"Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress."
Gandhi was greatly impressed by Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and the writings of Leo Tolstoy. It may very well be that the British unwillingly implanted the very seeds of the independence movement within the soul of India.
Mahatma Gandhi was the most important figure in that movement, and his life may well illustrate the best of modern Hinduism. Gandhi was perhaps most fundamentally a devout Hindu. Although he was educated in England, Gandhi’s politics were based less on jurisprudence and more on religion. The title by which Gandhi was known in India an throughout the world emphasizes the spiritual foundation of his life. He was called Mahatma, the “great soul”, a title that is reserved for the most spiritually accomplished Hindus. Yet, Gandhi was not a Brahmin or a Kshatryia, he was of the Vaisha varna. He was also not a theologian or a systematic religious thinker. His political vision and practice, however, was rooted in his understanding of sacred scriptures from many of the world’s religions, specially Hinduism’s Bhagavad Gita and Christianity’s New Testament.
This kind of openness to spiritual truth regardless of where it is found is characteristic of much of Hinduism. Indeed, Gandhi had an appreciation of all the major religious traditions. This is the reasons why he was opposed to the partition of India and Pakistan.
Gandhi called his philosophy Satyagraha, a term that meant grasping forth and holding on the truth. It might also mean “grasping forth and holding on to God”, because for Gandhi God is truth. Gandhi believed that truth is more important than political expedience. While others in the independence movement argued that India’s freedom from Britain should be gained through armed conflict or other means, Gandhi maintained that just ends could never be attained through evil means.
This conviction spurred the development of his philosophy and practice of non-violent resistance, a notion that also owed much to the Jains. In Gandhi’s childhood community, he frequently interacted with Jains and learned from them the practice of Ahimsa, the non-harming of living beings.
The result of these many influences in Gandhi’s life was a political vision of achieving justice by revealing the truth of oppression to the oppressor. Non-violent resistance endeavoured to demonstrate in a powerful and vivid way the oppressors’ own brutality.
In order to demonstrate the brutality of oppression, however, one must be willing to endure the wrath of the oppressive force without retaliation. For that, one needed great courage and the discipline of a yogi. In a sense, Gandhi opened a new avenue for the Karmamargra, the way of action, by making the political sphere an acceptable arena for the practice of religion.
In 1948, Gandhi was assassinated by a fellow Hindu who believed that he had conceded too much to the Muslims.