Dr Jyotsna Bhattacharjee
“If somebody says that he is ready to lay down his life for God, he will not be able to explain what he means and most of us would not understand his meaning. On the contrary, a person who says that he would die for Truth, Knows what he means and most of us would also understand it”.
Mahatma Gandhi was the exponent of truth. For him truth is not a temporary phase, but it is the life blood and perennial force of the world. It manifests itself as the ‘inner voice’ of human mind. According to Gandhi truth should be cultivated in such a way that even in adverse circumstances one sticks to it and never deviates from it. But to make truth accessible to us we have to understand its true meaning.
Gandhi admitted that it is very difficult to define truth. But he said that it is what the inner voice tells us. Yet the question arises why different people think of truth in different ways. Gandhi answers that in the evolution of human mind, the progress is not the same in each human being. Hence what is truth to one may be untruth to another. Some people think that for assessment of truth some experiments have to be made under certain conditions. But strict discipline is necessary to make a person qualified to make experiments with truth.
Gandhi was deeply impressed by the life and practices of the saints of the Bhakti-cult. Hence it was not difficult for him to arrive at the conception of a personal God. But the difficulties arose when he sought to identify Truth and God. Truth is an impersonal principle and God was conceived by Gandhi as personal. Then how can the two be identified? Gandhi was aware of the difficulty and therefore he very often tried to make his point clear. He says, “In my early youth I was taught to repeat what in Hindu scriptures are known as one thousand names of God. But these one thousand names of God were by no means exhaustive. We believe and I think it is truth that God has as many names as there are creatures and therefore, we also say the God is nameless, and since God has many forms we also consider him formless, and since He speaks to us in many tongues, we consider Him to be speechless and so on....if it is possible for the human tongue to give the fullest description, I have come to the conclusion for myself that God is Truth”.
If we interpret the passage, we would understand why Gandhi says that God is Truth. In the first place, this assertion is the result of a search for a name for the universal reality that is God, which cannot be described. According to Gandhi Truth is not an attribute of God, but God is Truth. Gandhi says that Truth is derived from the word ‘sat’ and ‘sat’ means is. So by calling God Truth, what is asserted is that God alone is or exists.
But later on Gandhi changed the statement that ‘God is Truth’ to ‘Truth is God’. He says, “But deep down in me I used to say that though God may be God, God is Truth above all. But two years ago I went a step further and said Truth is God. You will see the fine distinction between the two statements, viz. that God is Truth and Truth is God. And I came to the conclusion after a continuous and relentless search after Truth”.
Gandhi has strong reason for bringing about this change. One reason is that the word Truth is not as ambiguous as the word God. Nobody understands by God the same thing. One may be pantheistic, theistic, polytheistic, and even deistic. But the word ‘Truth’ is clear in its meaning. Gandhi also realises that it is possible to rationally doubt the existence of God, but reason cannot reject Truth. Even an atheist cannot deny ‘Truth’. Truth is the only factor which is completely universal and comprehensive. Gandhi thinks that blind religious notions have done immense harm to mankind and therefore the emphasis has to change from God to Truth. He says, “I don’t care for God if he is anything but Truth”.
Truth by nature is self-evident and self-illuminating. It is not an attribute, but it is Reality itself. Gandhi does not find any difficulty in identifying Truth with reality. Therefore, he says, “My uniform experience has convinced me that there is no other God than Truth the little fleeting glimpses, therefore, that I have been able to have of truth can hardly convey an idea of the indescribable lustre of truth, a million times more intense than that of the sun we daily see with our eyes. In fact what I have caught is only the faintest glimmer of that mighty effulgence”.
There are certain significant implications of Gandhi’s assertion that Truth is God. One very significant implication is that the object of worship is not God, but Truth. This can very well be the basis of a universal religion as the ‘worship of Truth’ may bring persons of various casts, communities and nations together. He believed that a sincere love and worship of Truth will bring together Hindus, Muslims and even Marxists and Atheists. Therefore Gandhi says that there are no atheists in the real sense of the term.
Gandhi says that Truth brings a kind of inner excellence in case of every human being. It is very necessary for enlightenment of human values. He calls truth a ‘great power’ and he gives more importance to truth than human destiny. He said. “I call that Great Power not by the name of Khuda or God, but by the name of truth…The whole truth is only embodied within the heart of that Great Power”.
Gandhi advises that for restoration and advancement of human values we have to respond to Truth as our inner voice. But to listen to that inner voice and honour it, some kind of mental preparedness is necessary. That is why we must admit our limitations and devote ourselves more to the values that adorn human excellence than for apparent success and fulfillment in our life. Gandhi categorically asserts, “Everyone should, therefore, realise his limitations before he speaks of his inner voice. Therefore we have the belief based upon experience that those who would make individual search truth as God, must go through several vows, as for instance, the vow of truth vow of brahmacharya(purity), the vow of non-violence, of poverty and non-possession. Unless you impose on yourselves the five vows, you may not embark on the experiment at all. There are several other conditions, but I must not take you through all them; suffice it to say those who have made these experiments know that it is not proper for everyone to claim to hear the voice of conscience and it is because we have at the present moment everyone to claim to hear the voice of conscience without going through any discipline what so ever there is so much untruth being delivered to a bewildered world. All that I can in true humanity present to you is that truth is not to be found by anybody who has not got an abundant sense of humanity”.
Two pillars of truth according to Gandhi are self-study and self-consciousness. He elevates truth to the platform of aesthetic humanity. A frank attitude to life and the world certainly bring forth new values, which admit no compromise with selfishness and narrow outlook. For Gandhi frankness is the symbol of perfect truth.
Gandhi was a strict disciplinarian and adhering to discipline he glorified humanism in the light of eternal values. He also advocated the spirit of fearlessness as an essential component of values of life. He said that fearless must not be sacrificed at any cost and so he followed fearless adherence to duties and responsibility even under adverse circumstances. He upheld the Value of Truth in principle. He was a true humanist and as such he advocates Truth in theory as well as in practice of perfection. He upholds Truth in terms of humane creative and critical consciousness. In the words of Gandhi “Truth has no body. Everybody therefore images it in the form which appears to him. Once we realise that the form which we worship is a creation of our imagination each one of us may have his own from and there may be countless such forms as there are countless human beings. In truth the various names like Vishnu, Maheswar, Brahma, Bhagawan, Iswar etc have no meaning or have a meaning which is imperfect.‘Truth’ is one only term which is perfect as description of God. If somebody says that he is ready to lay down his life for God, he will not be able to explain what he means and most of us would not understand his meaning. On the contrary, a person who says that he would die for Truth, Knows what he means and most of us would also understand it”.
Humanism enriched with the living spirit of Truth becomes synonymous with God. “God is, because Truth is”. Gandhi believes that Truth ought to be a permanent living force of human beings. All goodness and welfare of humanity are based on it. He thought that all the names of God that have been suggested signify only one aspect of God, but Truth signifies His perfect essence. Gandhi says that Truth resides in everyone like a flower yet to bloom in all bounty and perfection. Truth should be in perfect fusion with joy and freedom. Otherwise, Truth becomes parochial, authoritarian, rigid, rules oriented, rough and devoid of the spirit of cordiality in the opinion of Gandhi. It also must be all embracing and above all altruistic.
Gandhi explicitly mentions six deadly enemies which cause prejudice. These enemies are lust, anger, greed, infatuation, pride and falsehood. Therefore in order to practice Truth one must take care to avoid these evils and to become free from them. Regarding the speaking of truth, Gandhi accepts one condition due to its practical value. Being faithful to ancient Indian tradition he asserts that truth should be spoken in a pleasant manner. He says that truthfulness is an art, which has to be developed by rigorous and constant discipline and practice. His theory of Truth takes us to his views on Non-violence or Ahimsa. Gandhi himself says, “I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and Non-violence are as old as the hills. Ahimsa and Truth are so intertwined that it is practically impossible to disentangle and separate them. They are like two sides of a coin. Ahimsa is the means; Truth is the end”.
(The writer is a former Head, Department of Philosophy, Cotton College, Guwahati)