Truth and Love

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By Mahatma Gandhi
From Teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, 1945
Editor’s Note
Gandhi here lays out in very clear terms, what it means to live out truth and love in opposition to lies and oppression. The clarity is wonderful, and shows that he lived what he taught. He does not speak as a theorist, making guesses, or hammering the jigsaw pieces of life into an unnatural order. Instead, the beauty of truth falls like the showers of rain.
I have also appended a few further thoughts at the end of this article, since we professing Christians often do not understand that these same principles that Gandhi was speaking about, are also the principles of Christ.

Introduction

TRUTH is like a banyan tree with innumerable branches. Civil disobedience is one such branch. Truth and Love together make the parent trunk from which all innumerable branches shoot out.

We have found by bitter experience that while in an atmosphere of lawlessness, civil disobedience found ready acceptance, Truth and Love from which alone civil disobedience can worthily spring have commanded little or no respect.

Ours then is a herculian task, but we may not shirk it. We must fearlessly spread the doctrine of Satya [Truth] and Ahimsa [Innocence] and then and not till then, shall we be able to undertake mass Satyagraha. Young India, May 1, 1919.

Definition

FOR the past thirty years I have been preaching and practicing Satyagraha. The principles of Satyagraha, as I know it today, constitute a gradual evolution. The term Satyagraha was coined by me in South Africa to express the force that the Indians there used for full eight years, and it was coined in order to distinguish it from the movement, then going on in the United Kingdom and South Africa under the name of Passive Resistance. Its root meaning is holding on to truth; hence, Truth-force. I have also called it Love-force or Soul-force.

Application

In the application of Satyagraha I discovered in the earliest stages that pursuit of truth did not admit of violence being inflicted on one’s opponent but that he must be weaned from error by patience and sympathy. For what appears to be truth to the one may appear to be error to the other. And patience means self-suffering. So the doctrine came to mean vindication of truth not by infliction of suffering on the opponent, but one’s own self.

Satyagraha differs from Passive Resistance as the North Pole from the South. The latter has been conceived as a weapon of the weak and does not exclude the use of physical force or violence for the purpose of gaining one’s end; whereas the former has been conceived as a weapon of the strongest and excludes the use of violence in any shape or form.

Examples

When Daniel disregarded the laws of the Medes and Persians which offended his conscience and meekly suffered the punishment for his disobedience, he offered Satyagraha in its purest form.

Socrates would not refrain from preaching what he knew to be the truth to the Athenian youth, and bravely suffered the punishment of death. He was in this case, a Satyagrahi.

Prahlad disregarded the orders of his father because he considered them to be repugnant to his conscience. He uncomplainingly and cheerfully bore the tortures to which he was subjected at the instance of his father.

Mirabai, who is said to have offended her husband by following her own conscience was content to live in separation from him and bore with quiet dignity and resignation all the injuries that are said to have been done to her in order to bend her to her husband’s will.

Both Prahlad and Mirabai practiced Satyagraha. It must be remembered, that neither Daniel nor Socrates, neither Prahlad nor Mirabai had any ill-will towards their prosecutors. Daniel and Socrates are regarded as having been model citizens of the States to which they belonged, Prahlad a model son, Mirabai a model wife.

An Extension of the Law of the Family

This doctrine of Satyagraha is not new; it is merely an extension of the rule of domestic life to the political. Family disputes and differences are generally settled according to the law of love. The injured member has so much regard for the others that he suffers injury for the sake of his principles without retaliating and without being angry with those who differ from him. And as repression of anger, self-suffering are difficult processes he does not dignify trifles into principles, but, in all non-essentials, readily agrees with the rest of the family and thus contrives to gain the maximum of peace for himself without disturbing that of the others. Thus his action, whether he resists or resigns, is always calculated to promote the common welfare of the family.

It is this law of love which, silently but surely governs the family for the most part throughout the civilized world. I feel that nations cannot be one in reality nor can their activities be conducive to the common good of the whole humanity, unless there is this definition and acceptance of the law of the family in national and international affairs, in other words, on the political platform. Nations can be called civilized, only to the extent that they obey this law.

Not Love Without Truth

This law of love is nothing but a law of truth. Without truth there is no love; without truth it maybe affection, as for one’s country to the injury of others; or infatuation, as of a young man for a girl; or love may be unreasoning and blind as of ignorant parents for their children. Love transcends all animality and is never partial.

Satyagraha has, therefore, been described as a coin, on whose face you read love and on the reverse you read truth. It is a coin current everywhere and has indefinable value. Satyagraha is self-dependent, it does not require the assent of the opponent before it can be brought into play. Indeed it shines out most when the opponent resists. It is, therefore, irresistible.

No Fear of Death

A Satyagrahi does not know what defeat is for he fights for truth without being exhausted. Death in the fight is a deliverance, and prison, a gate-way to liberty. It is called also soul-force, because a definite recognition of the soul within is a necessity, if a Satyagrahi is to believe that death does not mean cessation of struggle, but a culmination.

The body is merely a vehicle for self-expression; and he gladly gives up the body, when its existence is an obstruction in the way of the opponent seeing the truth, for which the Satyagrahi stands. He gives up the body in the certain faith that if anything would change his opponent’s view, a willing sacrifice of his body must do so. And with the knowledge that the soul survives the body, he is not impatient to see the triumph of truth in the present body. Indeed, victory lies in the ability to die in the attempt to make the opponent see the truth which the Satyagrahi for the time being expresses.

Self-Sacrifice Gives Double Blessing

And as a Satyagrahi never injures his opponent and always appeals, either to his reason by gentle argument, or his heart by the sacrifice of self, Satyagraha is twice blessed, it blesses him who practices it, and him against whom it is practiced. It has, however, been objected that Satyagraha, as we conceive it, can he practiced only by a select few. My experience proves the contrary. Once its simple principles: adherence to truth and insistence upon it by self-suffering are understood, anybody can practice it. It is as difficult or as easy to practice as any other virtue.

It is as little necessary for its practice that everyone should understand the whole philosophy of it, as it is for the practice of total abstinence. After all, no one disputes the necessity of insisting on truth as one sees it. And it is easy enough to understand that it is vulgar to attempt to compel the opponent to its acceptance by using brute force; it is discreditable to submit to error because argument has failed to convince, and that the only true and honorable course is not to submit to it even at the cost of one’s life. Then only can the world be purged of error, if it ever can be altogether.

Dealing with Unjust Laws

There can be no compromise with error where it hurts the vital being. But, on the political field, the struggle on behalf of the people mostly consists in opposing error in the shape of unjust laws. When you have failed to bring the error home to the lawgiver by way of petitions and the like, the only remedy open to you, if you do not wish to submit to it, is to compel him to retrace his steps by suffering in your own person, i.e., by inviting the penalty for the breach of the law. Hence, Satyagraha largely appears to the public as civil disobedience or civil resistance.

It is civil in the sense that it is not criminal. The criminal, i.e., the ordinary law-breaker breaks the law surreptitiously and tries to avoid the penalty; not so the civil resister. He ever obeys the laws of the State to which he belongs, not out of fear of the sanctions, but because he considers them to be good for the welfare of society.

But there come occasions, generally rare when he considers certain laws to be so unjust as to render obedience to them a dishonor, he then openly and civilly breaks them and quietly suffers the penalty for their breach. And in order to register his protest against the action of the law-giver, it is open to him to withdraw his cooperation from the State by disobeying such other laws whose breach does not involve moral turpitude.

In my opinion, the beauty and efficacy of Satyagraha are so great and the doctrine so simple that it can be preached even to children.
(From the Report of the Commissioners appointed by the Indian National Congress)


Editor’s Further Comments

By Frank Zimmerman

From a Christian point of view, “Love to God” and “love to man” sum up the essence of man’s duty.

A Wrong Concept

I have been surprised to find that many Christians consider Gandhi’s views to be “non-Christian” because of the practice of “non-violent resistance” which he used against the oppressive British rule. They think that the Christian’s duty is just to “turn the other cheek” and that therefore, a Christian should have done nothing that was in any way against the government, unless the government made a law that conflicted with their idea of their duty to God. To put it briefly, they felt that Christians should only protest or disobey the government when it attempts to enforce or restrict the worship of God.

If this were really true, then Christianity would be a very selfish religion indeed, being only concerned to protect “me and my relationship to God.”

The Case of Moses

In that case, Moses could well have just stayed in the wilderness, since the oppression in Egypt was not affecting his right to worship God as he chose. As for his suffering kinsfolk, well, they could just “turn the other cheek.”

To this, one could argue, “But God sent Moses!” True, God did send him, but what about Moses? Was he just a “mind-my-own-business” kind of person, who suddenly got called to do something he had never even thought about? Not at all. Moses had been trained for his task ever since he was a baby. He was longing to deliver his people from oppression and took every advantage to train himself for his future role. The “deliverance from Egypt” was not just God’s idea, it was Moses’ passion as well.

What does this teach us? That God needs people to work through in dealing with the oppression that Satan exercises through ignorant or deceived men on this earth: intelligent, committed, passionate (and compassionate) people, who burn with a desire to see freedom and the rights and dignities of men restored and preserved, especially those rights won through the sacrifice of Christ in the gospel.

Turning the Other Cheek

So what does this mean, “turn the other cheek”? Did Gandhi fail to do this? Not at all. It is stated very clearly in a number of places in the above article:

“He gives up the body in the certain faith that if anything would change his opponent’s view, a willing sacrifice of his body must do so.”

“The injured member has so much regard for the others that he suffers injury for the sake of his principles without retaliating and without being angry with those who differ from him.”

When Christ used this phrase, “turn the other cheek” he was speaking especially towards the Jews and their relationship to others, especially the Roman rulers. This rulership was mostly hated and despised by a large part of the Jews, and they longed to have their freedom back as an independent nation. But Jesus was clearly holding forth the same principle as Gandhi. In essence, he was telling them:

“If you have love for others, but cannot agree with their oppression, you will serve them where you conscientiously can, and where you cannot, you will resist non-violently, and with no revenge in your heart.”

Matthew 5
39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

When Jesus said “resist not evil” he was not saying to give in to evil and let it control you! He was saying don’t fight it with violence. Fight it instead with the power of love. This is how he fought and overcame evil when he was taken to the cross. He himself then lived what he taught. He was beaten, whipped, mocked, spit upon, and crucified. But through it all, he would not change his course, but remained triumphant, having an unbroken spirit. Never once did a revengeful, selfish, or impatient word arise in his heart.

Loving Others in the Face of Unjust Laws

Now again, how does this affect the command to love others as myself? In the past, many Christians have supposed that we have nothing to do with civil issues, our work is to preach the gospel and minister to the needy. But can one truly “love their neighbor” while cooperating with oppressive laws that remove the rights of the same neighbor?

In practical terms: What would a Christian do with respect to Jews in Nazi Germany? What would a Christian do in early America, where slavery was legal?

It may not be possible to give a specific answer, because a Christian must be guided by God, as was Moses. But it should be clear that “loving my neighbor” would mean that I would desire their best good, even above my own. Therefore, a Christian could never sit around satisfied, while others are being abused by unrighteous and prejudiced laws.

Since I am an Adventist, I will give two examples from that tradition, where Adventist Christians were urged to be involved in seemingly civil matters, because of their connection with moral issues:

1. The Temperance Reform

In the late 1800’s, temperance, or prohibition of alcohol, was being brought to the vote of the American people. Ellen White, prophet and spokesperson for Adventism, had this to say:

There is a cause for the moral paralysis upon society. Our laws sustain an evil which is sapping their very foundations. Many deplore the wrongs which they know exist, but consider themselves free from all responsibility in the matter. This cannot be. Every individual exerts an influence in society. In our favored land every voter has some voice in determining what laws shall control the nation. Should not that influence and vote be on the side of temperance and virtue?

The advocates of temperance fail to do their whole duty unless they exert their influence, by precept and example, by voice and pen and vote, in behalf of prohibition and total abstinence. We need not expect that God will work a miracle to bring about this reform, and thus remove the necessity for our exertion. We ourselves must grapple this giant foe, our motto, “No compromise,” and no cessation of our efforts till victory is gained. (Pamphlet: The Temperance Work, 1908)

2. The Slavery Issue

In the early to mid-1800’s, the matter of Slavery was being agitated. Ellen White wrote the following counsel:

The law of our land requiring us to deliver a slave to his master, we are not to obey; and we must abide the consequences of violating this law. The slave is not the property of any man. God is his rightful master, and man has no right to take God’s workmanship into his hands, and claim him as his own. (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, p. 202)

The phrase bolded in the above quote is completely in harmony with everything Gandhi taught and lived for. Truth and Love do not change from age to age.