Gandhi never claimed that he had understood the intent and contents of any scripture in its totality; he always spoke about the progress he had made in understanding it through his efforts. He often spoke about what he was unable to accept in any scripture, but without undermining the sacredness of the scripture. He wrote;
“I have no knowledge that the Krishna of Mahabharat ever lived. My Krishna has nothing to do with any historical person. I would refuse to bow my head to the Krishna who would kill because his pride is hurt, or the Krishna whom the non Hindus portray as a dissolute youth. I believe in Krishna of my imagination as a perfect incarnation, spotless in every sense of the word, the inspirer of the Geeta and the inspirer of the lives of millions of human beings. But if it was proved to me that the Mahabharata is history in the same sense that modern historical books are, that every word of the Mahabharata is authenticated, the Krishna of the Mahabharata actually did some of the acts attributed to him, even at the risk of being banished from the Hindu fold I should not hesitate to reject that Krishna as God incarnate. But to me the Mahabharata is a profoundly religious book, largely allegorical, in no way meant to be a historical record. It is the description of the eternal duel going on within ourselves, given so vividly as to make us think for the time being that the deeds described therein were actually done by the human beings. Nor do I regard the Mahabharata as we have it now as a faultless copy of the original. On the contrary I consider that it has undergone many emendations.”
(Young India, 1-10-1925, p. 336)
A careful study of books authored by Gandhi, his articles in Hind Swarajya, Young India, Harijan Sevak, Sarvodaya etc., his speeches and The Diary of Mahadev Desai abundantly reveal all the theoretical resources on which Gandhi’s thoughts were founded. Absolute transparency in Gandhi’s deeds and words provides all the help to us in understanding Gandhi. The only thing one has to avoid is doubt; doubting one’s own understanding and doubting Gandhi.
Right from his initial days in South Africa till his death, his only occupation was selfless service. Whatever he learned through scriptures, books on religions, other books of knowledge, from anywhere else or on the basis of experiences he gained through his ‘actions of selfless service’ wherein he repeatedly applied the knowledge gained; he experimented with them in real life situations to convince himself that some thoughts, theories, methods and tools, that he could explore; were for the true benefit of mankind. It was only after the success of his experiments, he accepted them. The things that he accepted to have achieved the level of ‘workable’ or ‘immediate’ truth through the aforesaid process, he recommended to the others. He had never been tentative in his approach. He requested others to adopt such methods in their conduct and to dedicate themselves to selfless service of their surroundings, with unwavering and undiluted Shraddha. [Shraddha can be understood to mean respectful and unconditional acceptance of some thought or being, earthly or the Divine. Shraddha is close to complete faith.]
We all gather information through oral or written words. If we rely on the source of information, we start using the information/knowledge gained. We often encounter problems while making use of the knowledge gained. While identifying problems we check and recheck everything like the process adopted, the practical constraints, the compromise made by us when using the knowledge etc. but, rarely question the theory on which the knowledge was founded. Ultimately, we generally reach a destination that is acceptable; even, at times, very attractive to us. We become happy. For example, when we target to make a very fuel efficient car, we might land up making somewhat fuel efficient but a more luxurious car that can give more profit to the owners and more comforts to the consumers. Similarly, when we want to mechanize some operations to reduce physical inconvenience; we are able to partly achieve it at the cost of reducing opportunities for earning livelihood for many.
Gandhi demonstrated that to serve humanity the first step had to be to verify the theory. That is why I called him ‘a scientist’.
PROMOD KUMAR SHARMA
[The writer of this blog has authored “Mahatma A Scientist of the Intuitively Obvious” and thereafter “In Search of Our Wonderful Words”.]