The Essential Gandhi:
An Anthology of his Writings on

his Life, Work, and Ideas

by Mahatma GandhiThe Essential Gandhi

The Essential Gandhi

or Mohandas K. Gandhi
Louis Fisher, Editor

[Items in square brackets are by Tony Mayo.]

{Items in fancy brackets are by the editor, Louis Fisher.}

p. 15 [As a boy, Gandhi confessed a petty theft to his father and was forgiven.] This was for me an object lesson in Ahimsa [Love and Non-Violence]. Then I could read in it nothing more than a father’s love but today I know that it was pure Ahimsa. When such Ahimsa becomes all-embracing it transforms everything it touches. There is no limit to its power.

This sort of sublime forgiveness was not natural to my father. I had thought he would be angry, say hard things and strike his forehead. But he was so wonderfully peaceful and I believe this was due to my clean confession. A clean confession, combined with a promise never to commit the sin again, when offered before one who has the right to receive it, is the purest type of repentance. I know my confession made my father feel absolutely safe about me and increased his affection for me beyond measure.

p. 44 It has always been a mystery to me how men can feel honored by the humiliation of their fellow-beings. [See also Jesse Jackson ]

p. 47 Service which is rendered without joy helps neither the servant nor the served. But all other pleasures and possessions pale into nothingness before service which is rendered in a spirit of joy. [See also Pearl S. Buck ]

p. 82 An infallible test of civilization is that a man claiming to be civilized should be an intelligent toiler, that he should understand the dignity of labor, and that his work should be such as to advance the interests of the community to which he belongs.

p. 93 Indeed, all reform has been brought about by the action of minorities in all countries and under all climes. Majorities simply follow minorities. [See also Margaret Mead. ]

p. 107 All would assume leadership and dictate to others, and there would be nothing done in the end. But where the leader himself becomes a servant, there are no rival claimants for leadership.

p. 130 [Responsibility] {Many of the British} members of the Indian Civil Service are most decidedly overbearing, they are tyrannical, at times thoughtless …. I grant also that, after having lived in India for a certain number of years, some of them become somewhat degraded. But what does that signify? They were gentlemen before they came here, and if they have  lost some of the moral fiber, it is a reflection upon ourselves. {Cries of “No!”} Just think out for yourselves, if a man who was good yesterday has become bad after having come in contact with me, is he responsible that he has deteriorated or am I? The atmosphere of sycophancy and falsity that surrounds them on their coming to India demoralizes them, as it would many of us. It is well to take the blame sometimes.

p. 145 The grinding poverty and starvation with which our country is afflicted is such that it drives more and more men every year into the ranks of beggars, whose desperate struggle for bread renders them insensible to all feelings of decency and self-respect. And our philanthropists, instead of providing work for them and insisting On their working . . . give them alms.

· . . I must refuse to insult the naked by giving them clothes they do not need instead of giving them work which they sorely need. I will not commit the sin of becoming their patron but on learning that I had assisted in impoverishing them I would give them a privileged position and give them neither crumbs nor cast-off clothing but the best of my food and clothes and associate myself with them in work. [See also beggary, below]

p. 154 Our contribution to the progress of the world must, therefore, consist in setting our own house in order.

p. 156 I know I have achieved most satisfactory results from evolving the boldest of my plans in broad daylight. I have never lost a minute’s peace for having detectives by my side. The public may not know I have been shadowed throughout my stay in India. That has not only not worried me but I have even taken friendly services from these gentlemen, many have apologized for having to shadow me. As a rule what I have spoken in their presence has already been published to the world. The result is that now I do not even notice the presence of these men and I do not know that the Government is much the wiser for having watched my movements through its secret agency … Removal of secrecy brings about the full disappearance of the Secret Service without further effort.

p. 157 Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.

p. 160 {One} man can not do right in one department of his life whilst he is occupied in doing wrong in any other department. Life is one indivisible whole.

p. 193 Isolated independence is not the goal of the world-states. It is voluntary interdependence …
Interdependence is and ought to be as much the ideal of man as self-sufficiency. Man is a social being. Without inter-relation with society he cannot realize his oneness with the universe or suppress his egotism. His social interdependence enables him to test his faith and to prove himself on the touchstone of reality.

p. 203 Most people do not understand the complicated machinery of government. They do not realize every citizen silently but none the less certainly sustains the government of the day in ways of which he has no knowledge. Every citizen therefore renders himself responsible for every act of his government.

Mahatman Gandhip. 230 My friendship for them must be a sorry affair if I could be satisfied with a large part of humanity being reduced to beggary. Little did my friends know that my friendship for the paupers of India has made me hard-hearted enough to contemplate their utter starvation with equanimity in preference to their utter reduction to beggary …. [If] I had the power I would stop every Sadavrata [Donation] where free meals are given. It has degraded the nation and it has encouraged laziness, idleness, hypocrisy and even crime. Such misplaced charity adds nothing to the Wealth of the country . . . and gives a false sense of meritoriousness to the donor. How nice and wise it would be if the donor were to open institutions where they would give meals under healthy, clean surroundings to men and women who would work for them… [The] rule should be “No labor, no meal.” … I know it is easier to fling free meals in the faces of idlers, but much more difficult to organize an institution where honest work has to be done. [In] the initial stages . . . the cost of feeding people after taking work from them will be more than the cost of the present free kitchens. But . . . it will be cheaper in the long run, if we do not want to increase . . the race of loafers which is fast overrunning this land. [See also, philanthropists, above]

p. 239-240 It has often occurred to me that a seeker after truth has to be silent. I know the wonderful efficacy of silence. I visited a Trappist monastery in South Africa. A beautiful place it was. Most of the inmates of that place were under a vow of silence. I enquired of the Father the motive of it, and he said the motive is apparent. We are frail human beings. We do not know very often what we say. If we want to listen to the still small voice that is always speaking within us, it will not be heard if we continually speak. I understood that precious lesson.

See also other posts on meditation.

p. 255 Three-fourths of the miseries and misunderstandings in the world will disappear if we step into the shoes of our adversaries and understand their standpoint.

p. 256-257 I can only hope you will realize the import of what you are doing. And if you do, your path will be easy–easy because you will take delight in difficulties and you will laugh in hope when everybody is in despair.

p. 278 You have been a true friend because you have been a candid friend often speaking your thoughts aloud. [Letter to Rabindranath Tagore, Bengali poet & recipient of Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913.]

p. 304 I do not believe in the doctrine of the greatest good for the greatest number. It means in its nakedness that in order to achieve the supposed good of fifty-one per cent the interest of forty-nine per cent may be, or rather should be, sacrificed. It is a heartless doctrine and has done harm to humanity. The only real, dignified, human doctrine is the greatest good of all, and this can be achieved only by uttermost self-sacrifice.

p. 304 No action which is not voluntary can be called moral. So long as we act like machines there can be no question of morality. If we want to call an action moral it should have been done consciously and as a matter of duty. Any action that is dictated by fear or by coercion of any kind ceases to be moral.

p. 305 I am too conscious of the imperfections of the species to which I belong to be irritated against any member thereof. My remedy is to deal with the wrong whenever I see it, not to hurt the wrong-doer, even as I would not like to be hurt for the wrongs I continually do.

p. 305 {The} means to me are just as important as the goal, and in a sense more important in that we have some control over them, whereas we have none over the goal if we lose control over the means? [See also Hannah Arendt.]

p. 305 Nothing… should be done secretly. This is an open rebellion…. A free man would not engage in a secret movement.

p. 315 I can truthfully say I am slow to see the blemishes of fellow beings, being myself full of them and therefore being in need of their charity. I have learnt not to judge any one harshly and to make allowances for defects that I may detect. Somehow I am able to draw the noblest in mankind and that is what enables me to maintain my faith in God and human nature.

When I was a little child there used to be two blind performers in Rajkot. One of them was a musician. When he played on his instrument, his fingers swept the strings with an unerring instinct and everybody listened spellbound to his playing, similarly there are chords in every human heart. If we only knew how to strike the right chord, we would bring out the music.

. . . My work will be finished if I succeed in carrying conviction to the human family that every man or woman, however weak in body, is the guardian of his or her self-respect and liberty. This defense avails though the whole world may be against the individual resister. · . . .

I am an irrepressible optimist, because I believe in myself. That sounds very arrogant, doesn’t it? But I say it from the depths of my humility …. I am an optimist because I expect many things from myself. I have not got them, I know, as I am not yet a perfect being …. I want to attain that perfection by service.

p. 362-363 Nature has so made us that we do not see our backs, it is reserved for others to see them. Hence it is wise to profit by what they see.

The Essential Gandhi:
An Anthology of his Writings on

his Life, Work, and Ideas

by Mahatma GandhiThe Essential Gandhi

The Essential Gandhi

or Mohandas K. Gandhi
Louis Fisher, Editor