Gandhi's Views On Religion
Religion Vs. No Religion
A correspondent writes:
"In the Harijanbandhu of the 5th May
you have written that your non-violence contemplates destruction of animals
dangerous to mankind, such as leopards, wolves, snakes, scorpions etc.
"You do not believe in giving food
to dogs etc. Several other people besides the Gujaratis look upon the feeding of
dogs as a meritorious act. Such a belief may not be justifiable in times of food
shortage like the present. Yet we must remember that these animals can be very
useful to man. One can feed them and take work out of them.
"You had put 27 questions to Shri
Raichandbhai from Durban. One of these questions was: What should a seeker do
when a snake attacks him? His answer was: He should not kill the snake and, if
it bites, he should let to do so. How is it that you speak differently now?"
I have written a lot on this subject
in the past. At that time the topic vas the killing of rabid dogs. There was
much discussion on the subject but all that seems to have been forgotten.
My non-violence is not merely
kindness to all living creatures. The emphasis laid on the sacredness of
sub-human life in Jainism is Understandable. But that can never mean that one is
to be kind to this life in preference to human life. While writing about the
sacredness of such life, I take it that the sacredness of human life has been
taken for granted. The former has been overemphasized. And, while putting it
into practice, the idea has undergone distortion. For instance, there are many
who derive complete satisfaction in feeding ants. It would appear that the
theory has become a wooden, lifeless dogma. Hypocrisy and distortion re passing
current under the name of religion.
Ahimsa is the highest ideal. It is
meant for the brave, never for the
cowardly. To benefit by others'
killing and delude oneself into the belief that one is being very religious and
non-violent is sheer self-deception.
A so-called votary of non-violence
will not stay in a village which is visited by a leopard everyday. He will run
away and, when someone has killed the leopard, will return to take charge of his
hearth and home. This is not non-violence. This is a coward's violence. The man
who has killed the leopard has at least given proof of some bravery. The man who
takes advantage of the killing is a coward. He can never expect to know true
In life it is impossible to eschew
violence completely. The question arises, where is one to draw the line? The
line cannot be the same for everyone. Although essentially the principle is the
same, yet, everyone applies it in his or her own way. What is one man's food can
be another's poison. Meat-eating is a sin for me. Yet, for another person, who
has always lived on meat and never seen anything wrong in it, to give it up
simply in order to copy me will be a sin.
If I wish to be an agriculturist and
stay in the jungle, I will have to use the minimum unavoidable violence in order
to protect my fields. I will have to kill monkeys, birds and insects which eat
up my crops. If I do not wish to do so myself, I will have to engage someone to
do it for me. There is not much difference between the two. To allow crops to be
eaten up by animals in the name of ahimsa while there is a famine in the land is
certainly a sin. Evil and good are relative terms. What is good under certain
conditions can become an evil or a sin under a different set of conditions.
Man is not to drown himself in the
well of Shastras but he is to dive in their broad ocean and bring out pearls. At
every step he has to use his discrimination as to what is ahimsa and what is
himsa. In this there is no room for shame or cowardice. The poet has said that
the road leading up to God is for the brave, never for the cowardly. Finally,
Raichandbhai's advice to me was that if I had courage, if I wanted to see God
face to face, I should let myself be bitten by a snake instead of killing it. I
have never killed a snake before or after receiving that letter. That is no
matter of credit for me. My ideal is to be able to play with snakes and
scorpions fearlessly. But it is merely a wish so far. Whether and when it will
be realized I do not know. Everywhere I have let my people kill both. I could
have prevented them if I had wished. But how could I? I did not have the courage
to take them up with my own hands and teach my companions a lesson in
fearlessness. I am ashamed that I could not do so. But my shame could not
benefit them or me.
If Ramanama favours me I might still
attain that courage some day. In the meantime, I consider it my duty to act as I
have stated above. Religion is a thing to be lived. It is not mere sophistry.
By M. K. Gandhi