By M. K. Gandhi
(M. K. Gandhi, better known as "Mahatma" (great soul) Gandhi, is the famous non-co-operative leader of India, whose doctrine of "soul-force" as against military force, has won the admiration of the entire world, and has also accomplished many practical reforms in India's industrial, political and social life.)
I call myself a Sanatani Hindu, because:
(1) I believe in the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Puranas and all that goes by the name Hindu scriptures, and therefore in Avataras (divine incarnation) and re-birth.
(2) I believe in the Varnashrama Dharma, (caste-system in the ancient sense of division of vocations, according to merit) in a sense, in my opinion, strictly Vedic but not in its present popular and crude sense.
(3) I believe in the protection of the cow in its much larger sense than the popular.
(4) I do not disbelieve in idol-worship.
The reader will note that I have purposely refrained from using the word divine origin in reference to the Vedas or any other scriptures. For I do not believe in the exclusive divinity of the Vedas. I believe the Bible, the Koran, and the Zend Avesta to be as much divinely inspired as the Vedas. My belief in the Hindu scriptures does not require me to accept every word and every verse as divinely inspired. Nor do I claim to have any firsthand knowledge of these wonderful books. But I do claim to know and feel the truths of the essential teaching of the scriptures . . . . I believe in the institution of Gurus, but in this age ...millions must go without a Guru, because it is a rare thing to find a combination of perfect purity and perfect learning. But one need not despair of ever knowing the truth of one's religion, because the fundamentals of Hinduism— as of every great religion— are unchangeable, and easily understood. Every Hindu believes in God and His oneness, in rebirth and salvation . . . .
I do not believe that inter-dining or even inter-marriage —necessarily deprives a man of his status that his birth has given him. The four divisions define a man's calling, they do not restrict or regulate social intercourse. The divisions define duties; they confer no privileges. It is, I hold, against the genius of Hinduism to arrogate to oneself a higher status or assign to another a lower. All are born to serve God's creation ...a Brahman with his knowledge, a Kshatriya with his power of protection, a Vaishya with his commercial ability and a Shudra with bodily labor. This, however, does not mean that a Brahman for instance is absolved from bodily labor or the duty of protecting himself and others. His birth makes a Brahman predominantly a man of knowledge, the fittest by heredity and training to impart it to others. There is nothing, again, to prevent the Shudra from acquiring all the knowledge he wishes. Only, he will best serve with his body and need not envy others their special qualities for service. But a Brahman who claims superiority by right of knowledge —falls and has no knowledge. And so with the others who pride themselves upon their special qualities. Varnashrama (the four divisions of Hindu society) is self-restraint and conservation and economy of energy.
Though, therefore, Varnashrama is not affected by inter-dining or inter-marriage, Hinduism does most emphatically discourage inter-dining and inter-marriage between divisions. Hinduism reached the highest limit of self-restraint. It is undoubtedly a religion of renunciation of the flesh —so that the spirit may be set free. It is no part of a Hindu's duty to dine with his son. And by restricting his choice of a bride to a particular group, he exercises rare self-restraint. Hinduism does not regard a marriage state as by any means essential for salvation. Marriage is a 'fall' even as birth is a 'fall.' Salvation is freedom from birth and hence death also. Prohibition against inter-marriage and inter-dining is essential for a rapid evolution of soul. But this self-denial is no test of Varna. A Brahman may remain a Brahman, though he may dine with his Shudra brother, if he has not left off his duty of service by knowledge. It follows from what I have said above, that restraint in matters of marriage and dining is not based upon notions of superiority.
The central fact of Hinduism, however, is cow-protection. Cow-protection to me is one of the most wonderful phenomena in human evolution. It takes the human being beyond his species. The cow to me means the entire sub-human world. Man, through the cow, is enjoined to realize his identity with all that lives. Why the cow was selected for apotheosis, is obvious to me. The cow was in India the best comparison. She was the giver of plenty. Not only did she give milk, but she also made agriculture possible. The cow is a poem of pity. One reads pity in the gentle animal. She is the mother to millions of Indian mankind. Protection of the cow means protection of the whole dumb creation of God. The ancient seer, whoever he was, began with the cow. The appeal of the lower order of creation is all the more forcible because it is speechless. Cow-protection is the gift of Hinduism to the world. And Hinduism will live so long as there are Hindus to protect the cow. . .
I can no more describe my feeling for Hinduism than for my own wife. She moves me as no other woman in the world can. Not that she has no faults. I dare say she has many more than I see myself. But the feeling of an indissoluble bond is there. Even so I feel for and about Hinduism with all its faults and limitations. Nothing delights me so much as the music of the Gita or the Ramayana by Tulsidas, the only two books in Hinduism I may be said to know. When I fancied I was taking my last breath, the Gita was my solace. . . . . I am a reformer through and through, but my zeal never takes me to the rejection of any of the essential things of Hinduism. I have said I do not disbelieve in idol worship. An idol does not excite any feeling of veneration in me. But I think that idol worship is part of human nature. We hanker after symbolism. Why should one be more composed in a church than elsewhere? Because Images are an aid to worship. No Hindu considers an image to be God. I do not consider idol worship a sin.
It is clear from the foregoing that Hinduism is not an exclusive religion. In it there is room for the worship of all the prophets of the world. It is not a missionary religion in the ordinary sense of the term. It has no doubt absorbed many tribes in its fold, but this absorption has been of an evolutionary imperceptible character. Hinduism tells everyone to worship God according to his own faith or Dharma, and so it lives at peace with all the religions.
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