Gandhi & Satyagraha

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A Re-examination of the sources of Gandhi's Satyagraha
and its significance in the Indian Liberation movement

Perhaps one of the most eminent figures in the history of India, Mohandas K. Gandhi, also known as the Mahatma, or "The Great Soul", was the spiritual and practical founder of active non-violent resistance, a concept called Satyagraha. Also known as ¡°soul-force¡± or ¡°truth-force¡±, Gandhi developed this revolutionary technique as a method of gaining political and social reforms against the injustices experienced by Indians under British Colonial rule. For most of his life, Gandhi devoted himself to perfecting the Satyagraha technique, teaching it to his followers and applying it in every kind of conflict that he ever encountered.

In this following paper, we will be examining the underlying sources of Gandhi's Satyagraha, where he drew inspiration for his philosophies on non-violence, and finally, we will take a look at the application of Satyagraha in terms of the Indian liberation.

The Roots of ¡®Satyagraha¡¯
The word Satyagraha is derived from the Sanskrit words "sat" which means "truth" and "agraha", meaning "firmness¡±, giving meaning to what Gandhi liked to call ¡°holding on to truth¡± or ¡°soul-force (Easwaran, 48). As Gandhi explains in his autobiography, the principles of Satyagraha came into existence long before the actual term was conceived. Therefore it is important to note that Satyagraha was no overnight revelation but the result of an ongoing collection of philosophies and ideals taken in from various sources throughout Gandhi¡¯s experiences.

Gandhi¡¯s philosophy on Satyagraha primarily stems from his association with two ancient religions, Hinduism and Jainism. Growing up in a region where both these religions were widely practiced, Gandhi gained exposure to their ways and principles early on in life (Arnold, 33). Core to both these religions, is the belief for reverence for all forms of life. From this stems the concept of ahimsa - which Gandhi places at the very heart of Satyagraha.

Ahimsa, a Sanskrit word, implies the avoidance of any injury (¡®himsa¡¯) which conceptually means the act of being non-violent. While it may sound like a relatively simple and straightforward idea, as Gandhi explains, its true meaning implies something far more profound. Literally speaking, ahimsa means non-violence towards most life. But to me it has much higher, infinitely higher meaning. It means that you may not offend anybody; you may not harbor uncharitable thought, even in connection with those who consider your enemies. To one who follows this doctrine, there are no enemies (Wikepedia.org).

According to Gandhi, the concept of ahimsa is not simply the mere avoidance of violence, which is the ¡°least expression¡± of the term, but it involves ¡°the largest love¡±-love for one¡¯s enemy, which makes ahimsa such an integral part of Satyagraha (Tercheck 186). Another thing that had a profound impact on Gandhi¡¯s philosophies was his personal experiences with Brahmacharya, the Sanskrit word for the practice of celibacy. After completing his family, and several years before the conception of Satyagraha, Gandhi took this oath at the age of thirty-seven, to signify a total commitment to his own personal discipline and his pursuit for truth. In his autobiography, Gandhi states, ¡°So long as I was the slave of lust my faithfulness was worth nothing¡± (Gandhi, 172.) To Gandhi, overcoming the passions of lust was essential to all noble thought and action and he goes on to explain that ¡°brahamacharya lies in the protection of the body, the mind and the soul (Gandhi, 174).¡± Although unknown to him at that time, Gandhi accredits brahamacharya for secretly paving the way for his views of Satyagraha. As the movement developed in South Africa, Gandhi began to see the correlation between brahamacharya and its role in the concept of non-violence. To Gandhi, brahmacharya...
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