Gandhi's Seven Sins some old insights for a new age

by Glen Pearson

Part One of a series on Mahatma Gandhi's Seven Sins

Just a few weeks before he was tragically assassinated, Mahatma Gandhi had an intimate conversation with his grandson Arun. He handed the boy a talisman on which were engraved the words “Seven Blunders.” From these “blunders” grows all the violence that plagues the world, he informed Arun. The list was brief but profound and was eventually titled The Seven Sins:

Wealth without work

Pleasure without conscience

Knowledge without character

Commerce without morality

Science without humanity

Worship without sacrifice

Politics without principles

Gandhi's old words now appear more modern than ever

The great champion of peace gave this list to Arun in 1947. Over 60 years later, these seven blunders have been so institutionalized that they have been structured into modern society in ways that are endemic.

Given the increased emphasis on the acquisition of wealth in these last two decades, the reality of people making money off of money as opposed to working with hands and minds has revolutionized the global economy and ostracized communities and entire countries in the process.

The rise of the middle class following the Second World War put money in the average person’s pocket in measures unheard of in all of human history. We became a consumer culture, acquiring articles and pursuits of pleasure that gave little thought to the deplorable labour conditions, environmental degradation, and the unemployment crisis that resulted from our acquisitions.

The rapid rise of technology has permitted our “Google generation” to learn almost any fact by the click of a button. But we have acquired knowledge devoid of consequences — facts without faith, and data without direction. It is knowledge without character.

Commerce without morality takes place at almost every level in a consumer culture, with little thought being given to the consequences on a generation in which money has become an end in itself.

The vast explosion of scientific research and data has taken us from the depths of space to the mysteries of the womb. But it has become a manic kind of discovery that far outpaces the human ability to comprehend its implications, let alone handle it.

Worship once used to entail acts of human betterment and personal character growth, but today religious people pick and choose what they like from their faith and toss out the rest. The result has been a faith without force and almost fully incapable of preparing its adherents to fend off the incursions of materialism.

“Politics without principles” — has this condemnation not infiltrated every level of political dealings in our modern world. It’s so bad that the modern citizen has trouble putting the word politics and principles in the same sentence.

In reality, Gandhi was seeking a balance, not a severe tipping of the scales in one direction or the other. Some have accused him of making his seven sins extreme, leaving him open to Western criticisms of disliking capitalism or pleasure. Of all the words in the seven sins, one is used more than any other — without. At no point does he exclude wealth, pleasure, knowledge, or science. He merely points out that the lack of balancing factors on such powerful impulses will inevitably lead to subtle violence that can eventually become more public. If we were to put this point in its context we would say that Gandhi called for wealth and work, science and humanity, pleasure and conscience, knowledge and character, worship and sacrifice, politics and principles.

Reading through Gandhi’s list of seven sins once more, I realized just how much more relevant they are today than in the time of their original publication over a half-century ago. With the arrival of globalization and great wealth running in direct opposition to the planet’s ability to sustain itself, great international and technological forces put a special sense of urgency in to meaning of Gandhi’s list. They are worth a second look, if only for the reason that to ignore them in our present generation is to fail the ultimate litmus test of humanity, progress, and even survivability.

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Glen Pearson
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Created with images by Arturo Espinosa - "Gandhi for PIFAL"

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