Last year there was a major natural disaster in the glacier pilgrimage town of Kedarnath (North India) that left many dead and damaged an entire ecosystem. Perhaps, I should say we, in-humans had damaged an ecosystem and mother nature took the first step towards restoring herself. Reacting to the incident in an interview veteran Hindi actor Tom Alter thought that we should go back to old ways of travelling to such places of significance. Those remote places had difficult access in the past, hence needed personal effort from the pilgrim to go there. We built roads in places where none were supposed to be built and nature wiped them all at once. In the same vein, Gandhiji resents modern (western) tendency of making everything ‘easy’. Gandhiji says “the holy places of India have become unholy” because they have become easily accessible to rogues (mala-fide intentions).
Gandhiji sees the virtues of railways (a western symbol of modernity) as its fundamental flaws. Modern professions such as law and allopathic medicine appear to him as instruments of deceit. His resentment towards lawyers (being a lawyer himself) seems to have come from personal experience. I am not a lawyer. I also strongly feel that lawyers are a burden on this society and the fact that most politicians in India and probably in the whole world are lawyers, shows why India still continues to fail after independence*. However, Gandhiji’s views on medicine and doctors are more contentious and inhuman although may still appeal to cold-hearted naturalists.
A naturalist from a spiritual/personal view is not the same as a naturalist in science/philosophy. The former is not interested in the order of things and the mechanisms. The spiritual naturalist is restricted to the human era (Anthropocene). The naturalist in Gandhiji makes careful observations of human society and history. He is in search of an ethical framework that defines us, the human race. 18th century Carnatic composer Sri Tyagaraja writes in Telugu “చక్కని రాజమార్గము లుండగ, సందులు దూరనేల ఓ మనసా (chakkani raaja maargamu lundaga…sandulu dooranela O manasa)” which means “here is a majestic boulevard, why do you choose narrow alleyways, Oh mind”. Gandhiji proposes an idea of a ‘soul-force’ or ‘truth-force’ as the main road towards freedom.
For Gandhiji the most advanced civilization is the Indian component of the human race. He goes to the extent of saying that the Indian civilization is complete by itself and it has nothing to learn from others. No reasonable individual would agree with Gandhiji on that. If we want to be generous and give the benefit of the doubt to Gandhiji, then we may say that he was trying to establish pride in Indians trying to fight British rule. Where I disagree with the great man is when he says “we Indians are one as no two Englishmen are. Only you and I and others who consider ourselves civilized and superior persons imagine that we are many nations”. Gandhiji blames the mechanized western ideas for creating a sense of distinction among Indians. I have a different take on this. I have always felt that India has never been a single entity. It is a melting pot of differences and it amalgamates large differences perhaps so large that they cannot be left to their own devices. As Gandhiji says we cannot have home rule if we fear our own brethren. I would say we could never afford to have such fear. In other words, we should fear ‘fear’. Fear is too dangerous. We are safer together than apart. Gandhiji’s utopian soul-force has a pragmatic side to it. The key to managing differences and maintaining harmony is to strengthen the soul-force, in other words ‘the individual mind’. In essence, he argues that in situations where a collective conscience is hurt, to sacrifice personal interest is the most ethical of solutions.
Drawing a great deal from the ‘Bhagavadgeetha’, Gandhiji emphasizes ‘duty’ over ‘rights’. When people become conscious of their rights, a greater awareness about performing their duties must take precedence over obtaining their rights. Such and only such supreme devotion to duty shall add meaning and legitimacy to rights or demands. Personal liberation from slavery is a necessary step towards liberating a nation. The Gandhian view of slavery goes beyond the British oppression of India through rule of law. To get freedom, we need to relieve ourselves from being enslaved by the modern civilization. The soul-force originates in a dutifully conscientious individual who wants freedom. Gandhiji uses a beautiful metaphor by equating the individual soul to an earthen pot. A pot made of clay is fragile until it is burnt (purified). Baking clay is akin to preparing one’s mind to harness the soul-force. 16th century Carnatic composer Sri Purandara dasa writes in Kannada and refers to “ಹೃದಯವೆಂಬೋ ಮಡಕೆಯಲ್ಲಿ (hrudayavembo maDakeyalli)” that literally means “in a clay-pot called as heart”. Gandhiji’s idea of baking hearts (made of clay) takes them to greater strength and integrity and the hearts (soul-force) become natural and invincible.
Explaining the lack of evidence for the success of soul-force crusades in obtaining freedom, Gandhiji again puts on his hat of a spiritual naturalist. He says “History…is a record of an interruption of the course of nature. Soul-force, being natural, is not noted in history”. Clever man Gandhiji! He is absolutely right in saying that history is a record of aberrations. History is news and news is sensationalist (out of the ordinary). Thus, syllogically history records extraordinary things. Origin and spread of soul-force is an ordinary phenomenon and is part of nature. Hence, there are few records that prove the strength of soul-force.
more to follow…
*All political parties in India today are full of lawyers. All ministers are lawyers and former bureaucrats. Politics has been taken away from political thinkers and given to technocrats.