‘Truth is by nature self-evident. As soon as you remove the cobwebs of ignorance that surround it, it shines clear. ‘ – Gandhi Truth (Satya) is one of the central subjects in philosophy. It has been a topic of discussion in its own right for thousands of years. Moreover, a huge variety of issues in philosophy relate to Truth, either by relying on these about Truth, or implying these about Truth.
The classic suggestion comes from Aristotle (384-322 BCE), “To say of what is that it is, or what is not that it is not, True”. In other words, the world provided ‘what is ‘or ‘what is not’, and the Truth saying or thought corresponds to the fact so provided. This idea appeals to common sense. Gandhi called himself a seeker of Truth: “I am but a seeker of Truth. I claim to have found a way to it. I claim to be making a ceaseless effort to find it. But I admit that I have not yet found it. To find Truth completely is to realize oneself and one’s destiny i.e. to become perfect.”
Indeed, from first to last Truth (Satya) was sacred to Gandhi ~ the supreme value of ethics, politics and religion, the ultimate sources of authority of appeal. He regarded it as a ‘philosopher’s stone’, the sole talisman available to mortal man. Truth was ingrained in him to such an extent that he was unwilling to negotiate or compromise with anything, including freedom of the country. Truth needs to be inquired into again and again constantly, for no truth wears the same face at all the times. Gandhi’s life was nothing but experiments with truth.
Like all seekers of truth, Gandhi’s experiments with truth went on relentlessly in all fields of life: food, education, the manwoman relationship, brahmacharya or celibacy, health, therapy, the spinning wheel, religion, society, politics and struggle, and so on. And he recorded all these in his autobiography ~ The Story of My Experiments with Truth. Though he did not provide us a systematic account of reality regarding truth, one can find a systematic account in his experiences since childhood to adulthood, from India to South Africa and then again in India, in the national freedom struggle and his personal life, and in the course of his life, how he treaded the path of truth and how he remained firm in his resolve to adhere to truth all through his life.
In the last chapter of his autobiography, one of the most popular and the most influential books in recent history, Gandhi wrote: “My experiments are extremely valuable for me. I have always tried to present the Truth as I saw it and in the way I saw it.” Gandhi declared that truth is the substance of all morality and the essence of Dharma. He frequently quoted the famous Sanskrit proverb: “satyat nasti paro dharma”, i.e., there is no religion higher than truth, and regarded it as the basis of socio-political thought.
When Gandhi was returning from England at the conclusion of the discussions for the Gandhi-Irwin Pact (1931), while talking to some well-known French journalists, he made some remarks of profound significance. He said that he had at one time thought that God was Truth but had to change his mind for he now knew that Truth was God. He also added, “By my present affirmation, I have taken the wind out of sails of both scientists and atheists ~ they cannot say anything against me now because they too are seekers after Truth.”
Hence, as he had assigned such paramount importance to Truth, he cannot but be placed among the scientists of the world. However, it would be wrong to put Gandhi totally on par with scientists, for God was a great truth for him. His entire life and his daily conduct were soaked with God-consciousness and life would have been impossible for him without such total faith in the Almighty. His daily prayer, the singing of hymns, and similar activities were very important aspects of his personality. He was a highly devout Vaishnava and he used to say that he could pass many days without food, but not a single moment without prayer.
On the other hand, like every scientist, he was also a passionate, single-minded adherent and seeker after truth. His quest for truth did not slacken at any moment, not even when his life was at risk. Most people find it is difficult to interpret Gandhi owing to his Janus-like quality ~ two faces looking in seemingly different directions ~ of being at one time one of the world’s greatest scientists and revolutionaries and, at another, as a mere man of reaction and blind faith.
God has many names and forms and yet he is nameless and formless. Different devotees have different views of God. To some, God is named as All-loving; to some other devotees God is Shiva, to yet others , God is pure Shiva. There is also no limit to the wrongs perpetrated in the name of God and religion. That is why Gandhi felt it necessary to correct his view of God. He realized that everything would have to be tested on the touchstone of truth. In his own words, “Truth is satya. Satya is derived from Sat, which means being or that which exists. It is the Truth that exists or pervades all. This is akin to the omnipresence of God. Truth, therefore, is the essence of what we call God or Truth is perhaps the most important name of God.”
That is why Gandhi felt it necessary to correct his view of God. He changed his maxim ‘God is Truth’ to ‘Truth is God.’ Truth has to be discovered and established through truth itself. Hence Gandhi always laid stress on truthful means. The means, to him, had to be as true and pure as the end. However worthy and noble a cause might be, it had to be accomplished by worthy and noble means alone, and never by unfair means. He closely associated truth with non-violence. Satyagraha, the passion for truth, was the name given to the means.
It was in the course of the pursuit of truth that he discovered nonviolence, to quote his own words. To sum up, in the maxim of Gandhi ‘Truth is God’, the word ‘Truth’ is not substituted for ‘God’ but serves to elucidate what ‘God’ means for Gandhi. Gandhi’s Truth was also a unique combination of a personal style of life and a technique (Satyagraha) for tackling injustices. One of the rules or vows of his (Gandhi’s) Ashram was the strict adherence to Truth by inmates. His constant reminder to his followers, wherever he went, was that ‘Truth is a synonym for final beatitude.’
Gandhi said, “Truth is not only Relative Truth of our conception but the Absolute Truth, the Eternal Principle, that is God.” Thus, while Absolute Truth is God, the Relative Truth is something what we perceive as Truth. No proof is required to know the Absolute Truth because it is eternal and infinite. It ‘shines with its own light and is its own proof.’ Man can find it through his Inner Voice and Conscience. Relative Truth, on the other hand, is the only Truth we have as we are bound to the phenomenal world. It enables us to reach our goals.
Any reading of Gandhi would be incomplete without mention of the twin principles of Truth (Satya) and non-violence (Ahimsa). If there is anything Gandhi did not wish to change, it was his path of Truth and non-violence. He felt the path to be narrow and often like an edge of the sword but his constant treading on the right path made him the greatest votary of truth and non-violence in the history of mankind.
(The writer is a retired IAS officer)