Truth and non-violence are as old as the hills, Gandhi said. What he had done, he added, was only to apply them to life and its problems. There is no end to the repetition of these two words and comments thereon in his speeches and writings. The meanings he read into them and the interpretation he put on them constitute the new dimensions of this dyad of words. They were the mantra or key words of his life and philosophy.
Between these two words, of course, truth has priority and predominance. He was not only a ceaseless seeker of truth but also a votary of truth. He described his life as a series of "Experiments with Truth". In saying so, he revealed his scientific outlook about truth. He never, claimed that he had found the truth. His humility was such that he said he was always continuing his search for truth.
Truth was for him the ideal to be striven after; it was always to be approached but it would be ever receding, being infinite. The same was the case with non-violence. Absolute non-violence, he said, is an impossibility for anyone who lives, as even breathing involves the destruction of tiny life.
Now what is the connection between these two words, truth and non-violence? If one goes through Gandhi's life, thought and action, one sees the vital and inseparable nexus between them. I am inclined to express that nexus by saying that, for Gandhi, the passage to truth lay through non-violence. Therefore, it would be quite correct to say that the attainment of truth through non-violence was the aim and effort of Gandhi. If one studies him still further, one finds that Gandhi insists that non-violence is the best way and the shortest cut to truth. One cannot stop even here. He says that for him, non-violence is not only the best but the only way to truth.
Thus the proposition "Truth through non-violence alone" may well represent not only the connection between the two words for Gandhi, but also his basic attitude so far as his own life and discipline were concerned. This extreme attitude marks him off from other votaries of truth.
In the beginning, Gandhi believed in God, the ultimate Reality or Supreme Power. He said, "God is Truth." But ultimately he said, "Truth is God." While God was denied by many, he observed, none dared deny truth. The truth of one's own perception and experience could not be denied; to deny it would be to deny oneself and one's existence and powers of perception.
Now what is truth? What was it that Gandhi sought after every moment of his life and what was it that he wanted to realize when he used expressions like self-realization, seeing God face to face, and so on? Obviously he was not satisfied only with the perception of truth; he was intensely eager to know the truth, to realize it, to attain it, and to establish it. He wanted the reign of truth, the reign of the Law of Being and Becoming.
Gandhi seemed to believe in the totality of truth, the one transcendent Reality along with its simultaneous dynamic manifestation. Since Reality had manifested itself, there was no question of the transcendental being higher and the manifestation lower. In fact, truth and unity with truth or identity with it could be realized by man with his limited powers not through abstract thinking but only through love, selfless service of the manifested universe and particularly of living beings. Sacrifice involving even death could be the last and irrevocable step in such service. To Gandhi that was the way of realizing truth. There was no other way.
His humanism was rooted in the realization and spiritual experience of his whole being that all life was one and that life was but the manifestation and reflection of the Reality itself. Unity with truth, the realization of oneness by the individual with the universal was the summum bonum of life and was also the highest fulfilment and the source of supreme happiness and bliss.
Now what did all this mean concretely for Gandhi, day in and day out? While unity with Reality, with the transcendental truth, was something to be experienced and realized within one's own inner being, the unity with the manifested Reality, especially with the manifestation in the form of living beings and man can be experienced only through love, which is another name for the experience of identity, identity of being and identity of interest. This identity can be expressed only in terms of a relationship with living beings and with man on the basis of love. The least that a man in search of truth can and ought to do is to abstain, in thought, speech and action (manasa vacha karmana) from injury to living beings and man. That is the beginning oiahimsa (non-injury). But the utmost step and form of love or ahimsa would be not only selfless service but sacrifice of oneself if need be. This means that love, spelt as identity of interests, involves something far more than what a man can do for himself. He can die if need be for others whom he loves, which he cannot do for himself, except to save his own honour.
For Gandhi, the transcendental aspect of Reality was a truth of inner experience, no doubt. But its realization in everyday life was of immediate and paramount importance to him; that is why the truth of daily life, its experience through his own perception, observation, contemplation, and empathy were his preoccupation. The individual had no'Other way of realizing the truth of the totality of Reality (transcendental-cum-immanent) except through social life and relationship with others. Therefore, whether it was the suffering of labourers in South Africa or peasants in Kaira or the insult-of one nation exploiting another through imposition of slavery, they all evoked the utmost effort on the part of Gandhi to serve the cause of suffering humanity.
There was evil, there was injustice, there was tyranny, there was poverty, there was misery. In the words of Rousseau with a slight change, Gandhi could have declared, Man is born happy but he is everywhere in misery. Man must not only be free but also be happy. It is only by being free and by self-effort that man can attain his highest stature.
Gandhi identified himself with humanity, its joys and sorrows, its aspirations and inner seekings. He saw that it was through love alone he could serve it.
But what if there were obstacles in the way? What if others did not see the truth of a certain situation as he saw it and experienced it? There he must try not only to see truth but establish it in spite of all opposition. It is this positive attitude of fighting for the truth of his perception and experience against all odds which distinguishes him as a moral genius and a man of action. Where others would be satisfied with knowing the truth and sympathizing with the sufferers, he would jump into the fray and join issue with the opposing forces. In this matter he was a true Kshatriya, a warrior, for whom "danger itself was lure alone".
Another very important element distinguishes Gandhi from others who fight for good causes and that is his ahimsa. Evil and injustice, exploitation and tyranny must be fought, but he insisted that the weapons must be non-violent, pure and moral. He said, our perception and experience of a particular situation might be very truthful to us. But one cannot always vouch for its truthfulness to others. So, he said, if there is a question of convincing the opponents, it must always be by non-violent means. No human being has a right to impose by violence, by physical force, by coercion on another human being anything that he believes, even if it be a truth of his own perception and conviction. That is why he declared that violence is the law of the jungle and love is the law of the human species. On questions or problems of life, he would invite a dialogue, which would lead to truth, to find which ought to be the common object of all human beings.
Thus his non-violence or love has a double derivation: one is on account of identity with all life; the other is positive disinclination to use violence even for imposing truth on others. The latter was the root of his principle of self-suffering. The inner experience of the unity of life (all life is one) and identity of interests cannot and ought not to mean anything but the relationship of love between individuals as well as groups and nations. Mutual respect, friendliness, cooperation have to be the forms which love would take. Love has to be the law of human beings as that alone can ensure a rational and moral relationship between them. Even when there is seeming conflict of interests, it can and ought to be resolved only by a non-violent approach as that is the way which is consistent with mutual love and search for the common good.
Seen in the above perspective, the truth of daily experience and mundane life assumes as much importance as abstract or transcendent truth. The border line between spiritual life and our daily life is wiped out and man is invited through a rational, moral life to attempt the spiritualization of all life and raise it to a higher level. There is no scope for escapism into abstraction or other-worldliness or only individual salvation. Gandhi has also given a call not to surrender to evil and injustice, whatever may happen. Because surrender to evil for any reason whatsoever is moral and spiritual death. He does not allow us to plead even want of numbers or lack of strength to fight evil and injustice because he wants man to fight evil not by evil or violence but by developing inner strength and the power to suffer.
It is in these directions that Gandhi seems to add new dimensions to truth and non-violence, by offering his own experiments as examples of "truth through non-violence alone".
Source: From the book, 'Mahatma Gandhi 100 Years'.