Philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi Philosophy could be understood as a collection of social, religious and political ideas formulated and developed by Mahatma Gandhi himself, from 1893 to 1914 while in South Africa and later during the Indian freedom struggle. The Philosophy of Gandhi as we know today has been developed gradually over decades by the experiences, experiments and vision of Gandhi. We will discuss below some of the vital aspects of Gandhian philosophy in detail.

Philosophy of Truth and Non-Violence

Truth and Non-Violence are the two basic foundation blocks of Gandhian philosophy. The term “Truth and non-violence” is derived from Sanskrit “Satya aur Ahimsa”.

“Satya” as Gandhi would have opined, has broader meaning than mere “truth”. Gandhi’s version of Satya meant being true to yourself and also to the world. He professed that one shouldn’t only speak truth but also be true in his/her deeds and conduct.

According to him “Satya” is eternal and can never be defeated, moreover, he also believed that it is also the most powerful weapon against a formidable opponent.

So staunch was the belief of Gandhi in Satya or Truth that he religiously followed it in his social and personal life, till his last breadth. Gandhi practiced truth everyday and in his decades long political and social career had always been true to his principles and the people he was dealing with.

Coming to non-violence or ahimsa, Gandhi saw ahimsa not only as absence of violence but also as something which entails love. He had said that if the oneness of life is a truth then committing violence on someone else is also an act of violence onto oneself and is thus self destructive.

According to Gandhi, the world had witnessed acts of himsa (violence) in the past and is still doing so. Had himsa (violence) been more powerful than ahimsa (non-violence), the world would have been deserted by now. But the truth that people still live peacefully gives credence to the fact that “Satya and Ahimsa” aka “Truth and non-violence” are inevitable.

Philosophy of Education

Gandhiji’s philosophy of education professed a self sustainable model. He was very particular primary education and stressed that it must be made compulsory for every child. At that time his idea of primary education meant till matriculation, but not class 1 to 8 as on today.

Considering the fact that the government in the third world countries like India might face shortage of finances to provide primary education to all, Gandhiji proposed an education model in which the children themselves would finance their own expenses. This could be done, according to him, by developing handicraft skill in children and promoting sale of manufactured items.

If the state finds it difficult to directly fund the education, they can nevertheless help in promotion and sale of items manufactured by the children.  However, this idea of Gandhi was hugely criticized on several grounds like – firstly, the teachers would have to depend on income generated by the students and secondly that the studies will be compromised if students took craft as their primary funding source.

 

Ironically, Gandhiji too acknowledged the critics; nevertheless, he was also adamant that it is the only feasible solution for a cash deprived country as India.

Gandhiji also stressed on the medium of education being the mother tongue – Hindi. When education is imparted in a foreign language, it obstructs expression of new ideas and limits the clarity over lectures.

An education on the principles of non-violence was also one of the primary aspects of Gandhi’s education philosophy. He opined that the primary education must inculcate the concept of co-operation and non-violence in the children. This would form the foundation of a peaceful, secular and progressive society.

Philosophy of Satyagraha

Today, we know Satyagraha as the Gandhi’s favorite and also an efficient method of peaceful protest. But, what does Satyagraha means? It is derived from two Sanskrit words “Satya” and “Agraha”. Former refers to the “truth” while latter means “holding firmly to it”. Thus, Satyagraha, means “holding on firmly to the truth”.

The Gandhian philosophy of Satyagraha has been derived from truth itself. Truth that is eternal, inevitable and can’t be defeated could be used as a weapon of peaceful protest to fight against any kind of oppression or injustice.

For Gandhi Satyagraha was a fight between a pure, noble and true soul and an oppressive enemy. Satyagraha is a method of peaceful protest, something which would ultimately overwhelm the enemy with love and innocence, however powerful he may be, and force him to pay heed.

Gandhi opined that Satyagraha could successfully be applied against governments to consider the demands or to stop the injustice. His firm belief in Satyagraha was an outcome of its success during his stay in South Africa.

He saw Satyagraha as the fundamental birth right of every individual. Though, the path of Satyagraha is arduous and one following it must be ready to face every eventuality and suffering, nevertheless, the oppressors will bend and the Truth will always emerge victorious.

According to Gandhi, the method Satyagraha is widely applicable to personal, professional as well as social life. Anyone can successfully use Satyagraha to fight against injustice in a family or on a national level.

 

Gandhi’s Political Philosophy

According to Gandhiji, politics was a means to regulate societies and resolve conflicts. Politics act like a buffer in chaos and resolve any dispute through the methods of discussions.

In the words of Gandhiji political power is something which would let the people to improve their social and economical status along with other factors. National Representatives act as the felicitators of this change.

Gandhian concept of politics wasn’t power centric but also involved the concepts of truth and non violence. Gandhi’s perception of an efficient political system involved morality, truth and non violence and depends on the moral and spiritual qualities of the people.

He stated politics as a means to serve the public but not as something to rule or exercise power over them for one’s own needs and greed.

Gandhi was a deeply ethical person since his childhood, something which was reflected in the high moral standards in his political life. His political strategy was to use peaceful mass movement like Satyagraha to exert control over the government.

Gandhi had many times expressed that for him politics is like a religion; not literally a religion as we know but a religion of tolerance. He also professed that politics must include morality under its gambit.

Gandhi was opposed to the concentration of power in the politics; something he opined will lead to exploitation and oppression of common people. He advocated that in a true democratic system, the people must also be a stakeholder in the political system.

Economic Philosophy

Economic Philosophy of Gandhi was by and large a reflection of his religious and social beliefs and practices. It aims towards promoting social harmony and peace.

The economic ideas of Gandhi are reflected in his social reforms like Swadeshi and non-cooperation, which were primarily aimed for making India a self sustainable economy.

Gandhiji saw Europe manufactured goods, clothes imported in India as the main cause for poverty and unemployment in India. Import of foreign goods in large quantities was a blow to the Indian manufacturers, labors and traders. This idea of Gandhi had been the driving force behind his Swadeshi movement.

Gandhiji envisioned Swadeshi movement as something which has the potential of reviving India’s economy, eradicating poverty and developing it as a self dependent economy. His one of the most famous and efficient inventions in this regard was the khadi spinning wheel or charkha.

He wanted to make the Indian villages sustainable economically by promoting charkha and Khadi fabric as a part of Swadeshi campaign. He was also instrumental in defending the economical rights of farmers and labors by raising his voice against unjust taxation and other oppressive laws, through several movements like the Kheda Satyagraha.

Gandhi had also established several ashrams, wherein, people from different walks of life lived together and produced their own food and clothes as livelihood. The concept was based on a close self reliant group, sharing resources among themselves and producing enough to sustain their needs.

Philosophy of Fasting and Religion

Religion to Mahatma Gandhi was something which provided relief in the gravest of situations. He was, in his own words a staunch supporter of Hinduism and most of his religious beliefs were primarily based on Bhagavad Gita.

Gandhi had once said that “while I am confused or disappointed, I refer to a verse from Bhagavad Gita, which would instantly lighten my pain and bring smile to my face.”

He also stated that truth and non violence were integral to any religion be it Hinduism, Christianity or Islam. Being a staunch Hindu devotee, Gandhi was also its critique. He stated that every religion is based on truth but there is also something worthy of condemnation in religious beliefs and practices.

Gandhi openly condemned the caste system in Hinduism and believed that the religion itself couldn’t have approved it. Caste system is a devious method devised by some religious fanatics who lack the fundamental knowledge of religion at all.

Coming to fasting, according to Gandhi, it was a means to exercise control over one’s needs and desires. He believed that abstaining from food will tone his self control making him more spiritually strong. He saw fasting as the method to obtain complete control of the mind over body.

He saw fasting as something which would strengthen the soul through suffering the body experiences, cleaning both the soul and the body. Gandhiji took fast unto death three times in his life – to stop revolutionary activities in the aftermath of 1922 Chauri Chaura incident; In 1932 to protest against untouchables being awarded separate electorate, which would have further divided Hindus and lastly in 1947, to stop rioting Hindus and Muslims in Bengal and Delhi.

Every philosophy that Gandhiji professed was based on two simple principles truth and non violence. These two were at the core of his every teaching and philosophy. His whole life was an example of how a feeble human being could fight and even win against a formidable opponent, if he/she just stuck to the principles of truth and non violence. His every philosophical thought, whether on education, politics or any other aspect was deeply rooted in his belief in religion and truth. If we could just follow what he taught then we will set an example of harmony and brotherhood for the world to see.

 

More about Mahatma Gandhi:

Mahatma Gandhi Biography

Gandhi’s Views on Environment and Its Protection

Life of Mahatma Gandhi from Childhood to Adolescent

How Mahatma Gandhi is Still Alive among us

Why Mahatma Gandhi was not Awarded Bharat Ratna or Nobel?

Struggle of Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa

 

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