Graffiti of Mahatma Gnadhi, San Francisco, USA
In this essay, Mahatma Gandhi, India’s ‘Father of the Nation’ talks simply and in direct terms about why he is proud to be a Hindu. Here he explains his concept of Hinduism or ‘Sanatana Dharma’ – why it is not an ‘exclusive’ religion and ‘the most glorious religion in the world.’
I had practiced Hinduism from early childhood. My nurse had taught me to invoke Rama when I feared evil spirits. Later on, I had come in contact with Christians, Muslims and others, and after making a fair study of other religions, had stuck to Hinduism.
I am as firm in my faith today as in my early childhood. I believe god would make me an instrument of saving the religion that I love, cherish and practice. In any case, one has to have constant practice and acquaintance with the fundamentals of religion before being qualified for becoming god’s instrument.
It has been whispered that by being so much with Musalman friends I make myself unfit to know the Hindu mind. The Hindu mind is myself. Surely I do not need to live amidst Hindus to know the Hindu mind when every fiber of my being is Hindu. My Hinduism must be a very poor thing if it cannot flourish under influences of the most adverse. I know instinctively what is necessary for Hinduism. As my instinct is wholly Hindu, I know that what I am about to say will be acceptable to the vast mass of the Hindus.
My Hinduism is not sectarian. It includes all that I know to be best in Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and Zoroastrianism. I approach politics, as everything else, in a religious spirit. Truth is my religion and ahimsa is the only way of its realization. I have rejected once and for all the doctrine of the sword. My position is and has been clear. I am proud of being a Hindu, but I have never gone to anybody as a Hindu to secure Hindu-Muslim unity. My Hinduism demands no pacts. I am no politician in the accepted sense.
It is because I am sanatani (orthodox) Hindu that I claim to be a Christian, a Buddhist and a Muslim. Some Muslim friends also feel that I have no right to read Arabic verses from the Koran, but such (people) do not know that true religion transcends language and scripture. I do not see any reason why I should not read the Kalma, why I should not praise Allah and why I should not acclaim Muhammad as his prophet. I believe in all the great prophets and saints of every religion.
I shall continue to ask god to give me strength not to be angry with my accusers, but to be prepared even to die at their hands without wishing them ill. I claim that Hinduism is all-inclusive and I am sure that if I live up to my convictions, I shall have served not only Hinduism but Islam also. There is mention of terrible punishments in the Bhagavatam, the Manu Smriti and the Vedas. Yet the central teaching of the Hindu religion is that mercy of kindness is the essence of all religion.
I want you to bear in mind what Tulsidas has said: “Good and bad, all men are the creation of god. The man of god picks up the good and discards the bad like the proverbial swan which is able to drink the milk and leave behind water, when a mixture of water and milk is placed before it.”
I am proud to belong to that Hinduism which is all inclusive and which stands for tolerance. Aryan scholars swore by what they called the Vedic religion and Hindustan is otherwise known as ‘Aryavarta.’ I have no such aspiration.
The Hindustan of my conception is all-sufficing for me. It certainly includes the Vedas, but it includes also much more. I can detect no inconsistency in declaring that I can, without in any way whatsoever impairing the dignity of Hinduism, pay equal homage to the best of Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Judaism. Such Hinduism will live as long as the sun shines.
Tulsidas has summed it up in one doha (couplet): “The root of religion is embedded in mercy, whereas egotism is rooted in love of the body.” Tulsi says that mercy should never be abandoned, even though the body perishes.
Hinduism is not an exclusive religion. In it there is room for the worship of all prophets in 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 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 religions.
Though I call myself a sanatani Hindu, I am proud of the fact that the late Imam Saheb of South Africa accompanied me to India on his return and died in the Sabarmati ashram. His daughter and son-in-law are still at Sabarmati. Am I to throw them overboard? My Hinduism teaches me to respect all religions. In this lies the secret of Rama Raj.
The die is cast for me. The common factor of all religions is non-violence. Some inculcate more of it than others; all agree that you can never have too much of it. We must be sure, however, that it is non-violence and not a cloak for cowardice. Hinduism with its message of ahimsa is to me the most glorious religion in the world — as my wife to me is the most beautiful woman in the world — but others may feel the same about their own religion.
Religion is outraged when an outrage is perpetrated in its name. Almost all the riots in the unhappy land take place in the name of religion, though they might have a political motive behind them. There is no room for goondaism in any religion worth the name, be it Islam, Hinduism or any other.
If religion dies, then India dies. Today, the Hindus and the Muslims are clinging to the husk of religion. They have gone mad. But I hope that all this is froth, that all this scum has come to the surface, as happens when the waters of two rivers meet. Everything appears muddy on top and underneath is crystal clear and calm. The scum goes to the sea of itself, and the rivers mingle and flow clear and pure.