asceticism, gandhi, God, love, nihilism, non-violence, paradox, Politics, purity, religion, truth

Purity

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To see the universal and all-pervading spirit of Truth face to face one must be able to love the meanest of creation as oneself. And a man who aspires after that cannot afford to keep out of any field of life.

That is why my devotion to truth has drawn me into the field of politics; and I can say without the slightest hesitation, and yet in all humility, that those who say that religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means.

Gandhi

To Gandhi’s way of thinking, self-purification is the straight and narrow path towards realizing God, the only possible means human beings have to allow them become truly and actively non-violent. Purification is not constrained to one or two kinds of activities; religion is inseparable from all human activities, as their essence or content. In order to approach truth, human beings must becomes purified; if they purify themselves, the world around them will become purified as well.

The pathway of purification therefore also leads to non-violence in all ways of life: only once we become pure of heart can we identify ourselves with any living being — even those who hate us. We can love the lowest; we can even find the strength to love our enemies:

Not until we have reduced ourselves to nothingness can we conquer the evil in us. God demands nothing less than complete self-surrender as the price for the only real freedom that is worth having. And when a man thus loses himself he immediately finds himself in the service of all that lives. It becomes his delight and his recreation. He is a new man, never’ weary of spending himself in the service of God’s creation. (MM, 30)

We may begin to grow curious at the absolute positivity Gandhi deduces from self-negation. How can surrender produce freedom? Yet Gandhi claims surrender is the price for the only freedom which is worth having. We must lose ourselves in order to find ourselves (transposed, does this imply God must be infinitely distant from us in order to discover him as truth itself? That in a way, God must die in order to be revived within us, through our spiritual self-purification?)

A little light may be shed on this mystery if we consider how Gandhi himself conceives of the relation between his own writing and truth:

There can be no room for untruth in my writings, because it is my unshakable belief that there is no religion other than truth and because I am capable of rejecting aught obtained at the cost of truth. My writings cannot but be free from hatred towards any individual because it is my firm belief that it is love that sustains the earth. There only is life where there is love. Life without love is death. Love is the reverse of the coin of which the obverse is truth. It is my firm faith.., that we can conquer the whole world by truth and love. (MM, 21)

Indeed, it seems the ascetic ideal remains an intractable paradox even for its most devoted followers. How is it that we loosen the grip of our bestial desires? Only by coming under the influence of an even more gripping asceticism… This is why purification is only acquired through the loosening of external shackles. We should ask: is this purity an illusion, the trace of the Other accidentally “discovered” in society still merely — symbolic? Even imaginary?

Where is that other spiritual development — the purity which is acquired through the loosening of internal shackles? But perhaps this is that most difficult dictum of all, the true ascetic triumph over monstrosity — love for the one who hates, love for the enemy… Forgiveness over punishment, non-violence over retaliation. To claim that this, however, is a route to God himself? Only if God himself is conceived of as completely purified, the purest of all beings — and so hence beyond being, infinitely separated from us — the same (absolute) distance between life and death.

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