Gandhian Ethics- An Overview
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service of others”- Mahatma Gandhi
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, or Mahatma Gandhi as we call him, is considered universally as the role model of Ethics and Morality. Throughout 78 years of his lifetime, he remained a man of action and practiced what is moral, truthful, and nonviolent. Mahatma Gandhi was born a leader but to unite and lead such a diverse country, he needed strong leadership which evolved naturally in him through intense interaction with people from all walks of life.
Gandhi wasn’t an armchair academician or a sequestered thinker, he was deeply affected by the plight of the poor and oppressed and always remained vocal about it. He deeply incorporated nonviolence and peaceful dissent into his leadership as a way to counter injustice and exploitation. His idea of nonviolence was associated with compassion, humility, forgiveness, and tolerance. He always believed that the power of minds is way more powerful than the power of weapons and terror. His sheer will in his pursuit of truth, power of conviction, fearlessness, the sense of love, justice, and sacrifice transformed him from Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi into Mahatma Gandhi we venerate today.
Ethical Teachings by Gandhi
“Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man”- M.K. Gandhi.
Mahatma Gandhi always said that one must keep himself away from actions that may hurt others mentally or physically. He always said non-violence is not an outward strength, it’s internal power. The ambit of Gandhian Non-violence extended even to the animals and therefore he always advocated vegetarianism and reverence of life. Gandhi always believed that Truth is God and Non-violence is God’s love and both are so intertwined that they’re inseparable. He looked at non-violence as not only the means of purification of the soul but the purification of the whole society. Through his idea of non-violence, he fought injustice in India’s struggle for independence and set an example in front of the world that doesn’t matter how big the battle is, it can be won through the power of the mind.
“Satyagraha is a relentless search for truth and a determination to search truth”-M.K. Gandhi
Satyagraha, as defined by Mahatma Gandhi, is the exercise of purest soul force against all injustice, oppression, and exploitation. He believed that sacrifice, suffering, and trust are the attributes that drive the force of the soul.
To Mahatma Gandhi, self-sacrifice was the law of life and he believed that one can achieve nothing without paying the price for it. Mahatma Gandhi coined this term himself and the word Satyagraha was derived from two Sanskrit words ‘Satya’ meaning truth and ‘Agraha’ meaning ‘polite resistance’ or ‘holding firm to’. He deployed Satyagraha in the movement of Indian independence and also during his struggles against Racism in South Africa.
The power of the idea was so inspiring that it influenced Martin Luther King Jr., James Bevel, and Nelson Mandela in their Civil Rights campaigns.
“Morality is the basis of things and Truth is the substance of all morality”- Mahatma Gandhi
Gandhi considered Truth as God itself. He said that truth is self-revealing but the world doesn’t see it as a result of self-induced blindness caused by ignorance. This ignorance comes to a person as a result of moral degradation and perversion. He mentioned six deadly enemies that cause falsehood, prejudice, and ignorance. These were desire, anger, greed, attachment, pride, and jealousy. He was well aware that, in the modern world, falsehood appears to be an easy way to get success but he always maintained that truth has a greater superiority over falsehood if spoken pleasantly. He said that being truthful is an art that has to be developed through the way of rigorous and consistent discipline and practice.
“These practices- non-killing, truthfulness, non-stealing, chastity and non-receiving- are to be practiced by every man, woman, and child; by every soul, irrespective of nation, country, or position”- Swami Vivekananda
If you ask people about non-stealing today, the majority of them would point towards not stealing someone else’s property but according to Mahatma Gandhi, Non-stealing referred to not taking by thought, word, or action anything to which one isn’t entitled to. Furthermore, Mahatma Gandhi believed that holding such things in possession that are not needed is also a kind of stealing.
Mahatma Gandhi always recommended that for one to become pious, he must take a vow to inculcate the habit of non-stealing in himself. Gandhi Ji was heavily inspired by Swami Vivekananda’s teachings and views.
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated”- Mahatma Gandhi
The term ‘Sarvodaya’ in Sanskrit means ‘Universal Uplift’ or ‘Progress for all’. Mahatma Gandhi coined this term when he titled his translation of Ruskin Bond’s ‘Unto This Last’ as ‘Sarvodaya’. After that, he used this term on multiple occasions as the ideal of his political philosophy. Mahatma Gandhi always believed that earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not for every man’s greed. So, he always dreamed of a society where every member is free from any greed for materialistic wealth and luxury. He taught that one must believe in ‘Simple Living and High Thinking’. He always had a firm belief that through inclusiveness, many evils of society can be removed. His idea of a society based on ‘Sarvodaya’ can be called a Socialist Society in the truest sense where people live with the spirit of love, fraternity, truth, non-violence, and self-sacrifice.
6. Celibacy/ Brahmacharya
“Celibacy is a great help, inasmuch as it enables one to lead a life full of surrender to God.” – Mahatma Gandhi.
Celibacy or Brahmacharya in the true sense means practicing control of one’s sexual desires. He was of the view that immortality in humans has been induced by the desire to satisfy one’s demands of senses. He believed that keeping desires in check will stop humans from being misguided by the senses and even sexual control can’t be practiced unless all the senses are put in check. He even experimented with food and daily habits to keep his senses in check so that even his way of life, (and the things he did daily) doesn’t let the undesirable urges arise in him. Celibacy, to Gandhi, was a kind of discipline.
“The Truest test of civilization, culture, and dignity is character and not clothing”
“If Wealth is lost nothing is lost; if Health is lost something is lost; if Character is lost everything is lost” - Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi always taught that Character is the moral and ethical strength of a person and a man of character will always make himself worthy of any position he is given. Gandhi’s idea of character was that it must be truthful, self-controlled, and free of suspicion. He had a firm belief that men of stainless character and self-purification will easily inspire confidence and automatically purify the atmosphere around them. In politics and leadership, character is the only attribute that will have a real effect on the masses.
8. The Seven Deadly Sins
Mahatma Gandhi listed down seven deadly sins in human life which lead to loss of morality in them. They can be listed as:
1. Wealth without work.
2. Pleasure without conscience.
3. Science without humanity.
4. Knowledge without character.
5. Politics without principle.
6. Commerce without morality.
7. Worship without sacrifice.
All through his life, Mahatma Gandhi walked the path of truth, nonviolence, ethics, and morality. Although he always refuted the claims of him being a visionary, he was the one who laid the foundation of peaceful protest and non-violence as a ‘dharma’ in the whole world through struggles against racial discrimination, colonial rule, exploitation of the poor, and moral degradation.
As the world grows more and more violent, aggressive, acquisitive, and exploitative with time, Gandhi’s teachings and ideas become more and more relevant to restore the peaceful world-order. Gandhi was so farsighted that no matter how complex the problem is, even in the modern-day, Gandhian Philosophy always has an answer to it.