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Mainstream, VOL LV No 42 New Delhi October 7, 2017

Gandhi’s Dharma had Very Sincere Respect for All Religions and Absolutely No Room for Communalism

Monday 9 October 2017, by Bharat Dogra

The following article was written for the Gandhi Jayanti (October 2) but reached us late. So we are using it now.

At a time when some powerful elements are trying to co-opt some of the ideas of Mahatma Gandhi without giving up their ideology of communalism, we need to recall that Mahatma Gandhi’s views on religion had absolutely no place for communalism and instead were based on very deeply felt, sincere respect for all religions. He went beyond tolerance and pleaded for respect for other religions. It was a matter of faith for Gandhiji that all religions were equal.

“For me the different religions are beautiful flowers from the same garden, or they are branches of the same majestic tree. Therefore they are equally true, though being received and interpreted through human instruments equally imperfect.” (Harijan, 30.1.37, p. 407)

“Each religion has its own contribution to make to human evolution. I regard the great faiths of the world as so many branches of a tree, each distinct from the other though having the same source.” (Harijan, 28.1.39 p. 448)

Gandhiji said, and sincerely believed, that a prayer, in whatever language or from whatever religion it was, was a prayer addressed to one and the same God and taught mankind that all belonged to one family and should bear love to one another.

“Various religions were like the leaves on a tree. No two leaves were alike, yet there was no antagonism between them or between the branches on which they grew. Even so, there is an underlying unity in the variety which we see in God’s creation.” (Harijan, 26.5.46, p. 154)

There is therefore absolutely no reason why anyone, while remaining true to one’s own religion, should not respect other religions. In fact those who are free-minded and liberal enough to learn from all scriptures (as Gandhi surely was) are the ones who benefit the most.

“I am a believer in the truth of all the great religions of the world. There will be no lasting peace on earth unless we learn not merely to tolerate but even to respect the other faiths as our own. A reverent study of the sayings of different teachers of mankind is a step in the direction of such mutual respect.” [In Search of the Supreme, Vol. III, (1962), p. 10]

“I believe in the truth of all religions of the world. And since my youth upward, it has been a humble but persistent effort on my part to understand the truth of all the religions of the world, and adopt and assimilate in my own thought, word, and deed all that I have found to be best in those religions. The faith that I profess not only permits me to do so but renders it obligatory for me to take the best from whatsoever source it may come.” (Harijan, 16.2.34, p. 7)

“India, with its ancient religions, has much to give and the bond of unity between us can best be fostered by a wholehearted sympathy and appreciation of each other’s form of religion.” (The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol.-V, p. 50)

A Christian friend asked him. “Would you say then that your religion is a synthesis of all religions?”

“Yes, if you will. But I would call that synthesis Hinduism, and for you the synthesis will be Christianity.” (Harijan, 6.3.37, page 27)

In consonance with his views on equality of all religions, Gandhiji said that the path of progress is to improve the understanding and practice of your own religion and not try to convert others to your own religion. “After long study and experience, I have come to the conclusion that (1) all religions are true: (2) all religions have some error in them; (3) all religions are almost as dear to me as my own Hinduism, inasmuch as all human beings should be as dear to one as one’s own close relatives. My own veneration for other faiths is the same as that for my own faith; therefore no thought of conversion is possible. The aim of the Fellowship should be to help a Hindu to become a better Hindu, a Musalman to become a better Musalman, and a Christian a better Christian.” [Selections from Gandhi (1957), pp. 258-59]

In Mahatma Gandhi’s religion there is enough scope for rational reasoning and social reforms. “I reject any religious doctrine that does not appeal to reason and is in conflict with morality. I tolerate unreasonable religious sentiment when it is not immoral.” (Young India, 21.7.20, p. 4)

Gandhi went one step further on social reforms when he said, “True morality consists, not in following the beaten track, but in finding out the true path for ourselves and in fearlessly following it. [Selections from Gandhi, (1957) p. 254]

This broad-mindedness extended not just to religious matters but also to matters relating to different cultures, different value-system and world-views. Gandhi said, “I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.” (Young India, 1.6.21, p. 170)

Gandhi’s emphasis on reason-based approach to religion and his sincere respect for other religions as well as his firm opposition to communalism need to be remembered and better known today when the heritage of mutual respect of various religions is threatened in several contexts.

The author is a freelance journalist who has been involved with various social movements and initiatives.

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