ARTICLES : About Mahatma Gandhi

Read articles written by very well-known personalities and eminent authors about their views on Gandhi, Gandhi's works, Gandhian philosophy and it's relevance today.


Gandhi Meditating

ARTICLES


About Gandhi
(Dimension of Gandhi)

  1. MAHATMA GANDHI : A real friend
  2. Gandhi, Parchure and Stigma of leprosy
  3. The woman behind the Mahatma
  4. Reflections on Gandhi
  5. Inspired By Mahatma Gandhi's Autobiography
  6. Mahatma Gandhi
  7. In the Early Days with Gandhi
  8. Gandhi's Human Touch
  9. Using And Abusing Gandhi
  10. Gandhi: The Leader
  11. The Sacred Warrior
  12. Gandhi The Prisoner- A Comparison
  13. Are Gandhi And Ford On The Same Road?
  14. Attack on Gandhi
  15. The Essence of Gandhi
  16. Gandhi's Illustrious Antecedents
  17. Ink Notes
  18. Peerless Communicator
  19. Other Gandhis: Aung San Suu Kyi
  20. Gandhi Through The Eyes of The Gita
  21. Gandhi's Source of Inspiration
  22. Tarring The Mahatma
  23. Gandhi, Globalization, and Quality of Life
  24. Gandhi And Globalisation
  25. Gandhi's Revolutionary Genius
  26. Mahatma Gandhi
  27. Who Is Mahatma?
  28. What I Owe To Mahatma Gandhi
  29. The Gentle Revolutionary
  30. Gandhi: The Practical Idealist
  31. Gandhi & Lenin
  32. A Note on Marxist Interpretation of Gandhi
  33. Gandhiji & The World
  34. Gandhi's Legacy
  35. Gandhi's Epic Fast
  36. Gandhi : The Mahatma
  37. How Gandhi Came To Me?
  38. Gandhian Influence on Indian Writing in English
  39. Rural Myth, Urban Reality
  40. August 15, 1947 - From Bondage To Freedom
  41. Mahatma Gandhi and His Contemporary Artists
  42. Gandhi in The Global Village
  43. The Last Day of Mahatma Gandhi
  44. Gandhi: India and Universalism
  45. Gandhi in Sharper Focus
  46. Gandhi on Corresponding Duties/ Rights
  47. Love for Humanity : A Gandhian View
  48. Gandhiji and The Prophet
  49. Mahatma Gandhi - A Protagonist of Peace
  50. Last Words of Mahatma Gandhi
  51. Lessons for Social Work
  52. Rabindranath Tagore and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
  53. The Message of Gandhi
  54. Gandhiji's Weeklies : Indian Opinion, Young India, Harijan
  55. M. K. Gandhi- The Student
  56. What Mahatma Gandhi Did To Save Bhagat Singh
  57. How Mahatma Gandhi's martyrdom saved India

Mahatma Gandhi

By Prof. Douglas Allen

In this article, Prof. Douglas Allen reveals to us Gandhi's penchant for exploding myths and arrogant provincialism often resulting in Gandhi becoming an embarrassment even to his friends. Gandhi did not believe that violence could stem from various causes such as economic, cultural, linguistic, etc. He was a firm believer in morality and so had little respect for theories that were not grounded in morality or transcended morality. He also maintains that none of us fully comprehend the absolute and that unity is always a unity with differences.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, better known as Mahatma (‘Great Soul/Self’), is arguably the most admired human being of the twentieth-century. Not an academic philosopher, Gandhi was never concerned with abstract philosophical analysis. When asked his philosophy, he typically responded, ‘My life is my message.’ And yet one could make a strong case that Gandhi is more philosophically interesting and significant than most professional philosophers.
Gandhi, like Socrates, was a gadfly, and he was often an embarrassment and an irritant, even to his friends and allies. He challenges unacknowledged assumptions and uncritically accepted positions and allows us to envision different ways of seeing things. He explodes myths and arrogant provincialism and challenges power positions that pretend to be based on sound knowledge and morality.
Best known as a proponent of non-violence (ahimsa), Gandhi challenges our analysis of violence and non-violence. Violence and non-violence, for Gandhi, include overt physical acts, but they include so much more.
As with Kant and many other philosophers, Gandhi focuses much of his attention on motives and intentions. Violence is often equated with hatred, and non-violence with love. However, Gandhi goes beyond most philosophical analysis by focusing on the violence of the status quo: economic violence, cultural violence, psychological violence, linguistic violence, and so forth. For Gandhi, if I am accumulating wealth and power, and my neighbour is in great need, and I do nothing to help alleviate the suffering of the other, then I contribute to and am complicit in the violence of the status quo.
Unlike most philosophers, Gandhi, like Levinas, emphasises the primacy of morality. Gandhi has little sympathy for detached theories of knowledge that are not grounded in morality, or for theology and metaphysics which pretend to transcend morality.
In his approach to morality in general and violence in particular, Gandhi is well known for his emphasis on the integral, mutually reinforcing relationship between means and ends. One cannot use impure or immoral means to achieve worthy goals. This is the major reason he rejects utilitarianism. Although there may be short-term desired results, violent immoral means inevitably lead to defective ends. We fuel and become trapped in endless escalating cycles of violence and mutual destruction.
Gandhi’s approach expresses an activist philosophy, which he often relates to the action-oriented philosophy of karma yoga in the Bhagavad-Gita: Act to fulfil your ethical duties with an attitude of nonattachment to the results of your actions. In this way, Gandhi experimented with ways to intervene non-violently to weaken endless cycles of violence and mutual destruction and allow us to realise ethical goals.
Although Gandhi’s emphasis on intentions and duties often allows us to relate him to Kant, he is not really a Kantian. First, Gandhi describes himself as a ‘pragmatic idealist’. He focuses on results. When he acted with good intentions and according to moral duty, but did not succeed in resisting hegemonic British imperialism, alleviating poverty and suffering, or overcoming caste prejudice and oppression, he evaluated his position as a ‘failed experiment in truth’.
Second, Gandhi opposes any abstract, formalistic, universal, decontexualised approach which is then applied to particular situations. Gandhi contextualises his analysis and is always experimenting with an open-ended truth reflecting imperfect understanding.
In this regard, Gandhi presents views that are relevant to recent philosophical developments regarding pragmatism, phenomenology and hermeneutics, relativism, anti-essentialism, and postmodernism. How do we deal with the inadequate dichotomy of universal, absolute essentialism versus particular, relative anti-essentialism? Gandhi, avoiding a kind of facile relativism, embraces absolute universals, such as non-violence, truth and the unity of all life. But Gandhi also maintains that as particular, relative, embodied human beings, none of us fully comprehends the absolute. The unity is always a unity with particular differences. The absolute may serve as a regulative ideal, but at most we have ‘glimpses’ of truth that is always relative.
Therefore, we should be tolerant of the other, who has truths that we do not have, and we should realise that the movement toward greater truth is an action-oriented, cooperative, mutually reinforcing effort. This philosophical approach to truth necessarily involves dialogue, recognition of integral self-other relations, and embracing an open-ended process that resists the domination of false attempts at philosophical, religious, cultural, economic, or political closure.

Suggested reading

  • Iyer, R. 1993 (ed). The Essential Writings of Mahatma Gandhi. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Gandhi, M. 1982. An Autobiography, Or The Story of My Experiments with Truth. Harmondsworth: Penguin
  • Iyer, R. 1987. (ed.) The Moral and Political Writings Mahatma Gandhi: Non-violent Resistance and Social Transformation. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

By Email from Mr. Douglas Allen
Note: This article was published as Douglas Allen, “Mahatma Gandhi,” in Great Thinkers A-Z, edited by Julian Baggini and Jeremy Stangroom (London: Continuum, 2004). Pp. 103-105.