Mahatma Gandhi was an apostle of peace and a votary of truth and non-violence, which for him were inseparable. To Gandhi, truth meant finding God and was the ultimate goal of life, and non-violence was the means. Contrary to the view that spirituality is a form of mysticism, Gandhi believed it was related to ethics. Unlike many scholars and intellectuals of his day, especially from the West, for Gandhi leading a spiritual and religious life meant the same as leading a selfless, ethical life. Realizing God, or truth, or self, or "moksha," or "mukti," or "vimukti" -- all of these meant leading an enlightened and selfless life of love.
Mahatma Gandhi realized that peace and happiness result from a liberated life. Anyone can pursue truth through selfless service to society and by making constant effort to purify one's inner world, which constitutes the foundation of the Varnashrama Dharma system in ancient India. But he firmly rejected the present caste system, which divides Indian society into over 3,000 parts and sub-parts. To him this system was the antithesis of the Varnashrama, and the sooner it was abolished the better.
In Gandhi's view, spiritual knowledge is not acquired through extraordinary perception of some mystical entity called the soul or the self, but with the help of reason based on the distinction between a life of selfless love and a life of selfishness. The selfless life is the means to spiritual perfection. He was also of the opinion that religious and ethical knowledge were empirical scientific knowledge.
Modern science is replete with illustrations of the seemingly impossible becoming possible. But the victories of physical science are diminished by the victory of the science of life, which is summed up in the law of love. Thus Mahatma Gandhi can be regarded as the apostle of the scientific religious life of his age.
Although Gandhi did not author a book on his theory of human life, his thoughts on various aspects of life provide a systematic understanding of the subject, which is essentially the same as the understanding of other great ancient and contemporary teachers and seers. The great teachers and seers of ancient Indian civilization had a common, deep, comprehensive and scientific understanding of human life, although they differed in their views on metaphysics.
Even now, through their great teachings, they guide us to a true, comprehensive and scientific theory of the distinction between spiritual and non-spiritual life. They provide the means to transform a non-spiritual life into an enlightened, perfect and spiritual life. Gandhi admitted that our traditions had been swept by many evils such as the caste system, discrimination based on gender, etc. He considered it our supreme duty to systematically root out these evils.
Gandhi believed in the fundamental ethical unity and truth of all religious communities. He admitted that the basic values of all religious communities were the same and true; and that inter-religious dialogue would be conducive to lasting inter-religious harmony. He also believed that if all could read the scriptures of different faiths from the standpoint of the followers of those faiths they would find that they were at bottom all one and were all helpful to one another. He was of the firm opinion that India had the moral and spiritual resources to demonstrate a culture of truth and non-violence to the whole world.
Today, under the spell of the modern Western view, ethics is not considered a scientific study. It is not an essential part of the syllabus even in India. Mahatma Gandhi firmly believed that the study of ethics should be introduced right from the beginning of educational curricula. To him, ethics formed the foundation of a good character and healthy society. He said that a child, before learning to write the alphabet and gain worldly knowledge, should learn about the soul, about truth and love. A child should learn that in the unavoidable struggles of life he must gain victory over hate through love, over lies through truth and over violence through non-violence.
In his work "Hind Swaraj" Mahatma Gandhi severely condemned the Western civilization of his day and articulated an alternative by retelling the basic values of the great teachers and seers of ancient Indian civilization in the context of the present technological age. It was his firm opinion that in the materialization of his vision lay the true freedom of India, and through India of the world at large.
He considered the Western civilization of his time to be essentially irreligious and false in the sense that selfless ethical love, which constitutes the essence of religious life, had no place or only a peripheral place in it, while its values and life goals were essentially false. It ignored such traditional truths and principles as a non-violent attitude toward all life, freedom from slavery to passions and senses, abstention from avarice, internal and external purity, avoidance of adultery, etc. Advocates of modern civilization explicitly reject many of these eternal ethical values. Gandhi never changed his view about modern civilization to the end of his life.
Contrary to the beliefs of some, Gandhi was not against the use of machinery; however, he opposed replacing all physical labor with machines. He was not against making physical work more joyful with the help of machines. Simultaneously, he believed that willing obedience to the law of physical labor could bring contentment and health. He would certainly oppose the form of development that has caused the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species, resulting in great damage to nature, which sustains life and health. He would not be against development based on the principle of non-violence, however. He was not against the pursuit of wealth and pleasure within ethical bounds.
Mahatma Gandhi supported neither blind rejection of Western civilization nor blind acceptance of traditional Indian civilization. He held that one could profit by the light from the West, but should not be overpowered by the glamour of the West. He must not mistake the glamour for the light.
As the basic values of all religious communities are the same, the rejection of the Gandhian alternative to modern civilization means the rejection of the fundamental values of all great religious communities. It is a matter of serious concern that the values of the great Indian civilization are disappearing from our day-to-day practices. The glamorous temptation of Western civilization is becoming too strong to resist. It is time for an in-depth and critical analysis of the Gandhian approach and a national debate on its application in our society.