Mahatma Gandhi’s Life in his Own Words
I chanced upon this little booklet that is a compilation of Mahatma Gandhi’s own writings. His autobiography is the main one, “The Story of My Experiments with Truth”, originally written in Gujarati as “Sathiya Sodhani”. I finally decided to buckle down and read at least some of his own words rather than interpretations across articles, history chapters and movies (movie in singular maybe? the main one that won a gazillion oscars?). It is one thing to learn through secondary sources but it is totally a different experience to read his own words.
Here is the link: Gandhi’s Life in his Own Words. This is a compilation by Krishna Kripalani. I thought it would be worthwhile to compile the links and books since there is a voluminous amount of material available online and in various formats and for free. More links at the end of this post.
Memorable Passages and Quotes
What follows after that is a few of quotes and passages that moved me.
What I want to achieve—what I have been striving and pining to achieve these thirty years—is self-realization, to see God face to face, to attain Moksha.
He got married at the age of 13. And he doesn’t think that is an appropriate age for marriage.
I can see no moral argument in support of such a preposterously early marriage.
And on the rights for Women.
The wife is not the husband’s bondslave, but his companion and his helpmate, and an equal partner in all his joys and sorrows—as free as the husband to choose her own path.
I regard untouchability as the greatest blot on Hinduism. I believed that untouchability was no part of Hinduism; and that, if it was, such Hinduism was not for me.
Very nice words on joining (or believing in) a new cult. In this case, Vegetarianism.
A convert’s enthusiasm for his new religion is greater than that of a person who is born in it. Vegetarianism was then a new cult in England
The landmark incident in Pretoria, South Africa where he was thrown out of a first class compartment because he was colored and a white man wanted the seat.
He saw that I was a ‘coloured’ man. This disturbed him. I shall have to call a police constable to push you out.’ ‘Yes, you may. I refuse to get out voluntarily.’ The hardship to which I was subjected was superficial-only a symptom of the deep disease of colour prejudice. I should try, if possible, to root out the disease and suffer hardships in the process. Redress for wrongs I should seek only to the extent that would be necessary for the removal of the colour prejudice.
I realized that the true function of a lawyer was to unite parties riven asunder.
I realized that the sole aim of journalism should be service. The newspaper press is a great power, but just as an unchained torrent of water submerges whole countrysides and devastates crops, even so an uncontrolled pen serves but to destroy. If the control is from without, it proves more poisonous than want of control.
On Poetry and Poets.
Another one of the sayings that after I read it, it seems much more obvious.
Poets do not influence all alike, for everyone is not evolved in an equal measure.
On Teachers and Teaching
On Tolstoy Farm, we made it a rule that the youngsters should not be asked to do what the teachers did not do, I remember very little that my teacher taught me from books, but I have even now a clear recollection of the things they taught me independently of books. The teacher had always to be mindful of his p’s and q’s, whether he was in the midst of his boys or not.
How he thinks of his service.
If I found myself entirely absorbed in the service of the community, the reason behind it was my desire for self-realization. I had made the religion of service my own, as I felt that God could be realized only through service. Service for me was the service of India, because it came to me without my seeking, because I had an aptitude for it.
On teaching Children and raising them. These were very profound true sayings for his days - only in recent decades have actual Science and Psychological studies have taken this on as a subject worth studying and finding various theories.
We labour under a sort of superstition that the child has nothing to learn during the first five years of its life. On the contrary the fact is that the child never learns in after life what it does in its first five years.
Truth is like a vast-tree, which yields more and more fruit the more you nurture it. The deeper the search in the mine of truth the richer the discovery of the gems buried there, in the shape of openings for an ever greater variety of service. This ahimsa is the basis of the search for truth. I am realizing every day that the search is vain unless it is founded on ahimsa as the basis. It is quite proper to resist and attack a system, but to resist and attack its author is tantamount to resisting and attacking oneself. For we are all tarred with the same brush, and are children of one and the same Creator, and as such the divine powers within us are infinite. To slight a single human being is to slight those divine powers, and thus to harm not only that being but with him the whole world. My uniform experience has convinced me that there is no other God than Truth. And if every page of these chapters does not proclaim to the reader that the only means for the realization of Truth is ahimsa, I shall deem all my labour in writing these chapters to have been in vain.
On finishing things.
I must follow the sage maxim that nothing once begun should be abandoned unless it is proved to be morally wrong.
On Fasting and Dieting
Mahatma was ahead of his times.
Fasting and restriction in diet now played a more important part in my life. Passion in man is generally co-existent with a hankering after the pleasures of the palate. It dawned upon me that fasting could be made as powerful a weapon of indulgence as of restraint. One should eat not in order to please the palate, but just to keep the body going. We are not ashamed to sacrifice a multitude of other lives in decorating the perishable body and trying to prolong its existence for a few fleeting moments, with the result that we kill ourselves, both body and soul. fasting is futile unless it is accompanied by an incessant longing for self-restraint. if physical fasting is not accompanied by mental fasting, it is bound to end in hypocrisy and disaster.
There is no escape for any of us save through truth and non-violence. The only virtue I want to claim is truth and non-violence. I lay no claim to superhuman powers. I want none. I wear the same corruptible flesh that the weakest of my fellow beings wears and am liable to err as any. As the poet has sung: ‘The way of the Lord is meant for heroes, not for cowards.’ ‘Unless now the world adopts non-violence, it will spell certain suicide for mankind.’ It is true that the non-violence that we practised was the non-violence of the weak, i.e., no non-violence at all. But I maintain that, this was not what I presented to my countrymen. Language at best is but a poor vehicle for expressing one’s thoughts in full. For me non-violence is not a mere philosophical principle. It is the rule and the breath of my life.
On Renouncing Things and Material Possessions
The possession of anything then became a troublesome thing and a burden. Exploring the cause of that joy, I found that if I kept anything as my own, I had to defend it against the whole world. I can only possess certain things when I know that others, who also want to possess similar things are able to do so. Therefore, the only thing that can be possessed by all is non-possession, not to have anything whatsoever. When you dispossess yourself of everything you have, you really possess all the treasures of the world.
On Jesus and Christianity
Jesus, to me, is a great world teacher among others. He was to the devotees of his generation no doubt ‘the only begotten son of God’. Their belief need not be mine. He affects my life no less because I regard him as one among the many begotten sons of God. Jesus atoned for the sins of those who accepted his teachings, by being an infallible example to them. But the example was worth nothing to those who never troubled to change their own lives.
On Gandhism and people praising him
Though a non-co-operator I shall gladly subscribe to a Bill to make it criminal for anybody to call me mahatma and to touch my feet. Where I can impose the law myself, at the ashram, the practice is criminal. I have become literally sick of the adoration of the unthinking multitude. I have no desire for prestige anywhere. It is furniture required in courts of kings. There is no such thing as ‘Gandhism’ and I do not want to leave any sect after me. I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and Non-violence are as old as the hills. All I have done is to try experiments in both on as vast a scale as I could do.
Thoreau, Ruskin and Tolstoy
You have given me a teacher in Thoreau, who furnished me through his essay on the ‘Duty of Civil Disobedience’ scientific confirmation of what I was doing in South Africa. Great Britain gave me Ruskin, whose Unto This Last transformed me overnight from a lawyer and city dweller into a rustic living away from Durban on a farm, Russia gave me in Tolstoy a teacher who furnished a reasoned basis for my non-violence. Tolstoy blessed my movement in South Africa when it was still in its infancy
On Bhagavad Gita
Gita is worshipped not by a parrot-like recitation but by following its teaching. Recitation is good and proper only as an aid to action according to its teaching.
I am certain the same can be said of Mahatma’s teachings as well.
His own self-reflection
Why should He have chosen me, an imperfect instrument, for such a mighty experiment? I think He deliberately did so. He had to serve the poor dumb ignorant millions. A perfect man might have been their despair. When they found that one with their failings was marching on towards ahimsa, they too had confidence in their own capacity. We should not have recognized a perfect man if he had come as our leader, and we might have driven him to a cave. May be he who follows me will be more perfect and you will be able to receive his message.
Pondering about his own death
Very prescient saying.
And it is my constant prayer that I may never have a feeling of anger against my traducers, that even if I fall a victim to an assassin’s bullet, I may deliver up my soul with the remembrance of God upon my lips. Have I that non-violence of the brave in me? My death alone will show that. If someone killed me and I died with prayer for the assassin on my lips, and God’s remembrance and consciousness of His living presence in the sanctuary of my heart, then alone would I be said to have had the non-violence of the brave.
References and Links
This seems to be the Main Site.
The link to the above book
Here is a list of all of his works and various compilations - a treasure trove. Available to read online or download as PDF or EPUB. Thanks to the good folks who did this work. Printed editions of his entire works are available too.
Some Wikipedia links for completeness : Mahatma Gandhi, Gandhism and his Autobiography.
I am planning to read the full autobiography next and also his writings on Bhagavad Gita. This is also part of the “Meaning of Life” series. To be continued.