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Year : 2022  |  Volume : 10  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 97-103

Human being as a self-responsible and connected being: A thematic analysis of Gandhian ideas of human nature and their implications for self-nurturance and psychological counseling

Department of Contemplative and Behavioral Science, Sri Sri University, Cuttack, Odisha, India

Date of Submission07-Jan-2022
Date of Acceptance21-Jul-2022
Date of Web Publication10-Nov-2022

Correspondence Address:
Prof. Arun Pratap Singh
Department of Contemplative and Behavioral Science, Sri Sri University, Cuttack, Odisha
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijoyppp.ijoyppp_7_22

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Background: In contemporary scenario, we can notice a significant drop in self-responsibility and social connectedness among modern intellectuals and youth. As a result, several irresponsible and denigrating comments against cultural tools and practices continue to surface in the media and on the social networking sites. Psychological studies have identified co-occurrence between loss of reliance on cultural practices and emergence of physical and mental health issues. Objectives: Against this backdrop, current study has sought to analyzes integrative and comprehensive perspective of human nature found in Gandhian literature to expand the paradigms of self-nurturance and psychological counseling. Materials and Method: The data were analyzed by using thematic analysis. Results: Gandhian view goes beyond the prevalent notions of individualism and identifies over-indulgence in sensory pleasures, lack of self-investigation, utilitarianism, and lack of faith in God as causal pathways for mental health concerns. Addressing these challenges requires attending to the functioning of body, mind, spirit /soul, and nature (svabhav). Conclusion: Inculcating spirituality, love, non-violence, truth, theism, service, and celibacy in the process of psychological counseling is important. The Gandhian perspective especially acknowledges the relevance of self-expansion, sensory restraint, prayer, and inculcation of peace as techniques for Psychological counseling to restore physical and mental health.

Keywords: Gandhian philosophy, human nature, psychological counseling

How to cite this article:
Singh AP. Human being as a self-responsible and connected being: A thematic analysis of Gandhian ideas of human nature and their implications for self-nurturance and psychological counseling. J Appl Conscious Stud 2022;10:97-103

How to cite this URL:
Singh AP. Human being as a self-responsible and connected being: A thematic analysis of Gandhian ideas of human nature and their implications for self-nurturance and psychological counseling. J Appl Conscious Stud [serial online] 2022 [cited 2023 Feb 8];10:97-103. Available from: http://www.jacsonline.in/text.asp?2022/10/2/97/360867

  Introduction Top

The quest for human nature is central to overcome human suffering. Many critical contemporary alterations (i.e., acculturation, globalization, climate change, and global warming) have pushed human intellect to transgress perceptual boundaries weaved by the existing theoretical and knowledge frameworks (Veenhoven, 2010). However, we find an acute shortage of strategies to overcome human-made constraints in individuals' life related to mental health (Singh, 2018; Singh, 2015), climate change, global warming, corruption, pollution, and loneliness (Otto et al., 2020). The most obvious reason for the above scenario lies in the loss of connectedness with fellow beings, natural objects, cultural tools, perceiving them only in utilitarian terms, and denial of their emotional value. Therefore, in any endeavor to re-establish/maintain/strengthen this connection, we need to consider nuances and notions of human nature as an agency and agent both. In particular, following questions would be pertinent: What are the core attributes of human life? How similar and different are we? Are we being shaped by environmental factors and genes only? Are individuals responsible for their habits? Can we remain healthy by disconnected from others? In response to the above questions, Indian sages and Western philosophers have made some efforts.

Human nature: Western and Eastern perspectives

The notion of human nature, with varying taxonomical classifications, is the foundation of philosophical approaches and psychological theories (Greene, 2018). Some philosophers logically reflected over it, while others realized it through lived experience. Therefore, some perspectives consider human nature an inherent and persistent attribute, and others view it as a constructivist phenomenon (Heyd, 2003). A cursory view of western systems and theories reveals individuality as their core concern (Singh, 2020). For instance, Plato identified rationality as a core feature of a human being; Aristotle presumed human nature consisting of biological uniqueness, superiority over animals, and an inherent ability and motivation to improve as core markers (Greene, 2018). Rousseau argued for independence and natural goodness as identifiers of human nature (Ciccarelli et al., 2017). Kant, a student of Rousseau, believed that human nature is a product of our cognitive processes and biological tendencies (Heyd, 2003). Karl Marx's ideas of exploitative tendencies in rich peoples continue to radicalize the youth (Singh, 2015). According to Descartes, body and mind are two different states, of which the mind is immaterial while the body is physical (Ciccarelli et al., 2017). However, Leibniz held the idea that the mind and body are ultimately composed of the same kind of substance. According to Hobbs, only the body exists like a machine (Carlson, 2012), and every consciousness state has a biological substratum. Foucault disagreed with the above idea and cited the inability of biological reductionism to account for the uncertainty and irregularity found in human behavior (Heyd, 2003). The evolutionary theory proposed by Darwin explains human survival and existence through the natural selection (Ciccarelli et al., 2017). However, it could not explain how love, emotional identity, prejudice, fear, attachment, and altruism have evolved.

In western psychology, we find three types of trends regarding essential attributes of human nature: good, evil, and ambiguous (Haslam and Bain, 2005). According to Freud, humans are inherently cruel and selfish and have natural tendencies to capture, humiliate, torment, kill, and torture others (Bansal, 2019). He believed that pathological states ensue due to repression through moral convictions. His ideas of unconscious determinism have made deep inroads into the literature and the general public consciousness. Behaviorists emphasized empiricism and conducted their studies bereft of consciousness (King et al., 2008). According to functionalists and information theorists, a human being is like a computer machine, which takes some information in the form of sensory experiences and evicts output in terms of behaviors under the mediation of cognitive processes (Heyd, 2003). The humanistic perspective postulates human nature as inherently positive but cultural value systems as villains causing negative experiences and debilitating human functioning (Ciccarelli et al., 2017). However, existentialism adopted a more nuanced view and prescribed human agency in peoples' life conditions (King et al., 2008). Positive psychology, a recent disciplinary offshoot, has started to undertake the mammoth task of exploring causes and mechanisms of happiness. In cultural psychology, sporadic work on human universals across the cultural contexts has begun (Brown, 1991).

In India, the quest for “Who am I?” has remained in foci since ancient times. From the era of Veda and Upanishads to the contemporary age, many sages and scholars have dwelled on it. As a result, many perspectives advocating a variety of existential domains (i.e., dualism, monotheism, materialism, absolutism, and nihilism) got popularized (Ciccarelli et al., 2017). We can notice a multiplicity of conflicting opinions regarding several existential questions. For example, Does the soul exist or not? How to explain the relationship between body and mind? To what extent human beings have positive or negative attributes? What is the total number of essential components of human existence? Do instinctual tendencies such as fear, hunger, sleep, and copulation define the primary nature of human nature? In response to the above questions, various Indian philosophical systems propound different opinions and create a perplexing scenario for us to realize the essential truth and incorporate the same in our endeavors of self-nurturance and psychological counseling.

Why this study?

The above perspectives of human nature have several limitations. Big claims of objectivity and legitimacy fall before the limits of positivism (Loughlin et al., 2013). Due to this, the psychological interpretations of many psychological processes, from language to sensation, appear half-baked and demonstrate the insufficiency of modern methods of investigation. We are still groping to resolve many mysteries. For instance, why do we make wrong decisions in our food, entertainment, and lifestyle habits? How do we make moral decisions? How positively elevating experiences (i.e., love, devotion, transcendence, etc.) shape us? No discipline could arrive at any substantial and feasible conclusion regarding many such queries. Modern psychological investigations have often been conducted among Euro-American undergraduate students and therefore remain lop-sided in their design and findings (Dalal and Misra, 2010). Therefore, we cannot perfectly rely on western theoretical inputs about human nature. In addition, semantic structures of many Indian philosophical perspectives also would have become obsolete and incongruent from existing contemporary thought processes.

Against this backdrop, it would be expedient to explore the ideas of those who lived their lives with optimum effectiveness, satisfaction, and success and influenced social and political systems in the contemporary scenario (Heyd, 2003). Mohandas Karam Chandra Gandhi is one of them. Gandhiji had multiple human weaknesses but later was able to bring in a big quantum of changes in his personality. He composed an abundance of literature and inspired many social and political thinkers. He undertook an arduous task to galvanize the variegated Indian psyche to pursue political freedom. He studied and recognized fundamental unity in all theistic views of the world. Gandhian thought, without unnecessary wag-trap, log-wrap, offers a unique amalgamation of ideas marked by originality and cross-cultural relevance. We can find a great importance given to emotional and psychological development in the Gandhian literature. Because of this, Gandhism has emerged as an ideological scale. Many psychologists (i.e., Maslow, and Skinner) recognized Gandhian literature as a valuable treasure of wisdom for better psychological care and services. However, unfortunately, except for personal reflections and mini-qualitative studies related to self-control (Sawle et al., 2015), nonviolence (Kool, 2013), forgiveness (Mahajan and Mahajan, 2021) in Gandhian thought, there is a dearth of rigorous qualitative explorations.

  Methods of Study Top

Many philosophers and scholars have expressed their reservations regarding the suitability of the positivistic paradigm for exploring the human nature. In this context, qualitative methods have gained acceptability among social scientists. Therefore, thematic analysis has been used in this study to analyze basic properties, determinants, facilitative, and obstructive factors for human nature in the Gandhian literature. Accordingly, this study was conducted in the following steps.

Constructing questions related to human nature

Based on the review of eastern and western perspectives of human nature, the following questions were framed: What kind of creature is a human being? Is there a predominance of animalism or divinity? Are humans fundamentally different from others or similar? According to Gandhi's literature, what factors determine human nature? What obstacles and contributory factors may be involved in changing human nature? Which particular techniques we can adopt from Gandhian literature in the process of counseling?

Determining ambit of human nature-related conceptual categories

In the light of the literature review, human nature-related terms were defined as follows: Human nature implied inherent characteristics related to cognition, emotion, and behavior. In this way, the meaning of human nature is not tied to any one discipline here. The determinant of human nature refers to the factors that make human nature positive or negative. The refinement of human nature here refers to the factors contributing to the development of positive qualities, values, and behaviors.

Selecting relevant Gandhian literature

To answer the above questions, literature written by Gandhiji was selected. (Gandhi, 1933, 1941, 1949, 1953, 1954, 1959a, 1959b, 1959c, 1962, 1971, 2011).

Preparing memos

Subsequently, Gandhian literature was rigorously studied and sentences and sentences-groups related to human nature were underlined. Along with this, certain particular important events displaying shifts in the perspective for life were specially chosen.

Developing notes

Each sentence containing wisdom related to the above questions was analyzed for its meaning.


According to the research questions, the characteristics conferred by the sample were marked and coded concerning constituents of human nature, macro-determinants of human nature, microsocial factors and individual factors of human nature, process of human nature development, and techniques for the refinement of human nature. In this pursuance, each unit of the given sample was systematically and carefully analyzed.

Formation of themes

The codes belonging to hierarchical categories were sorted and a set of complete code pairs were analyzed to determine the themes. Along with this, an attempt was also made to understand the interrelations between various themes.

Re-evaluating themes

A proper assessment of the usefulness, uniformity, and diversity of each theme was undertaken. This step was further divided into two sub-steps. First, a code summary related to every theme was evaluated for inter-relationship, and then, every theme was interpreted regarding its relationship with the broad objective.

Defining and labeling themes

After preparing a complete sketch of interconnected themes, they were defined and labeled in a concise and integrated manner.


After qualitative analysis, a brief, logical, and coherent report was written.

  Results & Discussion Top

The purpose of this study was to characterize the human nature in the Gandhian literature and identify the process required to refine it, the constraints thereof, and facilitative factors to deal with those. Accordingly, relevant parts and events were selected from the following books: My Experiments with Truth (Gandhi, 2011), Hind Swaraj (Gandhi, 1933), Love is God (Gandhi, 1959c), Trusteeship (Gandhi, 1959b), Ram Nam (Gandhi, 1949), My God (Gandhi, 1962), The message of Gita (Gandhi, 1959d), Panchayati Raj (Gandhi, 1959a), Pathway to God (Gandhi, 1979), Towards New Education (Gandhi, 1953), Nature Cure (Gandhi, 1954) & Constructive Programme: Its meaning and place (Gandhi, 1941). In addition, relevant newspaper articles (Young India, Harijan, etc.,) were also selected. Subsequently, related sentences, syntax, and events were analyzed and synthesized through a coding procedure indicated in [Table 1].
Table 1: Thematic analysis coding in the study

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According to Gandhiji, a person is not merely a composition of body organs but also a transcendental entity (Gandhi, 1933; p.25). A human being constitutes divinity and animalistic nature and a kind of conflict persists between these. Hence, we operate sometimes under the influence of animal instincts (hunger, sleep, fear, and sex) and express divinity at other time-points (Gandhi, 1971; p.23). Upanishads proclaim the same view. According to the Sankhya philosophy, human beings are the product of matter and consciousness (Singh, 2022). However, due to gross identifications with the matter, we get entangled with the multiple forms of sorrow (Gandhi, 1933; p.3). From the different parts of the world, several ancient religious traditions concur with this view. However, mainstream psychological perspectives have not been able to consider transcendental dimensions as a part of human nature due to the limitations of logical analysis and empirical investigations (Dalal and Misra, 2010). As a result, predominant schools of thought continue to hold to an animalistic view of human nature. For example, psychoanalysis presumes life and death instincts as two opposing animalistic tendencies. Even humanism, despite its conviction in self-actualizing tendency as an inherent attribute has not been able to recognize broad spiritual contours. Modern genetics opines with the view that human beings are not blank slate at the time of birth but there may be a genetic propensity to a set of adaptive and maladaptive traits (Singh, 2022). However, this transcendental orientation is yet to be considered as a part of existing psychological constructs.

Major macro-determinants and micro-factors of human nature

Thematic analysis revealed several important learnings about the determinants of human nature. Gandhiji agreed with the view that cultural differences might ensue to the differences in the styles of learning, thinking, perception, spectrum of relationships, and worldviews (Vignoles et al., 2016). However, human nature cannot be fixed only by culture or society; it is a culmination of several experiential trajectories gained during several lives (Gandhi, 1949; p.16). He never denounced the relevance of cultural tools in shaping the human psyche. In particular, he recognized the relevance of religious tools in psychological counseling. He ascribed the multiple scenarios of physical and mental health issues to loss of faith in religion. In some segments of literature, his view of religion as a set of principles equates it with the spirituality. A current review concerning religion and mental health validates these claims (Lucchetti et al., 2021). It has enlisted evidence-based utility of western worshipping practices in treating and rehabilitating patients of depression, suicide attempters, substance addicts, psychosis, anxiety, etc., Across Gandhiji's life cycle, the family's role especially of parental rearing is explicitly important to lead to an unfettered, truthful, and pious life. Numerous psychological studies justify the pivotal role of the family in value education (Singh and Misra, 2012).

He attributed several pathos of contemporary human life to micro-factors embedded in social systems and institutions. In this regard, “Hindu Swaraj” illustrates the multiple forms of materialistically-inclined disorientation in the legal, medical, and transportation system resulting in several cognitive, behavioral, and affective issues. Gandhiji disagreed with the excessive use of machines and expressed that indiscriminate use of machines would augment greed, the concentration of wealth, exploitation, and reduction in awareness. In congruence, several studies, related with effects of media and sedentary entertainment demonstrate negative repercussions of exposure to TV, videogames, computers, and mobiles not only for physical functioning but also for mental wellness (Singh, 2018). He underlined the role of natural diet and living, which is getting mitigated by the predominant biomedical and education system. In consonance, he expressed full support of for several alterative and nature-based therapies. He considered the observance of natural laws mandatory for promoting physical health and values and virtues.

This researcher also acquired important ideas about individual factors which shape our human nature. These include beliefs, perceptions, and conditions. In several significant episodes of his life, these factors are clearly visible. In an episode on abandoning meat eating (Gandhi, 2011, p. 27), he mentions to eat it to gain physical prowess and to overcome fear in personal life under the influence of peers. However, due to commitment to morality and loyalty to his parents, he was able to overcome from this habit. He renounced intake of salt and milk after cognizing about their harmful effects. These incidences denote that parental bonding, peer pressure, health beliefs, values, and pleasure-seeking can be important factors to develop human nature. Moreover, theism can be imbibed among children to protect them from many lifestyle deteriorations and maladjustments.

Two more episodes associated with the acquisition of the habit of truthfulness also give insight into the inhibitory and the facilitative factors of human nature. The first incident occurred when he stole a piece of a gold bracelet (Gandhi, 2011, p. 38) and the second incident occurred when he concealed the factual truth of being married while studying in London (Gandhi, 2011, p. 56), but later in both episodes, he exercised the truth. In both cases, the sensory attraction and the possibility of hurting a colleague were hindrances, but devotion to God, morality, and humility, study of positive literature, exposure to positive entertainment, and perseverance helped him to stick to truthfulness. These factors can have protective value to inoculate adolescents from engagement in risky behaviors. While living in Britain, he studied many good books (i.e., The Light of Asia, Buddha-Charit, The Key to Theosophy, New Testament). After understanding the term “trustee” from English law, he applied it in his financial management. He was so much influenced by Harishchandra's play that even after some slight moral errors, he would cry.

Process and techniques for changing human nature

This study brought out processes to uplift human nature. First process is related to autonomy. Gandhi Ji was a firm believer in destiny and free will both. He acknowledged that every person can build the destiny of life through their choices of available opportunities. Several events from his autobiography demonstrate how he was able to change societal attitudes and conditions too by using his free will. Second, he emphasized ensuring inclusivity. His view of religion was predominantly inclusive. He believed in one God and all religious traditions as a set of practices. The third important process is connectedness. He advocated connectedness as an important process to flourish human nature across arenas of life. He emphasized imparting greater focus to develop a positive attitude for indigenization and conservation of human resources. He criticized the individualistic orientations of modern civilization and cautioned Indian peoples and institutions against mindless duplication and incorporation of western organizational structures, functional patterns, and knowledge systems. In this vein, we can easily notice several negative consequences of the hegemony of empiricism in psychology and many other streams of academic systems in our country (Dalal and Misra, 2010). The fourth process is detachment. Without insisting on the ecclesiastical aspect of religion or spirituality, he focused to inculcate detachment. This process originally comes from an ancient text-Bhagwad Gita. The fifth important process is purification. Gandhiji emphasized the several dimensions of purification through the practice of truth and nonviolence.

The researcher also learned several Gandhian techniques to nurture ourselves. Gandhiji envisioned an ideal human being, who can experience compassion toward every deprived person, subdue the ego, and have unshakable resilience, and experience unbounded bliss. First technique is frugality denoting to living life with necessary facilities only and avoiding luxuries. The second is positive intentionality for an action. If we do anything with a positive mindset, then we are likely to experience an elevation in our well-being. The third important technique is fasting. Gandhiji used it to embolden his body, mind, and spirit. Under fasting, a person surrenders himself completely, which is necessary for prayer. The sacrifice of food and water is only the beginning of it. The fourth important technique is prayer. The fifth technique is celibacy. Both of these, prayer and celibacy, facilitate rehabilitation not only from physical maladies but also enhance our awareness and promote the development of virtues and thus optimize our functionality in the various domains of life. Many times, people consider prayer as a verbal ritual only, but actually, it encompasses integrated operation at emotional, cognitive, and behavioral levels. Prayer should include a sense of solicitation, concentration, determination, being part of divine existence, and firm conviction for rectification at different levels of existence. The sixth technique is adequate manual labor. He promulgates it, particularly as a part of an innovative model of education-Buniyadi Taleem.

Implications for psychological counseling

Gandhiji's literature provides important insights into the psychological counseling process particularly in response to following questions: How should a counselor interact with clients? What kind of obstacles might impede the counseling process? What should be the primary goal of counseling? According to Gandhiji, experience of happiness can be raised only by working for other's happiness or by considering interests of others as our own. Therefore, in any counseling attempt, self-expansion should be a prime objective. However, purification should precede connectedness in the counseling process. Only then a person might be able to imbibe the practice of truth and nonviolence in relationships with others. Purification involves fasting in the domains of sensory preoccupations and consumption patterns. Often counselors are perturbed by counselees' lack of enthusiasm for their psychological development. Many negative experiences related to anger, greed, and lust; prevent our attention from being meta-cognitively active in the intra-individual sphere. This supposition of subjugation of the human mind through mental modification seems closer to the concept of mind as espoused in Yogsutra. Gandhiji advised counselors to be aware of their inner turmoil first. Therefore, first, a counselor should explore his pathos to be able to support a counselee. Further, an important suggestion is about the role of a counselor. He cautions against close friend relationship between the counselors and counselee because it can disrupt the counseling process. In commensuration with this, counseling psychology recommends a professional relationship between a counselor and counselee. Gandhian literature suggests a variety of techniques for ensuring personal development.

Contemporary consumerist culture creates insecurity and vulnerability in the human psyche. According to modern studies, the more we identify ourselves with objects, the more we experience insufficiency in our consciousness. In this context, frugality can be identified as a key technique to rectify several psychological maladies. Temperance (Sanyam) can be utilized as another technique. It boosts our willpower. Through gradual practice of sensory control, a person can overcome several traumatic experiences. The third main technique may be invoking theism. Gandhiji had a firm conviction in the role of faith in the treatment of several physical ailments. In simultaneity, Gandhiji had an unwavering faith in the utility of prayer and celibacy to increase realization of intrinsic potentials and abilities for promoting health and wellness. The fourth important technique can be silence. Gandhi considered silence as an important technique to further facilitate an experience of authenticity. Inculcation of silence helps a person to get rid of conflicts in life and better our communication. In pursuing the use of these techniques, a counselee can be appropriately guided and monitored through diary reporting.

  Conclusion Top

This study explored relevant insights about human nature to promote self-nurturance and psychological counseling. Gandhiji believed that human beings have positive and negative cognitive, behavioral, and affective dispositions. However, we can improve and nourish our self by adopting a particular set of attitudes and behaviors. We can expand our happiness by developing inclusive self, which involves sharing of physical, psychological, and social resources with others. Unhappiness is caused by doing opposite to it. Moreover, a variety of techniques (i.e., frugality, positive intentionality, fasting, prayer, celibacy, and adequate manual labor) can be incorporated in counseling.

Unfortunately, existing dominant narratives and knowledge systems at educational institutions hospitals and clinics do not align with the Gandhian perspective of human nature. Moreover, over-reliance on scientism is leading to aggravation of mental health in different contexts. Therefore, as self-responsible researchers and scholars, we need to own Gandhian perspective of human nature and work upon it. In particular, we need to conduct qualitative and quantitative explorations to examine psychological effects of the practice of celibacy, Indian worshiping traditions, and cultural tools to promote emotional bonding with the rivers, mountains, plants and further evaluate their underlying mechanisms.

Financial support and sponsorship

This research work was sponsored by Mahatma Gandhi Antarrashtriya Hindi Viswavidyalaya.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

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