Jain World
Sub-Categories of Passions

Publisher's Note

Something About Late Shri V.R. Gandhi
I - The Sankhya Philosophy
  II - The Yoga Philosophy
  III - The Naya Philosophy
  IV - Mimamsa
  V - The Vedanta Philosophy
  VI - Buddhism
  VII - Jainism
  Sanskrit Terms






Here we have a lecture series dealing with the systems of Indian Philosophy and delivered by V. R. Gandhi in 1894 at Chicago. These lectures are important as much because they deal with the systems of Indian Philosophy as because V. R. Gandhi delivered them. For V. R. Gandhi (who was born in 1864 and died young in 1901) was one of the extraordinary Indians of his time. He was a born Jaina and (what is more noteworthy) a convinced Jaina, and it was as representative of the Jaina sect that he took part in the Parliament of Religions held at Chicago in 1893 (better known to most of us on account of Swami Vivekananda's participation in it). But few Jainas before and after him would equal him in their capacity to make the Jaina positions comprehensible to a non‑Jaina audience and in their capacity to adopt a most non‑sectarian approach while dealing with a problem. Gandhi's many lectures meant to undertake an exposition of the various aspects of Jainism (and his article "Philosophy and Psychology of the Jains" published in Mind Vol. I, No. 4)‑most of them available to us in the collection published under the title "The Jaina Philosophy"‑ can well form for those who know English a best introduction to this branch of studies in Indian culture. Particularly noteworthy in this connection are the lectures (delivered in England) dealing with the Jaina doctrine of Karma. The verbatim notes of these lectures‑ which were in possession of H. Warren and were probably taken down by himself‑ were later on published under the title "The Karma Philosophy". V. Glasenapp, the recognized Western authority on Jainism in general and the Jaina doctrine of Karma in particular, duly acknowledges his indebtedness to these lectures of Gandhi which even today remain an independent source of enlightenment on the subject in spite of the Gedrman scholar's doctoral dissertation devoted to the same. The "doctrine of Karma", subscribed to by the Vedicists, Buddhists, Jainas and numerous other religious sects of India, holds a crucial importance in the development of the characteristic ethical notions of the ancient Indians, and the Jaina version of it is illuminating in more ways than one. It is really a pity that even so lucid an exposition of the Jaina doctrine of Karma as was undertaken by Gandhi remains unread even by those who otherwise evince sincere and serious interest in the problems of Indian ethics.


Of course, in order to derive best advantage out of Gandhi's writings things will have to be looked from Gandhi's standpoint. There are times when Gandhi speaks as a Jaina, times when he speaks as a Hindu, times when he speaks as an Indian, and times when he speaks as a plain man. While speaking as a Jaina, a Hindu, or an Indian, Gandhi is in most cases positive in his assertions, that is, he mostly brings to the fore the merits of the case he is advocating; but occasionally he is forced to come out sometimes sharply enough against what he considers to be a gross misunderstanding of his case on somebody's part. He is bitterest in his condemnation of the Christian missionaries, come to India from abroad to propagate their cult. But his motives in doing so are extremely mixed. Gandhi is against the Christian missionaries because the latter consider the Hindu to be ethically degraded. Now Gandhi would not answer this slander by talking ill of Christians en masse, not only because he had nothing, but praise for what he considered to be Christ's true teaching, but also because he had come to cultivate warm friendship with a vast number of noble‑minded Christians both in England and in America. Gandhi therefore took care to distinguish between the ordinary Christian residing in England or America and the Christian missionaries who come to India from abroad; in his lectures like "India's Message to America" and "Impressions of America" he paid handsome tributes to the former, in those like "Have Christian Missions to India been Successful?" he cursed the latter. As an Indian Gandhi was painfully conscious of his country's dependent status as also of the economic exploitation this country was subjected to, but his observations on these matters are mostly in the form of obiter dicta. For example, in the course of his "India's Message to America" he makes bold to say: "You know, my brothers and sisters, that we are not an independent nation; we are subjects of Her Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria, the 'defender of the faith', but if we were a nation in all that that name implies, with our own government and our own rulers, with our laws and institutions controlled by us free and independent, I affirm that we should seek to establish and for ever maintain peaceful relations with all the nations of the world" (The Jaina Philosophy, p. 264). A still more revealing passage‑occurring in "Have Christian Missions to India been Successful?"‑ runs  as follows: "Ladies and gentlemen, you have heard all yours lives from your missionaries who claim to be the messengers of God how ugly, wretched, immoral, and vile the heathen Indians are; . . . but did you ever hear from these missionaries‑the messengers of love to all mankind‑of the tyrannies that are perpetrated over the Hindus in India? Government has abolished duties on fine dry goods from Liverpool and Manchester for the purpose of finding a good market in India and has levied a 200 per cent tax on the manufacture of salt in India to maintain a costly government. Did they ever tell you about all such things? If they have not, whose messengers you will call these people, who always side with tyranny, who throw their cloak of hypocritical religion over murderers and all sorts of criminals who happen to belong to their religion or to their country?" (The Jaina Philosophy, pp. 85‑86). Thus Gandhi dreamt of an India politically and economically independent but he was intelligent enough to see that there was no immediate prospect of his dream coming true. On the other hand, what might be called India's "religious independence" was a glowing reality before Gandhi's eyes and he was extremely anxious lest this too should gradually become extinct. Hence his tirade against the Christian missionaries. Let us however not forget that Gandhi's chief weapon in the struggle for what was in his eyes his country's "religious survival" was positive rather than negative. That is to say, Gandhi was interested not so much in saying things against the Christian missionaries as in saying things in favor of India's cultural heritage, a heritage to which his own Jaina community had made no mean contribution.


This background to Gandhi's activities explains, why he always spoke with the zeal of a missionary. But significantly enough, in Gandhi's mental make‑up there was also a scholarly side and the best literary specimens, where he comes out as a beautiful blend of the missionary, and the scholar are his lectures pertaining to Jainism‑particularly those related to the Jaina doctrine of Karma. A specimen belonging to the same group is his present lecture‑series dealing with the systems of Indian philosophy. However, this series has certain specific features of its own, and it is to these that we turn our attention next.


The task of interpreting the systems of Indian Philosophy is beset with two sets of problems, one having to do with the nature of the subject‑matter in question and the other with what happens to be the general standpoint of the interpreter concerned. To take the two sets one by one. The major part of India's philosophical literature is in Sanskrit, some in Prakrit and some in Pali; and almost no texts that claim attention in this connection are a modern composition. Thus a student of Indian philosophy has not only to master a language like Sanskrit (preferably, Prakrit and Pali as well) but he has also to learn the art of placing himself in the position of an ancient or a medieval Indian. It is only after fulfilling these two rather irksome requirements that one would find it possible to rightly understand what a particular system of Indian philosophy says on this or that problem it has cared to investigate. And then comes the question of offering interpretations to what has been taught by a system of Indian Philosophy, interpretations that are bound to differ in case they happen to be offered by students whose own ideological affiliations are mutually different. Of course, the ideological affiliation of an interpreter of Indian Philosophy (for that matter, of any philosophy whatsoever) need not bear a recognized 'label' but it should be something precisely definable nevertheless. For example, the general standpoint of Radhakrishnan (and of those numerous prominent Indian authors who have followed his lead) can rightly be called Advaita Vedantic, but it will be somewhat difficult to give a name to the general standpoint of a Max Muller or a Deussen. But both Max Muller and Deussen were good Christians deeply in sympathy with Kant, and the fact is largely responsible for the way they have handled the problems of Indian Philosophy. Certainly, a Western movement for the study of Indian Philosophy headed by persons like Max Muller and Deussen, could not but present the Advaita Vedanta of Sankara in the most favorable light, and judge each and every other systems of Indian Philosophy on the basis of the distance that separates it from this Advaita Vedanta, a procedure essentially the same as was subsequently followed by Radhakrishnan and others in India. This circumstance is a good deal responsible for the somewhat lop‑sided development of the studies related to Indian Philosophy that have been conducted in the West and in India in the course of past hundred years or so. Gandhi's keen eyes could see the danger inherent in the situation, as should be evident from the following comment he made (in his article published in Mind) by way of taking mild exception to a statement occurring in the Prospectus of the newly founded journal that was to acquire a big name afterwards: "This statement seems to whisper in my ears that Hindu metaphysics has not been able to offer the right solution of the various intricate problems of life that are staring in the face of the Western thinkers. By "Hindu" is meant, of course, the special phase of Vedanta philosophy that has been presented to the people of West during the last four years. I am glad that the truth in Vedanta has come to the shores of this country. It would have been much better if the whole truth lying back of the different sectarian systems of India had been presented, so that a complete instead of a partial view of India's wisdom might have satisfied the craving of deep students." (The Jaina Philosophy, p. 14). Be that as it may, the systems of Indian Philosophy can be fruitfully studied also from a Western standpoint different from that of Kant and from an Indian standpoint different form that of Sankara. Nay, it is doubtless desirable that these systems be studied from the various standpoints that dominate the Western philosophical scene as also from those that dominate the Indian philosophical scene. Gandhi's present lectures on the systems of Indian Philosophy are important inasmuch as they give us an idea of how a liberal Jaina looks at‑and places before an American audience‑the philosophical heritage of his motherland.


Gandhi well realized that grounding in Sanskrit is indispensable for one seeking to know something of India's past glory. That is why he once argues: "The many learned missionary gentlemen who have written or who have exhausted their oratory power in denouncing India, can only prove their claim to be an authority when they show their knowledge of the Hindu religion, and this can only be proven by their knowledge of Sanskrit. When they can converse with me in this language I Shal consider their words worthy of consideration and not before". ("Have Christian Missions, etc.", The Jaina Philosophy, p. 86) Of course, Gandhi was not only not blind to the existence of Western Sanskritists but was himself a personal friend of good many of them; (what he was there criticizing was the ignorant debunking of things Indian on the part of the Christian missionaries come from abroad). Not only that, he actually made best use of the English translations done by Western scholars of the Sanskrit, Prakrit and Pali texts, though when need arose, he would prepare his own English version of an Indian text passage that was in no way inferior to that of the best translators of those days. As a matter of fact, Gandhi's general mastery over English language was strikingly perfect. However, a thorough grounding in Sanskrit and a good command over English would not have sufficed for Gandhi's need; what he above all required was a capacity to grasp the spirit of the teaching imparted by an ancient Indian text, he took up for study. And with this capacity too Gandhi was endowed in good measure. A ringing confirmation of this comes from his present lectures on the systems of Indian Philosophy, where we find him taking great pains to tell us just, what a Sankhya Philosopher, a Yoga Philosopher, a NayaVaisesika Philosopher, a Vedanta Philosopher or a Buddhist Philosopher has to say on this or that question. Of course, the very fact that Gandhi chooses to discuss certain topics and not others in the course of his treatment of a particular system of Indian Philosophy betrays his own likes and dislikes; the more so is the case with the critical remarks he now and then passes against a non‑Jaina system. But that has to be the feature of all principled exposition of the tenets of Indian Philosophy (for that matter, of any philosophy whatsoever); and Gandhi was certainly a man of principles. What we are emphasizing is that Gandhi's own ideological affiliation did no prevent him from making maximum effort to get at the heart of the various positions developed by the various non Jaina systems of Indian Philosophy. In his lecture on Jainism‑which is the last lecture in the present series‑ Gandhi enumerates what he considers to be the four questions basic to all philosophical investigation; they are:


(i) What is the nature of the universe?

(ii) What is the nature of God?

(iii) What is the nature and what the destiny of soul?

(iv) What are the laws of the soul's life?


[the questions (iii) and (iv) are closely related, the former inquiring about the general nature of a soul, its bondage and its liberation, the later inquiring about the functioning of the "law of Karma"]. And his exposition of Jainism is in the form of a discussion of the Jaina answer to these four questions. In the case of the rest of the systems there is no ordered treatment of these questions, but there too Gandhi is always taking up one or another from among these very questions (which is but to be expected in view of Gandhi's understanding of what constitutes a philosophical investigation being what it is ). And it should not be difficult for an intelligent reader to make out for himself how this or that system differs from Jainism on this or that question. But Gandhi, almost totally unmindful of this difference, continues his painstaking works of exposition. As for the points of criticism occasionally raised against a non‑Jaina system they seem to have been balanced by an occasionally showered praise. In any case, Gandhi is not obsessed by the fact that each of the non‑Jaina systems considered by him differs from Jainism more or less sharply on some questions or others.


Let us now take critical note of the facts about Indian Philosophy that Gandhi thought fit to convey to his American audience and of his manner of doing so Gandhi has taken up for consideration the following systems: Sankhya, Yoga, Naya (and Vaisesika). Mimamsa, Vedanta, Buddhism and Jainism. And it will be convenient and useful for us to discuss his treatment of these systems one by one.