J. B. Kripalani
Gandhi kept his new philosophy and technique of Satyagraha, that is, resistance to tyranny through truth and nonviolence, before the nation for its fight against British imperial domination, for its freedom, reconstruction and advancement, some twenty-five years before Independence. It is now more than thirty years since we achieved our Independence. No new ideas have emerged since then for the country's reconstruction and advancement. However, people are wondering, after these fifty- five years, whether Gandhi's ideas and techniques of Satyagraha have any relevance at the present time and hereafter. It is true that they are now better known and received by the learned than they were before. This may be due to the fact that the Janata Government has declared its adherence to Gandhi's basic principles, ideas, and main programmes for the reconstruction and progress of the country. In India, it is even now a fact that whatever the rulers approve of is accepted by the people, including the so-called intellectuals.
After Independence everybody thought, as did the rulers, that India could advance economically only through centralized and mechanised heavy industry, through mills and factories, mainly in the public sector, that is, under the State machinery. Today the dominant opinion in the ruling party is that the problems of chronic poverty and colossal unemployment from which our country suffers cannot be solved merely through capital industry. Leaving aside the economic question for the moment, let me emphasize that I have always wondered why the question of the relevance of Gandhi should be asked again and again, some sixty years after he unfolded and worked his ideas, during the struggle for independence. A similar question is not asked in the case of the Buddha and Mahavira twenty-six centuries after they passed away; and, in the case of Christ, nineteen centuries after his death. Even great scientists in the West like Newton and Einstein have not cast any doubts upon the teachings of Christ. Science has not demolished them. Why is this so? May it not be that these prophets tackled the question of the eternal verities: moral imperatives of life which do not change with the lapse of time: human nature being what it is known to be.
Why does the truth of the Buddha's teachings prevail in the modern world, in spite of many of his ideas and beliefs being outmoded? Why do Christ's teachings yet hold good, in spite of some of his ideas, like his belief in ghosts, devils and the curing of diseases by the mere touch of his hand, and in the raising of the dead? Let us then see if there is anything in Gandhi's ideas, beliefs, and teachings which transcend time and place and hold good for times to come. If there is, it is necessary to find wherein lie the essential ideas of his philosophy of life, individual and collective, which hold good today and will continue to do so in the future. Surely, the essence of his philosophy of life cannot lie in the charkha or khadi or in his advocacy of the potential of village and cottage industries. Khadi is almost being replaced by some other variety of cloth, produced from a synthetic fibre, which Gandhi had not envisaged. Decentralized industry under modern economic conditions may or may not be the only remedy for the removal of poverty and unemployment in India, as it is not in some other developed countries. However, the present system of production through automation creates a certain problem. It is the multiplication of goods, without at the same time proportionately adding to the purchasing power of the people or their capacity to absorb the goods purchased. The result is that in highly industrialized countries useful articles are destroyed to keep the prices high and to keep the industry going or to provide the necessary employment. Further, automation rapidly exhausts the limited treasure- trove existing above the surface, on or below the ground and the sea. If all this is to be avoided, some slower method of production will have to be adopted which, while producing the essentials of life for the many, does not produce superfluities for the few. Let us then see if any elements in Gandhi's thought and ideas have a permanent value for humanity.
To me it appears that the permanent value in Gandhi's thought and programmes of reform lies in the fact that he views life as an integral whole and not divided into separate, watertight compartments: political, economic, social, individual, and collective. The different aspects and facets of life are interconnected. They act and react upon one another. It is, therefore, necessary that only one set of moral laws and values should guide and regulate the various activities of man in the different departments of life. One cannot be truthful in one's personal and social conduct and untruthful in one's economic and political behaviour. One cannot be nonviolent and friendly in one's family and even inside the nation and practise violence and hatred in international dealings. To illustrate my point, I give here an incident which actually once occurred. Once a lady went to a fashionable shop to purchase a piece of cloth. The shopkeeper charged her four times the usual price. She paid it and went away. Afterwards, the merchant found that she had left her purse behind. It contained currency notes of five thousand rupees. He was worried and searched for the lady and, having found her, handed over the purse to her. The lady smiled and said: "You charged me for the cloth I purchased from you four time the usual price. It did not amount to more than a few rupees. Now you return to me my purse containing thousands of rupees. How is that?" The merchant too smiled and replied: 'That was my business morality and this, returning the purse, is my personal morality. I am not a thief." The politician, the lawyer, the merchant and those in various other walks of life, make the same kind of a distinction between their professional morality and their social and personal morality. Though otherwise honest people, they do not mind indulging in falsehood and violence in their professional life. The politician may be a good and honest man in his behaviour within his country, but if he is appointed an ambassador to a foreign land, he does not hesitate to use the services of spies and similar agents in order to get the various kinds of secrets of the host country. The magistrate does not hesitate to send a person to the gallows, though in his personal and social behaviour he is a gentle and kindly soul. Similarly, the policeman, a peace-loving person otherwise, does not hesitate to shoot his own countrymen at the bidding of the politician in power. The soldier does not hesitate to kill in battle those who are not his personal enemies and those who have done him no wrong, though in his social and personal life and conduct he is a harmless person. Custom and law have clouded the judgement and the conscience of these and other people. They are oblivious of the fact that by their public and professional behaviour they are violating the moral law. This is because we do not consider life as an integrated whole. We have devised different moral codes for different aspects of our life. For Gandhi, life, as we have said, is one. The moral law applies equally to all departments of life, whether of the common citizen, the merchant, the lawyer, the politician, or the soldier. Unless humanity recognizes the fact that human life is an integrated whole, there can be no peace in the world. Our internal and international conflicts will continue as they have been continuing through the centuries. What are the essentials of the moral law? According to Gandhi, they are truth and nonviolence and whatever flows from them. He enumerated them in his prayers: truth, nonviolence, non-stealing, chastity (brahmacharya), non-possession, bread labour, control of the palate, fearlessness, tolerance (equal respect for all religions), swadeshi, and removal of untouchability. Some of them are permament and some apply to the conditions of life in India today.
But, have not the two basic principles of morality: Truth and Non- violence (love): been kept before the people by the earlier prophets, notably by the Buddha, Mahavira, and Christ? Gandhi himself said that "truth and nonviolence are as old as the hills". What then is new about them when Gandhi keeps them again before India and the world? But, do prophets and seers always keep before the people new sets of right and wrong, good and evil? To my mind, it is not a fact. They generally expand the scope and application of the laws that already exist. Sometimes a law in reality is fully fulfilled, when its scope is expanded from time to time according to existing circumstances. Christ said: "I have come to fulfil the law and not to destroy it." What did he mean by this? He meant that he had come to fulfil the law of Moses, which the Jews observed. We must remember that Christ was a Jew. He said he had come to fulfil the law of Moses. What was this law? It was "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth". How was the law of Moses an advance on the customs that existed before him? May it not be that, before Moses, people took the life of the person who had caused them an injury? Moses put a limit on this practice of retaliation and revenge. This was a step towards nonviolence. But, like every law, that of Moses also could be truly fulfilled by extending its scope. In that sense, Christ fulfilled the law of Moses by extending its scope and destroying the very concept of retaliation. He said: "Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which spitefully abuse you, and persecute you." Gandhi simply extended further the scope of the law outlined by the Buddha, Mahavira, Christ, and by other prophets and seers who preached nonviolence and truth, so as to cover the entire life of the individual and of the community.
The question then arises: Why did not the old seers and prophets of truth and nonviolence extend the scope of these laws and their application to all the facets of life: political, economic and social, individual and collective? This, in my opinion, was due to two reasons. One is that their mission was confined to a spiritual salvation of the individual. They thought that such individuals as are possessed of self-reali- zation would act as a leaven in society. As a matter of fact, they have so worked. Who can deny the fact that prophets like the Buddha, Mahavira, and Christ exercised their influence in civilizing man and advancing his culture and continue to do so even today? But it is also a fact that so far as the inner circle of their disciples was concerned, the moral law was applied with all its uncompromising and absolute rigour. Christ told his apostles: "And as ye go preach, saying, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils; freely ye have received, freely give. Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat." These instructions were for the inner circle of disciples who were to renounce life and its concerns and be the guides of the people. These laws did not apply in their rigour to the life of the ordinary householder.
The Buddhist monk too has to lead a life of great rigour. He is to forgo the ease and comfort that is permitted to the householder.
This point is clearly brought out in Jainism. The Jain monk has to take the five cardinal vows of his order. They are called the mahavratas, the great vows, namely nonviolence, truth, non-stealing, non-possession, and non-attachment. The ordinary householder, living and functioning in the mundane world, has to take the very same vows, vratas, but these are anuvratas, small vows, greatly modified in execution. In Jainism, the monk's life is rigorous in the extreme. He cannot use any conveyance for his journey, however long it may be. Conveyances were drawn by cattle in ancient days. Therefore using them for one's journey would be doing violence to them. But even now, when they are driven by steam, petrol, diesel or electricity, the Jain monk does not use them. He must beg for his food and that too not specially prepared for him. He must not sit except on the ground. Such is the nature of the rigorous discipline which a Jain monk has to follow.
The point is that the prophets, saints, and sages, in spite of the rigorous discipline meant for the monks, the inner circle modified the code of conduct in the case of their lay disciples.
The second reason for the old prophets not applying the rigours of truth and nonviolence to common people was that they were not civilized and cultured enough in those times to practise nonviolence even in the limited sphere of social life.
Before the onset of the modern age, society was divided into small tribes and afterwards into petty principalities and small kingdoms. They could not conceive the idea that inter-tribal or international injustice could be removed, except through war. Even then, the more civilized and cultured nations were careful to see that war was confined to a special caste or class. In India, it was confined to one caste, the kshatriyas. In Europe, wars were fought by the upper strata of society, the nobles and the knights. The ordinary people were rarely called to involve themselves in a war. This is not so today. All classes, the religious man in his retreat, the philosopher in his study, the teacher in his class-room, the artist in his studio, the merchant in his godown or shop, all are called to join the colours, whether they feel that the war their governments are waging is justified or not. Whenever the government of a country decides to go to war, it does not even consult Parliament, much less the people. It is rightly felt that any public discussion about an impending war would expose something of the strategy to be followed and that this would be dangerous.
In the older days, if there was a war between groups and nations, it generally did not affect the common life of the people much. Generally war was fought between the armies of the two sides. There was no compulsory drafting of the common citizen for it. Today, war in any part of the world is likely to spread and become a world war. The big nations even now do get involved in the rivalry of small nations and help them with advice and sell them the armaments they themselves are not likely to use. The smaller nations are willing to purchase these arms. If the big nations do not directly participate in small local wars, it is because they know that if they do so, they will have to use nuclear weapons soon against each other. They are fully aware of the fact that in such a war there will be no victor and no vanquished, and the whole of humanity will have to pay the price of their folly. Today, the peace of the world, so far as the Big Powers are concerned, depends upon the fear and the terror of the use of the weapons of war that have been invented by modern science. In fact, if any one of these weapons goes off even accidentally, a good portion of the world may be destroyed. But for the fear of the use of nuclear weapons, the big nations are ready to cut each other's throat for real or fancied advancement of their prestige and power. The common people, going about their day-to-day business and affairs, have rarely wanted war. In recent times, it has generally come from the ambitions of politicians, even as it came in the former days from the ambitions of kings and emperors.
However, man's life has changed so much today that it is quite possible that Gandhi's idea of a single set of moral laws governing the world can become acceptable, especially to the cultural elite. This is due, among other things, to rapid means of travel. People of the world seem to be neighbours today, living at one another's door-steps. Awareness and knowledge have greatly increased. Science has opened vistas of advance which were earlier undreamt of. There has been a revolutionary advance in all spheres of knowledge. A calamity in any part of the world evokes ready response from everywhere. Any piece of good literature spreads in translation in no time. Through the radio we are in touch with each other all the time. Even art treasures can be seen and enjoyed at long distances through television. In commerce and industry too, the world appears to be becoming one world. In such a world there is a greater chance of Gandhi's idea of world peace, based upon the acceptance of truth and nonviolence, being relevant.
Let us now see how the practical politicians themselves want to bring about international peace. Not long ago, after the First World War, President Woodrow Wilson said that peace could be maintained in the world only if there is disarmament and open diplomacy. Wars today are not fought by fisticuffs or even by bows and arrows, swords and guns, as in former days; but through more sophisticated and highly dangerous weapons. What, therefore, is the meaning of disarmament? It only means a peaceful and nonviolent way of settling international disputes. However, even while talking of disarmament, nations go on piling arms, even when they know that such arms will not be useful in modern warfare. This means that the politicians unlike Gandhi are not willing to practise what they claim to believe in and what they preach to others.
What is the meaning of open diplomacy? It can only mean truthful conduct in international intercourse. But here too politicians talk of open diplomacy without meaning it. They have invented nuclear and electronic devices which have eliminated the human agents for espionage in other countries. Today one can know what is happening in another country without using any human agency which may be detected and found out. Our Government, after the invasion of India by China in 1962, invited the United States to plant a nuclear device in our country which would enable us to find out the military secrets of China. It is said that one of these devices is now missing. One does not know what injury it will cause in the future through a possible leakage of the radio-active material.
During the course of the Second World War, the United Nations was founded to maintain peace in the world. Today almost all nations are its members, but it is said to be overridden with intrigues. The fear is that it may go the way of its predecessor, the League of Nations. There is also the International Court of Justice to which several important disputes between nations have been and can be referred. Even in war, some international organizations such as the Red Cross function. Its members cannot be injured even in war except by accidents or when nuclear weapons may be used.
However good and useful these international institutions and organizations may be, it is doubtful if they would be able to maintain peace in the world.
Then, again, all these are external devices to eliminate conflicts. They can be fully useful only when the minds of men are converted in moral and ethical terms. What is now needed is that the minds of the leaders of the people, not only in politics but in all spheres of life, are converted to moral ways. Then only the peace of the world can be maintained.
Here then comes the usefulness of Gandhi's philosophy of life, which is guided by adherence to truth and nonviolence. Only when the mind of man is converted to keep the moral law in international affairs will the functioning of the United Nations and similar agencies for keeping the peace of the world become effective. From all these points of view, the message of the use of moral values in all departments of life, individual and social, national and international, will really bear fruit in this age when humanity is increasingly feeling compelled to move in the direction of "one world". The world then becomes just like a family and is guided in its relations by the eternal verities of life as stated and practised by Gandhi.
Source: Gandhi Marg, Vol. 1, No. 1, April 1979.