Welfare Of All (Sarvodaya)

October 05, 2015

We feature excerpts by Gandhi that lend insight into his values and personal practices.

This article was originally written by Gandhi as a preface to his Gujarati translation of Ruskin's 'Unto This Last'. Gandhi said: "I believe that I discovered some of my deepest convictions reflected in this great book of Ruskin and that is why it so captured me and made me transform my life."

May 16, 1908

People in the West generally hold that it is human's duty to promote the happiness --prosperity, that is -- of the greatest number. Happiness is taken to mean material happiness exclusively, that is, economic prosperity. If, in the pursuit of this happiness, moral laws are violated, it does not matter much. Again, as the object is the happiness of the greatest number, people in the West do not believe it to be wrong if it is secured at the cost of the minority. The consequences of this attitude are in evidence in all western countries.

The exclusive quest for the physical and material happiness of the majority has no sanction in divine law. In fact, some thoughtful persons in the West have pointed out that it is contrary to divine law to pursue happiness in violation of moral principles. The late John Ruskin was foremost among these. He was an Englishman of great learning. He has written numerous books on art and crafts. He has also written a great deal on ethical questions. One of these books, a small one Ruskin himself believed to be his best. It is read widely wherever English is spoken. In the book, he has effectively countered these arguments and shown that the well-being of the people at large consists in conforming to the moral law.

We in India are much given now-a-days to imitation of the West. We do grant that it is necessary to imitate the West in certain respects. At the same time there is no doubt that many western ideas are wrong. It will be admitted on all hands that what is bad must be eschewed. The condition of Indians in South Africa is pitiable. We go out to distant lands to make money. We are so taken up with this that we become oblivious of morality and of God. We become engrossed in the pursuit of self-interest. In the sequel, we find that going abroad does us more harm than good, or does not profit us as much as it ought to. All religions pre-suppose the moral law, but even if we disregard religion as such, its observance is necessary on grounds of common-sense also. Our happiness consists in observing it. This is what John Ruskin has established. He has opened the eyes of the Western people to this, and today, we see a large number of Europeans modelling their conduct on his teaching. In order that Indians may profit by his ideas, we have decided to present extracts from his book, in a manner intelligible to Indians who do not know English.

Socrates gave us some idea of human's duty. He practised his precepts. It can be argued that Ruskin's ideas are an elaboration of Socrates's. Ruskin has described vividly how one who wants to live by Socrates's ideas should acquit himself in the different vocations. The summary of his work which we offer here is not really a translation. If we translated it, the common reader might be unable to follow some of Biblical allusions, etc. We present therefore only the substance of Ruskin's work. We do not even explain what the title of the book means, for it can be understood only by a person who has read the Bible in English. But since the object which the book works towards is the welfare of all that is, the advancement of all and not merely of the greatest number we have entitled these articles "Sarvodaya".

ROOTS OF TRUTH   (In Unto This Last)

Humans suffers from many delusions; but none so great as their attempt to formulate laws for the conduct of other humans disregarding the effects of social affection, as if they were only machines at work. That we cherish such an illusion does us no credit. Like other forms of error, the laws of political economy also contain an element of plausibility. Political economists assert that social affections are to be looked upon as accidental and disturbing elements in human nature; but avarice and the desire for progress are constant elements. Let us eliminate the inconstants and, considering humans merely as a moneymaking machine, examine by what laws of labour, purchase and sale, the greatest amount of wealth can be accumulated. Those laws once determined, it will be for each individual afterwards to introduce as much of the disturbing affectional elements as she/he chooses.

This would be a convincing argument if the social affections were of the same nature as the laws of demand and supply. Humans' affections constitute an inner force. The laws of demand and supply are formulations concerning the external world. The two, therefore, are not of the same nature. If a moving body is acted upon by a constant force from one direction and a varying force from another, we would first measure the constant force and then the inconstant. We will be able to determine the velocity of the body by comparing the two forces. We can do this because the constant and the inconstant forces are of the same kind. But in social dealings the constant force of the laws of demand and supply and the accidental force of social affection are forces that differ in kind. Affection has a different kind of effect on man and acts in a different manner. It changes â€‹humans' nature, so that we cannot measure its effect with the help of laws of addition and subtraction, as we can the effects of different forces on the velocity of a body. A knowledge of the laws of exchange is of no help in determining the effects of humans' social affections.

Source: CWMG, Vol 8, p. 316-318, in Indian Opinion, May 16, 1908.

Be The Change

This week try to both, identify a practice in your own culture/roots that is no longer serving our collective wellbeing and eradicate it, and look for a practice that nourishes our interconnectedness.