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.
India, the land of ancient culture and civilization, holds a comprehensive, extraordinary and unique place in context to peace. Thousands of years ago the message of peace conveyed by this country had a deep impact on the entire world. The main reason behind this influence is that approach towards peace that has directly or indirectly been built by contribution of knowledge obtained and deed and of course real experience. It may be clarified by the following Shloka from an old Indian treatise in which Nachiketa says:
Shanta Samkalpa Sumana Yathasyad
Twatprasrishtam Madbhivadeta Prateeta
Etattrayanam Prathaman Vara Vrane”
Hey Mratyon! May father Gautama [Vajashravas] of mine be peace tempered gleeful, anger less and have peaceful thoughts towards me as before? May he talk to me, after identifying my deputation by you? This is the first boon that I demand out of three boons accorded by you.
The above-mentioned Shloka relates to a mythological tale. May be this tale does not interest you. I myself don’t deem it necessary to present it here. But the heartfelt feeling, which is at the root of the Shloka, definitely reflects the outlook of India towards peace from times immemorial.
Just as evident in the Shloka, Nachiketa was promised to ask for three boons. In first boon he desired his father to be peace tempered, gleeful, anger less and have peaceful thoughts towards him i.e., he personally expected this. Just as this clarifies the Indian view of peace from ancient times, it also clarifies that the Indian approach towards peace starts at personal level. Therefore it becomes collective, social and later moves on to national level. An important reason for this is that Indian philosophy depicts that human being is either rewarded or punished according to his deeds. This is something extraordinary from the peace point of view, and it is so because the efforts made by individuals for establishment of peace are of utmost importance. In other words individual efforts work as foundation stone in constructing a building of peace. We all know that a society or a nation is built when men get together. Thus the rise and fall of a society or a nation depends on them.
The above Shloka from Kathopanishad is just an example. The Vedas were in existence hundreds of years before Kathopanishad was composed. And even in the Vedas we clearly find a clear view pertaining to peace. Vedic prayer Shanti Prakarana can especially be quoted by us in this regard. Not only this, even prior to Vedas we came across peace related concept in day-to-day behaviour of Indians more or less. And similarly the same can be observed from past to present times. Before and further discussion on the subject, it would be better for us to know about the meaning of peace and its purpose in brief.
Generally peace is termed as a condition that is opposite to conflict, struggle that peace is an atmosphere devoid of conflict, struggle, war or violence as a scholar says:
It is symbolic of an atmosphere free from conflict, struggle…
In the same way another scholar believes:
Peace is, generally, negatively conceived as absence of war and struggle. In other words, peace means absence of actual violence.
All this, even then, does not express the complete meaning of peace. This is true that there is absence of conflict, struggle, war or violence in state of peace but it is not limited by this alone. The scope of peace is vast and in my opinion it only ends when a human being attains the aim of life.
For peace whatever else is required, other than end of conflict, struggle, war or violence, is related to day to day practices of man where co-operation and harmony is essential, that too from inner core of heart, so that even in general state man’s heart is at peace and he may realize peace in thoughts and deeds. And that harmony may be such as has been expressed in form of expectation in this Shloka of Atharvaveda:
May we be in harmony with out kinfolk, in harmony with strangers, do ye, O Ashvina! Establish here agreement among us;
May we agree in mind and thought, may we not struggle with one another, in a spirit displeasing to the gods;
May the arrow not fly when the day of Indra has arrived!”
I mean to say that meaning of peace; in general conditions is fulfilled only when it exists in man’s heart, in his daily practices or actions and thoughts. This is what really stands for. In this way peace is neither the subject of any particular time nor is it negative value. This is, in itself, a positive and an active value. In the words of Vinoba Bhave:
By peace or Shanti… do not mean something static or the perpetuation of the status quo. Shanti means something dynamic, something that develops the force of the individual, which develops the dynamic strength of the people to a degree that will enable to meet any situation.”
Mahatma Gandhi, accepting it as positive, connects it with morality and ethics and proclaims that the impulse behind Shanti is a desire for spiritual contentment, an impulse free from Kama and Ahamkara [the desire for enjoyment and egoism]. That is why he has laid emphasis on realization of the feeling of brotherhood and has desired that a man should identify himself not only with other men but also with all existing life on earth and this identification is the symbol of harmony.
Just we have discussed, that in all branches of Indian philosophy, it is proclaimed that man is the centre of the deeds and on the basis of the same he gets results whether good or bad. He is superior among all living beings and occupies the most important place. It is expected from man that keeping his existence safe he should proceed towards all round development. It is also expected from him that he should attain the real aim of his life. How should he do this? The Propounders of Indian philosophy have guided him from time to time in this regard. On the basis of their experience that they gained through knowledge and deeds, according to the circumstances pertaining to their country and times, they exhorted man to follow those values that can create best, congenial and harmonious atmosphere for him. All these values are supplementary to non-violence.
Whether it is forbearance or tolerance, the principal value of Vedic [Hindu] philosophy or the Karuna [compassion], a value established by Gautama, the Buddha, all have been supplementary to non-violence and in this way they all proved to be the best, effective and strong bases for harmony. And why would it not be so? After all the aim of all philosophies is peace.
Today when we talk about world peace, we feel that it will not be possible unless each and everyone gets equal opportunity for his/her progress or unless everyone is sure of fulfillment of his/her basic needs. Peace is not possible unless everyone has the liberty of self-expression, or it is just a dream if each and everyone is not accorded freedom, justice and rights. I would like to clarify that all above mentioned values, supplementary to non-violence, were established for the reason that everyone could easily be brought under the circumference of equality, freedom, justice and rights, including the right of self expression, i.e. without exercising any force or without using any violence.
Not only this, goodness like equal respect for everyone’s faith, complete absence of fundamentalism, unity of mankind etc. were propounded by the leading figures of the society through above values. From time to time they also shared their experiences with people so that they may be inspired by it. These values are as important today as they were in the past or during the time of their establishment. Even today if we inculcate these values in our lives, according to our circumstances and need, we can create a good atmosphere of harmony and also march forward in the direction of peace.
In fact, thousands of years ago, Indians had firmly experienced that non-violence, as an immortal value-permanently present in human nature, is not only essential condition for existence but also for the development and to reach the real goal-peace. That is why the Propounders made relentless efforts to base the day-to-day activities of people upon non-violence and its supplementary values. In this task they not only achieved expected success but they were able to set such examples, knowledge of which surprises us even today. It is because in those days the means of transport and communication very limited and underdeveloped. But they were able to communicate the message of Ahimsa in a simple way, along with Indians, to inhabitants of different parts of the world. But, as has been stated, they did so by creating a conducive atmosphere as per the demand of times and country’s circumferences. In this regard we can do so then definitely many volumes can be written. That is why here I shall only quote two great men of ages.
In the times of Mahatma Buddha the state of Indian society had seriously and greatly deteriorated. People had started going against the values established for the safety of existence and progress; they were getting avert to non-violence and its activities. Besides inequality there was exploitation, so much so that there was inexpressible extreme of it in human acts. At such a time Gautama Buddha propagated the value of Karuna that is compassion, keeping in view the circumstances and need of the time. He set examples for all people, big and small by his own behavior in life and on the basis of the same, was able to launch an effective and strong movement to reform the society.
From the point of view of that time, compassion was the best expression of non-violence, a good means of establishing peace. As a result after individual awakening, people of India could march in the right direction collectively. It was due to above movement that polluted religious, political and economic sphere also advanced towards righteous goal in a proper way. Later the message of compassion crossed the territorial limits of India and it was able to show the path of peace to other countries of the world.
The other example in the previous century, i.e., 20eth century, is of Mahatma Gandhi. He from his gained knowledge and from the experiences of first half of his life came to the conclusion that Indian people, tolerating the curse of dependence and injustice, can achieve freedom over the mighty imperialism of the world through the means of non-violence, and can perpetuate the path of peace for itself, and also can show a unique and significant way to the whole of the world. He lead the Indians for about 25 years i.e., from 1917 to 1942 through various non-violent Satyragrahas; worked to wake up their slumbering consciousness, infused a new life into them and ultimately in 1947 India became free from British Imperialism. This was not an ordinary event in world history. But all this became possible because he developed the concept of non-violence according to the conditions and needs of his life.
He astonished the world by making experiments through non-violence at different occasions, with a firm belief that ahimsa is the oldest, greatest, and perpetual and an active value connected integrally with truth. After that people from a number of countries could learn a lesson by his unique non-violent way. His path proved to be a source of liberation for them. In this context we can quote the Afro-American Campaigns for Civil Rights of 1955, 1961, 1963 and 1964. Not only this, we can also mention here about EDSA Revolution in Philippines in the year 1986 in this context.
Some people are of the opinion that the view of non-violence in context to peace is not very effective. In this regard they also quote the examples of Buddha and Gandhi. But such people should remember that neither the concept of non-violence of Buddha nor of Gandhi, or generally of India, is that to surrender before injustice or to become coward. One who is a coward, or one who bows before injustice, can never be a possessor of ahimsa. Along with Buddha and Gandhi, generally Indian view of non-violence is to establish its concordance with prevalent circumstances and needs. Even then it is certain that non-violence is the only pathway to peace. This is the experience of India.
In today’s scenario or series of events at national-international level, sometimes it seems that what non-violence would do? How peace will be restored by non-violent means? In this regard I would again clarify that to bow before injustice of unjust, to tolerate tyranny of tyrannous is not the outlook of Indian non-violence. After all how can be peace established in a state of injustice and tyranny? Of course, Indian view is to fight against injustice and atrocities through non-violent means as far as they are possible because there is no other alternative to them. In the words of Lord Krishna:
Even if any non-violent way is available, we should give up violence and adopt the non-violent way.”
If this is not possible if there is no hope, let this be eradicated by least possible violent means and thus peace be established. And even while doing so the inner feeling should be non-violent. We should not have ill feelings towards unjust and tyrannous. Indian non-violence is complete in its meaning and aim when it remains in our heart, words and deeds. This indeed is India’s viewpoint. Also this is its experience of non-violence.
Gandhism, in quite simple and clear words, is an amalgam of Mahatma Gandhi’s views and practices. In other words, it consists of the ideas which Mahatma Gandhi put before the world, and side by side, to the maximum possible extent, treated his individual life in accordance with these ideas. Those who hold merely his theory to be the Gandhism, they are not correct, because simply his theory cannot be accepted as Gandhism.
Gandhism revolves around ahimsa-non-violence, which is the most ancient, perpetual, individual as well as social, all timely and welfaristic value; it is an active force, connected with God and, thus, stays to be true, and it is a dharma in grandeur. Along with this, non-violence is permanently present in human nature, and it is an essential condition for existence, the basis for development and the achievement of the goal.
Now, what is the goal? From both, the spiritual and social, point of view, it is peace. Peace is a purpose behind the creation for all most all, whether atheists or theists. And it is because of this, emphasis has been laid on the continuing awakening and adoption of non-violence, individually and collectively in our day-to-day practices.
Not only by Tirthankara Mahavira, in whom manifestation of ahimsa-the non-violence took place in the best possible manner, or the Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi, but also by other apostles of peace, philosophers and thinkers of the East and the West made efforts for the construction of a culture accepting non-violence to be the fundamental point so that the existence of mankind is assured, the path of development is smoothened and the ultimate goal is well within sight and approach. There is no let-up in these endeavours; and this process shall continue with the same gusto in future as well.
History of mankind which is very old, running into millions of years and divided in different ages, proves the fact, time and again, that among all other beings only man has the quality of intellect and creativity. And it is due this that he has been able to pass through the process of leaning by doing, or in other words, especially from Gandhian point of view, the real education, which played a very vital role and made a sizeable contribution in awakening of non-violence and its application in daily practices, whatsoever method may have been adopted with the changed times. It was necessary from the point of view of those who define education as “Sa Vidyaya Vimuktey.”
As the whole world knows, in this very chain, in the 20eth century, Mahatma Gandhi made a momentous contribution showing a wonderful, simple and justifiable way for awaking and practicing of non-violence in the routine chores of life. When I say the above way of Mahatma Gandhi to be wonderful, simple and justifiable, it is because Mahatma Gandhi, by establishing co-ordination and synthesis between all concepts of the East and the West, old and new, makes non-violence well worthy to be grasped by all. Everyone can, more or less, find non-violence of his imagination in Gandhi’s principle pertaining to it, and also in his practices, and it is only the great characteristic of his non-violence and due to this it is unique as also of special recognition.
To make non-violence the basis of maximum day-to-day practices of man, Mahatma Gandhi, right from the beginning considered it to be an indivisible, important and essential part of education. Development of morality and ethics in a man since his childhood, by imparting moral and ethical education, right from his primary studies, is the most important step in this regard; as it is the first of the four pillars of that educational plan which I have tried to propose and is necessary for all round-development of personality in general and to proceed on the way to peace in particular. Also it is one of the two aspects of that unique and refined approach of Mahatma Gandhi, pertaining to value education, which provides us with a new dimension of development in the matter.
And that’s why an education system that lack these two-morality and ethics- cannot be termed as good and complete in its term and objective. The reason behind such a thought is that without morality and without ethics, no student, or in later stage a man, in a real sense, can be considered to be healthy in both, the mental and physical, terms, because for it, self-control and good character is essential. A person who is not a moralist, and who does not differentiate between rights and wrong, cannot rise to the essential level of true student, and who does not rise to this level, he surely cannot contribute towards the development of the culture of peace.
In fact, for construction of a culture of peace the attainment of spiritual growth, that has been described by Mahatma Gandhi as an essential part of education, can be gained only through morality and ethics. Seeing it through another viewpoint also proves the same thing, because when we consider education as a means of attaining salvation and also as a support on the pathway to complete peace, the liberation, we cannot differentiate it from spiritualism. And it is for this reason that Gandhism also laid down some rules for students so as to ensure that morality and righteousness always be considered as an essential and un-differentiable part of their education, and they gain in terms of knowledge and spirituality. In this regard he clearly mentioned that, on the one hand, where students should gain education under the strict regimen of high morals-self-control and right thinking; on the other they should also be expected to provide service to the society in general that includes their respect toward mother, father, teachers, and others, adoration towards younger, and following of social traditions and constant awareness towards their duties and responsibilities.
The purpose behind Mahatma Gandhi’s advocacy of the introduction of religious studies in education can also be seen in his intention to strengthen morality and ethics in students. This kind of education brings the values of forbearance, tolerance, and reverence in one’s character. And, in tern, these values are supplementary to and within the domain of great value of ahimsa-the non-violence. In this very context, explaining the importance and need of religious education, Mahatma Gandhi even went to the extent in one of the issues of Young India:
A curriculum of religious instructions should include a study of the tenets of faiths other than one’s own. For this purpose the students should be trained to cultivate the habit of understanding and appreciating the doctrine of various great religions of the world in a spirit of reverence and broad minded tolerance.”
Although to make it sure that moral and ethical education is imparted to students, and later it has permanent place in men, Mahatma Gandhi fixed responsibility of each and every concerned individual, whether parents, teachers, leaders of society, student or a man himself, but he especially called upon all teachers to impart proper knowledge of morality and ethics to students at the primary, secondary and higher level of education.
In this regard suggesting some guidelines for teachers, he said that it is the duty of teachers to develop high morals and strong character of their students. If teachers fail to do so, it means that they depart from their social and national responsibility and, as such, they are also insincere towards their noble profession. He said that a teacher should lay an example, to be followed, before society and students. This can only be done when he himself leads his life with high standards of morality and strong character. An ideal teacher should be free from any addiction. He needs to be polite and should set an ideal example of simple living and high thinking. He should also remember that wasting time is a sin; therefore, he should be aware of his duties towards students and society. Moreover, he should have a good reputation in the society from moral and ethical point of view.
Along with teachers he called upon students and said that it would be their foremost duty to make it certain that moral and ethical knowledge continues to be the integral part of education process. By doing so, they can contribute to the development of value education that is essential for building of an ideal peaceful and prosperous society. Simultaneously, he equally emphasized on its continuation after finishing formal education, and called upon each and every one to acknowledge it till the last breath of life.
The other aspect of Gandhian approach relating to value education is also important for construction of a sustainable culture of peace. This aspect is basic or technical education, no matter if the word Buniyadi [or basic] which Mahatma Gandhi used in the third and the fourth decades of the twentieth century meant the knowledge or education that could help people in the promotion of handicrafts or to establish cottage industries. As the ultimate purpose behind his thoughts and attempt was to make young men and women self-reliant in the economic field, even in the modern perspective, his idea of Buniyadi or basic education is well-worthy, it has no clash with the concept of today’s job-oriented or technical education; it make a man self-dependent and prosperous. No doubt, a self-reliant and prosperous person can, definitely, contribute towards peace and prosperity of society and the nation and can equally be helpful to create a stable and real culture of peace.
This Mahatma Gandhi did so that every human being living on this planet, without fear, and equally marching towards development process, was assured of safe and secure life having peace, and strengthening the culture of peace.
In fact, Gandhism and its system of education, especially its viewpoint pertaining to value education is, ultimately, the education of peace and to make a man fully developed, and it is according to Mahatma Gandhi, “is an unending process divided into different stages…” Its worth lies in the fact that education should necessarily be helpful to make a man self-dependent and its foundations should be laid on sound morality and ethics.
It is, undoubtedly, ever relevant for achieving the goal-peace-or for construction of a real and sustainable culture of peace, especially under the democratic system of government. In this context its relevance and importance of its role can never be underrated. It should be applied in wider perspective. The need of the day is to take up, adopt and understand Gandhian approach according to time and space and to put it into practice in the process of education the world over. Indeed it is the demand of time.