You are here:
Lecture One*
Thirty years after his death and nearly seventy years after he wrote his first seminal, though somewhat crudely written book, Hind Swaraj, Gandhi is suddenly emerging as a possible answer to the global crisis of human values and numerous other unresolved contradictions, such as between affluence and poverty, social relations and alienation, etc. It is a great irony of history that when the rest of the world is seriously examining Gandhian concepts and values, we in India are still engaged in the masochistic exercises of distorting him when we are not worshipping him.
A prophet in his own country always runs the risk of his ideas being distorted at the hands of his immediate followers. This is what has happened to Gandhi. For too long Gandhi has remained deified as an untouchable God.
No nation is rendered poorer by having a second look at its heroes in the light of changed situations and new problems. It is now time we should give up our nauseating sentimentality about our leaders. I would even suggest that we should adopt a critical, even somewhat irreverent attitude to Gandhi in order to demystify him. While giving him proper respect due to him as our liberator, we should now begin to analyze his ideas dispassionately. That is what Gandhi would have liked us to do.
Gandhi needs no praise; he needs to be demythologized. This task is not an easy one. It has been rendered more difficult because he has now been dragged into the electoral arena. The sectarianism of the politicians, the frisky impertinence of the journalists and other dogmatic intellectuals are adding new misrepresentations to the old ones. For example, it is a most futile exercise to pit Nehru against Gandhi or vice versa. Within the very large Gandhian framework, the areas of agreement and disagreement between the two are rather narrow. Only little men will belittle Nehru and only ignorant men will ignore the statements Nehru made shortly before his death, in which he admitted that his predicaments arose from his deviation from the Gandhian path.1 Great men do not boast about their successes.
In his own life-time Gandhi was abused in very harsh terms not only by the imperialists but also by the orthodox Hindus and Jains, by the westernized upper class educated elite, by Muslim and Anglo-Indian leaders and not the least, by the Marxists. That was perhaps a less absurd situation than that of the present one, as I said earlier, Gandhi is both worshipped as a father figure and dismissed or interpreted without being read.
Gandhi took an integrated view of life, and tried to weave insights, derived from different disciplines, into a single unified approach. In recent times no one, with the probable exception of Karl Marx, had undertaken such an enormous task. The Gandhian totality has confounded specialists who tended to take partial and distorted view of Gandhi. He had been called a philosophical anarchist, a believer in agrarian primitivism, a subsistence economist. Anti-technologist, a religious leader and so on. None of these views does justice to Gandhi because no closet, senior common room theorizing can aptly describe him.
The supreme difficulty facing a serious analyst of Gandhi is that almost every statement made about him is little more than a half-truth and the trouble with half-truths is the other half. There is an additional difficulty; every statement made by Gandhi himself is also a partial truth, made deliberately so as to take anew step towards some larger truth. The half-truths distort Gandhi and Gandhi’s partial truths demand a massive intellectual effort to comprehend him.
The kind of questions Gandhi asked nearly eight decades ago are the ones which now face both the under-developed and post-industrial societies caught up in a deep upsurge of confusion and disillusionment. Since Gandhi was not a futurologist, there must be some explanation as to how he anticipated the threats to humanity that emanate from technological determinism, the plundering of nature, to assuage the greed created by consumerism and vulgar hedonism, structural violence, alienation, etc. Gandhi’s anticipation f the coming problems of humanity were not based on empiricism or deviations from either pre-fixed ideal positions of pre-modality. He was able to, it seems, ask these questions, because he tested and judged every aspect of human activity is a scale of some values and ethical norms.
The central Gandhian values were not derived from any metaphysical system despite numerous interpretations to the contrary. They were derived from his own philosophical ideas which he arrived at as a result of historical, spiritual and material knowledge and his experience. Gandhi’s values thus reflect his understanding of human nature, of social and production relations, of man’s constant struggle against forces which tried to push him down into one kind of oppression or another and of his attempts to rise above his existentialist situation.
Behind the deceptive simplicity of Gandhi’s style of writing and speaking lay a complex mind and a restless intellect which were engaged in understanding the complex reality of material and human world in a purposeful way. Gandhi was not merely interpreting life and society, he was ceaselessly engaged in changing it in certain directions which never seemed to remain fixed.
However, Gandhi did not advocate, nor could he fall back upon an existing system. He had none and did not believe in falling upon any of the available systems. Unlike other profound thinkers, he refused to take upon himself the role of a system builder. All known system builders and their systems have been diminished by history after those systems have run a definite course. The inherent limitations of even the most powerful, internally consistent system having a high predictive value outdated it.
What Gandhi was looking for was not a system but a framework of concepts and values, as well as a method to arrive at them so that many a system could be built upon them for the immediate present, and for the many future stages of development in the unfolding or fulfilling of human destiny. This, to my mind, is the central fact about Gandhi, and any system or model based on the Gandhian approach would, by definition, have to be dynamic and historically limited, while being firmly based, in all stages, on his framework of concepts and values. If we do not understand this fundamental aspect of Gandhi, we understand nothing about him.
One of the crises facing the world today, as I said earlier, is the crisis of values and no prevailing social order is free from it. In some countries the crisis is reaching the breaking point; in others it may seem less serious because it is kept suppressed by force. One indication of this crisis is the sudden, massive and rather dangerous return to organized and codified religions even though history tells us that organized religion has not found solutions to human crises. Science which tried to replace religion, opened new vistas for humanity but is now faced with its own crises, because of its one-sidedness and its appropriation by a few. Both organized science and organized religion are failing the world, and this provides the occasion for us to review Gandhi afresh since he developed his own scientific practice and also distilled an ethical religion or value system from all major religions, rendering their canonical and dogmatic theologies and customary injunctions utterly superfluous. In doing so he gave science a new dimension, a moral dimension. He was, what I would, for want of better phrase, call a moral social scientist, whose unique approach may provide us with answers to the multiple crises with which mankind is faced.
The value system of a society and its individual or group members emanate from three sources: (a) a general philosophic or belief system and a world view; (b) a given socio-economic and political structure; and (c) certain historical evolution of the values themselves and their practices. The important point to note is that one cannot speak of values as unrelated to and separate from factors. When a specific and a globally distinguishable value system is associated with the name of a thinker or emancipator, it is not that he transcends any one of these three factors. He gives the sharpest possible edge to each one of them and integrates them in such a manner that makes his value system unique.
There can be no value premises without a philosophic system and every comprehensive philosophic system has its own ontology, epistemology and method. Ontology is a theory of knowledge; and method is a set of principles and techniques designed both to obtain knowledge and to change the world. Any thinker or philosopher who excludes any one of these three components of a philosophic system, will not produce a normative value system.
In most non-Gandhian philosophic systems, these three components are distinct, though related, and this seemed to be true of early Gandhian thought. As Gandhi went through an evolutionary process of change in his own life, his ontology, epistemology and method merged into a single unified process. And this process can be identified with is search for truth. Gandhi did believe in God but he introduced a remarkable innovation by reducing God to a tentatively definable concept, something which all earlier metaphysical systems had failed to do. Indeed he made God into an imprecision but relevant instrument. Ontologically, he reduced God to Truth, a fundamental shift from his earlier position in which he tried to approximate Truth to God. The search for both relative and absolute truth, was now his epistemology. Satyagraha and nonviolent practice became the linking method and technique. Therefore, the Gandhian value system cannot be defined either a priori or through logic, as for example in Plato, or in relation to a given social structure, as for example in Marx, or in relation to method or language alone, as, for example, in the modern philosophies of Theoretical Empiricism, Logical Positivism, Rationalism, Humanism, etc.
At least since the days of Hegel and Marx, the world of philosophy has come to be divided between the materialists and the idealists. When this debate was extended to social relations, the same question was posed: whether it is human consciousness which determines social relations or vice versa.2 This division is now recognized as unsatisfactory by most philosophers including some belonging to the New Left.
In arriving at this ontology, Gandhi made a major departure from the past. He ignored the whole debate of the past and looked instead for a common denominator for which he found support, on the one hand, in other religions, particularly Islam and Christianity, and in life’s experience and practice, on the other. About the latter he said: “Truth and Life in a sense are one and the same. I should give the same definition for Truth as I have given for Life.” This was to be the basis not only of his ontology but also of his ethics, or what he later called ethical religion.
What Gandhi accepted was that mind and matter have their own dialectics and can, without contradiction, absorb the theory of evolution or matter evolving into mind. For example, Chitta Vritti ordinarily means modification of mind. But as defined by Patanjali, it means that human experience in which consciousness gets modified by matter. Gandhi short-circuited the conflicting philosophies by adopting an entirely novel approach. His approach was to merge ontology, epistemology and method into a single set of concepts which in their dynamics could be transformed into values. Concepts and values in Gandhi become co-terminous through a dialectical process.
Concepts have to be discussed first at the philosophical level before they can be put to any other use. Philosophy not merely attempts to identify and differentiate one concept from another, it also sorts out the questions. Indeed, it asks questions about questions.
Briefly, Gandhian concepts may be said to have the following characteristics; they are normative, they are dialectical, they are dynamic and evolutionary, they are relative as well as correlative, and they are scientific. It is possible to argue that some of these characteristics are mutually contradictory. The real problem is not of contradictions but of a dynamic and evolutionary change in the concepts themselves and in their mutual relationships.
As pure scientific theory requires that it should be conceptually rigorous, i.e., have precise and unambiguous meanings, and capable of being empirically tested. A normative or a moral scientific theory, on the other hand, while starting from some hypothesis, will insist that the theory must answer the question with reference to what one is empirically testing the theory itself. A pure scientific theory has no reference point except the theory itself. A normative moral scientific theory is tested empirically against the moral laws, rules and precepts, as accepted before the enquiry starts. If one accepts this, then the conceptual rigour has to yield to a certain conceptual looseness from one point of time to another when the moral precepts are undergoing change.3 Of course, one cannot take shelter behind conceptual looseness for one’s confusion or deliberate distortion of reality. Conceptual looseness is necessitated by moral dictates. Since the Gandhian system is in core normative, a certain conceptual looseness is part of the process of the very developments of the concepts and attempts to make them increasingly rigorous at the same time. This justifies the application of a special kind of dialectics to Gandhian concepts.
Indeed the dialectical aspects of Gandhian concepts are unique. The origin of this dialectics is from the basis of Upanishadic philosophy. When defining God, Upanishads adopt the Neti Neti technique implying that the concepts can be defined only in relation to their opposites. Gandhi said, “All religions teach us that two opposite forces act upon us and that the human endeavour consists in a series of eternal rejections and acceptances.”
Gandhi’s concept of dialectics has to be distinguished from those of others, particularly of Karl Marx. I would like to describe Gandhian dialectics as perpetual dialectics as it leaves out nothing. For example, it includes the area of logical contradictions to which Marxian dialectics is not applied. The central difference between the two is their postulates about the relationship between dialectics and truth. As neo-Marxists like Allen and Kuhn have suggested, “the dialectical materialism does not of course lead to truth, it consists of a set of working hypothesis” which is considered better than any alternative method. Gandhian dialectics, on the other h and, begins and ends with Truth. This is the basic methodological difference between the two. A long time ago Gramci and other Marxists had shown that pure materialism was commonsensical but reactionary and metaphysical, but when juxtaposed with consciousness, it becomes a different concept. This precisely is the essential of Gandhian dialectics.
Gandhi, unlike Marx, did not consider consciousness as passive to external reality. For him both acted as autonomous forces in dialectical relationship with one another. Marx brushed aside this relationship by calling the conflict between the two as false consciousness. Gandhi went a step further and considered this relationship as a process by which ultimately global consciousness about the unity for global purpose comes to be identified.
While there are other differences between the two, apart from limited materialistic aspect of the Marxian dialectics, it is neither necessary nor possible to go into them, except the one which is very important. Marx applies dialectics to every other situation or philosophy but not to his own, whereas Gandhi does not leave out his own philosophy from the application of dialectical principles. That is why he, while believing in God, suggested that all religions be subjected to human need, reason and experience.
Indeed, one may say that the Marxian dialectics, because of its belief in blind dénouement of history, is value neutral whereas the Gandhian dialectics is inconceivable without some normative values added to it. This brings out the most significant difference between the two, namely, the application of dialectics to the concept of freedom. Gandhian concept of freedom is the most explicit expression of Gandhi’s dialectics. He interpreted even the Gita in a way exactly opposite to that of everyone else. Others called the philosophy of the Gita deterministic. But Gandhi said that for him the Gita taught the lesson of freedom and responsibility for one’s action. In Marx, freedom requires the understanding of necessity, that is, what is needed, because activity is impossible without need. But according to Gandhi, what is needed must be purposeful activity for a free action. There is self-acting but no self-determining freedom in Gandhi. For the same reason he rejected utopian liberalism. A free action is one which both satisfies human values and satisfies the need for some objective activity.
Gandhian concepts and values are dynamic and have an evolutionary dimension in the sense that they developed through human experience. No value or concept is fixed or static. Gandhi himself was not a static man. He refused to follow scriptures or dogmas. As experience unfolded to him new truths, he changes his stand from what he might have stated earlier. He was often accused of being inconsistent. He admitted that he was not consistent, nor did he wish to be so because dynamic thought and action were never consistent. And this was so because human experience was varied and truth revealed itself in manifold forms, some of which may not be consistent with the others. Nevertheless, he insisted that he was not inconsistent with respect to fundamental concepts. He asked his readers that “before making the choice from his statements, they should try to see if there is an underlying and abiding consistency between the two seeming inconsistencies”.4
It has not been noticed by writers on Gandhi that he used a few mathematical notations to give precise meaning to his fundamental concepts. The three most significant mathematical terms used by him were: (a) Euclidean points, (b) Concentric Circles and (c) Parallelogram. The Euclidean points exist in logic but cannot be fully drawn or perfectly identified. They move towards infinity but never reach it. Gandhi employed this concept to show that human progress is towards some Euclidean points such as Truth or God or the cosmic moral law. Just as a number of Euclidean points define a line, the direction of human struggle and progress is similarly determined. Since God could neither be fully defined nor his existence proved or disproved, Gandhi reduced God and all other ontological categories to Truth to which the believer, the agnostic and the atheist could all subscribe. It has been the unresolved dilemma of all religions and materialistic philosophies to provide a satisfactory objective to which human beings both as individuals and as a society, have been moving and continue to move.
The second mathematical term Gandhi used was Concentric Circles. This term implied the dynamics of both universe and life. It embodied the concept of movement, conflict and progress from which Gandhi also derived certain normative social structures. It needs to be stressed that it is very different from the Hindu concept of Chakra, a single cyclical movement having no direction of progress. The concept of progress in Gandhi is also not linear as it is in materialistic philosophies.
The third term used by Gandhi was Parallelogram. Cyclical movements and dialectics explain quite a lot of reality but by themselves are not adequate. When Gandhi used the word ‘parallelogram’ for social relations, he implied harmony between different sides or forces in a system. Dialectics explains the conflicts but not the harmony, either in nature of in society. The idea of a parallelogram does. The idea of Truth is also both dialectical and harmonious. The concept of parallelogram or harmony is different from the concept of synthesis in Marxian dialectics. Negation and synthesis are part of dialectics. Parallelogram and harmony are not.
I will confine myself to giving just one example to give meaning to these mathematical terms. Satyagraha is dialectical in the sense that it brings out the conflicts and struggle between two opposing forces, may be classes. But he conditions and limitations laid down by Gandhi for a Satyagraha also bring out the concept that the two opposing forces reflect some harmonious aspect as well as the end of the struggle. Therefore, Gandhian philosophy was unique and distinctly different from all the prevailing ones which can be put into three different categories: (a) those who believe in God or some other non-material power determining the fundamental nature of the world but refuse to modify their metaphysics in relation to material reality; (b) those who give primacy to matter in one form or another with or without making life a part of it; and (c) those who consider ontology an unidentifiable and indescribable issue.
We are now in a position to define the Gandhian philosophy in terms of ontology, epistemology and method. It is not possible to go into all the evolutionary stages of Gandhian philosophy here. All that is needed here is to delineate the end product. More importantly, for Gandhi, ontology, epistemology and method, as I said earlier, are not different from one another. Each is a part of a single dynamic process.
In terms of his philosophy, Truth is thus dialectical as well as multi-dimensional. It is the existence as well as the raison d’etre of existence. Truth is both being as well as knowledge, i.e., it is simultaneously ontological and epistemological. Truth is reality in all forms, including the existential, the transcendental, the spiritual reality, the moral order, etc. Truth in definition, can be absolute and complete but human experience of it is both limited and relative. Instead of explaining further, I shall let Gandhi speak thrice for himself.
First Gandhi said, “Truth means existence of that we know and that we do not know. The sum total of all existence is absolute truth or the Truth. The concepts of truth may differ. But all admit and respect truth. That truth I call God….”5 Secondly, he said: “Even the atheists who have pretended to disbelieve in God have believed in Truth. The trick they have performed is that of giving God another, not a new name. His names are Legion, Truth is the crown of them all.”6 The third time he said: “I have learnt from Jain philosophy a great many things which were worth learning, one of them being the idea of the many-sidedness of Truth. Stated in extreme form, nothing is true. They are two sides of every question.”7
In discussing Truth as a method, Gandhi had to go to great length in putting forward various ways to realize truth, the most important of which was Satyagraha or Truth force. However, he introduced what may be called a method into a method, namely, nonviolence, which to Gandhi was the method of discovering and legitimizing the practice of Satyagraha. He also held that nonviolence was one constructive process of nature in the midst of incessant destruction. It was the true method by which physical reality revealed itself, whether it is in harmony or in conflict with non-physical reality.
This being so it was possible to accept the truth of the scriptures as ontological truth while not deriving from them the other two aspects, i.e., epistemology and method. He said, “Let us not deceive ourselves into believing that everything that is written in Sanskrit and printed in Shastra has a binding effect upon us. That which is opposed to the fundamental maxims of morality, that which is opposed to trained reason, cannot be claimed as Shastra no matter how ancient it may be. It is a painful fact, but it is a historical truth, that priests who should have been real custodians of religions have been instrumental in destroying the religion of which they have been custodians.”
Ontologically, the highest aim of every Hindu or for that matter every human being is Moksha, namely, final deliverance or liberation from this world and assimilation with the final truth. This is a beaten track of every version of Hindu philosophy. Gandhi, however, gave the very path of Moksha, i.e., Dharma, an even higher place than to Moksha itself, i.e., the search for truth a place even higher that to Moksha itself. He said: “I cannot consider anything dearer to me than Moksha. Yet even that Moksha I would renounce if it were to conflict with truth and nonviolence. In all these three things I only followed truth.”8 This is an extremely significant turn that Gandhi gave to Hinduism.
Hinduism produced literally scores if not hundreds of paths for individual salvation but not a single path for social emancipation. Manu and Kautilya, the two religious and political law-givers, were subject to temporal constraints and were in many easy defenders of the status quo. Although Hinduism has survived, it was not able to develop a theory of social change or social emancipation. Gandhi gave Hindu system and society some characteristic jolts and thereby imparted to it powerful social dimensions, which brought him into conflict with Hindu orthodoxy. However, Gandhi was too shrewd to challenge frontally the entire superstructure of orthodox beliefs. Sometimes he chose to wear the mantle of orthodoxy until people came to accept his theory of social change.9 Similarly at the level of ethics, Gandhi’s contribution was unique and remarkable. He attempted and achieved what on one could do before. He transformed the so-called eternal values of the religion into relative truths of ethical principles and put them together as ethical religion. By doing so, he removed the distinction between religion as such and the projection of ethical laws through morally justifiable social instruments into the realms of social action.
Gandhi’s ethical religion was a religion of moral action. Modern political life is dominated either by what Carl Fredrich calls the propaganda of the word or by the propaganda of the act. In Hinduism, propaganda of the word, i.e., Shabd Pranam literary proof by word has always predominated. Gandhi reversed this tradition by making the propaganda of action more dominant. And Gandhi often said that he would reject the word or the scripture if it violated what he and his reason thought to be truth. Let me give you a Gandhian example: All religions preach equality and so does Hinduism. So when Gandhi found Hindu religion justifying untouchability, he rejected those scriptures which justified it. He said that either such scriptures had to be rejected or it has to be admitted that someone introduces recensions into original texts which made them unreliable.
The strongest element in the Gandhian approach was the unity between the theory and action. Even if in theory it was held that the difference between mental and physical labour should be removed or at least narrowed, Gandhi took up spinning. If nonviolence and truth were fundamental doctrines, he objectified these concepts by launching on Satyagraha. If brotherhood was a universal principle, he formulated it into action by serving the poorest of the poor. If equality and simplicity were laudable principles as answer to poverty, he adopted the loin cloth. We do not have to repeat the same practices today. What we need to appreciate is how Gandhi not only brought precepts and practice close to one another but also showed that without right action there is no right precept. The cynicism and intellectual pessimism of the 20th century reveal helplessness in action even when principles and precepts seem quite clear. Gandhi provided a revolutionary synthesis between word and act.
This revolution was extraordinary and incomparable. Now that there is large scale return to religion in both capitalist and communist countries, which is an expression of human agony and alienation, the Gandhian transformation of religious beliefs into a set of ethics, has become more relevant, if religion is not to develop once again into a force for reaction and terrorism. Return to religion in the communist countries seems largely to be a reaction to the absence of a moral political order, and in the capitalist countries either to vulgar consumerism or to the perpetuation of poverty.
Briefly, Gandhi treats science, society and religion as one common problem. Over centuries the distance of each from the other two has widened, leading to many reductionist theories and philosophies about each of them. In practice, man and society have been disintegrating because of the growing distance between these three subjects which not only influence man’s understanding and experience but also his response to pressing compulsions.
Gandhi’s response was that one cannot separate these three subjects. Only a veil seemed to separate them which is being pulled down now. As Hardy put it, matter is “but one mask or many worn by the Great Face Behind.” The common factor among all these was the evolution and the search for truth. Science provided tremendous power over natural processes and discovered one kind of truth. Man’s relations with his fellow being was another way of discovering truth, while his search for divinity in himself would, by removing the fear of God himself provide the third way of searching the truth.
By defining Truth as God, Gandhi in effect put God and Science in the same box. Religion could not be thrown out precisely because materialism and materialistic philosophies have failed to answer questions relating to man’s values and spiritual quest. Gandhi, addressing himself to this dialectics in man, reduced all religions to their common concern, namely, man and his value-system. This, as it turned out, was remarkable the same in the case of all religions, when shorn of dogma and ritual. I am, therefore, tempted to prophesy that, some time in the coming future, Gandhi’s approach will prevail and find universal acceptance because it alone seems to resolve the dichotomy between religion as an expression of man’s helplessness and irrationalism and religion as reflective of man’s unceasing quest for values and for a spiritual dimension.
However, Gandhi was not alone in this search. Today there is an identifiable movement among scientists and believers in religions aimed at such an integrated approach. Since they are still locked in their reductionist bunkers, they have not yet been able to provide as complete an answer to the human problem of the present as Gandhi had done as a practical idealist.
I would define a practical idealist as one, who while believing in the spiritual foundations of the universe, also accepts it material base. For such a man the world is not static, but is continuously evolving towards some definite end. Human life manifests that evolution and that purpose and Gandhi, therefore, focused attention on human problems both material and spiritual. God, cosmic consciousness or any other word, or phrase, which the idealist might like to use, were not rejected per se by him but were rejected as deterministic concepts. He, therefore, challenged all idealistic philosophies because he rejected idealistic determinism. “And where do you find the seat of authority,” Gandhi was asked, to which he replied, “It lies here,” pointing to his breast. “I cannot let a scriptural text supersede my reason….I cannot surrender my reason whilst I subscribe to divine revelation. And above all, the letter killeth and the spirit giveth life.”10By emphasizing judgement, consciousness and reason, Gandhi challenged all approaches or philosophies which subject man to determinism, whether these saw man as a victim of large social and productive forces, or of his unconscious self or as the creation of a Supreme Being. Therefore Gandhi rejected Marx, as he rejected Freud for whom man, dominated by his unconscious motivation, remains unaware of his goals, and that part of religion which suggests that everything is predetermined, leaving man little choice. Gandhi fought against all these determinisms, because he believed that Marxism, Freudianism or Religion that denied man freedom and divinity were themselves the source of those problems for which they were meant to be solutions.
While reason, the rational outlook and the scientific method have been powerful forces in fighting against superstition, blind faith and all other forms of mental slavery, they have not been able to explain the entire reality of man, life and society. So, even as Gandhi called for a rejection of those views that did not appeal to reason, he also pointed out the limitations of rationalism, which by itself is incapable of fully comprehending truth and the internal structure about human essence and hence incapable of producing durable human values.
A new version of the positivistic value system is reflected in what is now called the End of Ideology. Western scholars of this school such as Lispett, Shils and Bell, on the one hand, and the doctrinaire of Marxists, on the other, ironically serve the same social purpose, namely, both uphold the interests of the ruling elite in their respective societies by freeing them from all moral constraints and from having a consistent value-system. Gandhi challenged both these views of ideology and opposed the rival claims of the neutrality of absoluteness of ideology. “What ought to be” pervades the whole of Gandhi’s works.
A crucial value difference between Marx and Gandhi was over human essence. Marx, following Feuerbach, for whom human essence was an abstraction inherent in each individual, resolved religion into human essence. For Marx, it is “the ensemble of the social relations.” Marx gave up the whole question of human essence after her wrote his Thesis on Feuerbach, and therefore thus excluded from his writings the role and problem of human consciousness and fell into the trap of class or economic determinism. Sartre argued that the alienation of Marxism attributed to class antagonism was the consequence of human consciousness. Gandhi did the opposite: he resolved human essence first into religion, as historically given to us by all religions. Then he transmuted the process. He resolved religion into a set of ethical principles and finally into human essence. This human essence, being dynamic and not static as in Marx and other philosophies developed into a higher level of human consciousness, namely, a vastly expanded and deepened spiritual field.
To Marx and t all philosophers of materialism, human consciousness was little more than what differentiated man from animals, that “man’s own life is an object for him,” because he is a conscious being. The human consciousness was expressed in the productive and communal being of man. This constitutes the epistemological foundation of Marx’s concept of human nature. But as Marx moved from philosophy to science or to the production system, the questions of human consciousness and alienation and, therefore, of value judgements got relegated to the background. History becomes not a struggle for values but a succession of modes of production.
Similarly, Marx was not able to explain contradictions at the level of ideas, intuitions and innate knowledge. Thus subjective will is not capable of producing a value system. Gandhi’s answer to social determinism was to assert the autonomy of the individual will. That is why Gandhi made the concept of Swaraj as a process of attaining freedom, self-rule and self-purification. Gandhi’s insistence on man listening to his inner voice was a warning against his falling prey to the possible hoax played on him by proliferating gurudoms of which we see a lot in India today as well as against pragmatic nihilism.
Marxism in practice has turned out to be a mixture of confused utopia and deadly pragmatism. That is what makes it so attractive and particularly appealing to those who look for an uncomplicated mixture. There are, however, serious contradictions between the Marxist utopia and pragmatism and the dominant Marxist response is to deny the utopian characteristics of Marxism. Even more, these contradictions make it bereft of any inherent value system. Materialistic philosophy and its best philosophic expression, atheistic humanism, cannot be embedded in or produce a value system.
Many people have called Gandhi a Humanist. This is both right and wrong. Gandhi would subscribe to some aspects of Humanism and reject others. Like Humanists, Gandhi would put man into the centre of the intellectual universe, giving all science and literature a reference to human loyalty and its purposes. Humanism as relativism would also be consistent with Gandhi in so much as it holds that truth and reality, which are attainable, are sufficient for man. Gandhi would also agree with the centrist Humanist doctrine that truths are useful and should be related to human purposes. And, finally, Gandhi would subscribe to the Humanist view that claims to infallibility are wrong and, therefore, human relations should be characterized by tolerance and the absence of coercion.
Gandhi’s thought, though it encompasses aspects of Humanism, goes beyond it since Humanism has no philosophical foundations, nor an agreed ontology or epistemology. It has no ethical or moral stages through which man moves from lower level of consciousness to higher ones. Humanism as a theory of knowledge is, therefore, extremely restricted. The cul-de-sac into which the pure humanists, positivists and rationalists from David Hume t Bertrand Russell have landed themselves, has reduced all materialistic philosophers to some kind of speculative atheism, because despite increasing knowledge of the universe, there is still no proof that matter alone is eternal. The real danger, however, is not this, but the possible destruction of a frame of reference from which values can be derived.
According to Hedonistic values, which is another system, pleasure is and should be the sole end of human mind or conduct. Philosophers like Hobbs and Bentham were the greatest proponents of this theory. To some extent, even the Christians believe that “private happiness is our motive and the will of God our rule.” Hedonism has provided the doctrinal basis of individualism since the days of Bentham and corresponds to the economic principles of Adam Smith. It implied multiplication of means, wants and opportunities of pleasures for the individual and, at best, gives only some value to some social and altruistic purposes. Gandhi totally rejected Hedonistic premises because they destroyed every other value concept except that of personal pleasure. Gandhi made a sharp distinction between bliss, happiness and pleasure.
Those who believe in the scientific method alone as the right approach to epistemology and rule out every other activity are also caught in a dilemma which the scientific approach cannot resolve. The dilemma is this: either a scientific method must have no value framework or, if it has a value framework, it must go beyond the scientific method itself. The application of scientific method to social sciences, in particular, suffers from the inherent weakness that social variables inevitably have implicit value judgements.
Einstein, the greatest scientist of this century, stressed upon the need to go beyond science. He said bout his Quantum Theory that “the inner voice tells me that it is not yet the real thing. The theory says a lot, but does not really bring us any closer to the secret of the old one. I, at any rate, am convinced that God does not throw dice.”
Let me now sum up the Gandhian value framework. This framework is based on a distinct philosophy as explained through a set of concepts, all of which have specific characteristics. This philosophy and these concepts led Gandhi to arrive at certain values. The most significant, but the most difficult, aspect of the Gandhian approach is the evolutionary character of concepts which tends to blur the distinction between concepts and values. The Gandhian philosophy which reduced God to Truth gives Truth a value. The same is true of nonviolence. So nonviolence and Truth do not merely stand in the relationship of means to ends, but merge with and transform dialectically into one another. Thus nonviolence is Truth and Truth is nonviolence, both thus becoming values as well. So Truth, the interchangeability of Ends and Means, Nonviolence and Satyagraha are fundamental Gandhian values which simultaneously embody method, thus establishing the unity of theory and action. In addition to these core values, there are three other basic Gandhian concepts, namely, Swadeshi, Bread-Labour and Equality. Given the Gandhian unity of theory and action, these concepts are also core Gandhian values. These are six fundamental concepts-cum-values or value concepts which constitute the core of Gandhi’s philosophy and of his praxis.
It was this value system that Gandhi offered in refutation of the tragic vision of man and the world which most religious and positivist philosophers had ended up by propounding. A tragic vision of the world is one in which neither God nor a functional equivalent for God is present or, if such a force is present, man still is neither free not anything more than his own nothingness. Only hedonists claim some optimism but they do so by reducing man to the level of the animal species. In the Gandhian framework, neither is necessary. For Lukas and Satre, two different kinds of Marxists, the tragic vision for aesthetics, Gandhi however, replaced the tragic vision of man by the concept of love which could also provide a positive basis for aesthetics as much for life.
Gandhi’s principal aim was to place man at the centre of all schemes of things, all values, all actions, and all philosophies. But when we say that Gandhi placed man at the centre of things, what do we mean by it? It is obviously presumptuous to say that other philosophers were oblivious of the central importance of man. However, if we consider the two great clusters of philosophies, the Idealist and the Materialistic schools, both unhesitatingly give something else and not man the central place. The Idealists give centrality to the Indeterminate Spirit, to God or to Nature, the Materialists give it to Matter. In the context of these philosophies, when man is introduced, he logically can occupy only a secondary or instrumental position. For Gandhi, life and history had no purpose beyond what human beings put into them.
One must ask as to how two such sharply opposing philosophies could arrive at the same position. The answer lies perhaps in that both have their foundations in an abstraction, be it Idea or Matter. For both man exists, but only as an extension of an Idea or as the product of material evolution, but without autonomous identity. It is this lost autonomy that Gandhi restored to man. Perhaps, the most unfailing test of the validity of any philosophy lies in its view of the autonomy of man and his freedom, including economic freedom, over all other forces.
For Gandhi the centrality of man permeated the entire canvas leading form ontology to human concern with the most ordinary needs or of the deepest intellectual and spiritual striving. Gandhi placed man at the centre by asserting the ‘will of the man’ as well as his moral responsibility. If the ‘will of the man’ prevails, then what happens to values? Does will determine them? The answer is NO. It is man’s total experience, his awareness of moral responsibility and service of others that have produced values. Man’s will is only guarantee as well as the power through which these values can be made manifest in his behaviour. It is, therefore, the incarnation of human freedom and autonomy as Gandhi understood them.
At the centre of Marxism and other materialistic theories lies human labour as a productive unit. Gandhi went one step ahead to glorify labour. Gandhi’s man, however, was more than just a mental or physical machine. The man that Gandhi brought into the centre of things as a loving man, making Labour and Love the two irreducible conditions which ensure that man will remain at the centre of things. In the Gandhian scheme of things, love and cooperation without labour is only sheer romanticism while labour without love cannot but lead to new forms of exploitation and greed. The Gandhian insistence on Bread labour is an expression both of man’s responsibility to labour for his own basic needs and to cooperate with his fellow men. Given the unity of theory and action that is characteristic of Gandhi, bread-labour is both an essential principle of Gandhian economics and an essential part of his moral philosophy.
This was the lesson of the third chapter of the Gita as Gandhi reinterpreted it. If Gandhi illustrated his views by referring to ancient Indian societies, it was not, as is often said, because he wanted to return to primitive paradise or premodality. These illustrations were used both to establish new Indian identity and to highlight what Marx called the exalted character of the ancient conception of man as a producer instead of the modern conception of man as an economic being whose aim is to produce or own wealth.11 By emphasizing that exalted character and its moral dimensions, Gandhi has emerged as a global man and his values as global values. But he also remained firmly grounded in his own soil and was one with is own people. He addressed himself, particularly to the Indian elite, who suffered under the burden of a bitter inferiority in relation to the west and superiority in relation to their own masses. Metaphorically speaking, he once said that for purposes of the economy, the village was his world and for purposes of culture the world was his village. The term ‘village’ implied not an entity, but a set of values.
Thank you very much.
*Broadcast from All India Radio, 10 December 1979.

  1. Nehru wrote: “When may years ago, most of us…..were participating in the struggle for freedom under the leadership of Gandhiji, we had that larger vision all the time—not only of freedom but of something more. There was a social objective, a vision of the future which we were going to build, and that gave us a certain vitality, a certain measure of a crusading spirit. Now most of us are perhaps lost….” Speeches (p. 78) 1963-64
  2. It may be mentioned here that both Lenin and Mao, who wrote on the questions of dialectics and contradictions, overstated their case and included into dialectics things which did not belong to it. Many people attribute the problems of modern communism to this distortion. It remains questionable whether the Marxian philosophy, particularly its ontology, is capable of producing a value system.
  3. “Certainly the history of science reveals many cases of important theoretical innovation the very richness and power of which were only possible by virtue of a certain conceptual looseness, that is by the rejection of the strategy of conceptual rigour.” John Mephm. “The Structuralist Sciences and Philosophy” in David Robey (ed.) Structuralism, Oxford 1973, p. 105.
  4. Gandhi said: “My aim is not to be consistent with my previous statements on a given question, but to be consistent with truth as it may present itself to me at a given moment. The result has been that I have grown from truth to truth; I have saved my memory an undue strain; and what is more, whenever I have been obliged to compare my writing even of fifty years ago with the latest, I have discovered no inconsistency between the two. But friends who observe inconsistency will do well to take the meaning that my latest writing may yield unless, of course, they prefer the old. But before making the choice they should try to see if there is not an underlying and abiding consistency between the two seeming inconsistencies.” Harijan 30.9.1939
  5. Gora, An Atheist with Gandhi, Navjivan, 1951 p. 48.
  6. M. Vol. 3, pp 359-60.
  7. Collected Works, Vol. 19, p 522. Raghvan Iyer has thus summed up: “Gandhi explicitly declared that the right to err and the freedom to experiment constitute the universal and indispensable condition to all progress. Evolution is always experimental, all progress is possible only through mistakes. This, he felt is the law of individual moral growth as well as of social and political evolution. Although we must be prepared to visualize Absolute Truth, in practice we must ever regard truth as a cast-iron dogma, a final statement or a fixed formula, but rather as a many-sided, evolving and dynamic dialectics.” The Moral and Political Thought of Mahatma Gandhi, Oxford University Press, Delhi 1973, p. 160
  8. Collected Works, Vol. 25, p.27.
  9. Consequently, Gandhi did not make any deliberate attempt to make an ontological break with religion in general and with Hindu religion in particular. He thought it as a futile exercise, though the conflict became inevitable as he developed his philosophy. However, he made a deliberate break with Hindu epistemology and the method through expanding the scope of Truth. He thereby brought about a fundamental shift in the philosophical structure which challenged all non-ethical philosophies.
  10. Harijan, 5.12.1936
  11. Karl Marx, Pre-Capitalist Economic Foundations, London, pp. 84-85.