An Eye for an Eye and Mahatma Gandhi

It is written in the Bible – An Eye for an Eye and a Tooth for a Tooth.

I hesitated for some time before writing this article as I am going to criticize the father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi.

But I told myself that Gandhi had given this country its freedom. God has given me a mind of my own and the Constitution of India guarantees to me the right of free speech. And implicit in the right to free speech is the right to have opinions of my own even if they contradict the Mahatma’s teaching and philosophy.

Gandhi – responding to the Bible – famously said that an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.

But is that really so?

Suppose someone attacks you and you lose an eye. According to Gandhi if you ask for an eye in return then some other innocent person will lose his eye and if the chain continues then the whole world becomes blind.

But is that really the teaching of the Bible?

As I see it if you lose an eye then you are not justified in asking for an eye of an innocent person. But what about the person who attacked you? Is it not justified that he should lose his eye because he took yours? This is not the highest teaching. This is not the teaching of the Sermon of the Mount. But how many people in this world are trying to be saints? Very few.

I think that the Bible shows a deep understanding of human nature as it exists. It is a deep rooted instinct in humans that they should receive justice if someone harms them.

Human nature has not changed since the time that the Bible was written. It has not evolved. Our instincts require us to seek justice and we meddle with them at our own peril.

Mahatma Gandhi described himself as a politician who was trying to be a saint. And he may well have succeeded in becoming a saint. He died remembering the name of God and according to the Hindu scriptures if someone has the name of God on his lips at the exact moment of death then he or she attains salvation.

But his teaching that you should not seek retribution if someone harms you goes against some very powerful and deep rooted instincts in our nature. And almost nobody in this world is trying to become a saint in any case.

Gandhi’s teaching may be relevant to people who are trying to be saints. But to expect and require the aam aadmi to do so is completely unrealistic.

It is said in the Bible – Many are called but few are chosen. Out of the entire human race, many are called. So most are not even called.  That is to say most of the people on this Earth are not even trying to be saints

Hinduism believes in the doctrine of Karma, the teachings of Islam will not contradict the Bible and all countries have a criminal justice system. These established religious teachings have survived because they have a more mature understanding of human nature than what Mahatma Gandhi had (judging by the evidence at hand).

Looking at it from Gandhi’s point of view he probably wanted to persuade people (of his day) to not resort to communal violence on being provoked. But the solution to that should have been to have a functioning criminal justice system and not require people to act against their instincts and try to become saints. You do not force somebody to climb Mount Everest at gunpoint. He will only fall and break his neck.

Mahatma Gandhi bit off a good bit more than he could chew. Human nature did not change despite the spiritual attainments of the Buddha, Jesus, Prophet Muhammad or any of the other saints and prophets. And it did not change for Mahatma Gandhi either.

I’ll end here. Hope you liked the article and please explore this site for more on Spirituality, Self Help and Politics. If you would like to contact me the link is below. Please also comment on the blog if you liked the article (or even if you didn’t). Feedback from my readers keeps me going.

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  1. The Eye for an eye principle originated in ancient Babylonian law and in the code of Hammurabi and later the Torah. It is quoted in the old testament of the Bible, which is really the Hebrew part of the Bible.
    In the New Testament what, as you say in the Sermon on the Mount is the essence of the New Testament. Christ’s act of forgiveness on the cross is the supreme act of maturity and compassion.
    Not easy for ordinary mortals. But certainly worth aiming at.

    These teachings, and Gandhi’s too, don’t aim at making saints of anyone, but rather making better people of us. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you is the prime principle. I believe in it and I do try and live by it. That doesn’t make me a saint. Nor do I claim to be perfect at it. I do falter and err sometimes. But it certainly makes me stop to think and to step back before it’s too late.
    Revenge has never solved a problem. It only prolongs the chain of hatred, fear, violence and the accruing stress. There have been criminals who gave themselves up because they couldn’t live with the stress and the fear and anxiety.
    Even Gandhi has never claimed to be a saint. He admits his follies and mistakes and bad judgments. That’s what puts him above the rest.

    1. I don’t disagree with anything you said. But you have to leave it to the individual to decide what teaching he or she wants to follow.

      Gandhi’s precept was used as a club in India to force people to follow a teaching that was above them.

      Instincts are very strong in us and forcing someone to act against his instincts will do damage to him and society

  2. Neither Christ nor Gandhi or for that matter Kabir or Shirdi Saibaba ever used “force”. They did not proselytize. They preached and appealed to conscience. What’s more they strove to live up to their own standards as living examples. Unlike some latter day “saints” and babas who live it up at the expense of their sycophants.
    Typical cases of not practicing what they preach.

  3. The force and inquisition was perpetrated later by people who twisted the scriptures to their own advantage Fortunately it died down and better sense prevailed.
    Unfortunately, the Hindutva brigade is attempting to do something similar, using different methods.

  4. And if we were to let instincts guide us we’d go back to a primordial state where no social brakes and controls existed. A free for all not different from the law of the jungle – grab, kill, steal and ne’er an eyelid batted!

    1. I am sorry I didn’t make my meaning plain. What I meant that people should find life satisfying to instinct within a civilized society. Neither the Constitution of India nor the laws of the country require a very high standard of ethics.

      Religion is only meant for the few according to Osho. For the rest it is enough if they fear God if they are not able to love him

      The Roman empire survived for more than 1500 years if I am not mistaken. The view about religion was that all religions were regarded by the people as equally true and by the philosophers as equally false and by the magistrates as equally useful. That is enough for civilization to continue

  5. The fear of god works like law and order. If we didn’t fear the law or the police it would have been a few for all.
    But when that fear is generated by individuals or cults there is no binding or control on them. That’s when trouble brews.

    What the the magistrates, or rather, the rulers think – that religion is useful – is so true.
    Religion is such a handy tool to intimidate, divide and use.

    1. A knife can be used to kill or by a surgeon to save life. We cannot get rid of knives because they are misused by some people.

      But the Roman empire was an empire and not a democracy. There must have been less politics relating to religion for that reason

  6. Very true. It is so of so many things – earth, fire, water, gas, money. You name it. Every thing has a flip side. A use and an abuse. And conscience or the lack of it decides the choice you make.

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