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Philosophy of Religion

The Integral Humanism of Mahatma

Geeta S. Mehta
Maharshi Dayanand College

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ABSTRACT: Humanism as a theistic, pragmatic theory was first conceived around 2000 BCE in India. It is a this-worldly, human-centered, secular philosophical outlook. Gandhi understands religion as connoting the individual’s integrity and society’s solidarity. Free-will for him is freedom of the "rational self." Morality is not a matter of outward conformity, but of inward fulfillment. His integral humanism is indicated by his enumerated seven social sins: (1) politics without principles; (2) wealth without work; (3) commerce without morality; (4) knowledge without character; (5) pleasure without conscience; (6) science without morality; and (7) worship without sacrifice. The eleven vows recited in his Įšrama prayer began with Truth and Non-Violence as foundational for the integration of moral, social, political and economic values. Non-Violence should be a creed rather than a policy. Gandhi’s Truth meant freedom of self-actualization for societal development. He fulfilled these two principal themes of humanism in the civic function of religion and religious tolerance which aimed at evolving moral individuals in moral societies. "The twenty-first century should bring a synthesis of science and spirituality, socialism with human rights, social-change with nonviolence. And this is Gandhi."

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The Origin of Humanism

Humanism as a philosophical and literary movement originated in Italy in the Second half of the 14th Century and diffused all over Europe. As an atheistic theory it was conceived in 17th century by French philosopher but as a theistic-pragmatic theory it was conceived indirectly around 200 B.C. at the time of Vedas and Upanisads in India. The Prayer "Sarvatra Sukhinah Santu Sarve Santu Niramayah;" `Let all be happy here and let all enjoy full health’ of Vedic Sages echoed this Universal welfare. The earthly life constitutes the central concern for the Vedic Aryans. The sacrificial fire-rites which were evolved during Vedic period had social welfare as its motto, the motive was to prepare the land for agriculture for abundance and welfare of human race.

The latter half of the nineteenth century witnessed Hindu Renaissance pioneered by Brahm Samaź of Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Arya Samaź of Dayanand Saraswati, finally blossoming into Vedantic Hinduism of Vivekananda. Vedantic Hinduism, stresess the importance of service to the weak and the needy as its practical aspect. "That society is the greatest where the highest truths become practical. Humanism has undergone significant development assuming variety of forms in the West and in the East. Western Humanism is atheistic in content because Christianity conceives of God as the Creator, unlike Vedantic Humanism which is not atheistic.

Various Interpretations of Humanism

Humanism is not an established school of philosophy, but is a definite philosophical outlook. It emphasized the worth and dignity of man by rejecting other worldliness and transcendentalism. It is this worldly, man-centered secular philosophical outlook. It claims that the man is self-sufficient and is able to comprehend the world phenomena and works out a certain social order without the help of God. It is an attitude towards and an approach to man's worldly life and values. It is characterised by interest in man, concern for man and faith in man's reason and conscience for discriminating perception of truth and goodness. The modern genetic engineering sees man as a product of evolutionary process, and an agent controlling and directing this process. Humanism as the philosophic attitude regards the interpretation of human experience as the primary concern of all philosophizing and asserts the adequacy of human knowledge for this purpose. By giving to all science and literature a reference to human life and its purpose, philosophy connects itself with literary humanism. Science, viewed in its relation to man, can be utilised for human purpose. But emphasis on utilitarian aspect of science undermines its value as independent branch of human knowledge.

Gandhian Humanism

Gandhi's great contribution to Humanism consists in conceiving a religion that centres almost wholly around man and his life here in this world. Religion, according to him, should pervade all our activities, it cannot and ought not to be pursued in seclusion from one's fellow beings and in separation from life's other activities. The equivalent for Religion is "Dharma" in Sanskrit which means moral obligation and connotes individual's integrity as well as social Solidarity. Gandhi understood religion completely from that point of view. His Humanism is integral, discussing all the aspects of human life and has rationalist attitudes which differ from Romantic Humanism as well as Radical Humanism and yet synthesizes the two.

Free Will In Gandhian Thought

The Problem of free will is discussed by almost all renaissance humanists. `Man the measure’ is the earliest declaration of humanistic outlook. Humanists confirm that man is the maker of his own destiny. Gandhi also gave great importance to freedom. His whole life was spent for the individual's and national freedom. However for him free will did not mean slavery to desires of our mind but freedom of `rational self'. Once you condition yourself with ‘rational self'’ you are free to move within those restraints. In the words of Emerson, "A man is free to speak the truth not to lie, free to serve, not to exploit, free to sacrifice himself but not free to kill or injure". Gandhi's whole philosophy of wants and needs was conditioned by self-control. Gandhi has respect for and faith in the individual. To him, the individual alone is real; the Society and the state have little meaning apart from the individual. Prof. Iyer regards Gandhi as one of the most revolutionary of individualists and one of the most individualistic of revolutionaries in world history.

The Importance of Morality in Humanism

Renaissance Humanist accorded the privileged position to poetry, rhetoric, history, ethics and politics on the conviction that these disciplines alone educate man as such and put man in a position effectively to exercise his freedom. Like other humanists, Gandhi gives importance to Social Sciences. Having an ethical approach to life Gandhi sought to unite the mankind in common pursuit of justice and establishment of a moral order in world-society. Morality for him was not a matter of outward conformity but of inward fulfillment, of deep conviction accomplished by right action. Hence famous Socratic dictum `Virtue is knowledge', implies that right thought must result into right action. For Gandhi action was his domain. Gandhi's greatness lies in translating one's noblest thoughts into action which is the highest achievement of man.

Action Oriented Seven Fields of Social Life

Gandhi wanted people to put into practice morality in the seven main fields of life. He enumerated following seven Social Sins:

    1.   Politics without Principles.
    2.   Wealth without work.
    3.   Commerce without Morality.
    4.   Knowledge without Character.
    5.   Pleasure without Conscience.
    6.   Science without humanity.
    7. . Worship without sacrifice.
  1.   The first epigram deals with the Political field. As Plato says "either true and genuine philosophers find their way to political authority or powerful politicians by the favor of Providence take to true Philosophy'. Philosophers are the men of Principles. For Gandhi Rama was the symbol of a king dedicated to Principles. The Kings in Indian tradition were only the guardian executors and servants ofDharma’. The two main principles which were practiced by Gandhi and advocated for the society are Truth and Non-violence.
  2.   The second and the third dicta deal with the sphere of Economics. Tolstoy and Ruskin inspired Gandhi on the idea of bread-labour. The Bhagavad Gita also declares that he who eats without offering sacrifice eats stolen food. Gandhi put this into practice at his community centers. Bread-labor was one of the vows of his ‘Asrama’ prayer. The word `Sacrifice’ of the Bhagvad Gita was interpreted in the sense of "yajna" or rituals of Mimamsa system by the earlier ‘Acaryas’ but Gandhi put it into modern context when bread-labour was looked down upon with the spread of Industrialization and class-consciousness. Gandhi quotes Bible, "In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat thy bread". So far as body only needs food, one should labour for it with the help of one's body only. Moderate labour makes one healthy and creative. Gandhi advocated more or less equal wages for all kinds of work. These strains in his thought made him a champion of economic democracy no less than political and moral democracy.
  3.   The third dictum was developed into the idea of Trusteeship by Gandhi. Business man has to act only as a trustee of the Society for whatever he has gained from the Society. Everything finally belongs to the Society. "Trusteeship provides a means of transforming the present capitalist order of society into an egalitarian one".
  4.   The fourth dictum deals with knowledge. Education stands for the all round development of the individual and his character. Gandhi's system of Basic Education was the system for development of one's character. True knowledge leads to the development of one's character where one evolves his `Rational self'.
  5.   Conscience of a ‘Rational Self’ is evolved with consideration of whole mankind, particularly the poorest of all. Gandhi gave a ‘talisman’ `Whenever you are in doubt or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test: Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him'. This will lead to the balance of the use of natural resources also.
  6.   About the progress of Science Vinoba Bhave has said "Science should progress in the direction of Spirituality" otherwise it would bring total destruction. Gandhi held that Science without the thought of the welfare of humanity is a Sin. Science and humanity together pave the way for welfare of all.
  7. . In Religion, we worship, but if we are not ready to sacrifice for Social service, the worship has no value; it is sin to worship without sacrifice. Gandhi's everyday prayer was a recitation of the virtues of an ideal person as depicted in the Bhagvad Gita. His prayer is addressed to one's own better self, the conscience, the true self. Gandhi advocated the concept of Ethical Religion and not dry and dead ritualism. He saw the biggest threat to Religion not from the atheists but from the dogmatists, fundamentalists and ritualists. He considered poverty, inequality, exploitation, oppression, hunger, barriers of caste, class and creed, as man-made and showed a way out of it through an integral Philosophy of life. Gandhi was prepared to repudiate scriptural and canonical texts if these were repugnant to reason and moral values. There is no Religion higher than Truth and Righteousness. Gandhi views life in its integral wholeness. According to him "human life is a synthetic whole which cannot be divided into separate watertight compartments ­ religious, moral, political, economic, social, individual and collective. All the seemingly separate segments are but different facets of man's life. They act and react upon one another". For Gandhi, all life is of one piece'. These seven dicta deal with all the aspects of human life and thus indicate integral humanism of Gandhi. Among the thinkers of Modern India probably nobody has contributed more for the advancement of humanism than Mahatma Gandhi. He gave humanistic basis to Social Philosophy: he humanized Politics, Science and Religion.

The Integrated Vows For Society

As part of his moral religion, Gandhi introduced eleven vows in his "Asrama" (Community centre). He wrote about these vows to the "Asramites" from Yeravada Jail. They are 1. Non violence, 2. Truth, 3. Non-stealing , 4. Chastity or celibacy, 5. Non possession, 6. Bread labour, 7. Abstemiousness in diet, 8. Fearlessness, 9. Tolerance or Equality for all religions, 10. Self-sufficiency in respect of the use of indigenous products, 11. Elimination of untouchability. All these vows have integral implication of moral, Social, Political and Economic Values. Gandhi attached special importance to these vows, not in a ritualistic manner, but as a way of entering more deeply into the truth.

Ahimsa (Non-Violence): The Universal Love

Gandhi described "Ahimsa" to be the law of life; he identified "Ahimsa" with universal love. To him "All well constructed societies are based on the law of Non-Violence that the families are bound together by ties of love and so are groups in the so called civilized society. Only they do not recognize the supremacy of the law of non-violence. Gandhi transformed "Ahimsa" from a passive attitude to an active and dynamic factor by welding renunciation and action into one force. He was therefore able to transform Ahimsa's earlier world-denying expressions into a world-affirming realpolitik and build a bridge principally through action and only afterwards by thought, between its application for social good on the one hand and for individual spiritual development on the other. Even "Satyagraha" is conceived by Gandhi as non-violence in action. Ahimsa being the law of love, it consists not in claiming but in giving. `Love ever suffers, never resents, never revenges itself', it is self-suffering.’ Gandhi used non-violence not only at the individual level but also on the social level for abolition of untouchability, picketing, and non-cooperation. On the political level he brought about liberation without the use of violence. Einstein believed that the problem of bringing peace to the world on supranational basis will be solved only by employing Gandhi's method on a large scale. Gandhi firmly believed that non-violence must be lived in day to day life. "It is not like a garment to be put on and off at Will. Its seat is in the heart and it must be an inseparable part of our being» it should become a creed rather than a policy; and to be a creed, Non-violence has to be all-pervasive.

Satya Truth: The Law of Moral Order

Without non-violence it is not possible to seek and find Truth. Non-violence and truth are so intertwined that it is practically impossible to separate them. They are like two sides of a coin or rather a smooth unstamped metallic disc. It has no observe, or the reverse. Nevertheless, non-violence is the means Truth is the end. Gandhi's truth is akin to Vedic Rta, the moral order and ultimate principle of the Universe» therefore he identities God with truth. "To me God is Truth and Love, God is ethics and morality, God is Humility, and truthfulness." Gandhi was conscious of what truth is and followed a path of humanism. For Gandhi, truth is not only truthfulness in word, but also in thought and deed» not only the relative truth of our conception but the absolute truth, the Eternal principle, that is God. Thus Existential meaning of God is Truth. Gandhi's truth meant freedom of self-actualization for societal development ŗ Gandhi's mystic fight against three foremost social institutions-imperialism, capitalism and racism ­ is an invincible proof that his conception of truth was very much societal. Gandhi's all other vows follow from Truth and Non-violence as Socratic virtue followed from knowledge. Gandhi wanted the application of these principles for the smooth functioning of all the organizations striving to bring about social transformation. Gandhi's aim was to evolve a moral man in a moral society.

Sarva-Dharma Samanata: Tolerance or Equality For All Religions

This vow embodies in itself the true spirit of harmony among different Religions of the world. Gandhi as a humanist has provided us the lasting solution to the vexed problem of so-called secularism. Humanism did not have an anti-religious or anti-Christian character. The religious discussions of the humanist had two principal themes the Civic function of religion and religious tolerance. The Civic function of religion was recognised on the basis of the correspondence between the heavenly and earthly city. The heavenly city was the norm or the ideal of man's civil life, its recognition meant the commitment of man to realize, as much as possible, its characteristics in the earthly city. Gandhi's earthly city was ‘Ramarajya’ and he tried to realize that throughout his life. For the humanists, the attitude of tolerance is derived from their conviction of the fundamental unity of all the religious beliefs of mankind and therefore the possibility of a universal religious peace. The vow of tolerance of all religious beliefs in Gandhi's everyday Prayer, and the cooperation he received from the people of all faiths, confirm his genuine tolerance. Gandhi's religion was not narrow sectarian. He did not want his house to be walled in on all sides and windows to be stuffed. He wanted the cultures of all lands to be blown about his house as freely as possible.


As a humanist, Gandhi worshipped God through the service of man and looked upon all human beings as but the manifestations of God Himself. His humanism meant his utter devotion to the human interest. "The nineteenth Century was marked by Industrial Revolution, the twentieth century was a century of nuclear holocaust and environmental degradation, the Twenty-first should bring a synthesis of Science and spirituality, Socialism with human rights, Social change with non-violence national sovereignty with world citizenship. And this is Gandhi".

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