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Gandhi and Anekantavada

Gandhi was deeply influenced by Jainism. This includes the doctrine of Anekantavada. In modern terms he could be considered an "Integral" thinker in that he holds to a universal philosophy in which all views are valid but also partial. To quote from Wikipedia - Wikipedia link original url

Since childhood, Gandhi was exposed to the actual practice of non-violence, non-possession and anekantavada by his mother.[1] According to biographers like Uma Majumdar, Rajmohan Gandhi, and Stephen Hay,[2] these early childhood impressions and experiences contributed to the formation of Gandhi's character and his further moral and spiritual development. In his writings, Mahatma Gandhi attributed his seemingly contradictory positions over a period of time to the learning process, experiments with truth and his belief in anekantavada.[3] He proclaimed that the duty of every individual is to determine what is personally true and act on that relative perception of truth. According to Gandhi, a satyagrahi is duty bound to act according to his relative truth, but at the same time, he is also equally bound to learn from truth held by his opponent.[4] In response to a friend's query on religious tolerance, he responded in the journal "Young India - 21 Jan 1926":[5]

I am an Advaitist and yet I can support Dvaitism (dualism). The world is changing every moment, and is therefore unreal, it has no permanent existence. But though it is constantly changing, it has a something about it which persists and it is therefore to that extent real. I have therefore no objection to calling it real and unreal, and thus being called an Anekantavadi or a Syadvadi. But my Syadvada is not the Syadvada of the learned, it is peculiarly my own. I cannot engage in a debate with them. It has been my experience that I am always true from my point of view, and am often wrong from the point of view of my honest critics. I know that we are both right from our respective points of view. And this knowledge saves me from attributing motives to my opponents or critics. The seven blind men who gave seven different descriptions of the elephant were all right from their respective points of view, and wrong from the point of view of one another, and right and wrong from the point of view of the man who knew the elephant. I very much like this doctrine of the manyness (sic) of reality. It is this doctrine that has taught me to judge a Musulman from his standpoint and a Christian from his. Formerly I used to resent the ignorance of my opponents. Today I can love them because I am gifted with the eye to see myself as others see me and vice versa. I want to take the whole world in the embrace of my love. My Anekantavada is the result of the twin doctrine of Satyagraha and ahimsa.


[1] Majmudar, Uma (2005). Gandhi's Pilgrimage of Faith: From Darkness to Light. New york: SUNY Press p. 44
[2] Hay, Stephen N. (1970). "Jain Influences on Gandhi's Early Thought", in (ed.) Sibnarayan Ray: Gandhi India and the World. Bombay: Nachiketa Publishers, pp. 1423
[3] Hughes, Marilynn (2005). The voice of Prophets, Volume 2 of 12. Morrisville, North Carolina: p. 590
[4] Sonnleitner, Michael W (1985). Gandhian Nonviolence: Levels of Satyagraha. India: Abhinav publications . p. 14
[5] Gandhi, Mohandas (1955). in (ed.) Jitendra Thakorbhai Desai, (comp.) R.K. Prabhu: Truth Is God: Gleanings from the Writings of Mahatma Gandhi Bearing on God, God-Realization and the Godly Way. Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House.

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page by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 15 November 2008