Gandhi’s Religious Thought and Indian Traditions
Strictly speaking, Indian traditional thought, diversified as it is, contains neither philosophy of religion nor theology as these are commonly understood. Some Indian thinkers, S. Radhakrishnan for one, make much of the view that Hinduism is, above all, a way of life. Those who belong to other traditions have justly pointed out that the same can be said of other faiths as well. What Hindus mean when they talk of a way of life, however, is that Hinduism is not credal in form but concerns patterns of living, including rituals and other practices, for example those involved in certain seasonal festivals, which are not wholly ritualistic. At the same time a man can be a Hindu, that is to say regard himself as one and be regarded as one by others, even if he does not follow any particular one of the practices that other Hindus may follow. So ‘religious thought’ is a phrase that has some justification in the Indian context, for it can cover both the complex structures of consciousness and their behavioural manifestations which are what we seek to probe in understanding Gandhi’s complex response to India’s multidimensional religious traditions. Philosophers have by no means been the most reliable guides to what these structures are, and we shall find, in Gandhi especially, a man whose own religious life was not mainly shaped by philosophical texts, even by scriptural authorities, but by a host of factors, the chief of which will occupy us in this chapter.
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