Mahatma Gandhi on God, Truth, and Religion

I wanted to provide one of the biggest influences behind my two posts on Atheism.

No human being has ever inspired a more successful Active Philosophy.

Each color change is a selection from the book All Men Are Brothers

By religion, I do not mean formal religion, or customary religion, but that religion which underlies all religions, which brings us face to face with our Maker.

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 this truth within and which ever purifies.  It is the permanent element in human nature, which counts no cost too great in order to find full expression and which leaves the soul utterly restless until it has found itself, known its Maker and appreciated the true correspondence between the Maker and itself.

There is an indefinable mysterious Power that pervades everything.  I feel it, though I do not see it.  It is this unseen power which makes itself felt and yet defies all proof, because it is so unlike all that i perceive through my senses.  It transcends the senses.  But it is possible to reason out the existence of God to a limited extent.

I do dimly perceive that whilst everything around me is ever-changing, ever-dying, there is underlying all that change a Living Power that is changeless, that holds all together, that creates, dissolves, and re-creates.  That informing Power or Spirit is God.  And since nothing else I see merely through the senses can or will persists, He alone is.

To me God is Truth and Love; God is ethics and morality; God is fearlessness, God is the source of Light and Life and yet He is above and beyond all these.  God is conscience.  He is even the atheism of the atheist…He transcends speech and reason…He is a personal God to those who need His personal presence.  He is embodied to those who need His touch.  He is the purest essence.  He simply is to those who have faith.  He is all things to all men.  He is in us and yet above and beyond us…He is long-suffering.  He is patient but He is also terrible…With Him ignorance is no excuse.  And withal He is ever forgiving for He always gives us the chance to repent.  He is the greatest democrat the world knows, for He leaves us ‘unfettered’ to make our own choice between evil and good.  He is the greatest tyrant ever known, for He often dashes the cup from our lips and under the cover of free will leaves us a margin so wholly inadequate as to provide only mirth for Himself…Therefore Hinduism calls it all His sport.

Religions are different roads converging to the same point.  What does it matter that we take different roads, so long as we reach the same goal?  In reality, there are as many religions as there are individuals.

So long as there are different religions, every one of them may need some distinctive symbol.  But when the symbol is made into a fetish and an instrument of proving the superiority of one’s religion over other’s, it is fit only to be discarded.

I believe in the fundamental truth of great religions of the world.  I believe that they are all God-given, and I believe that they were necessary for the people to whom these religions were revealed.  And I believe that, if only we could all of us read the scriptures of the different faiths from the standpoint of the followers of those faiths, we should find that they were at the bottom all one and were all helpful to one another.

I do not believe in the exclusive divinity of the Vedas.  I believe in the Bible, the Koran and the Zend Avesta, to be as much divinely inspired as the Vedas.  My belief in the Hindu scriptures does not require me to accept every word and every verse as divinely inspired…I decline to be bound by any interpretation, however learned it may be, if it is repugnant to reason or moral sense.

No search is possible without workable assumptions.  If we grant nothing, we find nothing.  Ever since its commencement, the world, the wise and the foolish included, has proceeded upon the assumption that if we are, God is, and that, if God is not, we are not.  And since belief in God is co-existent with the humankind, existence of God is treated as a fact more definite than the fact that the sun is.  This living faith has solved a large number of puzzles of life.  It has alleviated our misery.  It sustains us in life, it is our solace in death.  The very search for Truth becomes interesting and worthwhile, because of this belief.  But search for Truth is search for God.  Truth is God.  God is, because Truth is.  We embark upon the search, because we believe that there is Truth and that it can be found by diligent search and meticulous observance of the well-known and well-tried rules of search.  There is no record in history of the failure of such search.  Even the atheists who have pretended to disbelieve in God have believed in Truth.  The trick they have performed is that of giving God another, not a new, name.  His names are legion.  Truth is the crown of them all.

What is true of God is true, though in a less degree, of the assumption of the truth of some fundamental moralities.  As a matter of fact, they are implied in the belief in God or Truth.  Departure from these has landed the truants in endless misery.  Difficulty of practice should not be confused with disbelief.  A Himalayan expedition has also its prescribed conditions of success.  Difficulty of fulfilling the conditions does not make the expedition impossible.  It only adds interest and zest to the search.  Well, this expedition in search of God or Truth is infinitely more than numerous Himalayan expeditions and, therefore, much more interesting.  If we have no zest for it, it is because of the weakness of our faith.  What we see with our physical eyes is more real to us than the only Reality.  We know that the appearances are deceptive.  And yet we treat trivialities as realities.  To see the trivialities as such is half the battle won.  It constitutes more than half the search after Truth or God.  Unless we disengage ourselves from these trivialities, we have not even the leisure for the great search, or is to be reserved for our leisure hours?

In my early youth I was taught to repeat what in Hindu scriptures are known as the thousand names of God.  But these one thousand names of God were by no means exhaustive.  We believe, and I think it is the truth, that God has as many names as there are creatures.  Therefore, we also say that God is nameless, and since God has many forms, we consider him formless, and since He speaks through many tongues, we consider Him to be speechless and so on.  And, so, when I came to study Islam, I found Islam too had many names of God.

I would say with those who say ‘God is Love’, God is Love.  But deep down in me I used to say that though God may be Love, God is Truth above all.  If it is possible for the human tongue to give the fullest description of God, I have come to the conclusion that God is Truth.  Two years ago I went a step further and said that Truth is God.  You will see the fine distinction between the two statements, ‘God is Truth’ and ‘Truth is God’.  I came to that conclusion after a continuous and relentless search after truth which began fifty years ago.  I then found that the nearest approach to truth was through love.  But I also found that love has many meanings in the English language and that human love in the sense of passion could become a degrading thing.  I found too that love in the sense of ahimsa [nonviolence, roughly] had only a limited number of votaries in the world.  But I never found a double meaning in connection with truth and even atheists had not demurred to the necessity of power of truth.  But in their passion for discovering truth, atheists have not hesitated to deny the very existence of God – from their point of view rightly.  It was because of this reasoning that I saw that rather than say that God is Truth, I should say that Truth is God.  Add to this the great difficulty, that millions have taken the name of God and in His name committed nameless atrocities.  Not that the scientists very often do not commit atrocities in the name of Truth.  Then there is another thing in Hindu philosophy, namely, God alone is and  nothing else exists, and the same truth you see emphasized and exemplified in the kalma of Islam.  And there you find it clearly stated that God alone is, and nothing else exists.  In fact, the Sanskrit word for truth is a word which literally means that which exists, sat.  For these and many other reasons, I have come to the conclusion that the definition – Truth is God – gives me the greatest satisfaction.  And when you want to find Truth as God, the only inevitable means is love, that is, non-violence, and since I believe that ultimately the means and ends are convertible terms, I should not hesitate to say that God is love.

-Gandhi

Gandhi to Mahatma31

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2 Responses to Mahatma Gandhi on God, Truth, and Religion

  1. activephilosophy says:

    On content:

    This is a pretty amazing quote, but I think it is a bit orthogonal (doesn’t mix) to the one I am having in my Defense of Atheism. However, I think part 2, which I am working on now is more along the lines of what you are getting at.

    I just think that, especially in the context of a public forum, we need to be very careful with the way we throw around words like God and Maker (capitalized) there is much baggage with these terms, and to be honest I really felt that you sound like a evangelical fundy in your first Atheism post (much of which you clarify in the second), because of they way you use the word God.

    It is too early to use your definition, so matter-of-factly.

    Although you and to and (to a degree) I understand what is meant by a more complete definition/conception of God, I think that your post could be entirely misconstrued as religious mumbo-jumbo, because people are most likely to default to their pre-conceived notions of God; this is especially true when you make statements like, “Thus God is a superior term to universe, existence, non-existence, because it contains all of this.”

    For me, the word God is not a good choice, because how inexorably it is tied to traditional notions of God and religion, which very rarely (by people in general) is conceived to be the deep and wonderful concept you understand it to be.

    I guess I just think that acknowledging/knowing/honoring the audience is important for the kind of message we are trying to send.

    On technical stuff:

    Although it’s in the title, I think the post should be in quotes and should say,

    -Gandhi

    at the end, because I was confused for a bit if the post was a quote or not.

    Also, the blog is looking great! Thanks for keeping it so strong.

  2. uploanonlem says:

    Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!

    Cheers
    Christian

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