V Monograph Contd. : On Religion

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Gandhi of course was born a Hindu but his interpretation of Hinduism was his own. While keeping firm roots in ancient Hinduism, he welcomedcontact with other religions, especially the Christian doctrines. In this he had no doubt that he would not do any injustice to Hinduism or depart from its essential teachings, for his belief remained that Hinduism could assimilate and synthesize whatever new elements it came up against. “I prefer to retain the label of my forefathers so long as it does not cramp my growth and does not debar me from assimilating all that is good anywhere else”. (2) Further, “If we are to respect other’s religion as we would have them to respect our own, a friendly study of the world’s religions is a sacred duty. My respectful study of other’s religion has not abated my reverence for, or my faith in, the Hindu scriptures. They have indeed left their deep mark upon my understanding of the Hindu scriptures. They have broadened my view of life”.(3) And his search for, “that religion which underlines all religions”, made him look for that which transcends “Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, etc. It does not supercede them. It harmonizes them and gives them reality.” (4) In Young India (5) he had already declared, “Let me explain what I mean by religion. It is not the Hindu religion which I certainly prize above all other religions, but the religion which transcends Hinduism, which changes one’s very nature, which binds one indissolubly to the truth within and which ever purifies”.

Talking next of the atheist, of reason and practical application, he said, “There are some who in the egotism of their reason declare that they have nothing to do with religion. But it is like a man saying that he breathes but that he has no nose ... even a man who disowns religion cannot and does not live without religion”.(6) At the same time he also said, “I reject any religious doctrine that does not appeal to reason and is in conflict with morality”.(7) “Man for instance, cannot be untruthful, cruel and incontinent and claim to have God on his side”.(8) And of course, “Religion which takes no account of practical affairs and does not help to solve them, is no religion”. (9)

As regards study of the scriptures of other religions, he stated, “It is no business of mine to criticize the scriptures of other faiths, or to point out their defects ... It is only through a reverential approach to faiths other than mine that I can realize the principle of equality of all religions. But it is both my  right and duty to point out the defects in Hinduism in order to purify it and keep it pure. But when non-Hindu critics set about criticising Hinduism and cataloguing its faults they only blazon their own ignorance of Hinduism and their incapacity to regard it from the Hindu viewpoint. It distorts their vision and vitiates their viewpoint. Thus my own experience brings home to me my limitations and teaches me to be wary of launching on a criticism of Islam or Christianity and their founders”.(10)

And the defender of reason as much as of faith that he was, he said, “I exercise my judgement about every scripture, including the Gita. I cannot let a scriptural text supercede my reason. Whilst I believe that the principal books are inspired, they suffer from a process of double distillation ... Mathew may give one version of one text, and John may give another. I cannot surrender my reason .... I believe in faith also, in things where reason has no place”.(11) As a further prolongation of this reasoning, he lands up with the argument, “If I would call myself, say, a Christian, or a Mussalman, with my own interpretation of the Bible or the Koran, I should not hesitate to call myself either. For then, Hindu, Christian and Mussalman would be synonymous terms”. (12) To clinch the importance of reason he said, “... even as faithfulness to one’s wife does not presuppose blindness to her shortcomings, so does not faithfulness to one’s religion presuppose blindness to the shortcomings of that religion. Indeed, faithfulness, not blind adherence, demands a keener perception of shortcomings and therefore a livelier sense of the proper remedy for their removal”.(13)

Talking of tolerance and respect for other’s faiths, he said, “... mine is a broad faith which does not oppose Christians ... not even the most fanatical Mussalman ... I refuse to abuse a man for his fanatical deeds, because I try to see them from his point of view. It is that broad faith that sustains me. It is a somewhat embarrassing position I know - but to others, not to me.”(14)

Mens Sana Monographs [MSM]: A Mens Sana Research Foundation Publication



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