Saturday, February 24, 2018

Gandhi on the authority of the shastras

 From the digital version of the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi:


When I was in Kashi, three questions were sent to me on behalf of the Kashi Pundit Sabha. I considered it my duty to answer these questions, but I did not then have time to do so. Later the questions lay in my file. I could not attend to them during my tour either. Now I am cleaning up my file. The questions are:
1. How can a sanatani Hindu who is well versed in the doctrines of sanatana dharma and accepts the Vedas and the smritis based on them as an infallible authority, contend that there is no untouchability in Hinduism or lend his support to freely mixing with untouchables, excepting on the occasions enumerated in the well-known verse: “In religious processions, marriages, emergencies, rebellions and in all festivals, contact with untouchables does not polllute”? 

2. Your work is among the people of India who are predominantly sanatana dharmis and who implicitly believe in the Gita dictum: “Let the Shastras, therefore, be they authority in deciding what is to be done and what is to be shunned.” How can you then effectively carry on the work of eradicating untouchability till you have proved that this work is in conformity with the Shastras? 

3. The Muslim Ulemas are firmly convinced that there is merit in killing all those who follow any religion other than Islam for they are Kaffirs, and that Muslims can mingle with them only when they accept Islam. So long as all Muslims are under the influence of these Ulemas, how can Hindus make friends with Muslims while protecting the Hindu dharma? 

The pundits should not expect a very learned answer from me. I shall humbly try to answeer the questions as best I can on the basis of dharma and Shastras as I have understood them from my own experience. 

The shrutis and smritis do not become scriptures merely because they are known by these respectable names. Whatever goes against the eternal principles of truth, etc., cannot be religious. Manusmriti and similar treatises put before us seem to be different today from what they were in their original form, as they contain some contradictory statements. In them are found statements that go against morality and reason. Having regard to the spirit of the shruti granthas, untouchability would indeed seem to be a sin. What I have said about untouchability is this: “There is no sanction in the Shastras for untouchability as we know it today.” In this statement and the one the pundits have put into my mouth, there is a vast difference. Even if we accept the current smritis as our authority, we do not find in them any basis for untouchability as it is practised today. Even if we accept what the pundits have quoted as authority, three-fourths of our work is done. “Religious processions, marriages, emergencies, rebellions and festivals” are with us even today. Why do the pundits publicly support untouchability when the smritis say that when any of the circumstances obtain, untouchability should not be observed? 
There is no need for me to answer the second question any further. I have made it clear that for my purpose the statement of the pundits is enough. Let us now consider what may be called a Shastra. I have said above that if we treated every work written in Sanskrit as a Shastra then virtue could be proved to be sin and sin, virtue. Thus in the language of the Gita, Shastra can only mean, if the meaning is to be acceptable to reason, the utterances of a sthitaprajna1. Therefore, if the pundits wish to lead the people on the right path, along with learning they should also have a steadfast intellect, and they should give up passion and ill will. Till the pundits strive hard, do tapas and become the brahmabhutas2 of the Gita an ordinary person like me will have no other alternative than to serve the people in the light of his experience. 

That leaves the third question. In my humble opinion the pundits have only betrayed their ignorance in asking such a question. It is neither a teaching of Islam to kill the people who belong to other religions nor do the Ulemas have any such desire. All the Muslims are not under their control either. Nothing except the purity of the Hindus can save Hinduism. It is only oneself that can save oneself. According to the saying “if you are good the world will be good” it is our duty to live in amity with all. At any rate my experience teaches me only this.
[From Hindi]
Hindi Navajivan, 11-7-1929