What was Gandhi's conception about religion and how did it affect his political view?

1. Life is one:

Gandhi believes in unison of human life. All life is one to him. Truth is the ultimate reality and individuals are sparks of that truth. Service to humanity can thus help the 'man to realize himself and realize the Truth. Life being one, it cannot be divided into separate parts or entities.

Religious, social, economic or political aspects cannot be separated; they are inter-related. "That is why my devotion to Truth has drawn me into the field of polity, and I can say without the slightest hesitation and yet in all humility that those who say that religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means.

" God cannot be defined. We all feel the presence of God but we are not conscious of it, God is the source of all light and life. Even an atheist believes in God by way of altruism since God is conscience itself which every body possesses howsoever bad he or she may be.

It may be noticed that Gandhiji even did not dislike an atheist who too possesses conscience which is symbolic of God. For him, all individuals big or small, high or low, rich or poor, good or bad are equal and worthy of his respect and regard since all life is one and indivisible.

2. Gandhi's conception of Religion:

Gandhiji believes in a universal religion. His concept of religion is not sectional or narrow. He believes in ultimate Truth which he calls God. Truth is infinite and same for all the humanity. Gandhiji made a clear distinction between absolute truth and relative truth.

It is not bound by time and space and is identical with God—Entire Universe moves according to the dictates of absolute truth since laws of universe are eternal and unchangeable.

Relative truth, on the other hand, is fragmentary subjective and personal. All human beings in this world think and act in the frame work of their own concept of morality. What may be a truth for one may not be the same for others.

It is, therefore, imperative that one should not impose his own values of truth on those whom it may not be acceptable since truth known to them is only relative. Truth therefore, require, toleration and understanding.

Gandhiji believed in the universality of all religions. All religions and creeds have certain basic virtues which are similar in content and significance. Rituals attached to various religions might be good or bad but essentially all religions are the votaries of truth.

Gandhiji, therefore, believed in a universal religion which imbibed the qualities of all the religions of the world. He says, "It is not the Hindu religion which i prize above all other religions, but the religion which transcends Hinduism which changes one's nature, which binds one indissolubly to the truth within, and which always purifies".

Gandhiji did not conceive of God as a person. It is something all pervading and all embracing. For him there is no God other than Truth. His religion is the religion of Truth.

Truth is the ultimate reality. Search after Truth is the main duty of every individual. In its search lies the realization of one's personality. It teaches at the same time love for all. Service of humanity is therefore the only way to realization of Truth and God. It also teaches man to do good acts and abstain from bad and evil actions.

The good actions lead us to realize good and acquire vidya while evil action lead to avidya or ignorance and they rust our soul. We are thereby led away from the path of Truth. Gandhiji said, "Most religious men, I have met are politicians in disguise. I, however, wear the guise of a politician but I am at heart a religious man. My religion is based on truth and non-violence. Truth is my God and non violence is the means of realizing him.

" In one of his Articles in the Harijan he said, "To try to root out religion from the society is a wild goose chase. And were such an attempt to succeed, it would mean destruction of society itself. Supersti­tions, evil customs and other imperfections creep in from age to age and mar religion for the time being. They come and go. But religion itself remains."

Influence of religion on Political ideology of Gandhiji:

It may be noticed that Gandhiji's conception of religion is very comprehensive. God and religion are inseparable for Gandhiji. His political views, therefore, were influenced, rather determined by his religion.

(a) Equality of all human beings:

This was the first and fundamen­tal belief which religiosity of Gandhi brought into his, political convic­tions. He made no distinction between the white and the coloured races, between the touchables and the untouchables, between the bourgeoisie and the proletarians.

When all are the sparks of truth, all are to be loved and none to be hated, A truly religious man would never hate any person in thought and action. He might hate the evil but not the evil doer.

Every individual has a conscience which is a spark of that eternal truth that I seek for. Every one is equally entitled to lead free and frank life according to his or her religious beliefs.

(b) Absolute rejection of violence:

"When all life is one and the whole universe including myself is manifestation of God, how may I regard anyone to be my enemy or a wicked being?" Thus, to Gandhiji, violence was abhorrent He was a believe in non-violence.

Violence in action, thought and speech, whatever its form, was forbidden by Gandhiji. However, his non-violence was based on moral strength. It meant so great a moral force that one could move another person to do right action by sheer moral force.

He would permit violence if one cannot have so strong a moral force within him. His non-violence is one of strength and not of cowardice. Non-violence took the form of passive resilience, civil-disobedience and self-purification. Non-violence ac­cording to Gandhiji is not a negative concept. It is not pacifism or peace of the grave. Non-violence does not imply non-action or passive' submis­sion to evil'.

It is on the contrary a positive force of action through love and suffering. Ahimsa in the true sense is more powerful than any kind of violence ; it does not depend on matching of physical strength. It is much more powerful in changing the hearts of those against whom an action based on ahimsa is taken than the use of all the weaponry of the world.

Non-violence or Ahimsa as conceived by Gandhiji was a positive action capable of eradicating any evil howsoever entrenched it may be. Ahimsa requires a lot of moral force of character. It is a weapon of the strong and the brave and not of the weak and the coward.

(c) Aim of an individual is the realization of truth:

Kingdom of the Earth could not be his aim, nor could he prescribe it for anybody else. According to him, the supreme aim of individual life is the realization of Divinity. Violence, injustice, falsehood etc., being hindrances in this path, must be condemned.

The realization of aim of life is defined by Gandhiji not in material terms but in spiritual terms. It is realization of truth or God and not rich material conditions of life. It is possible only through doing good karmas and avoiding or abstaining from evil karmas.

(d) Importance of the Individual:

Each individual being the spark of truth must individually identify himself with the supreme Truth. Thus freedom of the individual is a sacred tenet of Gandhism. Society can only help the individual in the achievement of his goal; it should not put any obstacle in his way.

This led Gandhiji to condemn machinery and industrial organization. He was in favour of self sufficient village com­munities which provided the greatest amount of individual freedom.

Gandhiji conceives of an extremely individualist society, the functions of state in which are minimum. The state should only remove hindrances from the path of the individual. It can be possible only in a self-sufficing village economy. He was against centralized and highly industrialized economy.

Action of man should be spontaneous and not guided and controlled by an outside agency like the State. Life must be moral and spiritual. Slate is incompetent to improve such life as can enrich the individual morally and spiritually.

State and its laws directly and indi­rectly encroach upon the freedom of the individual. Not only this, he condemned state to be an embodiment of force. Since state is based on force and is highly centralized in its character it is bound to destroy individual liberty.

In one of the issues of Young India, Gandhiji said, "A Government is an instrument of service only in so for as it is based upon the will and consent of the people. It is an instrument of oppression when it enforces submission at the point of bayonet.

" In his opinion, individual is the end and the state is a means to that end. In other words, state can be sacrificed for the sake of individual if it stands in the way of his moral freedom.

(e) Gandhiji attached equal importance to both ends and means:

Good ends cannot be achieved through evil means. In Hind Swarajya, Gandhiji wrote as follows:

The means may be compared to the seed out of which a tree grows. If the seed is good, a good tree will sprout out of it. If the seed is bad, a bad tree will develop outof it. Same is the case with ends and means. Ends grow out of the means. We should, therefore, concentrate on means since the ends will be achieved automatically.

(f) Change of heart:

The change in society is to be brought about by changing the hearts and minds of men and not by bloody revolutions or coup detats. He believed that every individual has a conscience.

This is to be awakened. It is not possible to do so by any violent means. The only way is to stress upon self purification and moral influence. Satyagraha is the best solution. It is through Satyagraha that change of heart can be made possible.

(g) Belief in the voice of inner conscience or intuition:

Mahatma Gandhi believes in sense of perception or inner voice of conscience as a source of knowledge. All knowledge subjective or objective is influenced by personal ego. Intuition or voice of inner conscience is most depend­able source of acquiring knowledge.

It is based on sense-perception guided by supernatural elements. Intuition cannot be had by any and every person. It is a matter of spiritual practice, the results of which can be achieved through the vow of truth, the vow of Brahmcharya, the vow of Ahimsa, poverty, self denial and non-possession.

Points to Remember

Life is one and all human beings are the sparks of the same truth. Gandhiji believed in universal religion. He believed in good points of all the religions. God is all pervading and all-embracing.

All his politics was dominated by his religious views. A truly religious man does not make any distinction between man and man. He was a believer in non-violence. Ahimsa in the true sense is more powerful than the use of all the weapons of the world. It is a weapon of the brave and not those of the weak.

Gandhiji believed in the importance of the individual. He wanted to revive self-sufficient village communities wherein the state shall perform the minimum functions. Gandhi attached equal importance to ends and means. He was in favour of sacrificing means for the sake of ends.

He did not like to win independence of India through ignoble means. He. wanted to transform the social order through the change of heart and persuasion. Compulsion.of any sort had no place in his scheme of things. He believed in the inner voice of his conscience.