Prof. Dr. Yogendra Yadav
Senior Gandhian Scholar, Professor, Editor and Linguist
Gandhi International Study and Research Institute, Jalgaon, Maharashtra, India
Contact No. – 09404955338, 09415777229
Mailing Address- C- 29, Swaraj Nagar, Panki, Kanpur- 208020, Uttar Pradesh, India
The Danger of Imitation – Mahatma Gandhi
I am a humble student of philosophy and so I thoroughly appreciate the movement for the removal of untouchability which has hindered the progress of a large portion of mankind. I can also appreciate the way of penance by fast, but there is one difficulty in my way. You know that the Bhagavad Gita has said, “What the great ones do, the others follow”, and if a great soul like you set the example of fasting, is there no danger of others blindly imitating you, and quoting your example in support? Then again, you talk of the inner voice, and everybody will claim to speak in the name of the inner voice, and it will be held responsible for mixed marriages, mixed dinners, and consequent disruption of society. And when such reckless indiscipline takes place in the name of the inner voice, how would you propose to raise the level of the ordinary men, especially of untouchables? I must confess that I have considerably abridged the original which is fairly long.
But I am sure that the substance of the correspondent’s argument has not in any way been lost in the abridgment. My answer is simple. I accept the teaching of the Gita verse that the correspondent has quoted. Surely, it was meant to warn leaders against conduct that might, if copied, result in harm to society. It cannot possibly apply to conduct whose intelligent imitation can do no harm for if it did, it would mean an end to all progress and the setting of good examples. There is no such thing in human affairs as insurance against all danger. There is always danger of even the most irreproachable conduct being misinterpreted and misapplied, but the right thing has got to be, and has always been, done, in spite of the risk of misinterpretation and misapplication. I hold my fast to have been wholly good and obligatory on me. If the whole of mankind imitated the fast subject to all its conditions, no harm could result. A fast that was calculated to affect a big movement for the better could not be given up because of the fear of some people abusing it. Penitential fasting is admittedly a good institution. And lastly, fasting is its own safeguard against abuse. Not many people would be willing to fast, and much fewer still would be able to do so, even though they might be willing. Much the same may be said about the inner voice. Nobody has to my knowledge questioned the possibility of the inner voice speaking to some, and it is a gain to the world even if one person’s claim to speak under the authority of the inner voice can be really sustained.
Many may make the claim, but not all will be able to substantiate it. But it cannot and ought not to be suppressed for the sake of preventing false claimants. There is no danger whatsoever if many people could truthfully represent the inner voice. But, unfortunately, there is no remedy against hypocrisy. Virtue must not be suppressed because many will feign it. Men have always been found throughout the world claiming to speak for the inner voice. But no harm has yet overtaken the world through their short-lived activities. Before one is able to listen to that voice, one has to go through a long and fairly severe course of training, and when it is the inner voice that speaks it is unmistakable. The world cannot be successfully fooled for all time. There is, therefore, no danger of anarchy setting in because a humble man like me will not be suppressed and will dare to claim the authority of the inner voice, when he believes that he has heard it. Unbridled licence is undoubtedly in the air. Everywhere one sees unrest, whether in the religious field or any other. The spirit of independence is abroad.
Youth has always been found to be most impressionable and, therefore, it has naturally fallen a prey to this spirit; and in its haste to realize independence it has missed the central fact that independence can only come out of interdependence and that it is a fruit of long training in self-restraint. It has forgotten that independence is never synonymous with indulgence. The blame for the wildness of youth lies, therefore, at the door of the spirit of the times. It would be wrong to impute it to the assertion of sterling independence based upon a conscious practice of self-restraint and an ever-increasing effort implicitly to obey the will of God speaking within and then known as the inner voice. It is now, perhaps, easy enough to answer the third question of the humble philosopher. The only way to raise the level of Harijans is for the Harijan servants to raise their own level by prayer and penitential fasting and by so training their acoustic faculty as to listen to the inner voice.
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