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28. Scriptures

Mr Basil Mathews: Where do you find the seat of authority?

Gandhiji: It lies here (pointing to his breast). I exer­cise my judgment about every scripture, including the Gita. I cannot let a scriptural text supersede my reason. Whilst I believe that the principal books are inspired, they suffer from a process of double distillation. Firstly they come through a human prophet, and then through the commentaries of interpreters. Nothing in them comes from God directly. Mathew may give one version of one text and John may give another. I cannot surrender my reason whilst I subscribe to divine revelation. And above all, 'the letter killeth, the spirit giveth life.' But you must not mis­understand my position. I believe in faith also, in things where reason has no place, e.g. the existence of God. No argument can move me from that faith, and like that little girl who repeated against all reason 'yet we are seven' I would like to repeat, on being baffled in argument by a very superior intellect, 'Yet there is God'.

Harijan, 5-12-'36


Divine knowledge is not borrowed from books. It has to be realized in oneself. Books are at best an aid, often even a hindrance.

Young India, 17-7-'24


An error does not become truth by reason of multi­plied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it.

Young India, 26-2-'25


I would reject all authority if it is in conflict with sober reason or the dictates of the heart. Authority sustains and ennobles the weak when it is the handiwork of reason, but it degrades them when it supplants reason, sanctioned by the still small Voice within.

Young India, 8-12-'20


I am not a literalist. Therefore I try to understand the spirit of the various scriptures of the world. I apply the test of Truth and Ahimsa laid down by these very scriptures for interpretation. I reject what is inconsistent with that test, and I appropriate all that is consistent with it. The story of a Shudra having been punished by Ramachandra for daring to learn the Vedas I reject as an inter­polation. And in any event, I worship Rama, the perfect being of my conception, not a historical person facts about whose life may vary with the progress of new historical discoveries and researches. Tulsidas had nothing to do with the Rama of history. Judged by historical test, his Ramayana would be fit for the scrap-heap. As a spiritual experience, his book is almost unrivalled at least for me. And then, too, I do not swear by every word that is to be found in so many editions published as the Ramayana of Tulsidas. It is the spirit running through the book that holds me spell-bound.

Young India, 27-8-'25


I have no knowledge that the Krishna of Mahabharata ever lived. My Krishna has nothing to do with any histo­rical person. I would refuse to bow my head to the Krishna who would kill because his pride is hurt, or the Krishna whom the non-Hindus portray as a dissolute youth. I believe in Krishna of my imagination as a perfect incar­nation, spotless in every sense of the word, the inspirer of the Gita and the inspirer of the lives of millions of human beings. But if it was proved to me that the Mahabharata is history in the sense that modern historical books are, that every word of the Mahabharata is authentic and the Krishna of the Mahabharata actually did some of the acts attributed to him, even at the risk of being banished from the Hindu fold I should not hesitate to reject that Krishna as God incarnate. But to me the Mahabharata is a pro­foundly religious book, largely allegorical, in no way meant to be a historical record. It is the description of the eternal duel going on within ourselves, given so vividly as to make us think for the time being that the deeds described therein were actually done by the human beings. Nor do I regard the Mahabharata as we have it now as a faultless copy of the original. On the contrary I consider that it has under­gone many amendations.

Young India, 1-10-'25


A prayerful study and experience are essential for a correct interpretation of the scriptures. The injunction that a Shudra may not study the scriptures is not entirely without meaning. A Shudra means a spiritually uncultured, ignorant man. He is more likely than not to misinterpret the Vedas and other scriptures. Everyone cannot solve an algebraical equation. Some preliminary study is a sine qua non. How will the grand truth 'I am Brahman' lie in the mouth of a man steeped in sin! To what ignoble purposes would he turn it! What a distortion it would suffer at his hands!

A man, therefore, who would interpret the scriptures must have the spiritual discipline. He must practise the Yamas and Niyamas—the eternal guides of conduct. A superficial practice thereof is useless. The Shastras have enjoined the necessity of a Guru. But a Guru being rare in these days, a study of modern books inculcating bhakti has been suggested by the sages. Those who are lacking in bhakti, lacking in faith, are all qualified to interpret the scriptures. The learned may draw an elaborately learned interpretation out of them, but that will not be the true interpretation. Only the experienced will arrive at the true interpretation of the scriptures.

But even for the inexperienced there are certain canons. That interpretation is not true which conflicts with Truth. To one who doubts even Truth, the scriptures have no meaning. No one can contend with him.

Young India, 12-11-'25