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Cultivating Mahatma Gandhi’s ethics of Love

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The principles propounded by Mahatma Gandhi during the anti-imperial struggle are relevant to the people of the country ever since. Whenever the country finds itself encountered with problems of similar nature, his teachings are equally relevant today. Among many issues, looking at the cacophony of hatred and intolerance spread across everywhere, we find ourselves impounded with the question – where have we lost the harmony of love. This cacophony of hatred and intolerance and the lost harmony of love do not apply only to India, but all over the world. Among the many legacies of Mahatma Gandhi that we have largely failed to actively inherit as a nation – cultivating an ethic of love is one major area. Let us try to locate the ethic of love in Gandhi’s teachings and attempt to cultivate the ethics of love.

In the introduction to “Hind Swaraj”, ‘A Word of Explanation’, Mahatma Gandhi writes in 1921, “If India adopted the doctrine of love as an active part of her religion and introduced it in her politics; Swaraj would descent upon India from heaven. But I am painfully aware that that event is far off as yet.” How far off is that event now? How far off is the process of adopting the doctrine of love as an active part of religion and politics? Perhaps, more far off than 1921. As religions tend to follow the sectarian path; politics succumb to division and hatred. We rarely talk about an active role of love in public discourse now. We hesitate to give centrality to the normative of love in public discourse. The binaries created for the sake of politics; for the sake of nation-building have taken away from it the very soul – the soul of love.

Love, in Gandhi’s philosophy, can be seen as the implicit cardinal force which keeps the twin principles of ‘Satya’ (truth) and ahimsa (non-violence) moving. Truth and non-violence along with love are the means to achieve the goal of self-rule. And in his philosophy, only when people are self-ruled; the nation will be self-ruled and not the vice-versa. This poses a much more difficult question in front of us – Have we really achieved ‘Swaraj’ or Self-Rule as a nation, as envisioned by the father of the nation? Has the nation really achieved ‘Self-Rule’, if people tend to forget about the cardinal principles of love, truth, and non-violence? It is a difficult question to answer; because the moment people are ready to give up any of the principles of love, truth, and non-violence, even for the sake of some greater interest of the nation, the nation of Gandhi’s imagination will fail to claim itself as a self-ruled nation, as a nation having ‘Swaraj’. Because in his philosophy, the consideration of means occupying a predominant position. Means are needed to be equally just and fair to achieve a just and fair end. Love, truth, and non-violence are the means to attain Swaraj. There is no other way around. There is no bargaining of means to achieve an end.

Locating these three principles – the principles of love, truth, and non-violence as the cardinal principles in Gandhi’s philosophy, let us now limit ourselves to conceptualize what does love embody in this philosophy? How do we construct the normative of love in public discourse?

While speaking about education, Gandhi advocated the ancient school system for its prioritization of character building. That character-building necessarily encompasses the recognition of the sanctity of each human life, its sacrosanct nature. Gandhi was deeply influenced by the writings of Leo Tolstoy, Ruskin Bond, Henry Thoreau, etc. Leo Tolstoy writes, “The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity.” Humanity inculcates compassion, love, respect for other human beings. It underlies the recognition of the dignity of other human beings. Both Tolstoy and Gandhi firmly believe that there is a spark of divinity in every human being. Hence, there is this imperative of the sacrosanct nature of each and every human life.

This interpretation can also be derived from his firm statement, “There is something good in every man”, in the dialogue between him, as the editor and the reader in his critique of lawyers in ‘Hind Swaraj’ While the reader cites certain good deeds done by a few eminent lawyers in response to Gandhi’s criticism of the lawyers; Gandhi responded by saying the above-mentioned statement, by saying that not due to the fact of being lawyers, those lawyers did those good deeds to the society. But due to the fact that they are a human being and every human being has something good within himself that they did those good things. It denotes that before being lawyers, first, they are human beings. If this simple message can be comprehended by the people, much of the difficulties would be eased automatically.

In short, in this ethics of love in Gandhi’s teachings, first, there must be the recognition of the sacrosanct nature of each and every human life. Secondly, it is not just a passive acceptance of this sacrosanct nature of human life. Rather, it is the active participation in celebrating that sacrosanct human life. As Gandhi himself mentions while speaking about the conditions people required to participate for Home-Rule as “like others, he will know that action is much better than speech; that it is our duty to say exactly what we think and face the consequences and that it will be only then that we shall be able to impress anybody by our speech.” This conviction of Gandhi is reflected when he went to Noakhali on 4th November 1946, when communal riots broke out; when he walked through the streets of Calcutta on 15th August 1947 to eliminate the pervading communal apprehensions. His conviction for love, a conviction for unity, a conviction for non-violence – get reflected on his everyday practice.

It is through this praxis of love; through the education process that emphasizes on character building which imparts sanctity of each human life; through articulating and defending the centrality of this normative of love in public discourse; through our actions which reflect our conviction towards love – the ethics of love will be cultivated.

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Cultivating Mahatma Gandhi’s ethics of Love

By: Nilakhi Baishya Read time: 17 min