These are the words spoken by Albert Einstein to describe Gandhi; I think that his prophecy has come to pass. When I first read of the exploits of this small Indian man, an inner temple lawyer turned political activist, who brought an empire to its knees without ever raising more than a walking stick to his side, I literally could not believe that such a man existed. Indeed the idea of a man who had real spiritual beliefs and convictions, rising to the stage of national and even international importance was completely alien to me. This is simply not found in our world today. Political leaders very rarely talk about doing what is right, what is true or what is benevolent; they talk about what is necessary, popular and most of all what is economical. Our leaders are reactionary, not visionary.
Having read much of what he has written and a handful of what has been written about Gandhi, I am still held in shock and awe at the validity and piercing nature of his commentary. Much of what I believe is expressed more clearly, more concisely and more coherently in his short sayings than I could convey in volumes of text. As such, I have chosen to simply bring together some of his best passages and quotations free from analysis. To me, the words really do speak for themselves.
Avoidance of anger
‘I have learnt through bitter experience the one supreme lesson to conserve my anger, and as heat conserved is transmuted into energy, even so our anger controlled can be transmuted into a power which can move the world.’
Awareness of Limitations
‘I am conscious of my own limitations. That consciousness is my only strength. Whatever I might have been able to do in my life has proceeded more than anything else out of the realisation of my own limitations.
If I was what I want to be, the fast would not been necessary. I would not need to argue with anyone. My word would go straight home. Indeed, I would not even need to utter a word. The mere will on my part would suffice to produce the required effect. But I am painfully aware of my limitations.’
‘My mission is not merely brotherhood of Indian Humanity. My mission is not merely freedom of India … I hope to realize and carry on the mission of the brotherhood of man. My patriotism is not an exclusive thing. It is all-embracing and I should reject that patriotism which sought to mount upon the distress or the exploitation of other nationalities.
Not only that, but my religion and my patriotism derived from my religion embrace all life. I want to realise brotherhood and identity not merely with these beings called human, but I want to realize identity with all life, even with such things that crawl upon the earth … because we claim descent from the same God, and that being so, all life in whatever form it appears must essentially be one.’
Co-Mingling of Cultures
‘I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any. I refuse to live in other people’s houses as an interloper, a beggar or slave… Mine is not the religion of the prison house. It has room enough for the least amongst Gods creation. But it is proof against insolence, pride of race, religion or colour.’
‘Real disarmament cannot come unless the nations of the world cease to exploit one another.
If the mad race of armaments continues, it is bound to result in a slaughter such as never occurred in history. If there is a victor left the very victory will be a living death for the nation that emerges victorious.
If there was no greed, there would be no occasion for armaments. The principle of non-violence necessitates complete abstention form exploitation in any form.
Immediately the spirit of exploitation is gone, armaments will be felt as a positive unbearable burden.’
'Democracy comes naturally to him who is habituated normally to yield, willing obedience to all laws, human or divine. Moreover, a democrat must be utterly selfless. He must think and dream not in terms of self or party but only in terms of democracy.
Under democracy, individual liberty of opinion and action is jealously guarded.
Claiming the right of free opinion and free action, we must extend the same to all others. The rule of majority when it becomes coercive, is as intolerable as that of a bureaucratic minority.’
‘Forgiveness is the quality of the brave, not of the cowardly.’
Man and machine
‘Men go on saving labour until thousands are without work and thrown to the open streets to die of starvation. I want to save time and labour, not for a fraction of mankind but for all; I want the concentration of wealth, not in the hands of the few, but in the hands of all. Today machinery merely helps the few to ride on the backs of millions. The impetus behind it all is not the philanthropy to save labour, but greed. It is against this constitution of things that I am fighting with all of my might.
The supreme consideration is man. The machine should not tend to make atrophied the limbs of man.’
‘The sole aim of journalism should be to 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.
The true function of journalism is to educate the public mind, not to stock the public mind with wanted and unwanted impressions.’
Means and Ends
‘Means and ends are convertible in terms of my philosophy of life.
The means may be likened to a seed, the end to a tree; and there is just the same inviolable connection between means and end, as there is between seed and tree.
They say ‘means are after all means’. I would say ‘means are after all everything!’’
‘True morality consists not in following the beaten track, but in finding out the true path for ourselves and in fearlessly following it.
No action which is not voluntary can be called moral. So long as we act like machine es, 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.
Moral authority is never retained by any attempt to hold onto it. It comes without seeking and is retained without effort.
We must be guided in our policy by our sense of right, not by the lure of winning cheap popularity.’
There are many more magnificent and pertinent thoughts; these are but a small sample. Gandhi wrote and spoke on issues from politics, sexual equality and economics to the nature of self and spirituality. At some point I would like to return and compile another list, I think I have barely begun to scratch the surface. To finish I will use a quotation from Rabindaranath Tagore who writes a description of Gandhi as he engaged in his epic salt march:
‘He stopped at the threshold of the huts of the thousands of dispossessed, dressed like one of their own. He spoke to them in their own language. Here was living truth at last, and not only quotations from books. For this reason the Mahatma, the name given to him by the people of India, is his real name. Who else has felt like him that all Indians are his own flesh and blood? When love came to the door of India that door opened wide. At Gandhi’s call India blossomed forth to new greatness, just as once before, in earlier times, when Buddha proclaimed the truth of fellow feeling and compassion among all living creatures.’