Truth Is God

Gleanings from the writings of Mahatma Gandhi bearing on God, God-Realization and the Godly Way

Chapter 20: Tolerance

I do not like the word tolerance, but could not think of a better one. Tolerance implies a gratuitous assumption of the inferiority of other faiths to one's own, whereas Ahimsa teaches us to entertain the same respect for the religious faiths of others as we accord to our own, thus admitting the imperfection of the latter. This admission will readily be made by a seeker of Truth who follows the law of love. If we had attained the full vision of Truth, we would no longer be seekers, but become one with God, for Truth is God. But being only seekers, we prosecute our quest and are conscious of our imperfection. And if we are imperfect ourselves, religion as conceived by us must also be imperfect. We have not realized religion in its perfection, even as we have not realized God. Religion of our conception, thus imperfect, is always subject to a process of evolution and re-interpretation. Progress towards Truth, towards God, is possible only because of such evolution. And if all faiths outlined by men are imperfect, the question of comparative merit does not arise. All faiths constitute a revelation of Truth, but all are imperfect and liable to error. Reverence to other faiths need not blind us to their faults. We must be keenly alive to the defects of our own faith, and must not leave it on that account but try to overcome those defects. Looking at all religions with an equal eye, we would not only not hesitate but would think it our duty to adopt into our faith every acceptable feature of other faiths.
The question then arises — Why should there be so many faiths? We know that there are a large variety of them. The soul is one, but the bodies which she animates are many. We cannot reduce the number of bodies; yet we recognize the unity of the soul. Even as a tree has a single trunk, but many branches and leaves, there is one Religion, but any number of faiths. All faiths are a gift of God, but partake of human imperfection, as they pass through the medium of humanity. God-given religion is beyond all speech. Imperfect men put it into such language as they can command, and their words are interpreted by other men equally imperfect. Whose interpretation must be held to be the right one ? Everyone is right from his own standpoint, but it is not impossible that everyone is wrong. Hence the necessity for tolerance, which does not mean indifference towards one's own faith, but a more intelligent and purer love for it. Tolerance gives us spiritual insight, which is as far from fanaticism as the North Pole is from the south. True knowledge of religion breaks down the barriers between faith and faith and gives rise to tolerance. Cultivation of tolerance for other faiths will impart to us a truer understanding of our own.
Tolerance obviously does not disturb the distinction between right and wrong, or good and evil. The reference here throughout has been to the principal faiths of the world, which are all based on identical fundamental principles, and which can all point to saintly men and women who held them in the past and hold them now. In the case of good and evil, we have to cultivate charity for the wicked no less than for the good, the sinner no less than the saint, all the while we cherish inveterate hatred towards wickedness and sin.

Young India, (Bulletin), 2-10-'30

The golden rule of conduct, therefore, is mutual toleration, seeing that we will never all think alike and we shall see Truth in fragment and from different angles of vision. Conscience is not the same thing for all. Whilst, therefore, it is a good guide for individual conduct, imposition of that conduct upon all will be an insufferable interference with everybody's freedom of conscience.

Young India, 23-9-'26