on the recognisable will of an individual. Yet
the goal where action is directed is not an individual salvation or
moksha. Moksha can be, anyway, a by-product of an individual, not the
end or goal of the campaign.
The remedy for himsa, Gandhi says, is ahimsa, for untruth truth. This
seems to imply that the source of satyagraha is recognition of untruth,
injustice or evil and, besides, the discard of it. Thus apprehension of
untruth is the source of the acknowledgement of truth also. Truth is
initially the opposite to untruth. That is how we often come to get
a primary glance at truth.
The source of understanding the nature of truth is not analytic nor
synthetic reasoning, at least not that alone. According to Gandhi, "put
all your knowledge, learning and scholarship in one scale and truth and
purity in the other and the latter will by far outweigh the other. Gandhi
does not much regard a mere intellectual conception of the things of life.
It is the spiritual conception which eludes the intellect. God must rule
the heart and transform it.
Here lies a difference of opinion between the Western Natural Law-scholars
and Gandhi. According to the Western tradition, the higher law is
discoverable by reason alone. This is so because Natural Law ideology has
grown up in opposition to the positive law. But Gandhi calls to fasting
and prayer to purify the mind. The moral requirements are
self-purification and inward search. Gandhi claims that truth is by
nature self-evident. It shines clear as soon as you remove the cobwebs of
ignorance that surround it. It appears that knowledge of truth has
primarily moral and spiritual requirements, reasoning is secondary and
cannot succeed without those primary conditions.
The most clearly moral meaning of truth, again, is truthfulness, adherence
to truth. Gandhi said that a devotee of Truth must always hold himself
open to correction. One should primarily be honest to the self, give up
precarious views, thereafter one has the mental capacity to be honest to
others as well, be socially truthful.
Honesty or truthfulness appears to be a means to truth, not the end
itself. Anyway, Gandhi often said that truth is the end, not a means to
something beyond itself. The ultimate meaning of Truth, in Gandhi's words,
is "to find Truth completely is to realise oneself and one's destiny, that
is, to become perfect". So moksha is the ultimate end for an
individual. This sense of Truth, however, does not imply nations or groups
of people reaching their destiny simultaneously.
Gandhi said that it was in the course of his pursuit of truth that he
discovered non-violence. He did not conceptually derive non-violence from
truth, but got to know about it because of the course of pursuit. Not
truth, but seeking truth, may reveal the means to the goal.
Besides, Gandhi says that non-violence is the surest method of discovering
the truth. "Our progress towards the goal will be in exact proportion to
the purity of our means". The problem is, how we know the right means, if
we do not first know the nature of the goal.
Gandhi says, that means must be within our reach, and so ahimsa is our
supreme duty. If we care of the means, we reach the end promptly. This view allows certain
relativity concerning the use of right means. He says that there is
nothing (morally) wrong in every man following Truth according to his rights.
In a number of writings Gandhi seems to deny the objectivity of the
statements concerning truth. "Though you have emphasised the necessity
of a clear statement of the goal. but having once determined it, I have
never attached importance to its repetition". He said that the opinions he
has formed are not final. He may change them tomorrow. "In our endeavour
to approach absolute truth we shall always have to be content with
relative truth from time to time". Thus our knowledge about truth is
relative, it may be partial and seen from some limited angle.
"All progress", Gandhi claims, "is gained through mistakes and their
rectification". He even admits that what may be truth for one may be
untruth for another, and adds that certain conditions are to be observed
in making experiments to find truth. Yet there are no objective tests of
truth, truth is what our "heart assents".
Gandhi said, that "the goal ever recedes from us". Thus truth as a goal
appears to be a broader-value. Whenever we approach the goal, it
gets a new form and the process to reach it continues. Truth-seeking is
ever-lasting and we can never reach the goal completely. We may able to
reach half-way-goals only.
However, although our personal knowledge about truth is relative and
depending on our capacity to search it, the seeker of Truth finds out that
all religions melt and become one in God. God is one and same for all.
Gandhi believes that the world as a phenomena is changing every moment and
is therefore unreal, yet it has something about it which persists and is
therefore to that extent real. God is the purest essence. According to
Gandhi, God is "that indefinable something which we all feel but which we
do not know." God transcends speech and reason. Perfect Truth we can only
visualize in our imagination. In the last resort one must depend on faith.
It seems that Gandhi did not oppose the Advaita Vedanta view of reality.
Hence the truth of a satyagrahi has only a relative validity, it is a
pragmatic truth and it can be changed when the circumstances, the
priorities or the acting subjects change. But beyond maya or the
pragmatic reality there is the absolute which is beyond our capacity to imagine.
There is also, curious enough, in this respect a resemblance to the famous
German philosopher Immanuel Kant. According to Kant we cannot know
"things-in-itself" and we know things only as "phenomena".
Thus, Truth, in the final analysis is for Gandhi purely formal. But in
action, we have to act as if it were real.
Since Gandhi's death many changes have occurred in the international
field, not the least in India. May I try to visualize some of them. Most
of the colonies are politically free. Colonialism as an ideology has
hardly any outspoken support. It is now rejected in vocabulary and
philosophy everywhere. A few years ago the Soviet Union collapsed as a
colonial power. Its power was undermined by changes in the minds of people.
But we have other acute problems which were not so rampant earlier. In all
so called "development countries", also in the ex-socialistic countries,
we have large-scale corruption. Earlier it was less a problem, now it
seriously hampers the progress in all those countries which would badly
need improvement. To reduce corruption, I think, truth would be needed in
the sense of revealing and illuminating corruption in all its forms.
Thus the idea of truth and the forms of its practice may change from time
to time. New situations require revision and correction of our views. What
remains constant is truth seeking. We may ask again and again, what Gandhi
meant by Truth - in the future.