Gandhi on Tolerance

Sam   September 18, 2020   Comments Off on Gandhi on Tolerance
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By Sam Madden
(Originally Published October 2010)

Some of you have heard me quote Ghandi on tolerance. Like Ghandi I never especially liked the word tolerance. Tolerance to me infers a sense of superiority over others. “I will tolerate your beliefs, but I don’t like them, and actually hate them.” This word tolerance has a negative connotation. Once a person can not tolerate another person any longer, then what happens?

Here is an excerpt from Mahatma Ghandi’s book, “The Message of Jesus Christ”

“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, being 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 different faiths? 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 numerous branches and many leaves, so is there one true and perfect Religion, but it becomes many as it passes through the human medium. The one Religion is beyond all speech. And imperfect men put it into such language as they can command, and their words are interpreted by other men equally imperfect. Whose interpretation is to be held the right one? Everybody is right from her/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 from the south. True knowledge of Religion breaks down the barriers between faith and faith. 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 is naturally to the principal faiths of the world. They are all based on common fundamentals. They have all produced great saints.

When I was turning over the pages of the sacred books of different faiths for my own satisfaction, I became sufficiently familiar for my purpose with Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, Judaism and Hinduism. In reading these texts, I can say, that I was equiminded towards all these faiths, although perhaps I was not then conscious of it. Refreshing my memory of those days, I do not find I ever had the slightest desire to criticize any of those religions merely because they were not my own, but read each sacred book in a spirit of reverence, and found the same fundamental morality in each. Some things I did not understand then, and do not understand even now, but experience has taught me, that it is a mistake hastily to imagine, that anything that we cannot understand is necessarily wrong. Some things which I did not understand first have since become as clear as daylight. Equimindedness helps us to solve many difficulties and even when we criticize anything, we express ourselves with a humility and a courtesy, which leave no sting behind them.

The acceptance of the doctrine of Equality of Religions does not abolish the distinction between religion and irreligion. We do not propose to cultivate tolerance for irreligion. That being so, some people might object, that there would be no room left for equimindedness, if every one took his own decision as to what was religion and what was irreligion. If we follow the law of Love, we shall not bear any hatred towards the irreligious brother. On the contrary, we shall love him, and therefore either we shall bring him to see the error of his ways, or he will point out our error, or each will tolerate the other’s difference of opinion. If the other party does not observe the law of Love, he may be violent to us. If however we cherish real love for him, it will overcome his bitterness in the end. All obstacles in our path will vanish, if only we observe the golden rule, that we must not be impatient with those whom we may consider to be in error, but must be prepared, if need be, to suffer in our own person.”

~ Mahatma Gandhi”The Message of Jesus Christ”

Sam Madden is a Board Member and Representative for the Center for Pluralism. He can be reached at

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