Looking with Gandhi at Advancing Common Sense: The Necessity of Devotion, and the Role of Death
SPIRITUALITY, 17 Aug 2015
“Individual liberty is allowed to man only to a certain extent. He cannot forget that he is a social being and his liberty has to be curtailed at every step.” – Gandhi[i] (Common Sense, the Social Aspect of Conscience)
Human civilization shares a great commonality of understanding that transcends religions, creeds, cultures, and politics: our common sense. To advance common sense is the socially functioning aspect of our conscience. Behind every exercise of common sense is a tie to conscience. The role of conscience in advancing common sense, is to seek the fulfillment of love from within us, for all life.
For example, corporate person-hood: common sense tells us that a business is not a human being, and does not deserve the rights of a human being. Furthermore, a real person is accountable for their actions. The anonymity of corporate person-hood means that no specific person(s) is responsible for corporate actions. Common sense sees no person who can take accountability. Conscience finds the role of business is to serve the welfare of society. Greed at the expense of other people’s welfare is hurtful for genuine harmony, peace, and the fulfillment of love.
Another example: in homes with refrigeration, milk is not left out in the kitchen to warm. Common sense tells us it will spoil. Spoiling the milk is wasting resources. Conscience tells us that resources are given to sustain life, and to neglect what sustains our life, goes against our conscience.
It is our common sense that creates the mores and folkways that make up the unspoken rules and duties of relationships that operate in our respective cultural and social settings. It informs our public mind.
Intangible, collectively our common sense can be a powerful force to hold societal peace and social harmony in place. These mostly unspoken influences in turn create the moral atmosphere we live in, that our children imbibe, like the air we breathe. Our thoughts and thinking do pervade the air. The atmosphere of an office is entirely different from a concert hall.
Public assertion and exercise of our common sense is a powerful force in character formation; it can promote community cohesion, either in integrating and advancing ways (as seen in dissolving racial or political divides), or, if stunted in growth, in ways that can lead to social stagnation (as seen in rigid or feudal systems of social ordering, like the evils practiced by the caste system in India).
Our common sense is served, honored, and advanced by our individual exercise of our heart-felt sense of duty, decency, by our increasing integration of ourselves with all life. This unvoiced reality, inherent in all people, is addressed through laws, treaties, declarations, and often through some local ordinances.
For example, in Portugal, one ordinance allows neighbors to report one another to the police for making loud noises after 9:00 PM (21:00) at night. This ordinance protects the common sense view in that part of the world that a quiet night time is a social necessity. In many places on the planet there are ordinances to protect the body and spirit’s need for peace and quiet.
Conversely, commonly held beliefs can appear to be common sense. Examination of the reason and outcome of any common sensibility will show whether it is conditioned by the advancement or stagnation of its growth in harmony with conscience. The issues of crime and punishment are often arenas were common sense can assert itself in either advanced or stagnant ways: death penalty or not? Not always is our common sense in line with conscience. Powerful forces of conditioning, can stagnate the growth of advancing common sense. Family members may feel that killing a daughter to preserve family honour is a common sense course of action.
In Portugal too, unlike the USA, drug use is not a crime. It is a problem for the individual that has come about by a lack of integrated understanding. Drug abusers are given meaningful counseling, not jail sentences. Drug related crimes are very low in Portugal. Commonly held conditioning in the US may find it a crime. Common sense in Portugal may see it as a problem needing help. The Portuguese stance is compassionate. The US stance, punishing.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is perhaps one of the finest documents ever produced that directly seeks to protect and foster the advancement of our common sense all over the planet. From this we can see that all that promotes the fulfillment of love towards one another is our advancing common sense. The compassionate and practical stance of Portugal towards drug users becomes an example of advancing common sense, whilst the US stance of punishment, has led to the stagnation of common sense. Stagnating common sense leads to social confusion, doubt, and the inability to be true to conscience.
We BE only to the extent of Being Truthful
Conscience opens a door to the source of ourselves within us. We are made of moral fibre that is more everlasting than steel. This fibre is truth. We are spiritual beings, as our departure from the scenes here shows us, clothed in mind stuff, feelings, and flesh, blood, bone. Gandhi had no illusions about our time here:
“Man in the flesh is essentially imperfect. He may be described as being in the image of God, but he is far from being God.”[ii]
Most, if not all that is exceedingly precious to us, is intangible. Gandhi noted:
“God also is in us. We do not see the air in our body, but we have another physical sense with which we can feel it. Is it not an arrogant claim to lay down a law that there is nothing beyond the five senses? Who does not feel that there are mysteries impenetrable by reason?…the mystery of Creation and death is itself a living demonstration of the supernatural. It will be time enough to scoff at it when man has by his reason succeeded in creating life.”[iii]
Gandhi prized the liberty that the originality of common sense and conscience gives to each individual, and never allowed his philosophical quest for harmony with his conscience to be confined to dogmas or dictums of any particular religion, culture, or society.
Our individuality, although precious to us personally, must be understood in its rightful and deeper point of connection. To have a truly successful life, we must find and know ourselves in the integration of all life. Gandhi saw through bonds of empathy, practical caring and love, was the potential for unity with all life. He said in a letter:
“What is the aim of life? It is to know the Self. In the words of Narasinha Mehta[iv], `So long as the essence of the Self is not realized, all our efforts are in vain.’ This realization of the Self, or Self-knowledge, is not possible until one has achieved unity with all living beings—has become one with God. To accomplish such a unity implies deliberate sharing of the suffering of others and the eradication of such suffering.”[v]
Gandhi’s philosophical quest for truth was to dominate his entire adult life, and is seen in every effort he made to reform himself and to influence his environment; through politics, education, writing, community life, economics, nature cure, or diet; to name a few arenas he addressed in his time. He had no difficulty in honestly acknowledging his ignorance:
We are humble creatures before God. We have the power to crush an ant and that makes us arrogant; whereas God has a thousand times more power to crush us like ants and He does exercise that power on occasion. This action of His is, however, not violence, because He is omniscient and an ocean of compassion. Since we cannot pierce His mystery, we call Him the creator, preserver and destroyer of the world. He, in fact neither creates nor preserves nor destroys. We know not what law governs our birth, life and death. Whatever it is, as long as we desire to live, it is our natural and inescapable duty to help others to live.[vi]
Gandhi was able to advance common sense through reform of superstitious thinking, and negative social practices. The example of his life elevated obedience to conscience as a universal mandate for all human behaviour. In so doing, he cleared common sense out of the stagnation that it was mired in, in India, regarding the unequal treatment of human beings and the socialized acceptance of human suffering and socio-economic inequality. Because of he clung to truth at all costs, sacrificing the favourable opinions of society, associates and family, he has come to stand for truth. He had identified himself as being the moral fibre of truth within him. This is what happens when we can fully embrace our ideals. In this vein he was to say:
Here Truth should be given a wider connotation. It is something living. This Truth that is God and the laws of God are not distinct from one another but are the same thing. Hence, Truth, too, is a living thing. Thus it means the same thing to say that this world is governed by Truth or by God’s laws. There is infinite power in that Truth…You will, therefore, understand what I mean by God if you read Truth wherever the word God occurs.[vii]
In the following, the concept of truth as being what we really are, is succinctly expressed by him:
…in `God is Truth’, it certainly does not mean equal to nor does it merely mean is truthful. Truth is not a mere attribute of God but He is That. He is nothing if He is not That. Truth in Sanskrit means Sat. Sat means `Is’. Therefore Truth is implied in Is. God is, nothing else is. Therefore the more truthful we are, the nearer we are to God. We are only to the extent that we are truthful.[viii]
Through his unceasing effort Gandhi was able to bring into planetary awareness the moral rightness of viewing the ideals of truth and love as the purpose and fulfilment of human life. Truth, conscience, common sense, God – Gandhi saw this inherent reality as both the duty and goal of life. He stated:
A man has only one enemy and only one friend; and that is himself. These are not my words but of all the Shastras.[ix] A person becomes his own enemy when he deceives himself. He becomes his own friend when he puts himself in the hands of the God who is within him.[x]
Gandhi’s growing trust in truth within
In our day to day dealings with one another we operate on the basis of an unseen trust. Trust that our universal and inherent common sense will ensure respectful relations with one another. Our simple human trust in one another guides the norms of behaviour that we consider acceptable or rejectable. Like a sincere smile, beckoning a mutually acknowledged welcome and friendship, trust is necessary for even the most ordinary social functioning in our daily undertakings.
As he aged, Gandhi arrived at a point where he often witnessed himself going through events, a bystander to the actions of his own life force. In 1946, in a speech in Shimla, he gave this testimony which portrays a little of what it is like to cast off worries for the future or the past, to live in a relationship of genuine trust with the truth within ourselves:
I did not know that I would have to come to Shimla this time. If we have faith in God we simply would not care to know beforehand how He may dispose of us. It is enough for us to hold ourselves perfectly in readiness for whatever happens. We are not allowed to know what tomorrow has in store for us and our best conceived plans have a knack very often of going awry. The highest wisdom, therefore, is never to worry about the future but to resign ourselves entirely to His will.[xi]
As Gandhi’s fidelity and trust in his conscience became clearer, the stagnation or sticking points of common sense to social norms that can masquerate as common sense were not able to shackle the spiritual being within him. An example of this was seen in his gradual renouncing of his suits and socially acceptable clothing for a loin cloth. Due to the degree of his fidelity to truth within him, this action served to stimulate the conscience within others.
‘Descent is Easy, Not so Ascent’
There was a point in US history, not even 100 years ago when Americans, as a majority chose to prohibit the sale of alcohol, and even succeeded with a constitutional mandate from 1920 – 1933. Drunkeness, to be a drunkard, was seen as a moral weakness, detrimental to a healthy social community fabric, beginning with being harmful to personal and family relationships. To be unable to hold onto awareness of common sense, to be unconcerned about violating conscience, was viewed negatively. Once that mandate was canceled with the aid of US President F.D. Roosevelt, an up and coming beer company brought a huge keg drawn by massive draft horses to the White House, celebrating what was really new legislation for very lucrative businesses.
Common sense in American society had been given a choice by a series of violent events: allow drinking, or live with ghastly violence. Common sense chose to allow drinking, withdrawing its ability for assertion in this aspect of social life. Many more demands for the withdrawal of common sense from public spheres were to follow, down now to the dis-empowered family unit.
Prior to this, during the mid to later 1800’s in the USA, the protection of the country’s common sense was clothed with the regulation of morality through ‘obsenity laws’[xii] Western Europe saw similar action in France, with prosecution (and later aquittal) of G. Flaubert, the author of Madame Bovary (1856) a provocative series of articles, and later novel, that portrayed a young housewife who had extra-marital affairs.
In 1857 Flaubert was brought to trial under a law that had been passed in 1819 saying that the sale or distribution of any written work that offended public or religious decency was to be suppressed. The prosecutor in the case [Ernest Pinard] argued not only was the work offensive because of the sexuality, but also because you could not tell “what is going on in the author’s conscience”.[xiii]
[He] accused Flaubert of an “offense to public and religious morality and to good morals” for publishing the novel. Pinard failed to win a conviction, but the court reprimanded Flaubert for forgetting that art “must be chaste and pure not only in its form but in its expression.”[xiv]
Flaubert’s works were soon followed by many more in the western world, questioning as it was, in both positive and deleterious ways, its own exercise of common sense; a conception of women as being as driven equally as men by sexual desire was born. It took root, and as this understanding became more pervasive, women’s understanding of their role and image has changed, undeniably to the detriment of family life.
The effect of legislative action to honour and serve our common sense seems to have had the opposite effect.[xv] There has been a not-so-subtle popularization of obscenity and intoxication, with publications and media to excite public interest. Models of behaviour that used to affront public decency have been made acceptable through redundant exposure in movies, news, etc.. We are at the point now where gross obscenity, pornography, public intoxication, and more recent legalisation of gambling, and the rankest exploitation of the human body through prostitution, no longer insults our common dignity, and is now viewed in globalized societies as a personal choice, rather than a societal neglect of our civic duty and social responsibilities to one another, and most importantly, collectively, common sensedly, to our children.
Most often, the ‘vast silent majority’ is simply witness to events, trends, and influences, that violate the sense of common decency that people share. At present, we have, in the last 10 years in globalized societies, become seemingly unable to respond in any collective fashion to assaults upon our ability to assert our common sense.
Consumer Based Societies: Hiding Human Realities
The integrated adjustment to the panorama of human life experiences is a necessary component to the advancement of common sense.
In ‘first world’ countries, and in pockets around the planet where economic systems are consumer-based, events of life: birth, death, disease, deformity, dismemberment, are hidden in hospitals, old age homes, hospices. Death takes place in accidents that get cleaned up, and on battlefields, and by drone strikes, or a madman on a rampage, that feel far away. Distracted by the demands of a society that is geared to the continuous economic consumption, the realities which faces each one of us, that serve to advance our common sense and thereby inform our public mind, are hidden from our daily lives.
Support for tragedy and upheaval in the lives of others through human companionship and community is barely possible to extend to one another given the rushed work load required to sustain even a minimally economically viable life for most people (the bottom 99%) in consumer based societies. Educational systems, media, entertainments, no longer address, report on, or serve awareness of conscience, nor is there any expectation in the public mind for them to do so.
The family unit has been reduced to nuclear size, and often not even that, with thin strands of social or community support. People have come to accept and expect that old age means removal from the home to assisted living, and then to a nursing home, to die in (and perhaps of) familial neglect.
It is the spectre of all the processes that life experience and adjustment entails that gives rise to our own quests for meaning, understanding and harmony with the great reality that holds and inevitably governs us all, as death so clearly shows us. Stagnant common sense is more easily led into increasing stagnation. It takes a massive effort with a moral basis to awaken common sense from stagnation to its tie with universal conscience. Gandhi made that effort.
Role of Death to Awaken Devotion in Life
Awareness of death is quintessential for ethical awakening to conscience. Understanding the significance of death to our lives enables us to separate the unreal from the real, to know what is valuable, and what is meaningless.
Devotion and its external manifestation of dedication are two necessary qualities for excellence in any field or endeavour to occur. Devotion, applied towards conscience is seen in shining moral integrity. It is the awareness of death that awakens an all consuming devotion to truth, which is why this most important life experience is best shared with those who love the dying person, and can gain the greatest degree of integrated comprehension from it.
Death is the Great Leveller. Death shows us what we forget when we look at the Great Mystery of seeming individuality all around us. Death is the final recall to reality, to truth, from our mesmerised involvement with the unreal. The famous Imitation of Christ which is second to the Christian Bible in sales and readership states this advice to devotees:
“The time will come when you wish you had a single day, or even an hour, to put yourself in order, but I honestly cannot say whether that day or hour will be given to you.”[xvi]
Gandhi saw the correct perception of death as vitally necessary to live life meaningfully.
“If there is anything in this world which faces man as a certainty, it is death. And yet we fear that inescapable certainty; that is the greatest wonder of life, that is real attachment and that is atheism. It is possible only for man to rise above it.”[xvii]
Gandhi dealing with Death
Gandhi’s wife, Kasturba, was known familially as ‘Ba’. Two days before she passed away, in 1944, Ba said to to her husband:
“Why should one grieve at my going away? Rather you should all rejoice.” Then, folding her hands and closing her eyes, she prayed, “O God, like an animal all my life I have only filled my stomach. Now I need only love for, and devotion to, Thee.”[xviii]
The day before her passing, she called her youngest son, Devadas, to her side, and wept, saying:
Ba died during the Gandhis’ last imprisonment at the Aga Khan Palace, her head on Gandhi’s lap as she had wished.
Prior to Ba’s death, Gandhi thought he was impervious to the shock of death; that his understanding on death was truly integrated. This opinion came from his observation of himself. When Gandhi had returned to India, fresh out of law school in London, he received word of his Mother Putlibai’s death when the ship reached the dock in Mumbai. He took it in stride, and was not much inwardly perturbed. While his wife, Ba, was alive, Gandhi claimed he achieved an inner state of understanding that allowed him to accept death with an unruffled mind. In a letter to a close co-worker he had written:
I can hardly keep an account of births and deaths. In these matters, I have ceased to be of any use to the family. These tides and ebbs scarcely affect me either. This is the third death in the family I have heard of in recent days. I think for a moment and then the thing goes out of my mind. This condition has come to me with no effort on my part but I feel it is worth while cultivating it. Death is but an inevitable transformation of the present state. Why should it occasion fear? Birth is also a sign of the same process of change. Why do we hail it with joy? The aspiration for deliverance from both the contingencies, for us as well as for the whole world, is described as supreme purushartha [from: purush – mankind – artha – meaning, purpose: the excellent goal of human life].
As far as he knew himself until then, he felt he was able to withstand the devastation of death. His advice to a co-worker showed the training he sought to give his own mind:
“The body is like a glass bangle. The glass bangle which is the human body is of no account whatever in the eternity of Brahman, as life of a glass bangle is of none in comparison to the human life-span of 100 years. What does it matter if it perishes today or tomorrow, or if it develops a crack? The intellect grasps this idea very easily, but one will never know fear if it sinks into one’s heart. Such a person would never do wrong. He would oppress no one. We should return to this thought whenever faced with any danger, and, in order that it may come to us unfailingly at such times, we should constantly meditate on it.”[xxii]
After Kasturba’s death, Gandhi was ‘stunned’. He said a few days later:
“Ba’s death was divine, and I am glad about it. Our pain is born of our own selfishness. I do miss her after 62 years of companionship. I cannot put her memory out of my mind however much I try.”[xxiii]
Gandhi wanted the things she had used frequently to be within his touch. A cloth that she had used for wrapping a mud plaster was used by Gandhi to wrap his water bottle, to keep the water cool by evaporation. To associates, who had absorbed his previous attitude and words on death, and were perhaps questioning his state of mind, he explained his action thusly:
“It was used by Ba very often. Therefore, it is very precious to me.”[xxiv]
Gandhi requested a small table that Ba had often rested her head upon to be used for his meals.
“This table has become very precious to me. I can see Ba sitting with her head on it. In one way, I am glad she went with her head in my lap. I shall not have to worry as to what will happen to her when I am no more. In another way, I am stunned to lose a companion of over 62 years duration.”[xxv]
Nearly a month later, an associate observed:
During the evening walk today, Bapu looked very tired. I asked him the reason for it. He said, “I have still not recovered from the shock of Ba’s death. Intellectually, I know that Ba could not have had a better death. I used to worry about how well she would be cared for when I was no more. I often felt that it would be best for her to go before me and pass away in my arms. That is what has happened. It is not that I am thinking of her the whole time. What it is exactly, I cannot describe.”[xxvi]
Two months later, the same observer noted:
“Today we have completed two months after Ba’s death. Adjusting with life without Ba is as difficult for Bapu today as it was in the first week after her death. One of the reasons for his illness, I feel, is that after Ba’s death his physical and mental resistance has gone down owing to general weakness.”[xxvii]
Sharing the experience of death is a profound teacher. It stretches our acceptance of life, integrates understanding, and advances common sense. Such learning is ‘heavy duty’; the process of assimilation is profound, and not imbibed in any other way.
Devotion – to advance Common Sense
The word bhakti, commonly understood as devotion, comes from the Sanskrit root ‘bhaj‘ which means to ‘be part of‘. Briefly, the word can also mean, “attachment, devotion to, fondness for, homage, faith or love, worship, piety to something as a spiritual, religious principle or means of salvation“.[xxviii] A bhakta – is a devotee, employing the means of bhakti.
Truth is within us, and without us. To relate, we often use external forms, or prayers to an external sense, at the same time, we close our eyes and pray, to that which is within us. It is this paradoxical division or sense of separation, and the longing for unity, that creates devotion.
The tender, self-revealing heart’s love for this relationship has been expressed through the longings of many inspiring poets throughout milleniums. Rabindranath Tagore, a contemporary of Gandhi, had lost his Mother as a baby, and his dear wife, early on in marriage. His words infused devotion into the common sense of all who read his works:
Yes, I know, this is nothing but thy Love, O beloved of my heart
—this golden light that dances upon the leaves
these idle clouds sailing across the sky
this passing breeze leaving its coolness upon my forehead.
The morning light has flooded my eyes
—this is thy message to my heart.
Thy face is bent from above, thy eyes gaze down upon my eyes
and my heart has touched thy feet.[xxix]
When thou commandest me to sing it seems that my heart would break with pride; and I look to thy face, and tears come to my eyes
All that is harsh and dissonent in my life melts into one sweet harmony—and my adoration spreads wings like a glad bird on its flight across the sea.
I know thou takest pleasure in my singing. I know that only as a singer I come before thy presence.
I touch by the edge of the far-spreading wing of my song thy feet which I could never aspire to reach.
Drunk with the joy of singing I forget myself and call thee friend who art my Lord.[xxx]
As Gandhi progressed in advancing his awareness of conscience, he used every means at his disposal to increase that inner dialogue, to make it true and real. He came to recognize that he was first a foremost, a spiritual being, with requisite obligations. Errors he made in his life, he saw as a result of his own character impurities and ignorance, before the spiritual being within himself. This is in contrast to the oft repeated phrase, ‘you are only human’ as an excuse for weakness, rather than an aspiration to try to raise a personal standard.
Regarding himself as God’s bhakta, Gandhi saw that devotion was indispensable to rid his self identification with what was not truth within him. His highest goal was to both lose, and find himself in the powerful love that sustains all life:
The stream of bhakti does not flow from the pen. It is not a matter pertaining to the intellect. That stream can only flow from the cavern of the heart; and when it does flow no power will be able to stop its current. Who can stop the current of the Ganga?
I am indeed trying for such bhakti, but the effort cannot succeed through any verbal grandeur. The only way to it is karma yoga. A total indifference towards the result is necessary for that Yoga. Karma Yoga is but another name for action which is wholly devoid of any desire for results. Hence, I do not see the need to write any article specially in order to make the stream of devotion flow. If every word of the Harijan [a newspaper Gandhi established]—whether it is in English, Hindi or Gujarati—is an echo of the devotion which is within, it will automatically make an impression…
This at least I can say for myself, that all my actions – writing, speaking, walking—are undertaken with the object of generating devotion within me. [xxxi]
Gandhi saw that for the correct perception of any situation or experience the heart is the indispensable guide:
…we do not always possess all data necessary for arriving at a correct conclusion. Nor is every word understood by the hearer or the reader in the same sense in which it was used by the speaker or the writer. Hence the heart, that is bhakti, faith and first-hand experience, is given a higher place than logic. Logic is a purely intellectual process. We should not care in the least if logic, that is intellect, cannot understand what is self-evident to the heart. On the contrary, sometimes our intellect is convinced of certain ideas which the heart does not accept. We should, then, reject them…
Both Nyaya[xxxii] and the yoga of desire-less work[xxxiii] are means. The former belongs to the sphere of the intellect, the latter is a matter of the heart. We cannot cultivate desirelessness without the help of the intellect.[xxxiv]
Gandhi found the awareness of the heart, as the seat of his conscience, to be his greatest guide. “Be alone and consult the Lord of your heart and do as He bids you,”[xxxv] was the advice that he gave his friends when they brought him their dilemmas. We should seek the way of how to best use our life, not from the rules of the confused around us, but from our own selves. Gandhi was clear, wisdom is gained through an integrated understanding:
“Self-realization means that we should know all selves to be ourselves. You should consult the Dweller within to know how you may live your life to the best end.”[xxxvi]
Our spiritual progress will remain illusory till we learn to regard every person as our own brother or sister. Why should we feel any difference between relations and others? How should people who have no relations behave? Or those who have lost theirs through death? He who regards all human beings as his relations is never bereft of them, for they are countless. Such a relationship is the only true one, and all other relationships are false and transitory. Can you understand this?[xxxvii]
As Gandhi progressed in his efforts and studies of the laws of Nature, love and truth, he was to state:
Truth and love have been jointly the guiding principle of my life. If God who is indefinable can be at all defined, then I should say that God is Truth. It is impossible to reach Him, that is, truth, except through love. Love can only be expressed fully when man reduces himself to a cipher.[xxxviii]
He found that it is through the development of an intimate, personal relationship with our own In-dweller, through love and adoration, that we can begin to touch our own hearts:
As our parents often come to know what we want without our telling them, so does God know our wishes. If our human parents have this power to know what we want, the Creator of all must have infinitely greater power to know our heart. That is why we also think of God as Antaryani, the Dweller within. It is not necessary that we should be able to see Him. We have never seen a good many of our relations….similarly, we should trust the testimony of saints about the existence of God and believe that the Antaryani does exist. If that is so, it is easy to understand why we should sing bhajans [hymns] to Him and pray to Him.[xxxix]
Gandhi felt that in love, as in death, all were equally united:
“For we all meet in Him if we yearn for the union with the Divine. Though we seem to be separated one from the other, yet considering the common source we are one and not merely as husband and wife or parents and children but as all life.”[xl]
Devotion in the heart would naturally assist in the advancement of common sense through an increasing desire to be of service to all of the Creation:
…Devotion to God means rendering selfless service to all Gods creatures…The purpose of such devotion is self-realization…Action-less devotion is no devotion; it is merely delusion…it is devotion of a pure kind, if a man, after seeing to his essential needs, spends all the remaining time in the service of all living creatures. It is possible for one to reach the stage where one can serve by thought alone. But none of us have reached that stage. Therefore, for a man of flesh and blood, service of all that lives is the only way of devotion. Such service must be selfless, altruistic.[xli]
Cultivating common sense with devotion, enabled Gandhi to recognize that:
“Serving God means getting an opportunity of serving humanity, it means serving the poor and making ourselves blessed through service.”[xlii]
Common sense is on the decline due to increasing societal disconnects in technologically advanced consumer based societies from the normal processes of human life experiences. The role of business which is unquided by conscience or an advancing common sense has created conditions which have made it difficult for common sense to assert itself in the social domain.
Bringing forth the discussion on the necessity of devotion to the truth within ourselves, experienced through our conscience, is a viable way to reconnect the exercise of common sense with conscience, and consequent influences on environment and atmosphere.
Gandhi was an honest person. Like many, while his heart was not in agony, he felt he had somehow mastered an integrated understanding of one of the most vital of life processes – death. Kasturba’s passing shook him to his moorings. Their marriage was one of devotion and dedication to one another and to the ideals that Gandhi held as vital to the growth of his own spirit and understanding. The capacity for self-deception exists unwittingly and unwillingly in everyone, and affects our perception of common sense. Honestly recognizing our own limitations, acts of devotion allow the creation of room within our mind and hearts for the advancement of our personal common sense.
Gandhi’s trust in truth within his conscience were to influence the common sense of much of the planet into recognition that love and truth are the goal and fulfillment of human life. His example of obedience to conscience set a standard for advancing common sense in human behaviour.
Restructuring relationships and societal patterns towards advancing common sense begins with family and community. Individual and collective cultivation of devotion that is in response and recognition of the need for a genuinely integrated understanding, is what will cause the advancement of common sense. An advanced common sense will assertively exercise itself in the interests of children and the propagation of a planet that will allow the development of their own integrated understanding. These in turn have the potentials to promote civilizations with wise and integrated understanding.
Philosophical growth that raises the individual into a recognition of themselves as spiritual beings, whose aspirations can positively influence social atmosphere, will pull away from consumer based economic social patterns that do not advance common sense.
This English translation of a Gujarati hymn, by Narsimha Mehta, became a signature of Gandhi’s efforts to advance common sense and awareness of conscience in India. This is the English translation of Vaishnav Jana Tho. The philosophy expressed shows the socially functioning aspects of an advanced common sense, tied to conscience.
One who is a Vaishnav (Devotee of Vishnu)
Knows the pain of others
Does good to others
without letting pride enter his mind.
A Vaishnav, Tolerates and praises the the entire world.
Does not speak ill of others
Keeps his promises, actions and thoughts pure
your mother is blessed indeed.
A Vaishnav sees everything equally, rejects greed and avarice
respects women as he respects his own mother
though his tongue may tire he will utter no untruth
Never touches the property of others.
A Vaishnav does not succumb to worldly attachments
he has renounced lust of all types and anger
The poet Narsi will like to see such a person by whose virtue,
the entire family gets salvation.[xliii]
[i] Tendulkar, D.G. (1920). Mahatma: Life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, (7 Volumes). Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, New Delhi.5:120.
[ii] Ibid. 7: 73.
[iii] Gandhi, M.K.(1956–1983). Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi. 100 Volumes. Navajivan: Ahmedabad.: 32: 407. in Young India, Dec. 9, 1926.
[iv] Narsinh Mehta, also known as Narsi Mehta orNarsi Bhagat, (1414–1481) was a poet-saint of Gujarat, India (Gandhi was Gujarati), notable as a bhakta, an exponent of Vaishnava poetry. He is especially revered in Gujarati literature, where he is acclaimed as its Adi Kavi (Sanskrit for “first among poets”). His bhajan, Vaishnav Jan Tho was one of Gandhi’s favourites and has become synonymous to him. Source: Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narsinh_Mehta As seen Aug 7, 2015.
[v] Ibid. : 28: 384-386. In Navajivan, Oct. 25, 1925.
[vi] Ibid. : 25: 2. August 17, 1924.
[vii] Ibid. : 50: 36. June 13, 1932. Letter to Bharati.
[viii] Ibid. : 77: 102. May 29, 1943. Talk with Mirabehn. (emphasis by author)
[ix] In this context, Gandhi uses the word Shastras to denote Scriptures. The Shastras are `how-to’ texts, which explicate the means and methods for achieving harmony with ethical law.
[x] Willey, P.K. (2010). Earth Ethics of M.K. Gandhi with teachings from Holy Mother Amma, and Introduction. Wise Earth Publishers, Norwich, CT USA: 322.
[xi] Gandhi, M.K. (1946). Harijan, May 12.
[xii] Dennis, D.I. (2005). Draft. Obscenity Prosecution and its Consequences in mid-nineteenth-century America. 2005 Law and Humanities Junior Scholar Workshop.
[xiii] Legal proceedings of Flaubert prosecution. Source: http://www.thefileroom.org/documents/dyn/DisplayCase.cfm/id/1138 As seen: June 1, 2015
[xiv] Lewis, Pericles. Source: http://modernism.research.yale.edu/wiki/index.php/Madame_Bovary. As seen June1, 2015.
[xv] Dennis, D.I. (2005). Draft. Obscenity Prosecution and its Consequences in mid-nineteenth-century America. 2005 Law and Humanities Junior Scholar Workshop. As noted by Dennis, D.I.
[xvi] Tylenda, J. (Ed. & Translator). The Imitation of Christ: Thomas A. Kempis. Vintage Spiritual Classics, Vantage Books, NY. Book 1:23.
[xvii] Gandhi, M.K.(1956–1983). Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi. 100 Volumes. Navajivan: Ahmedabad.: 51: 41. September 11, 1932. Age 62. Letter to Premabehn Kantak.
[xviii] Kalarthi, M.(compiler) (1962). Ba and Bapu. Navajivan, Ahmedabad.
[xix] Sadhu – a truth seeker who has renounced personal interests in favour of total service to society.
[xx] Harilal was Gandhi’s eldest son, traditionally the one who assumes responsibility for the entire family.
[xxi] Nayar, S. (1996). Mahatma Gandhi’s Last Imprisonment: the Inside Story. Har-Anand Publications, New Delhi: 329.
[xxii] Gandhi, M.K.(1956–1983). Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi. 100 Volumes. Navajivan: Ahmedabad.: 33: 360. May 23, 1927.
[xxiii] Nayar, S. (1996). Mahatma Gandhi’s Last Imprisonment: the Inside Story. Har-Anand Publications, New Delhi:356.
[xxv] Ibid. : 356-357.
[xxvi] Ibid. : 71.
[xxvii] Ibid.: 391.
[xxix] Tagore, R. (1913) Gitanjali: Song Offerings. Macmillan and Ct. Ltd. London, UK. Poem 59.
[xxx] Ibid.: Poem 2.
[xxxi] Gandhi, M.K.(1956–1983). Collected works of Mahatma Gandhi. 100 Volumes. Navajivan: Ahmedabad. Vol. 54: 467-468.
[xxxii] Gandhi is referring to the shad darshana school of psychological thought called Nyaya, by Gautama, known for its philosophical reasoning and logic.
[xxxiii] Hindu metaphysics have reasoned out human actions to many degrees. Karma Yoga is to seek contemplation of reality or truth through actions without personal ambition.
[xxxiv] Ibid. : 49: 429. May 12, 1932. Letter to Purushottam Gandhi.
[xxxv] Ibid : 31: 519. October 23, 1926.
[xxxvi] Ibid. 31: 528. October 24, 1926. To Mohanlal Shah.
[xxxvii] Ibid. : 49: 324. April 18, 1932. To Nirmala Desai.
[xxxviii] Ibid.: 33: 452. June 8, 1927.
[xxxix] Ibid.: 45: 17. December 22, 1930. From “Yeravda Mandir”.
[xl] Ibid.: 38: 224. December 14, 1928. To Amarnath.
[xli] Ibid.: 91: 465. June 2, 1928. To Tarabehn Jasani.
[xlii] Ibid.:88: 278. July 5, 1947.
[xliii] Lyrics by Narsinha Mehta. Source: http://allpoetry.com/Vaishnava-janatho-(With-English-Translation). As seen August 6, 2015.
P.K. Willey, Ph.D. (University of CT, USA), a scholar of Gandhi’s ideals, is a parent of two, and a writer. Willey seeks to foster discussion on Gandhi’s Earth Ethics, to contribute to raising awareness about what is most essential to us all. Email: email@example.com – www.earthethics.org.in
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 17 Aug 2015.
Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: Looking with Gandhi at Advancing Common Sense: The Necessity of Devotion, and the Role of Death, is included. Thank you.
This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.
One Response to “Looking with Gandhi at Advancing Common Sense: The Necessity of Devotion, and the Role of Death”
Click here to go to the current weekly digest or pick another article: