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Book Review: 'Gandhi’s Philosophy and the Quest for Harmony' by Anthony J Parel

Gandhi’s conception of purusharthas has a special impact on the relationship of political to the spiritual.

Avanish Kumar

Gandhi’s conception of purusharthas has a special impact on the relationship of political to the spiritual.

The book Gandhi’s Philosophy and the Quest for Harmony is written by Anthony J Parel, published by Cambridge University Press in 2006. The book is divided into 5 parts which is further divided into 11 chapters. The book consists of Gandhian views on civic nationalism; on state; on economy; Dharma as duty, religion, ethics; Art and society; Gita and moksha.

Anthony Parel forwarded a novel viewpoint on the philosophy of Gandhi. He called Gandhi as ‘being more things than one’ shows the different dimensions and good description. In “The four aims of life”, Anthony Parel tried to deal with the Gandhian interpretation of reconstitution of the four aims -Dharma, Artha, Kama & Moksha and its consideration from different prospects like from the angle of religious theory, original theory of conflict resolution and non-violence, economic development and sustainable development. According to the author, the harmony is the combination of different elements that forms a symmetry as a whole. The book uses a methodology of analysis that does justice to his practical philosophy. Gandhian ideas of Purusharthas enable us to enter a truly Indian intellectual edifice. It carries the literal meaning that it is pursued for the sake of spirit or the immortal soul. Gandhi had tried to explore the new method of theory of purushartha which we can call as a new ‘Gandhian paradigm’. His views on Purusharthas present a challenge to many who deny the dynamic relationship between all these four. But at the same time, it offers great encouragement to all who saw a basic unity in all.

The author deals with the ‘Political and Economic’ ideas of Gandhi in three different aspects - Civic Nationalism, the State and the Economy. According to Parel, Gandhi’s civic nationalism was based on remaining faithful to one’s religion as well as to respect others. According to him, Gandhi has denied that religion is the basis of Indian nationalism. It is one respect for the quest for liberation. Parel’s views that Gandhi had not accepted the institutional religion as the basis of civil nationalism, but he accepted that to strengthen the spirit of civic nationalism, religious ethics that teach individual freedom and social security are very much needed. He laid emphasis on constant nurturing of civic nationalism. According to the author, Gandhi’s state is an institution necessary for the realisation of the values of artha. Without the state political community disintegrates into chaos. The emphasis must be shifted from war to peace and from punishments to rights. He even went far beyond to Kautilya in identifying the basic functions of the state. His concept of religion has its basis in the theory of the purusharthas. His theory of Ramrajya could be better understood in the bounds of his theory of purusharthas. Gandhi has emphasised that wealth, being a part of artha, as a vital element of human well-being. True economics is the economics of justice. He was of the firm belief and considered the work ethic as the key to the alleviation of poverty. The idea of progress that was mainly concerned with the economic progress was not an idea for him. For him, it would not result in real human progress. Historic antagonism had to be removed between artha and moksha for real human progress.

Anthony Parel talks about Gandhi’s concept of Dharma in the context of dharma as a duty, as a religion and as an ethics. Dharma as a duty was laid down by classical Indian social philosophy. Parel talks of the universal dharma of Gandhi that was different from the dharma taught by tradition and revelation. His views on dharma as a social duty in India could be understood by the principles of Dharmashastras. Margaret Chaterjee’s books Gandhi’s Religious Thought gives an overview of Gandhi’s position. He adhered to the principle that for the achievement of purusharthas, the religion is very vital. Gandhi name is associated with the ethic of his one most important principle i.e. non-violence. Parel’s most provocative claim about Gandhi is his views on violence. He argued that one the one hand Gandhi’s talked about non-violence and on the other side he supported the liberal coercive state, believing that physical violence is evitable and sometimes permitted for sake of public good. This sounds contradictory as far as the differing opinions of Gandhi on this aspect are concerned.

Gandhi’s value of pleasure has been considered under the headings of “Celibacy and Sexuality and “Art and society”. Parel’s opines that celibacy is considered as one of the eleven virtues recognized by Gandhi’s moral philosophy. He considered celibacy as the counterpart of Kama. His attention of celibacy was focused mainly on Ashram virtue which was practiced by the members of Sabarmati ashram. The ashram celibacy was of two kinds: “perpetual celibacy” and “temporary celibacy.” Partha Mitter in his book ‘Art and Nationalism in Colonial India’ 1850-1922, opines that “in Gandhi’s programme there was no room for art with the possible exception of Nandalal Bose’s decoration of the Haripura Congress venue,” done at his behest. Bhiku Parekh believes that “his moralistic vision” has prevented him from other dimensions of human existence, including the aesthetic. Gandhi’s thought on celibacy and sexuality can be seen from critical point of view as he viewed sexuality from the point of view of humans as seekers of samsara. He also refused to accept the probability of procreation being a legitimate and even holy activity under certain conditions.

Regarding Gandhi’s views on ‘Spiritual liberation’, the author analyses Gandhi’s thoughts on the Gita and Moksha i.e. methodology of attending the path of moksha. Gandhi’s concept of moksha was fully informed of its many theological nuances. Gandhi is fortunate to have many positive interpreters in the 21st century. Some such scholars are Judiht Brown, Susanne and Lloyd Rudolph, Thomas Weber, B.R. Nanda, Stanley Wolpert etc. According to Ranjit Guha, “Gandhi was the most important bourgeois politician.” Gandhi’s paradigm was concerned both with temporal as well as eternal. The emphasis was on the possession of truth on every moment. His notion of purusharthas was indeed unique. He approached moksha as a goal to be realized in history but not as an abstract or imagined goal. He fought against the traditional mystical approach. In the interpretation of Gita, he wanted to avoid the doctrinaire secularism and also the monotony of traditional asceticism and hence advocated for modification of traditional approach to Moksha. According to Gandhi, a person of human wisdom is one who knows the ultimate aim of life i.e. Moksha and the means to attain it. To attain this path one should be highly self-disciplined.

Anthony J Parel has forwarded the new perspectives on Gandhi’s philosophy. Gandhi’s conception of purusharthas has a special impact on the relationship of political to the spiritual. The notion of truth is to enlighten every mind and that leads to immorality. Gandhi’s notion of spirituality is that it concerns the pursuit of truth in all its diversity. Parel’s enlightening and insightful book shows how far-reaching were the effects of Gandhi’s practical philosophy on Indian thought generally and how these have survived into the present times.

The author is a research scholar in Central University of Gujarat, Gandhinagar and an intern at Academics4nation.



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