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THE SELECTED WORKS OF MAHATMA GANDHI > Vol. V - THE VOICE OF TRUTH > Part II- Section V: Religion and Culture > Civilization and Culture


31. Civilization and Culture

In ancient times there were no restrictions on education. It was not controlled by the state but was solely in the hands of the Brahmans who shaped the system of education solely with an eye it the welfare of the people. It was based on restraint and Brahmacharya. It was due to such a system of education that Indian civilization had outlived so many vicissitudes through thousands of years, while such ancient civilizations as those of Greece, Rome and Egypt had become extinct. No doubt the wave of a new civilization has been passing through India. But I am sure that it is transitory, it will soon pass away and Indian civilization will be revivified. In ancient times the basis of life was self-restraint but now it is enjoyment. The result is that people have become powerless cowards and forsook the truth. Having come under the influence of another civilization, it may be necessary to adapt our own civilization in certain respects to our new environment, but we should not make any radical change in a civilization which is acknowledged even by some Western scholars to be the best. It may be urged that it is necessary to adopt the methods and instruments of Western civilization. But the forces born of spirituality, the bed-rock of Indian civilization, are more than a match for material forces. India is preeminently the land of religion. It is the first and the last duty of Indians to maintain it as such. They should draw their strength from the soul, from God. If there adhere to that path Swarajya which they are aspiring to and working for will become their hand-maid.

Mahatma Gandhi: His Life, Writings and Speeches (Ganesh & Co.), pp. 194-95


Brahmacharya is inherent in Hindu civilization, and Western civilization lacks it. It might be said the people of the West had prospered, but I would ask what was the age of their civilization. Egypt, Babylon, Greece and other great civilizations had perished, but Indian civilization still lives. The reason for it was that Indian civilization has what they had not, viz., Brahmacharya.

The Collected works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. XXV, p. 321


We can only hope that, if the Asiatic has faith in himself and in his civilization, he will not lower the latter, and we doubt not that that which has stood the test of ages will come out scatheless in the test it is now undergoing in this sub-continent. But the handful of Asiatics in South Africa have to remember that, if they do not want to disgrace the country of their origin or their system of life, they must thoroughly represent it, and not present a parody of it. They must live up to the moral code that has been handed down to them for ages past. With them, honesty Is not merely the best policy, and on that account only to be observed when it is profitable, but it must be adhered to at all cost and in all circumstances. With them, might is not right, but right is always might. They can have nothing to do with the doctrine of the survival of the fittest! They have to live and let live. If they catch the modern craze for competition and adopt the characteristically grasping nature of this vaunted civilization, they will certainly go under.

The Collected works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. XI, p. 193


I am and I have been a determined opponent of modern civilization. I want you to turn your eyes today upon what is going on in Europe and if you have come to the conclusion that Europe is today groaning under the heels of the modern civilization, then you and your elders will have to think twice before you can emulate that civilization in our Motherland.

The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. XIII, p. 65


Modern Civilization is a curse in Europe as also in India. War is the direct result of modern civilization.

The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. XIII, p. 80


Modern civilization can be summed up by two expressions. One is that it represents ceaseless activity, and the second is that it aims at the annihilation of space and time. Everybody nowadays appears to be preoccupied, and to me that appears a dangerous symptom. They are all so intent upon earning bread and butter that they have no time for anything else. Modern civilization makes them materialistic, makes them concentrate their thoughts upon their bodies and upon the means of multiplying bodily comforts. Herbert Spencer has summed up the modern man by saying that the civilized man leads a complex life as opposed to the entirely simple life of the savage. The source from which the Asiatic trouble arose in the Transvaal is that the Asiatic’s wants are very simple, whereas those of the European are complex and therefore expensive. The tendency of modern methods goes to make the Native’s life more complex. While the wants of the raw Native are easily satisfied, the more enlightened of them require many more embellishment. Thus, they require more money, and when they find they cannot get it honesty they resort to dishonesty.

After 18 years of study devoted to the consideration of the question, I have come to the conclusion that instead of there being a change for the better, there has been a change for the worse. I find that the simple life is better than the complex, in that they find time to devote attention to higher pursuits. In ancient civilization, there had been no rush whatsoever. They nowadays look downwards to the earth; in those days they looked upwards to Heaven.

The flesh is not the be-all and the end-all of life. Now is the service of Mammon; then was the service of God. If I did not think that the soul existed and if I did not recognize than in all of them there were identical souls, then I for one would not like to live upon this earth. I would like to die. The body is the vehicle subservient to the soul .The body is simply earth, dross and objectionable.

Ancient civilization made them look to the higher pursuits of life, the love of God, the respect of a neighbor and the consciousness of the existence of the soul. The sooner they returned to the (simple) life, the better.

The collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. X, pp. 279-80


But from the present civilization, or, rather, from Western civilization, there flow propositions which have almost become maxims to live by-I call them fallacious maxims. They are “might is right” and “survival of the fittest”. Those who have propounded these two maxims have given a meaning to them. I am not going into the meaning that might be attached in our minds to them, but they have said undoubtedly, by “might is right”, that physical might is right, that physical strength is right and supreme. Some of them have also combined intellectual strength with physical strength, but I would replace both these with heart-strength, and I say that nobody with merely physical might and intellectual might can ever enjoy that strength that can proceed from the heart. It never can be that mere intellectual or mere physical strength can ever supercede the heart strength or, as Ruskin would say, social affections. A quickening and quickened soul responds only to the springs of the heart.

The collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. VIII, pp. 243-44


It appears that Western civilization is destructive, Eastern civilization is constructive. Western civilization is centrifugal, Eastern civilization is centripetal. Western civilization, therefore, is naturally disruptive whereas Eastern civilization combines. I believe also that Western civilization is without a goal, Eastern civilization has always had the goal before it. I do not mix up or confuse Western civilization with Christian progress. I decline to believe that it is a symbol of Christian progress that we have covered a large part of the globe with the telegraph system, that we have got telephones and ocean greyhounds, and that we have trains running at a velocity of 50 or even 60 miles per hour. I refuse to believe that all this activity connotes Christian progress, but it does connote Western civilization. I think western civilization also represents tremendous activity, Eastern civilization represents contemplativeness, but it also sometimes represents lethargy. The people in India, the people in China-I leave Japan for the time being-having been sunk in their contemplative mood, have forgotten the essence of the thing, they have forgotten that, in transferring their activity from one sphere of life to another sphere of life, they had not to be idle, they had not to be lazy. The result is that immediately they find an obstacle in their way, they simply sit down. It is necessary that civilization should come in contact with that of the West, it is necessary that civilization should be quickened with the Western spirit. Immediately that fact is accomplished, I have no doubt also that the Eastern civilization will become predominant, because it has a goal. I think you will see easily that a civilization or a condition in which all the forces fly away from the centre must necessarily be without a goal, whereas those which converge to a point have always a goal. It is then necessary for these two civilizations to meet and we shall have a different force altogether, by no means a menacing force, by no means a force that disunites, but a force that unites. The two forces are undoubtedly opposing forces, but perhaps in the economy of nature both are necessary. Only we, as intelligent human beings with heart and soul, have to see what those forces are, and have to use them, not blindly but intelligently, not anyhow and haphazard, but with a goal in view. Immediately that is done, there is no difficulty whatsoever in the two civilizations meeting and meeting for a good purpose.

The Collected of Mahatma Gandhi, vol. VIII, pp. 244-45


The pandemonium that is going on in Europe shows that modern civilization represents forces of evil and darkness, whereas the ancient, i.e., Indian, civilization represents in its essence the divine force. Modern civilization is chiefly materialistic, as ours is chiefly spiritual. Modern civilization occupies itself in the investigation of the laws of matter, and employs human ingenuity in inventing or discovering means of production and weapons of destruction; ours is chiefly occupied in exploring spiritual laws. Our Shastras-1 lay down unequivocally that a proper observance of truth, chastity, scrupulous regard for all life, abstention from coveting others possessions and refusal to hoard anything but what is necessary for our daily wants is indispensable for a right life; that without it is a knowledge of the divine element is an impossibility. Our civilization tells us with daring certainty that a proper and perfect cultivation of the quality of Ahimsa which, in its active form, means purest love and pity, brings the whole world to our feet. The author of this discovery gives a wealth of illustration which carries conviction with it.

The collected works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. XIII, pp. 261-62


I have ventured utterly to condemn modern civilization because I hold that the spirit of it is evil. It is possible to show that some of its incidents are good, but I have examined its tendency in the scale of ethics. I distinguish between the ideals of individuals who have risen superior to their environment, as also between Christianity and modern civilization. Its activity is by no means confined to Europe. Its blasting influence is now being exhibited in full force in Japan. And it now threatens to overwhelm India. History teaches us that men who are in the whirlpool, except in the cases of individuals, will have to work out their destiny in it; but I do submit that those who are still outside its influence, and those who have a well-tried civilization to guide them, should be helped to remain where they are, if only as a measure of prudence. I claim to have tested the life which modern civilization has to give, as also that of the ancient civilization, and I cannot help most strongly contesting the idea that the Indian population requires to be roused by “the lash of competition and the other material and sensuous, as well as intellectual, stimuli”; I cannot admit that these will add a single inch to its moral stature.

The collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. X, p. 247


While Western civilization is still young, we find things have come to such a pass that, unless its whole machinery is thrown overboard, people will destroy themselves like so many moths. Even today we can see that there are more and more cases of suicide every day.

The collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. IX, p. 389


But I must frankly confess that I am not so much concerned about the stability of the Empire as I am about that of the ancient civilization of India which, in my opinion, represents the best that the world has ever seen. The British Government in India constitutes a struggle between the modern civilization, which is the Kingdom of Satan, and the ancient civilization, which is the Kingdom of God. The one is the God of War, the other is the God of Love.

The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. X, 189


But the moment you talk to them (villages) and they begin to speak, you will find that wisdom drops from their lips. Behind the crude exterior, you will find a deep reservoir of spirituality. I call this culture. You will not find such a thing in the West. You try to engage a European peasant in conversation, and you will find that he is uninterested in things spiritual. In the case of the Indian villager, an age-old culture is hidden under an entrustment of crudeness. Take away the encrustation, remove this illiteracy, and you have the finest specimen of what a cultured, cultivated, free citizen should be.

Mahatma, Vol. V, (1952), p. 11


I should be sorry to learn that Chinese culture resided in brick and mortar or in huge tomes which the moth can eat. A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people. Chinese culture is Chinese only to the extent that it has become part and parcel of Chinese life.

Mahatma, Vol. V, (1952), p. 12


There is no such thing as western or European civilization, but there is a modern civilization, which is purely material.

The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. IX, p. 479


East and West can only and really meet when the West has thrown overboard modern civilization, almost in its entirety. They can also seemingly meet when east has also adopted modern civilization. But that meeting would be an armed truce, even as it is between, say, Germany and England, both of which nations are living in the Hall of Death in order to avoid being devoured, the one by the other.

The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. IX, p. 479


The Indian culture of our times is in the making. Many of us are striving to produce a blend of all the cultures which seem today to be in clash with one another. No culture can live, if it attempts to be exclusive. There is no such thing as pure Aryan culture in existence today in India. Whether the Aryans were indigenous to in India or were unwelcome intruders, does not interest me much. What does interest me is the fact that my remote ancestors blended with one another with the utmost freedom and we of the present generation are a result of that blend. Whether we are doing any good to the country of our birth and the tiny globe which sustains us or whether we are a burden, the future alone will show.

Harijan, 9-5-26, p. 100


I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off about my feet by any. I refuse to live in other people’s houses as an interloper, a beggar or a slave. I refuse to put the necessary strain of learning English upon my sisters for the sake of false pride or questionable social advantage. I would have our young men and young women with literary tastes to learn as much of English and other world-languages as they like, and then expect them to give the benefits of their learning to India and to the world, like, a Bose, a Ray or the Poet himself. But I would not have a single Indian to forget, neglect or be ashamed of his mother tongue, or to feel that he or she cannot think or express the best thoughts in his or her own vernacular. Mine is not a religion of the prison-house.

Young India, 1-6-21, p. 170


The Gujarat Vidyapith does not propose merely to feed on, or repeat, the ancient cultures. It rather hopes to build a new culture based on the traditions of the past and enriched by the experience of later times. It stands for the synthesis of the different cultures that have come to stay in India, that have influenced Indian life, and that, in their turn have themselves been influenced by the spirit of the soil. This synthesis will naturally be of the Swadeshi type, where each culture is assured its legitimate place, and not of the American pattern, where one dominant culture absorbs the rest, and where the aim is not towards harmony, but towards an artificial and forced unity.

Young India, 17-11-20, p. 6


As to the habit of looking to the West for Light, I can give little guidance if the whole of my life has not provided any. Light used to go out from the East. If the Eastern reservoir has become empty, naturally the east will have to borrow from the West. I wonder if light, if it is light and not a miasma, can ever be exhausted. As a boy I learnt that it grew with the giving. Anyway I have acted in that belief and have, therefore, traded on the ancestral capital. It has never failed me. This, however, does not mean that I must act like a frog in the well. There is nothing to prevent me from profiting by the light that may come from the West. Only I must take care that I am not overpowered by the glamour of the West. I must not mistake the glamour for true light.

Harijan, 13-1-40, p. 414


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