In the western world the word truth connotes something static and immutable. We see truth as something, that once possessed, will always be valid. But there is a tendency in Eastern philosophy to see truth as something illusive, as something that can only be approximated by a lifetime of philosophical experimentation. The man known as Mohandas Gandhi was this spirit of truth incarnate. But care must be taken not to deify Gandhi, his life was a ceaseless struggle towards deeper understanding, and his many accomplishments belie his humble origins. To see the man beneath the legend we must return to his humble origin and trace the ascension of his ideals, and find the wellspring of his strength. By understanding how he discovered his values it will be clear that the actions he took were the only option for a man with a powerful moral conscience.
In his autobiography The Story of My Experiments with Truth, Gandhi recalls his earliest recollections of religion. As a child he was taught very little of religion, and recalls his initial distaste for the Vaishnava faith. It wasn?t until his father became ill that Gandhi found something in religion that suited him. While his father was bedridden a man would come and recite the Ramayana, and young Gandhi listened intently. Gandhi later said, ?Today I regard the Ramayana of Tulasidas as the greatest book in all devotional literature.? (Experiments 48) Being at his father?s bedside also forged a lifelong tolerance for other religions. On most days the house was guest to one of his father?s friends, among them Jain monks and Zoroastrians. Watching his father treat other religions with respect and sincere interest gave Gandhi the ability to question his own beliefs, which would serve him later on his journey for truth.
Upon graduating primary school in 1887, Gandhi embarked on a ship bound for England, where he hoped to pass the matriculation exams to become a lawyer. Gandhi soon discovered that to blend into his new surroundings he would have to put on the airs of an English gentleman. He changed his outward appearance by wearing suits and assuming the habits of polished society. Glass mirrors were a luxury in India, but while in England he writes, ?Here I wasted ten minutes every day before a huge mirror, watching myself arranging my tie and parting my hair in the correct fashion.? (Experiments 67) But Gandhi?s transplant into English society was not to be, in his second year in England Gandhi took the next big leap in his spiritual development when he discovered the Bhagavad Gita.
While still a student Gandhi came across the Bhagavad Gita, a collection of 700 lines from the Mahabharata. From his essay The Gospel of Selfless Action, Gandhi comments that The Gita teaches that only through desireless action and devotion to truth can salvation be found. He goes on to say, ?Knowledge without devotion will be like a misfire.? (Gandhi 37) This closely mirrors the idea of praxis put fourth by philosopher...