M. K. Gandhi’s understanding of his native religion: unique features and universalism in Hinduism

Elena Bitinayte

Vostok/Oriens '2018, №6

DOI: 10.31857/S086919080002874-8

Object of investigation is the preface to my Russian translation of M. K. Gandhi’s (1869–1948) article “Hinduism”, which was first published on 6 October 1921. In this text, Gandhi creates an ideal image of his native religion and also discusses the imperfection of contemporary Indian society. The ideal image he associates with the original ancient faith, which he offers to his compatriots as a model for changes in all fields of life. The essence of his reform project is a refusal of blind admiration for any authorities, and an appeal to the inner moral sense as the criterion by which one can discern the significance of particular religious statements. Gandhi’s critical approach to the contemporary state of his native religion and his activity for its reformation allow us to consider him a reformer of Hinduism. His religious views are deeply humanistic. He does not accept religion as an unchangeable system of dogmas and rituals. In his opinion, religion should promote the spiritual evolution of every person, which is connected to one’s daily worldly activity because religion permeates all spheres of social life. Of particular importance for Gandhi was the connection between religion and politics. While rejecting the use of religious rhetoric for the sake of personal political ambitions, Gandhi insisted on the spiritualization of politics, on coordinating politics with ethical norms that the various faiths have in common. One key question for reformers, namely to identify the place of Hinduism vis-à-vis other religions, Gandhi resolves by emphasizing a religious universalism that recognizes all grand religions as merely different Paths to One God. Meanwhile, the particular features of a religion symbolize the contribution of a given civilization to the universal human destiny.

Keywords: Reformation of Hinduism, Neo-Hinduism, religious universalism, M. K. Gandhi, tradition, modernization

Pages: С. 150–161

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