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Gandhian Philosophy- Part III

Gandhi has and always will have importance as far as preparation of civil service is concerned.
In this 4 part series, we are trying to cover Gandhi and his philosophies as lucidly as possible.
It has great importance for almost all papers of UPSC exam.
  1. Part I
  2. Part II
  3. Part III
  4. Part IV

The concept of human nature is of vital significance in any system of thought. In fact, it is the different views of human nature which are to a great extent responsible for different ethical and metaphysical systems. Gandhi’s indictment of modern civilization, his view of politics and especially of social and individual ethics are firmly based upon his assumptions regarding human nature and his understanding of man. His theory of human nature was closely bound up with his views on God and religion. He had a very definite conviction about what man is in his essential nature and of what he becomes through a false view of himself, of what he should be and can become, and of his place in a law-governed cosmos. The cosmos was a well-coordinated whole whose various parts were all linked in a system of interdependence and mutual service. It consisted of different orders of being ranging from the material to the human, each governed by its own laws and standing in a complex relationship with the rest. Human beings were an integral part of the cosmos, and were tied to it by the deepest bonds. Gandhi considered all life sacred whether human or non-human, for non-human beings too were divine in nature and legitimate members of the cosmos. Gandhi fought for the liberation of humanity, and particularly of his countrymen for almost five decades of his public life and in that period he had to deal with millions of people belonging to various social groups. This mass contact provided him with opportunities to study and discover as to how human nature actually expresses itself in day-to-day social life. He developed a very clear concept of self and of human nature which forms an integral part of his world-view.

This ‘wonderful piece of work, noble in reason and infinite in faculty’, man, engaged the attention of Gandhi too. In fact, implicit in any world-view is the concept of self and human nature and Gandhi paid considerable attention to it. His autobiography is full of observations about the manifestations of human nature. Therein, we find him stating that “ a man often succumbs to temptation”; that “Selfishness turns them blind”. In Harijan, he says that “people find the easiest of things oftentimes to be the most difficult to follow”; that “we are all thieves”; that “listlessness is common to us all”; and that “Love of power is usual in man and it often only dies with his death”. We also find him observing that habit gets mastery over men; that they “follow the authority of one man like sheep”. Notwithstanding his pronouncements on the darker side of human nature, it should, however, not be construed that Gandhi was always confronted with the darker side of human nature, he did come across its purely moral expressions as well. Recording such reminiscences, he wrote that “man is both matter and spirit, each acting on and affecting the other”; that “however bitter a man might be, he is sure to come round if we bestow upon him pure love in thought, word and deed”; that “generally those who believe in taking a tooth for a tooth, after a time forgive one another and become friends”; and that somehow he was “able to draw the noblest in mankind” and that is what enabled him to maintain his “faith in God and human nature”. Gandhi continued to maintain that man possesses an inborn, though limited, capacity of correcting his mistakes and of cultivating his special virtues. He believed that human nature is- infinitely modifiable; that is, “it was also given to human beings to learn from the mistakes and not to repeat them”. In other words, he thought that “there are chords in every human heart, If we only know how to strike the right chord, we bring out the music”.

His belief in the monistic doctrine of the metaphysical unity between God and man enabled him to describe the relationship between man and man as also divine. Believing that “all life in its essence is one”, he declared that we are all children of the same God and that, therefore, potentially human nature is the same everywhere. This. is to say that soul is one in all and that its possibilities are the same for everyone. It is interesting to note, in this context, the metaphors of a tree and an ocean with which he often used to describe the divine equality of human beings. Employing the metaphor of a tree he once said: “We are all leaves of a majestic tree whose trunk cannot be shaken off its roots which are deep down in the bowels of the earth, The mightiest wind cannot move it”. And, taking recourse to the metaphor of an ocean he stated that “No one has the capacity to judge God. We are drops in that limitless ocean of mercy”. In his autobiography, he observed: “We are all tarred with the same brush, and are children of one and the same creator, and as such the divine powers within us are infinite”. It was this belief that enabled him to declare Truth to be “a social virtue”.

He declared that “Human nature either goes up or goes down”. And, this virtue of moral progression, he thought, distinguishes man both from the God and the beast. He argued that for them the question of progression just does not arise, as God is already perfect and the beast is essentially dormant. Distinguishing man from God he observed that “No one can remain without eternal cycle unless it be God himself “. And about man’s distinction from the beast he declared that “Progress is man’s distinction, Man’s alone, not beast’s”. This distinction enabled him to regard man as “a special creature of God, precisely to the extent that he is distinct from the rest of His creation”. Self-realization was regarded by him to be the only vocation of man’s life, something which is absolutely desirable. In other words, he firmly believed that “that alone is worthhaving or worth-cultivating which would enable us to realize our Maker and to feel that, after all on this earth we are merely sojourners”. The natural course of man’s evolution he, thus, thought is “From beast, through man, to God”. Unlike the sages of India’s great past who suggested the path of withdrawal from the struggles of social life, Gandhi suggested that the’ only way through which man could attain the ultimate state of Brahmanirvana (self-realization) was the way of involvement in the struggles of social life, that is the way of the service of God’s creation.

Gandhi believes in the essential goodness of man. This conviction that man is inherently good is so fundamental in Gandhian thinking that one may even say that Gandhi’s entire attitude and approach to the questions related to life was based on this belief in the innate goodness of the human individual. The unique weapon of satyagraha and his revolutionary agenda for social transformation were all based on this belief. Although Gandhi put his implicit faith in the goodness of the individuals he was not unaware of the element of error and evil in him. With his deep insight into human nature Gandhi knew that just as there is the divine spark in man there is also the brute in him.

Gandhi makes a distinction between the ‘higher self’ and the ‘lower self’ and at the nadir of the lower self he identifies the ‘brute’. The very fact that man has a body brings in with it certain natural limitations which cannot be ignored or under estimated as insignificant. But one shall not identify man with his lower nature, nor shall the ideal of life be identified with the attainment of the needs of the body. Man, Gandhi contends. is a mixture of good and evil, and the upward and downward tendencies are inherent in him.

“Godliness implies that it is more natural for man to be good than to be evil, though apparently descent may seem easier than ascent”. This is the ground for Gandhi’s optimism. Of course, to err is human but to try to overcome error is divine. “There is no one without faults, not even men of God”, wrote Gandhi. They are men of God not because they are faultless but because they know their own faults and are ever ready to correct themselves. One hears in these words of Gandhi an echo of the famous saying that every saint has a past and every sinner a future. The concept of man in relation to the society as Gandhi formulates has no parallel in the contemporary times. He says, “ I value individual freedom but you must not forget that man is essentially a social being. He has risen to his present status by learning to adjust his individualism to the requirements of social progress. Unrestricted individualism is the law of the beast of the jungle. we have learnt to strike the mean between individual freedom and social restraint” Gandhi believed that if one man gains spiritually, the whole world gains with him and, if one man falls, the whole world falls to that extent. Since all life is one and man is gregarious every single act of the individual whether intentional or otherwise. exerts its impact on society.

So Gandhi considers it the bounden duty of every one to exercise his reason and will carefully and cautiously and modulate his behaviour in such a way that the whole community, nay, the whole world gains out of it.

The significance of the Gandhian views on the condition of man is the preparedness for error in our endeavors and the readiness to take large risks, checked by a continuous exercise of self-analysis and the willingness to make amends for mistakes made through weakness of will. Such involvement in the affairs of the world combined with the discipline that comes with the cultivation of inwardness merges the ideal of individual enlightenment and collective welfare. One should strive towards this awareness which can only be the outcome of one’s realization of self and its nature.

February 4, 2017

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