Just as in the West they have made wonderful discoveries in things material, similarly
Hinduism has made still more marvelous discoveries in things of religion, of the
spirit, of the soul. But we have no eye for these great and fine discoveries. We
are dazzled by the material progress that Western science has made. I am not
enamoured of that progress. In fact, it almost seems as though God in His wisdom
had prevented India from progressing along those lines, so that it might fulfill
its special mission of resisting the onrush of materialism. After all, there is
something in Hinduism that has kept it alive up till now. It has witnessed the
fall of Babylonian, Syrian, Persian and Egyptian civilizations. Cast a look
round you. Where are Rome and Greece? Can you find today anywhere the Italy of
Gibbon, or rather the ancient Rome, for Rome was Italy? Go to Greece. Where is
the world-famous Attic civilization? Then come to India, go through the most
ancient records and then look round you and you would be constrained to say,
'Yes, I see here ancient India still living.' True, there are dung-heaps, too,
here and there, but there are rich treasures buried under them. And the reason
why it has survived is that the end which Hinduism set before it was not
development along material but spiritual lines.
Among its many contributions the idea of man's identity with the dumb creation is a unique
one. To me cow-worship is a great idea which is capable of expansion. The
freedom of Hinduism from the modern proselytization is also to me a precious
thing. It needs no preaching. It says, 'Live the life.' It is my business, it is
your business to live the life, and then we shall leave its influence on ages.
Then take its contribution in men: Ramanuja, Chaitanya, Ramakrishna, not to
speak of the more modern names, have left their impress on Hinduism. Hinduism is
by no means a spent force or a dead religion.
Then there is the contribution of the four ashramas1,
again a unique contribution. There is nothing like it in the whole world.
The Catholics have the order of celibates corresponding to brahmacharis,
but not as an institution, whereas in India every boy had to go through the
first ashrama. What a grand conception it was! Today our eyes are dirty,
thoughts dirtier and bodies dirtiest of all, because we are denying Hinduism.
There is yet another thing I have not mentioned. Max Muller said forty years ago that it
was dawning on Europe that transmigration is not a theory, but a fact. Well, it
is entirely the contribution of Hinduism.
Today varnashrama dharma and Hinduism are misrepresented and denied by its
votaries. The remedy is not destruction, but correction. Let us reproduce in
ourselves the true Hindu spirit, and then ask whether it satisfies the soul or not.
Young India, 24-11-'27, p. 396
An American professor in Comparative Theology on a visit to India to study Indian
religions intelligently, asked Gandhiji to tell her in a nutshell the chief
value of Hinduism.
Replying to her Gandhiji said : "The chief value of Hinduism lies in holding the actual
belief that all life (not only human beings, but all sentient beings) is
one, i.e. all life coming from the One Universal Source.
"This unity of all life is a peculiarity of Hinduism which confines salvation
not to human beings alone but says that it is not possible for all God's
creatures. It may be that it is not possible, save through the human form, but
that does not make man the lord of creation. It makes him the servant of God's
creation. Now when we talk of brotherhood of man, we stop there, and feel that
all other life is there for man to exploit for his own purposes. But Hinduism
excludes all exploitation. There is no limit whatsoever to the measure of
sacrifice that one may make in order to realize this oneness with all life, but
certainly the immensity of the ideal sets a limit to your wants. That, you will
see, is the antithesis of the position of modern civilization which says:
'Increase your wants.' Those who hold that belief think that increase of wants
means an increase of knowledge whereby you understand the Infinite better. On
the contrary Hinduism rules out indulgence and multiplication of wants as these
hamper one's growth to ultimate identity with the Universal Self."
Harijan, 26-12-'36, p. 365
In the purest type of Hinduism a Brahmana, an ant, an elephant and a dog-eater (shwapacha)
are of the same status. And because our philosophy is so high, and we have
failed to live up to it, that very philosophy today stinks in our nostrils.
Hinduism insists on the brotherhood not only of all mankind but of all that
lives. It is a conception which makes one giddy, but we have to work up to it.
The moment we have restored real living equality between man and man, we shall
be able to establish equality between man and the whole creation. When that day
comes we shall have peace on earth and goodwill to men.
Harijan, 28-3-'36, p. 51
I call myself a Sanatani Hindu, because,
- I believe in the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Puranas and all that goes by the name
of Hindu scriptures, and therefore in avataras and rebirth;
- I believe in the varnashrama dharma in a sense, in my opinion, strictly
Vedic but not in its present popular and crude sense;
- I believe in the protection of the cow in its much larger sense than the popular;
- I do not disbelieve in idol-worship.
The reader will note that I have purposely refrained' from using the word divine
origin in reference to the Vedas or any other scriptures. For I do not believe
in the exclusive divinity of the Vedas. I believe the Bible, the Koran, and the
Zend Avesta to be as much divinely inspired as the Vedas. My belief in the Hindu
scriptures does not require me to accept every word and every verse as divinely
inspired. Nor do I claim to have any first-hand knowledge of these wonderful
books. But I do claim to know and feel the truths of the essential teaching of
the scriptures. I decline to be bound by any interpretation, however learned it
may be, if it is repugnant to reason or moral sense.
I believe implicitly in the Hindu aphorism, that no one truly knows the Shastras who has
not attained perfection in Innocence (Ahimsa), Truth (Satya) and self-control
(Brahmacharya), and who has not renounced all acquisition or possession
of wealth. I believe in the institution of gurus, but in this age
millions must go without a guru, because it is a rare thing to find a
combination of perfect purity and perfect learning. But one need not despair of
ever knowing the truth of one's religion, because the fundamentals of Hinduism,
as of every great religion, are unchangeable, and easily understood. Every Hindu
believes in God and His oneness, in rebirth and salvation.
I can no more describe my feeling for Hinduism than for my own wife. She moves me as no
other woman in the world can. Not that she has no faults. I dare say she has
many more than I see myself. But the feeling of an indissoluble bond is there.
Even so I feel for and about Hinduism with all its faults and limitations.
Nothing elates me so much as the music of the Gita or the Ramayana by Tulsidas,
the only two books in Hinduism I may be said to know. When I fancied I was
taking my last breath the Gita was my solace. I know the vice that is going on
today in all the great Hindu shrines, but I love them in spite of their
unspeakable failings. There is an interest which I take in them and which I take
in no other. I am a reformer through and through. But my zeal never takes me to
the rejection of any of the essential things of Hinduism.
Hinduism is not an exclusive religion. In it there is room for the worship of all the
prophets of the world. It is not a missionary religion in the ordinary sense of
the term. It has no doubt absorbed many tribes in its fold, but this absorption
has been of an evolutionary, imperceptible character. Hinduism tells everyone to
worship God according to his own faith or dharma, and so it lives at
peace with all religions.
Young India, 6-10-'21, pp. 317-18
Hinduism Is Ever Growing
Hinduism is like the Ganga pure and unsullied at its source, but taking in its course the
impurities in the way. Even like the Ganga it is beneficent in its total effect.
It takes a provincial form in every province, but the inner substance is
retained everywhere. Custom is not religion. Custom may change, but religion
will remain unaltered.
Purity of Hinduism depends on the self-restraint of its votaries. Whenever their religion
has been in danger, the Hindus have undergone rigorous penance, searched the
causes of the danger and devised means for combating them. The Shastras are ever
growing. The Vedas, the Upanishads, the Smritis, the Puranas, and the Itihasas
did not arise at one and the same time. Each grew out of the necessities of
particular periods, and therefore they seem to conflict with one another. These
books do not enunciate anew the eternal truths but show how these were
practised at the time to which the books belong. A practice which was good
enough in a particular period would, if blindly repeated in another, land people
into the 'slough of despond'. Because the practice of animal-sacrifice obtained
at one time, shall we revive it today? Because at one time we used to eat beef,
shall we also do so now? Because at one time, we used to chop off the hands and
feet of thieves, shall we revive that barbarity today? Shall we revive
polyandry? Shall we revive child-marriage? Because we discarded a section of
humanity one day, shall we brand their descendants today as outcastes ?
Hinduism abhors stagnation. Knowledge is limitless and so also the application of truth.
Everyday we add to our knowledge of the power of Atman, and we shall keep on
doing so. New experience will teach us new duties, but truth shall ever be the
same. Who has ever known it in its entirety?
Young India, 8-4-'26, pp. 131-32
I have endeavoured in the light of a prayerful study of the other faiths of the world
and, what is more, in the light of my own experiences in trying to live the
teaching of Hinduism as interpreted in the Gita, to give an extended but in no
way strained meaning to Hinduism, not as buried in its ample scriptures, but as
a living faith speaking like a mother to her aching child. What I have done is
perfectly historical. I have followed in the footsteps of our forefathers. At
one time they sacrificed animals to propitiate angry gods. Their descendants,
but our less remote ancestors, read a different meaning into the word
'sacrifice' and they taught that sacrifice was meant to be of our baser self, to
please not angry gods but one living God within.
Harijan, 3-10-'36, p. 266
It is wrong to call me an ascetic. The ideals that regulate my life are presented for
acceptance by mankind in general. I have arrived at them by gradual evolution.
Every step was thought out, well-considered, and taken with the greatest
deliberation. Both my continence and non-violence were derived from personal
experience and became necessary in response to the calls of public duty. The
isolated life I had to lead in South Africa whether as a householder, legal
practitioner, social reformer or politician, required, for the due fulfillment
of these duties, the strictest regulation of sexual life and a rigid practice of
non-violence and truth in human relations, whether with my own countrymen or
with the Europeans. I claim to be no more than an average man with less than
average ability. Nor can I claim any special merit for such nonviolence or
continence as I have been able to reach with laborious research. I have not the
shadow of a doubt that any man or woman can achieve what I have, if he or she
would make the same effort and cultivate the same hope and faith.
Harijan, 3-10-'36, p. 268
My uniform experience has convinced me that there is no other God than Truth. And
if every page of these chapters does not proclaim to the reader that the only
means for the realization of Truth is Ahimsa, I shall deem all my labour in
writing these chapters to have been in vain. And, even though my efforts in this
behalf may prove fruitless, let the readers know that the vehicle, not the great
principle, is at fault. After all, however sincere my strivings after Ahimsa may
have been, they have still been imperfect and inadequate. The little fleeting
glimpses, therefore, that I have been able to have of Truth can hardly convey an
idea of the indescribable lustre of Truth, a million times more intense than
that of the sun we daily see with our eyes. In fact what I have caught is only
the faintest glimmer of that mighty effulgence. But this much I can say with
assurance, as a result of all my experiments, that a perfect vision of Truth can
only follow a complete realization of Ahimsa.
To see the universal and all-pervading Spirit of Truth face to face one must be able to
love the meanest of creations as oneself. And a man who aspires after that
cannot afford to keep out of any field of life. That is why my devotion to
truth has drawn me into the field of politics; and I can say without the
slightest hesitation, and yet in all humility, that those who say that religion
has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means.
Identification with everything that lives is impossible without
self-purification; without self-purification the observance of the law of Ahimsa
must remain an empty dream; God can never be realized by one who is not pure of
heart. Self-purification therefore must mean purification in all the walks of
life. And purification being highly infectious, purification of oneself
necessarily leads to the purification of one's surroundings.
But the path of self-purification is hard and steep. To attain to perfect purity one has
to become absolutely passion-free in thought, speech and action to rise above
the opposing currents of love and hatred, attachment and repulsion. I know that
I have not in me as yet that triple purity, in spite of constant, ceaseless
striving for it. That is why the world's praise fails to move me, indeed it very
often stings me. To conquer the subtle passions seems to me to be harder far
than the physical conquest of the world by the force of arms. Ever since my
return to India I have had experiences of the dormant passions lying hidden
within me. The knowledge of them has made me feel humiliated though not
defeated. The experiences and experiments have sustained me and given me great
joy. But I know that I have still before me a difficult path to traverse. I must
reduce myself to zero. So long as a man does not of his own free will put
himself last among his fellow creatures, there is no salvation for him. Ahimsa
is the farthest limit of humility.
Autobiography, 1948, pp. 614-16
1. The four stages in a man's life—that of a student pledged to chastity (brahmacharya),
a householder, a meditator in the forest, ending up finally as a wandering teacher. - Ed.