It is not my purpose to attempt a real
autobiography. I simply want to tell the story of my numerous
experiments with truth, and as my life consists of nothing but those
experiments, it is true that the story will take the shape of an
autobiography. But I s
hall not mind, if every page of it speaks only
of my experiments.
My experiments in the political field are
now known, not only to India, but to a certain extent to the
‘civilized’ world. For me, they have not much value; and the title of
‘Mahatma’ that they have won for me has, therefore, even less. Often
the title has deeply pained me; and there is not a moment I can
recall when it may be said to have tickled me. But I should
certainly like to narrate my experiments in the spiritual field which
are known only to myself, and from which I have derived such power
as I possess for working in the political field. If the experiments
are really spiritual, then there can be no room for self-praise. They
can only add to my humility. The more I reflect and look back on
the past, the more vividly do I feel my limitations.
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. I live and move and
have my being in pursuit of this goal. All that I do by way of
speaking and writing, and all my ventures in the political field, are
directed to this same end. But as I have all along believed that
what is possible for one is possible for all, my experiments have
not been conducted in the closet, but in the open; and I do not
think that this fact detracts from their spiritual value. There are
some things which are known only to oneself and one’s Maker. These
are clearly incommunicable. The experiments I am about to relate are
not such. But they are spiritual, or rather moral; for the essence of
religion is morality.
Far be it from me to claim any degree of
perfection for these experiments. I claim for them nothing more than
does a scientist who, though he conducts his experiments with the
utmost accuracy, forethought and minuteness, never claims any finality
about his conclusions, but keeps an open mind regarding them. I have
gone through deep self-introspection, searched myself through and
through, and examined and analysed every psychological situation. Yet I
am far from claiming any finality or infallibility about my
conclusions. One claim I do indeed make and it is this. For me
they appear to be absolutely correct, and seem for the time being to
be final. For if they were not, I should base no action on them. But
at every step I have carried out the process of acceptance or
rejection and acted accordingly.
My life is one indivisible whole, and all
my activities run into one another, and they all have their rise in
my insatiable love of mankind.
The Gandhis belong to the Bania caste and
seem to have been originally grocers. But for three generations, from
my grandfather, they have been prime ministers in several Kathiawad
States….My grandfather must have been a man of principle. State
intrigues compelled him to leave Porbander, where he was Diwan, and to
seek refuge in Junagadh. There he saluted the Nawab with the left
hand. Someone, noticing the apparent discourtesy; asked for an
explanation, which was given thus: ‘The right hand is already pledged
My father was a lover of his clan,
truthful, brave and generous, but short-tempered. To a certain extent
he might have been even given to carnal pleasures. For he married
for the fourth time when he was over forty. But he was
incorruptible and had earned a name for strict impartiality in his
family as well as outside.
The outstanding impression my mother has
left on my memory is that of saintliness. She was deeply religious.
She would not think of taking her meals without her daily
prayers….She would take the hardest vows and keep them without
flinching. Illness was no excuse for relaxing them.
Of these parents I was born at Porbandar….I
passed my childhood in Porbandar. I recollect having been put to
school. It was with some difficulty that I got through the
multiplication tables. The fact that I recollect nothing more of
those days than having learnt, in company with other boys, to call
our teacher all kinds of names, would strongly suggest that my
intellect must have been sluggish, and my memory raw.
I used to be very shy and avoided all
company. My books and my lessons were my sole companions. To be at
school at the stroke of the hour and to run back home as soon as
the school closed – that was my daily habit. I literally ran back,
because I could not bear to talk to anybody. I was even afraid
lest any one should poke fun at me.
There is an incident which occurred at the
examination during my first year at the high school and which is
worth recording. Mr. Giles,the Educational Inspector, had come on a
visit of inspection. He had set us five words to write as a
spelling exercise. One of the words was ‘kettle’. I had mis-spelt
it. The teacher tried to prompt me with the point of his boot, but
I would not be prompted. It was beyond me to see that he wanted
me to copy the spelling from my neighbour’s slate, for I had thought
that the teacher was there to supervise us against copying. The
result was that all the boys, except myself, were found to have
spelt every word correctly. Only I had been stupid. The teacher
tried later to bring this stupidity home to me, but without effect.
I never could learn the art of ‘copying’.
It is my painful duty to have to record
here my marriage at the age of thirteen. As I see the youngsters
of the same age about me who are under my care, and think of my
own marriage, I am inclined to pity myself and to congratulate them
on having escaped my lot. I can see no moral argument in support
of such a preposterously early marriage.
I do not think it (marriage) meant to me
anything more than the prospect of good clothes to wear, drum beating,
marriage processions, rich dinners and a strange girl to play with.
The carnal desire came later.
And oh! that first night. Two innocent
children all unwittingly hurled themselves into the ocean of life. My
brother’s wife had thoroughly coached me about my behaviour on the
first night. I do not know who had coached my wife. I have never
asked her about it, nor am I inclined to do so now. The reader may
be sure that we were too nervous to face each other. We were
certainly too shy. How was I to talk to her, and what was I to
say? The coaching could not carry me far. But no coaching is really
necessary in such matters….We gradually began to know ach other, and
to speak freely together. We were the same age.
But I took no time
in assuming the authority of a husband.
I must say I was passionately fond of her.
Even at school I used to think of her, and the thought of nightfall
and our subsequent meeting was ever haunting me. Separation was
unbearable. I used to keep her awake till late in the night with
my idle talk. If with this devouring passion there had not been in
me a burning attachment to duty, I should either have fallen a prey
to disease and premature death, or have sunk into a burdensome
existence. But the appointed tasks had to be gone through every
morning, and lying to anyone was out of the question. It was this
last thing that saved me from many a pitfall.
I had not any high regard for my ability.
I used to be astonished whenever I won prizes and scholarships. But I
very jealously guarded my character. The least little blemish drew
tears from my eyes. When I merited, or seemed to the teacher to
merit, a rebuke, it was unbearable for me. I remember having once
received corporal punishment. I did not so much mind the punishment,
as the fact that it was considered my desert. I wept piteously.
Amongst my few friends at the high school
I had, at different times, two who might be called intimate. One of
these friendships…I regard as a tragedy in my life. It lasted long.
I formed it in the spirit of a reformer.
I have seen since that I had calculated
wrongly. A reformer cannot afford to have close intimacy with him
whom he seeks to reform. True friendship is an identity of souls
rarely to be found in this world. Only between like natures can
friendship be altogether worthy and enduring. Friends react on one
another. Hence in friendship there is very little scope for reform.
I am of opinion that all exclusive intimacies are to be avoided; for
man takes in vice far more readily than virtue. And he who would
be friends with God must remain alone, or make the whole world his
friend. I may be wrong, but my effort to cultivate an intimate
friendship proved a failure.
This friend’s exploits cast a spell over
me. He could run long distances and extraordinarily fast. He was an
adept in high and long jumping. He could put up with any amount of
corporal punishment. He would often display his exploits to me and,
as one is always dazzled when he sees in others the qualities that
he lacks himself, I was dazzled by this friend’s exploits. This was
followed by a strong desire to be like him. I could hardly jump or
run. Why should not I also be as strong as he?
I was a coward. I used to be haunted by
the fear of thieves, ghosts and serpents. I did not dare to stir
out of doors at night. Darkness was a terror to me. It was almost
impossible for me to sleep in the dark, as I would imagine ghosts
coming from one direction, thieves from another and serpents from a
third. I could not therefore bear to sleep without a light in the
My friend knew all these weaknesses of
mine. He would tell me that he could hold in his hand live
serpents, could defy thieves and did not believe in ghosts. And all
this was, of course, the result of eating meat.
All this had its due effect on me….It
began to grow on me that meat-eating was good, that it would make
me strong and daring, and that, if the whole country took to
meat-eating, the English could be overcome.
Whenever I had occasion to indulge in
these surreptitious feasts, dinner at home was out of the question.
My mother would naturally ask me to come and take my food and want
to know the reason why I did not wish to eat. I would say to her
‘I have no appetite today; there is something wrong with my
digestion.’ It was not without compunction that I devised these
pretexts. I knew I was lying, and lying to my mother. I also knew
that if my mother and father came to know of my having become a
meat-eater, they would be deeply shocked. This knowledge was gnawing
at my heart.
Therefore I said to myself: Though it is
essential to eat meat, and also essential to take up food ‘reform’ in
the country, yet deceiving and lying to one’s father and mother is
worse than not eating meat. In their lifetime, therefore, meat-eating
must be out of the question. When they are no more and I have
found my freedom, I will eat meat openly, but until that moment
arrives I will abstain from it.
This decision I communicated to my friend,
and I have never since gone back to meat.
My friend once took me to a brothel. He
sent me in with the necessary instructions. It was all pre-arranged.
The bill had already been paid. I went into the jaws of sin, but
God in His infinite mercy protected me against myself. I was almost
struck blind and dumb in this den of vice. I sat near the woman
on her bed, but I was tongue-tied. She naturally lost patience with
me, and showed me the door, with abuses and insults. I then felt as
though my manhood had been injured, and wished to sink into the
ground for shame. But I have ever since given thanks to God for
having saved me. I can recall four more similar incidents in my
life, and in most of them my good fortune, rather than any effort on
my part, saved me. From a strictly ethical point of view, all these
occasions must be regarded as moral lapses; for the carnal desire was
there, and it was as good as the act. But from the ordinary point
of view, a man who is saved from physically committing sin is
regarded as saved. And I was saved only in that sense.
As we know that man often succumbs to
temptation, however much he may resist it, we also know that
Providence often intercedes and saves him in spite of himself. How
all this happens – how far a man is free and how far a creature of
circumstances – how far free-will comes into play and where fate
enters on the scene – all this is a mystery and will remain a
One of the reasons of my differences with
my wife was undoubtedly the company of this friend. I was both a
devoted and a jealous husband, and this friend fanned the flame of
my suspicions about my wife. I never could doubt his veracity. And
I have never forgiven myself the violence of which I have been
guilty in often having pained my wife by acting on his information.
Perhaps only a Hindu wife could tolerate these hardships, and that is
why I have regarded woman as an incarnation of tolerance.
The canker of suspicion was rooted out only
when I understood ahimsa in all its bearings. I saw then the glory
of brahmacharya and realized that 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. Whenever I think of those dark days of doubts and suspicions,
I am filled with loathing of my folly
and my lustful cruelty, and I
deplore my blind devotion to my friend.
From my sixth or seventh year up to my
sixteenth I was at school, being taught all sorts of things except
religion. I may say that I failed to get from the teachers what
they could have given me without any effort on their part. And yet
I kept on picking up things here and there from my surroundings. The
term ‘religion’ I am using in its broadest sense, meaning thereby
self-realization or knowledge of self.
But one thing took deep root in me – the
conviction that morality is the basis of things, and that truth is
the substance of all morality. Truth became my sole objective. It
began to grow in magnitude every day, and my definition of it also has
been ever widening.
I regard untouchability as the greatest
blot on Hinduism. This idea was not brought home to me by my
bitter experiences during the South African struggle. It is not due
to the fact that I was once an agnostic. It is equally wrong to
think that I have taken my views from my study of Christian
religious literature. These views date as far back as the time when
I was neither enamoured of, nor was acquainted with, the Bible or the
followers of the Bible.
I was hardly yet twelve when this
idea had dawned on me. A scavenger named Uka, an untouchable, used to
attend our house for cleaning latrines. Often I would ask my mother
why it was wrong to touch him, why I was forbidden to touch him.
If I accidently touched Uka, I was asked to perform the ablutions,
and though I naturally obeyed, it was not without smilingly protesting
that untouchability was not sanctioned by religion, that it was
impossible that it should be so. I was a very dutiful and obedient
child and so far as it was consistent with respect for parents, I
often had tussles with them on this matter. I told my mother that
she was entirely wrong in considering physical contact with Uka as
MT, II, 47-48
I passed the matriculation examination in
My elders wanted me to pursue my studies
at college after the matriculation. There was a college in Bhavnagar
as well as in Bombay, and as the former was cheaper, I decided to
go there and join the Samaldas College. I went, but found myself
entirely at sea. Everything was difficult. I could not follow, let
alone taking interest in, the professors’ lectures. It was no fault
of theirs. The professors in that college were regarded as
first-rate. But I was so raw. At the end of the first term, I
A shrewd and learned Brahmin, an old friend
and adviser of the family…happened to visit us during my vacation.
In conversation with my mother and elder brother, he inquired about
my studies. Learning that I was at Samaldas College, he said: ‘The
times are changed….I would far rather than you sent him to England.
My son Kevalram says it is very easy to become a barrister. In
three years’ time he will return. Also expenses will not exceed four
to five thousand rupees. Think of that barrister who has just come
back from England. How stylishly he lives! He could get the diwanship
for the asking. I would strongly advise you to send Mohandas to
England this very year.’
My mother was sorely perplexed….someone had
told her that young men got lost in England. Someone else had said
that they took to meat; and yet another; that they could not live
there without liquor. ‘How about all this?’ she asked me. I said:
‘Will you not trust me? I shall not lie to you. I swear that I
shall not touch any of those things. If there were any such danger,
would Joshiji let me go?’…I vowed not to touch wine, woman, and
meat. This done, my mother gave her permission.
Before the intention of coming to London for the
sake of study was actually formed, I had a secret design in my mind of coming
here to satisfy my curiosity of knowing what London was.
At the age of eighteen I went to
England….Everything was strange – the people, their ways, and even their
dwellings. I was a complete novice in the matter of English
etiquette and continually had to be on my guard. There was the
additional inconvenience of the vegetarian vow. Even the dishes that
I could eat were tasteless and insipid. I thus found myself between
Scylla and Charybdis. England I could not bear, but to return to
India was not to be thought of. Now that I had come, I must finish
the three years, said the inner voice.
The landlady was at a loss to know
what to prepare for me….The friend1 continually reasoned with me
to eat meat, but I always pleaded my vow and then remained
silent….One day the friend began to read to me Bentham’s Theory
of Utility. I was at my wits’ end. The language was too
difficult for me to understand. He began to expound it. I said:
‘Pray excuse me. These abstruse things are beyond me. I admit it
is necessary to eat meat. But I cannot break my vow. I cannot
argue about it.’
1.A gentleman with whom he stayed in Richmond for
I would trot ten or twelve miles each day, go into a cheap
restaurant and eat my fill of bread, but would never be satisfied.
During these wanderings I once hit on a vegetarian restaurant in
Farringdon Street. The sight of it filled me with the same joy that
a child feels on getting a thing after its own heart. Before I
entered I noticed books for sale exhibited under a glass window near
the door. I saw among them Salt’s Plea for Vegetarianism. This I
purchased for a shilling and went straight to the dining room. This
was my first hearty meal since my arrival in England. God had come
to my aid.
I read Salt’s book from cover
to cover and was very much impressed by it. From the date of
reading this book, I may claim to have become a vegetarian by
choice. I blessed the day on which I had taken the vow before my
mother. I had all along abstained from meat in the interests of
truth and of the vow I had taken, but had wished at the same time
that every Indian should be a meat-eater, and had looked forward to
being one myself freely and openly some day, and to enlisting others
in the cause. The choice was now made in favour of vegetarianism,
the spread of which henceforth became my mission.
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, and likewise for me, because, as we
have seen, I had gone there a convinced meat-eater, and was
intellectually converted to vegetarianism later. Full of the neophyte’s
zeal for vegetarianism, I decided to start a vegetarian club in my
locality, Bayswater. I invited Sir Edwin Arnold, who lived there, to be
vice-president. Dr.Oldfield who was editor of The Vegetarian became
president. I myself became the secretary.
I was elected to the Executive Committee
of the Vegetarian Society, and made it a point to attend every one
of its meetings, but I always felt tongue-tied….Not that I never felt
tempted to speak. But I was at a loss to know how to express
myself….This shyness I retained throughout my stay in England. Even
when I paid a social call the presence of half a dozen or more
people would strike me dumb.
I must say that, beyond occasionally
exposing me to laughter, my constitutional shyness has been no
disadvantage whatever. In fact I can see that, on the contrary, it
has been all to my advantage. My hesitancy in speech, which was once
an annoyance, is now a pleasure. Its greatest benefit has been that
it has taught me the economy of words.
There was a great exhibition at Paris in
1890. I had read about its elaborate preparation, and I also had a
keen desire to see Paris. So I thought I had better combine two
things in one and go there at this juncture. A particular attraction
of the exhibition was the Eiffel Tower, constructed entirely of iron,
and nearly 1,000 feet high. There were of course many other things
of interest, but the tower was the chief one, inasmuch as it had
been supposed till then that a structure of that height could not
I remember nothing of the exhibition
excepting its magnitude and variety. I have fair recollection of the
Eiffel Tower as I ascended it twice of thrice. There was a
restaurant on the first platform, and just for the satisfaction of
being able to say that I had had my lunch at a great height, I
threw away seven shillings on it.
The ancient churches of Paris are
still in my memory. Their grandeur and their peacefulness are
unforgettable. The wonderful construction of Notre Dame and the
elaborate decoration of the interior with its beautiful sculptures
cannot be forgotten. I felt then that those who expended millions on
such divine cathedrals could not but have the love of God in their
I must say a word about the Eiffel Tower.
I do not know what purpose it serves today. But I then heard it
greatly disparaged as well as praised. I remember that Tolstoy was
the chief among those who disparaged it. He said that the Eiffel
Tower was a monument of man’s folly, not of his wisdom. Tobacco, he
argued, was the worst of all intoxicants, inasmuch as a man addicted
to it was tempted to commit crimes which a drunkard never dared to
do; liquor made a man mad, but tobacco clouded his intellect and made
him build castles in the air. The Eiffel Tower was one of the
creations of a man under such influence. There is no art about the
Eiffel Tower. In no way can it be said to have contributed to the
real beauty of the exhibition. Men flocked to see it and ascended
it as it was a novelty and of unique dimensions. It was the toy
of the exhibition. So long as we are children we are attracted by
toys, and the tower was a good demonstration of the fact that we
are all children attracted by trinkets. That may be claimed to be
the purpose served by the Eiffel Tower.
I passed my examinations, was called to
the Bar on the tenth of June 1891, and enrolled in the High Court
on the eleventh. On the twelfth I sailed for home.
My elder brother had built high hopes on
me. The desire for wealth and name and fame was great in him. He
had a big heart, generous to a fault. This, combined with his simple
nature, had attracted to him many friends, and through them he
expected to get me briefs. He had also assumed that I should have
a swinging practice and had, in that expectation, allowed the household
expenses to become top-heavy. He
had also left no stone unturned in
preparing the field for my practice.
But it was impossible for me to get along
in Bombay for more than four or five months, there being no income
to square with the ever-increasing expenditure.
This was how I began life. I found
the barrister’s profession a bad job – much show and little knowledge.
I felt a crushing sense of my responsibility.
Disappointed, I left Bombay and went to
Rajkot where I set up my own office. Here I got along moderately
well. Drafting applications and memorials brought me in on an average
Rs.300 a month.
In the meantime a Meman firm from Porbandar
wrote to my brother making the following offer: ‘We have business in
South Africa. Ours is a big firm, and we have a big case there in
the court, our claim being £40,000. It has been going on for a
long time. We have engaged the services of the best vakils and
barristers. If you sent your brother there, he would be useful to us
and also to himself. He would be able to instruct our counsel
better than ourselves. And he would have the advantage of seeing a
new part of the world, and of making new acquaintances’.
This was hardly going there as a
barrister. It was going as a servant of the firm. But I wanted
somehow to leave India. There was also the tempting opportunity of
seeing a new country, and of having new experience. Also I could
send £ 105 to my brother and help in the expenses of the household.
I closed with the offer without any higgling, and got ready to go
to South Africa.
When starting for South Africa I did not
feel the wrench of separation which I had experienced when leaving
for England. My mother was now no more. I had gained some knowledge
of the world, and of travel abroad, and going from Rajkot to Bombay
was no unusual affair.
This time I only felt the pang of
parting with my wife. Another baby had been born to us since my
return from England. Our love could not yet be called free from
lust, but it was getting gradually purer. Since my return from Europe,
we had lived very little together; and as I had now become her
teacher, however indifferent, and helped her to make certain reforms we
both felt the necessity of being more together, if only to continue
the reforms. But the attraction of South Africa rendered the
The port of Natal is Durban also known as
Port Natal. Abdulla Sheth was there to receive me. As the ship
arrived at the quay and I watched the people coming on board to
meet their friends, I observed that the Indians were not held in
much respect. I could not fail to notice a sort of snobbishness
about the manner in which those who knew Abdulla Sheth behaved
towards him, and it stung me. Abdulla Sheth had got used to it.
Those who looked at me did so with a certain amount of curiosity.
My dress marked me out from other Indians. I had a frock-coat and
On the second or third day of my arrival,
he took me to see the Durban court. There he introduced me to
several people and seated me next to his attorney. The magistrate
kept staring at me and finally asked me to take off my turban.
This I refused to do and left the court.
On the seventh or eighth day after my
arrival, I left Durban (for Pretoria). A first class seat was booked
for me….The train reached Maritzburg, the capital of Natal, at about 9
p.m. Beddings used to be provided at this station. A railway servant
came and asked me if I wanted one. ‘No’, said I, ‘I have one with
me.’ He went away. But a passenger came next, and looked me up and
down. He saw that I was a ‘coloured’ man. This disturbed him. Out
he went and came in again with one or two officials. They all kept
quiet, when another official came to me and said, ‘Come along, you
must go to the van compartment.’
‘But I have a first class ticket,’
‘That doesn’t matter,’ rejoined the
other. ‘I tell you, you must go to the van compartment.’
‘I tell you, I was permitted to
travel in this compartment at Durban, and I insist on going on in
‘No, you won’t,’ said the official.
‘You must leave this compartment, or else I shall have to call a
police constable to push you out.’
‘Yes, you may. I refuse to get
The constable came. He took me
by the hand and pushed me out. My luggage was also taken out. I
refused to go to the other compartment and the train steamed away.
I went and sat in the waiting room, keeping my hand-bag with me, and
leaving the other luggage where it was. The railway authorities had
taken charge of it.
It was winter, and winter in the
higher regions of South Africa is severely cold. Maritzburg being at
a high altitude, the cold was extremely bitter. My overcoat was in
my luggage, but I did not dare to ask for it lest I should be
insulted again, so I sat and shivered. There was no light in the
room. A passenger came in at about midnight and possibly wanted to
talk to me. But I was in no mood to talk.
I began to think of my duty.
Should I fight for my rights or go back to India, or should I go
on to Pretoria without minding the insults, and return to India after
finishing the case? It would be cowardice to run back to India
without fulfilling my obligation. 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
So I decided to take the next
available train to Pretoria.
My first step was to call a meeting of
all the Indians in Pretoria and to present to them a picture of
condition in the Transvaal.
My speech at this meeting may be said to
have been the first public speech in my life. I went fairly
prepared with my subject, which was about observing truthfulness in
business. I had always heard the merchants say that truth was not
possible in business. I did not think so then, nor do I now. Even
today there are merchant friends who contend that truth is
inconsistent with business. Business, they say, is a very practical
affair, and truth a matter of religion; and they argue that practical
affairs are one thing, while religion is quite another. Pure truth,
they hold, is out of the question in business, one can speak it only
so far as is suitable. I strongly contested the position in my
speech and awakened the merchants to a sense of their duty, which
was twofold. Their responsibility to be truthful was all the greater
in foreign land, because the conduct of a few Indians was the
measure of that of the millions of their fellow-countrymen.
The consequences of the regulation regarding
the use of footpaths were rather serious for me. I always went out
for a walk through President Street to an open plain. President
Kruger’s house was in this street – a very modest, unostentatious
building, without a garden, and not distinguishable from other houses
in its neighbourhood. The houses of many of the millionaires in
Pretoria were far more pretentious, and were surrounded by gardens.
Indeed President Kruger’s simplicity was proverbial. Only the presence
of a police patrol before the house indicated that it belonged to
some official. I nearly always went along the footpath past this
patrol without the slightest hitch or hindrance.
Now the man on duty used to be
changed from time to time. Once one of these men, without giving me
the slightest warning, without even asking me to leave the footpath,
pushed and kicked me into the street. I was dismayed. Before I
could question him as to his behaviour, Mr. Coates, who happened to be
passing the spot on horseback, hailed me and said:
‘Gandhi, I have seen everything. I
shall gladly be your witness in court if you proceed against the
man. I am very sorry you have been so rudely assaulted.’
‘You need not be sorry,’ I said.
‘What does the poor man know? All coloured people are the same to
him. He no doubt treats Negroes just as he has treated me. I have
made it a rule not to go to court in respect of any personal
grievance. So I do not intend to proceed against him.’
The incident deepened my feeling for the
Indian settlers….I thus made an intimate study of the hard condition
of the Indian settlers, not only by reading and hearing about it, but
by personal experience. I saw that South Africa was no country for
a self-respecting Indian, and my mind became more and more occupied
with the question as to how this state of things might be
The year’s stay in Pretoria was a most
valuable experience in my life. Here it was that I had opportunities
of learning public work and acquired some measure of my capacity for
it. Here it was that the religious spirit within me became a living
force, and here too I acquired a true knowledge of legal practice.
I realized that the true function of a
lawyer was to unite parties given as under. The lesson was so
indelibly burnt into me that a large part of my time during the
twenty years of practice as a lawyer was occupied in bringing about
private compromises of hundreds of cases. I lost nothing thereby – not
even money, certainly not my soul.
The heart’s earnest and pure desire is
always fulfilled. In my own experience I have often seen this rule
verified. Service of the poor has been my heart’s desire, and it has
always thrown me amongst the poor and enabled me to identify myself
I had put in scarcely three or four
months’ practice, and the Congress¹ also was still in its infancy, when
a Tamil man in tattered clothes, head-gear in hand, two front teeth
broken and his mouth bleeding, stood before me trembling and weeping.
He had been heavily belaboured by his master. I learnt all about
him from my clerk, who was a Tamilian. Balasundaram – as that was the
visitor’s name – was serving his indenture under a well-known European
resident of Durban. The master, getting angry with him, had lost
self-control, and had beaten Balasundaram severely, breaking two of his
I sent him to a doctor. In those
days only white doctors were available. I wanted a certificate
from the doctor about the nature of the injury Balasundaram had
sustained. I secured the certificate, and straightaway took the
injured man to the magistrate, to whom I submitted his affidavit.
The magistrate was indignant when he read it, and issued a
summons against the employer.
1. Natal Indian Congress organized by Gandhi
to agitate against the Bill in the Natal Legislative Assembly to
Balasundaram’s case reached the ears of
every indentured labourer, and I came to be regarded as their friend.
I hailed this connection with delight. A regular stream of indentured
labourers began to pour into my office, and I got the best
opportunity of learning their joys and sorrows.
It has always been a mystery to me how
men can feel themselves honoured by the humiliation of their fellow-beings.
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. And service
for me was the service of India, because it came to me without my
seeking, because I had an aptitude for it. I had gone to South
Africa for travel, for finding an escape from Kathiawar intrigues and
for gaining my own livelihood. But as I have said, I found myself
in search of God and striving for self-realization.
Hardly ever have I known anybody to
cherish such loyalty as I did to the British Constitution. I can see
now that my love of truth was at the root of this loyalty. It has
never been possible for me to simulate loyalty or, for that matter,
any other virtue. The National Anthem used to be sung at every
meeting that I attended in Natal. I then felt that I must also
join in the singing. Not that I was unaware of the defects in
British rule, but I thought that it was on the whole acceptable. In
those days I believed that British rule was on the whole beneficial
to the ruled.
The colour prejudice that I saw in
South Africa was, I thought, quite contrary to British traditions, and
I believed that it was only temporary and local. I therefore vied
with Englishmen in loyalty to the throne. With careful perseverance I
learnt the tune of the ‘national anthem’ and joined in the singing
whenever it was sung. Whenever there was an occasion for the
expression of loyalty without fuss or ostentation, I readily took part
Never in my life did I exploit
this loyalty, never did I seek to gain a selfish end by its means.
It was for me more in the nature of an obligation, and I rendered
it without expecting a reward.
By now I had been three years in South
Africa. I had got to know the people and they had got to know me.
In 1896 I asked permission to go home for six months, for I saw
that I was in for a long stay there. I had established a fairly
good practice, and could see that people felt the need of my
presence. So I made up my mind to go home, fetch my wife and
children, and then return and settle out there.
This was my first voyage with my wife and
children….I believed, at the time of which I am writing, that in
order to look civilized, our dress and manners had as far as
possible to approximate to the European standard. Because, I thought,
only thus could we have some influence, and without influence it
would not be possible to serve the community….I therefore determined
the style of dress for my wife and children….The Parsis used then
to be regarded as the most civilized people amongst Indians, and so,
when the complete European style seemed to be unsuited, we adopted
the Parsi style….In the same spirit and with even more reluctance
they adopted the use of knives and forks. When my infatuation for
these signs of civilization wore away, they gave up the knives and
forks. After having become long accustomed to the new style, it was
perhaps no less irksome for them to return to the original mode.
But I can see today that we feel all the freer and lighter for
having cast off the tinsel of ‘civilization’.
The ship cast anchor in the port of
Durban on the eighteenth or nineteenth of December.
Our ship was ordered to be put in
quarantine until the twenty-third day of our sailing from Bombay. But
this quarantine order had more than health reasons behind it.
The white residents of Durban had
been agitating for our repatriation, and the agitation was one of the
reasons for the order….The real object of the quarantine was thus to
coerce the passengers into returning to India by somehow intimidating
them or the agent company. For now threats began to be addressed to
us also: ‘If you do not go back, you will surely be pushed into the
sea. But if you consent to return, you may even get your passage
money back.’ I constantly moved amongst my fellow passengers cheering
At last ultimatums were served on the
passengers and me. We were asked to submit, if we would escape with
our lives. In our reply the passengers and I both maintained our
right to land at Port Natal, and intimated our determination to enter
Natal at any risk.
At the end of twenty-three days the
ships were permitted to enter the harbour, and orders permitting the
passengers to land were passed.
As soon as we landed, some youngsters
recognized me and shouted ‘Gandhi, Gandhi’. About half a dozen men
rushed to the spot and joined in the shouting….As we went ahead, the
crowd continued to swell, until it became impossible to proceed
further….Then they pelted me with stones, brickbats and rotten eggs.
Someone snatched away my turban, whilst others began to batter and
kick me. I fainted and caught hold of the front railings of a
house and stood there to get my breath. But it was impossible. They
came upon me boxing and battering. The wife of the Police
Superintendent, who knew me, happened to be passing by. The brave lady
came up, opened her parasol, though there was no sun then, and stood
between the crowd and me. This checked the fury of the mob, as it
was difficult for them to deliver blows
on me without harming Mrs. Alexander.
The late Mr.Chamberlain, who was then
secretary of State the Colonies, cabled asking the Natal Government to
prosecute my assailants. Mr.Escombe sent for me, expressed his regret
for the injuries I had sustained, and said: ‘Believe me, I cannot feel
happy over the least little injury done to your person….If you can
identify the assailants, I am prepared to arrest and prosecute them.
Mr.Chamberlain also desires me to do so.’
To which I gave the following
‘I do not want to prosecute
anyone. It is possible that I may be able to identify one or two
of them, but what is the use of getting them punished? Besides, I do
not hold the assailants to blame. They were given to understand that
I had made exaggerated statements in India about the whites in Natal
and calumniated them. If they believed these reports, it is no wonder
that they were enraged. The leaders and, if you will permit me to
say so, you are to blame. You could have guided the people properly,
but you also believed Reuter and assumed that I must have indulged
in exaggeration. I do not want to bring anyone to book. I am sure
that, when the truth becomes known, they will be sorry for their
On the day of landing, as soon as the
yellow flag was lowered, a representative of The Natal Advertiser had
come to interview me. He had asked me a number of questions, and in
reply I had been able to refute every one of the charges that had
been levelled against me….This interview and my refusal to prosecute
the assailants produced such a profound impression that the Europeans
of Durban were ashamed of their conduct. The press declared me to
be innocent and condemned the mob. Thus the lynching ultimately
proved to be a blessing for me, that is, for the cause. It enhanced
the prestige of the Indian community in South Africa and made my
My profession progressed satisfactorily, but
that was far from satisfying me….I was still ill at ease. I longed
for some humanitarian work of a permanent nature….So I found time to
serve in the small hospital. This meant two hours every morning,
including the time taken in going to and from the hospital. This
work brought me some peace. It consisted in ascertaining the
patient’s complaints, laying the facts before the doctors and
dispensing the prescriptions. It brought me in close touch with
suffering Indians, most of them indentured Tamil, Telugu or North
The experience stood me in good
stead, when during the Boer War I offered my services for nursing
the sick and wounded soldiers.
The birth of the last child put me to
the severest test. The travail came on suddenly. The doctor was not
immediately available, and some time was lost in fetching the midwife.
Even if she had been on the spot, she could not have helped
delivery. I had to see through the safe delivery of the baby.
I am convinced that for the proper
upbringing of children the parents ought to have a general knowledge
of the care and nursing of babies. At every step I have seen the
advantages of my careful study of the subject. My children would not
have enjoyed the general health that they do today, had I not
studied the subject and turned my knowledge to account. 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. The education of the child begins with
The couple who realize these things will
never have sexual union for the fulfillment of their lust, but only
when they desire issue. I think it is the height of ignorance to
believe that the sexual act is an independent function necessary like
sleeping or eating. The world depends for its existence on the act
of generation, and as the world is the playground of God and a
reflection of His glory, the act of generation should be controlled
for the ordered growth of the world. He who realizes this will
control his lust at any cost, equip himself with the knowledge
necessary for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of his
progeny, and give benefit of that knowledge to posterity.
After full discussion and mature
deliberation I took the vow (of brhmacharya) in 1906. I had not
shared my thoughts with my wife until then, but only consulted her
at the time of taking the vow. She had no objection. But I had
great difficulty in making the final resolve. I had not the
necessary strength. How was I to control my passions? The elimination
of carnal relationship with one’s wife seemed then a strange thing.
But I launched forth with faith in the sustaining power of God.
As I look back upon the twenty
years of the vow, I am filled with pleasure and wonderment. The more
or less successful practice of self-control had been going on since
1901. But the freedom and joy that came to me after taking the vow
had never been experienced before 1906. Before the vow I had been
open to being overcome by temptation at any moment. Now the vow was
a sure shield against temptation.
But if it was a matter of ever-increasing
joy, let no one believe that it was an easy thing for me. Even
when I am past fifty-six years, I realize how hard a thing it is.
Every day I realize more and more that it is like walking on the
sword’s edge, and I see every moment the necessity for eternal
Control of the palate is the first
essential in the observance of the vow. I found that complete
control of the palate made the observance very easy, and so I now
pursued my dietetic experiments not merely from
the vegetarian’s but
also from the brahmachari’s point of view.
I know it is argued that the soul has
nothing to do with what one eats or drinks, as the soul neither
eats nor drinks; that it is not what you put inside from without,
but what you express outwardly from within, that matters. There is no
doubt some force in this. But rather than examine this reasoning, I
shall content myself with merely declaring my firm conviction that,
for the seeker who would live in fear of God and who would see
Him face to face, restraint in diet both as to quantity and quality
is as essential as restraint in thought and speech.
I had started on a life of ease and
comfort, but the experiment was shortlived. Although I had furnished
the house with care, yet it failed to have any hold on me. So no
sooner had I launched forth on that life, than I began to cut down
expenses. The washerman’s bill was heavy, and as he was besides by
no means noted for his punctuality, even two to three dozen shirts
and collars proved insufficient for me. Collars had to be changed
daily and shirts, if not daily, at least every alternate day. This
meant a double expense which appeared to me unnecessary. So I
equipped myself with a washing outfit to save it. I bought a book
on washing, studied the art and taught it also to my wife. This no
doubt added to my work, but its novelty made it a pleasure.
I shall never forget the first
collar that I washed myself. I had used more starch than necessary,
the iron had not been made hot enough, and for fear of burning the
collar I had not pressed it sufficiently. The result was that, though
the collar was fairly stiff, the superfluous starch continually dropped
off it. I went to court with the collar on, thus inviting the
ridicule of brother barristers, but even in those days I could be
impervious to ridicule.
In the same way, as I freed myself from
slavery to the washerman, I threw off dependence on the barber. All
people who go to England learn there at least the art of shaving,
but none, to my knowledge, learn to cut their own hair. I had to
learn that too. I once went to an English haircutter in Pretoria.
He contemptuously refused to cut my hair. I certainly felt hurt, but
immediately purchased a pair of clippers and cut my hair before the
mirror. I succeeded more or less in cutting the front hair, but I
spoiled the back. The friends in the court shook with laughter.
‘What’s wrong with your hair,
Gandhi? Rats have been at it?’
‘No the white barber would not
condescend to touch my black hair,’ said I, ‘so I preferred to cut
it myself, no matter how badly.’
The reply did not surprise the
The barber was not at fault in
having refused to cut my hair. There was every chance of his losing
his custom, if he should serve black men.
When the war (Boer) was declared, my
personal sympathies were all with the Boers, but I believed then that
I had yet no right, in such cases, to enforce my individual
convictions. I have minutely dealt with the inner struggle regarding
this in my history of the Satyagraha in South Africa, and I must
not repeat the argument here. I invite the curious to turn to those
pages. Suffice it to say that my loyalty to the British rule drove
me to participation with the British in that war. I felt that, if I
demanded rights as a British citizen, it was also my duty, as such,
to participate in the defense of the British Empire. I held then
that India could achieve her complete emancipation only within and
through the British Empire. So I collected together as many comrades
as possible, and with very great difficulty got their services
accepted as an ambulance corps.
Thus service of the Indians in South
Africa ever revealed to me new implications of truth at every stage.
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.
Man and his deed are two distinct things.
Whereas a good deed should call for approbation and a wicked deed
dis-approbation, the doer of the deed, whether good or wicked, always
deserves respect or pity as the case may be. ‘Hate the sin and not
the sinner’ is a precept which, though easy enough to understand is
rarely practised, and that is why the poison of hatred spreads in the
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
A variety of incidents in my life have
conspired to bring me in close contact with people of many creeds
and many communities, and my experience with all of them warrants the
statement that I have known no distinction between relatives and
strangers, countrymen and foreigners, white and coloured, Hindus and
Indians of other faiths, whether Musalmans, Parsis, Christians or Jews.
I may say that my heart has been incapable of making any such
I am not a profound scholar of Sanskrit.
I have read the Vedas and the Upnishads only in translations.
Naturally, therefore, mine is not a scholarly study of them. My
knowledge of them is in no way profound, but I have studied them as
I should do as a Hindu and I claim to have grasped their true
spirit. By the time I had reached the age of twenty-one, I had
studied other religions also.
There was a time when I was
wavering between Hinduism and Christianity. When I recovered my
balance of mind, I felt that to me salvation was possible only
through the Hindu religion and my faith in Hinduism grew deeper and
But even then I believed that
untouchability was no part of Hinduism; and that, if it was, such
Hinduism was not for me.
I understand more clearly today what I
read long ago about the inadequacy of all autobiography as history.
I know that I do not set down in this story all that I remember.
Who can say how much I must give and how much omit in the
interest of truth? And what would be the value in a court of law
of the inadequate ex parte evidence being tendered by me of certain
events in my life? If some busybody were to cross-examine me on the
chapters already written, he could probably shed much more light on
them, and if it were a hostile critic’s cross-examination, he might
even flatter himself for having shown up ‘the hollowness of many of
I therefore wonder for a moment
whether it might not be proper to stop writing these chapters. But
so long as there is no prohibition from the voice within, I must
continue the writing. I must follow the sage maxim that nothing once
begun should be abandoned unless it is proved to be morally
In the very first month of Indian
Opinion¹ , 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. It can be profitable only when exercised
from within. If this line of reasoning is correct, how many of
the journals in the world would stand the test? But who would
stop those that are useless? And who should be the judge? The
useful and the useless must, like good and evil generally, go on
together, and man must make his choice.
1. A journal founded by Gandhi in South
This (unto This Last) was the first book
of Ruskin I had ever read. During the days of my education I had
read practically nothing outside textbooks, and after I launched into
active life I had very little time for reading. I cannot therefore
claim much book knowledge. However, I believe I have not lost much
because of this enforced restraint. On the contrary, the limited
reading may be said to have enabled me thoroughly to digest what I
did read. Of these books, the one that brought about an instantaneous
and practical transformation in my life was Unto This Last. I
translated it later into Gujarati, entitling it Sarvodaya (the welfare
I believe that I discovered
some of my deepest convictions reflected in this great book of
Ruskin, and that is why it is so captured me and made me transform
my life. A poet is one who can call forth the good latent in the
human breast. Poets do not influence all alike, for everyone is not
evolved in an equal measure.
Even after I thought I had settled down
in Johannesburg, there was to be no settled life for me. Just when
I felt that I should be breathing in peace, an unexpected event
happened. The papers brought the news of the outbreak of the Zulu
‘rebellion’ in Natal. I bore no grudge against the Zulus, they had
harmed no Indian. I had doubts about the ‘rebellion’ itself. But I
then believed that the British Empire existed for the welfare of the
world. A genuine sense of loyalty prevented me from even wishing ill
to the Empire. The rightness or otherwise of the ‘rebellion’ was
therefore not likely to affect my decision. Natal had a Volunteer
Defense Force, and it was open to it to recruit more men. I read
that this force had already
been mobilized to quell the ‘rebellion’.
On reaching the scene of the ‘rebellion’ I
saw that there was nothing there to justify the name of ‘rebellion’.
There was no resistance that one could see. The reason why the
disturbance had been magnified into a rebellion was that a Zulu
chief had advised non-payment of a new tax imposed on his people,
and had assagaied a sergeant who had gone to collect the tax. At
any rate my heart was with the Zulus, and I was delighted, on
reaching headquarters, to hear that our main work was to be the
nursing of the wounded Zulus. The medical officer in charge welcomed
us. He said the white people were not willing nurses for the
wounded Zulus, that their wounds were festering, and that he was at
his wits’ end. He hailed our arrival as a godsend for those
innocent people, and he equipped us with bandages, disinfectants, etc.,
and took us to the improvised hospital. The Zulus were delighted to
see us. White soldiers used to peep through the railings that
separated us from them and tried to dissuade us from attending to
the wounds. And as we would not heed them, they became enraged and
poured unspeakable abuse on the Zulus.
The wounded in our charge were not wounded
in battle. A section of them had been taken prisoners as suspects.
The general had sentenced them to be flogged. The flogging had
caused severe sores. These, being unattended to, were festering. The
others were Zulu friendlies. Although these had badges given them to
distinguish them from the ‘enemy’ they had been shot at by the
soldiers by mistake.
The Zulu ‘rebellion’ was full of new
experience and gave me much food for thought. The Boer War had not
brought home to me the horrors of war with anything like the
vividness that the ‘rebellion’ did. This was no war but a man-hunt,
not only in my opinion, but also in that of many Englishmen with
whom I had occasion to talk. To hear every morning reports of
soldiers’ rifles exploding like crackers in innocent hamlets, and to
live in the midst of them was a trial. But I swallowed the bitter
draught, especially as the work of my corps consisted only in nursing
the wounded Zulus. I could see that but for us the Zulus would
have been uncared for. This work, therefore, eased my conscience.
I was anxious to observe brahmacharya in
thought, word and deed, and equally anxious to devote the maximum
time to the Satyagraha struggle and fit myself for it by cultivating
purity. I was therefore led to make further changes and to impose
greater restraints upon myself in the matter of food. The motive for
the previous changes has been largely hygienic, but the new
experiments were made from a religious standpoint.
Fasting and restriction in diet
now played a more important part in my life. Passion in man is
generally co-existent with hankering after the pleasures of the
palate. And so it was with me. I have encountered many difficulties
in trying to control passion as well as taste, and I cannot claim
even now to have brought them under complete subjection. I have
considered myself to be a heavy eater. What friends have thought to
be my restraint has never appeared to me in that light. If I had
failed to develop restraint to the extent that I have, I should
have descended lower than the beasts and met my doom long ago.
However, as I had adequately realized my shortcomings, I made great
efforts to get rid of them, and thanks to this endeavour I have all
these years pulled on with my body and out in with it my share of
I began with a fruit diet, but from the
standpoint of restraint I did not find much to choose between a
fruit diet and a diet of food grains. I observed that the same
indulgence of taste was possible with the former as with the latter,
and even more, when one got accustomed to it. I therefore came to
attach greater importance to fasting or having only one meal a day
on holidays. And if there was some occasion for penance or the like,
I gladly utilized it too for the purpose of fasting.
But I also saw that, the body now being drained
more effectively, the food yielded greater relish and appetite grew keener. It
dawned upon me that fasting could be made as powerful a weapon of indulgence as
of restraint. Many similar later experiences of mine as well as of others can be
adduced as evidence of this startling fact. I wanted to improve and train my
body, but as my chief object now was to achieve restraint and a conquest of the
palate, I selected first one food and then another, and at the same time,
restricted the amount. But the relish was after me, as it were. As I gave up one
thing and took up another, this latter afforded me a fresher and greater relish
than its predecessor.
Experience has taught me, however, that it
was wrong to have dwelt upon the relish of food. One should eat
not in order to please the palate, but just to keep the body going.
When each organ of sense subserves the body and through the body
the soul, its special relish disappears, and then alone does it begin
to function in the way nature intended it to do.
Any number of experiments is too
small and no sacrifice is too great for attaining this symphony with
nature. But unfortunately the current is nowadays flowing strongly in
the opposite direction. 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.
My first experience of jail life was in
1908. I saw that some of the regulations that the prisoners had to
observe were such as should be voluntarily observed by a brahmachari,
that is, one desiring to practise self-restraint. Such, for instance,
was the regulation requiring the last meal to be finished before
sunset. Neither the Indian nor the African prisoners were allowed tea
or coffee. They could add salt to the cooked food if they wished,
but they might not have anything for the mere satisfaction of the
Ultimately these restrictions were modified,
though not without much difficulty, but both were wholesome rules of
self-restraint. Inhibitions imposed from without rarely succeed, but
when they are self-imposed, they have a decidedly salutary effect. So,
immediately after release from jail, I imposed on myself the two
rules. As far as was then possible I stopped taking tea, and
finished my last meal before sunset. Both
these now require no
effort in the observance.
Fasting can help to curb animal passion,
only if it is undertaken with a view to self-restraint. Some of my
friends have actually found their animal passion and palate stimulated
as an after-effect of fasts. That is to say, fasting is futile
unless it is accompanied by an incessant longing for
Fasting and similar discipline is, therefore,
one of the means to the end of self-restraint, but it is not all,
and if physical fasting is not accompanied by mental fasting, it is
bound to end in hypocrisy and disaster.
On Tolstoy Farm¹ we made it a rule that
the youngsters should not be asked to do what the teachers did not
do, and therefore, when they were asked to do any work, there was
always a teacher cooperating and actually working with them. Hence
whatever the youngsters learnt, they learnt cheerfully.
1. Tolstoy farm and Phoenoix Colony were
the two settlements or ashrams founded by Gandhi in South Africa
were he and his co-workers lived a life of self-discipline and
Of textbooks, about which we hear
so much, I never felt the want. I do not even remember having made
much use of the books that were available. I did not find it at
all necessary to load the boys with quantities of books. I have
always felt that the true textbook for the pupil is his teacher. 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.
Children take in much more and
with less labour through their ears than through their eyes. I do
not remember having read any book from cover to cover with my boys.
But I gave them, in my own language, all that I had digested from
my reading of various books, and I dare say they are still carrying
a recollection of it in their minds. It was laborious for them to
remember what they learnt from books but what I imparted to them by
word of mouth they could repeat with the greatest ease. Reading was
a task for them, but listening to me was a pleasure, when I did not
bore them by failure to make my subject interesting. And from the
questions that my talks prompted them to put, I had a measure of
their power of understanding.
Just as physical training was to be
imparted through physical exercise, even so the training of the spirit
was possible only through the exercise of the spirit. And the
exercise of the spirit entirely depended on the life and character
of the teacher. 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.
It would be idle for me, if I were a
liar, to teach boys to tell the truth. A cowardly teacher would
never succeed in making his boys valiant, and a stranger to
self-restraint could never teach his pupils the value of
self-restraint. I saw, therefore, that I must be an eternal
object-lesson to the boys and girls living with me. They thus became
my teachers, and I learnt I must be good and live straight if only
for their sakes. I may say that the increasing discipline and
restraint I imposed on myself at Tolstoy Farm was mostly due to
those wards of mine.
One of them was wild, unruly, given
to lying, and quarrelsome. On one occasion he broke out most
violently. I was exasperated. I never punished my boys, but this time
I was very angry. I tried to reason with him. But he was adamant
and even tried to overreach me. At last I picked up a ruler lying
at hand and delivered a blow on his arm. I trembled as I struck
him. I dare say he noticed it. This was an entirely novel
experience for them all. The boy cried out and begged to be
forgiven. He cried not because the beating was painful to him; he
could, if he had been so minded, have paid me back in the same coin,
being a stoutly built youth of seventeen; but he realized my pain in
being driven to this violent resource. Never again after this
incident did he disobey me. But I still repent that violence. I am
afraid I exhibited before him that day not the spirit, but the
brute, in me.
I have always been opposed to
corporal punishment. I remember only one occasion on which I
physically punished one of my sons. I have therefore never until
this day been able to decide whether I was right or wrong in using
the ruler. Probably it was improper, for it was prompted by anger
and a desire to punish. Had it been an expression only of my
distress, I should have considered it justified. But the motive in
this case was mixed.
Cases of misconduct on the part of the
boys often occurred after this, but I never resorted to corporal
punishment. Thus in my endeavour to impart spiritual training to the
boys and girls under me, I came to understand better and better the
power of the spirit.
In those days I had to move between
Johannesburg and Phoenix. Once when I was in Johannesburg I received
tidings of the moral fall of two of the inmates of the ashram.
News of an apparent failure of reverse in the Satyagraha struggle
would not have shocked me, but this news came upon me like a
thunderbolt. The same day I took the train for phoenix.
During the journey my duty seemed clear to
me. I felt that the guardian or teacher was responsible, to some
extent at least, for the lapse of his ward or pupil. So my
responsibility regarding the incident in question became clear to me
as daylight. My wife had already warned me in the matter, but being
of trusting nature, I had ignored her caution. I felt that the only
way the guilty parties could be made to realize my distress and the
depth of their own fall would be for me to do some penance. So I
imposed upon myself a fast for seven days and vow to have only one
meal a day for a period of four months and a half.
My penance pained everybody, but it cleared
the atmosphere. Everyone came to realize what a terrible thing it
was to be sinful, and the bond that bound me to the boys and girls
became stronger and truer.
I never resorted to untruth in my
profession, and…a large part of my legal practice was in the interest
of public work, for which I charged nothing beyond out-of-pocket
expenses, and these too I sometimes met myself….As a student I had
heard that the lawyer’s profession was a liar’s profession. But this
did not influence me, as I had no intention of earning either
position or money by lying….My principle was put to the test many a
time in South Africa. Often I knew that my opponents had tutored
their witnesses and if I only encouraged my client or his witnesses
to lie, we could win the case. But I always resisted the temptation.
I remember only one occasion, when, after having won a case, I
suspected that my client had deceived me. In my heart of hearts I
always wished that I should win only if my client’s case was right.
In fixing my fees I do not recall ever havig made them conditional
on my winning the case. Whether my client won or lost, I expected
nothing more nor less than my fees.
I warned every new client at the
outset that he should not expect me to take up a false case or to
coach the witnesses, with the result that I built up such a
reputation that no false cases used to come to me. Indeed some of
my clients would keep their clean cases for me, and take the
doubtful ones elsewhere.
During my professional work it was also my
habit never to conceal my ignorance from my clients or my
colleagues. Wherever I felt myself at sea, I would advise my client
to consult some other counsel. This frankness earned me the unbounded
affection and trust of my clients. They were always willing to pay
the fee whenever consultation with senior counsel was necessary. This
affection and trust served me in good stead in my public work.
At the conclusion of Satyagraha struggle in
1914, I received Gokhale’s instruction to return home via London….War
was declared on the fourth of August. We reached London on the
I felt that Indians residing in England
ought to do their bit in the war. English students had volunteered
to serve in the army, and Indians might do no less. A number of
objections were taken to this line of argument. There was, it was
contended, a world of difference between the Indians and the English.
We were slaves and they were masters. How could a slave co-operate
with the master in the hour of the latter’s need? Was it not the
duty of the slave, seeking to be free, to make the master’s need his
opportunity? This argument failed to appeal to me then. I knew the
difference of status between an Indian and an Englishman, but I did
not believe that we had been quite reduced to slavery. I felt then
that it was more the fault of individual British officials than of
the British system, and that we could convert them by love. If we
would improve our status through the help and co-operation of the
British, it was our duty to win their help by standing by them in
their hour of need. Though the system was faulty, it did not seem
to me to be intolerable, as it does today. But if, having lost my
faith the system, I refuse to co-operate with the British Government
today, how could those friends then do so, having lost their faith
not only in the system but in the official as well?
I thought that England’s need should not
be turned into our opportunity, and that it was more becoming and
far-sighted not to press our demands while the war lasted. I
therefore adhered to my advice and invited those who would enlist as
All of us recognized the immorality of
war. If I was not prepared to prosecute my assailant, much less
should I be willing to participate in a war, especially when I knew
nothing of the justice or otherwise of the cause of the combatants.
Friends of course knew that I had previously served in the Boer War,
but they assumed that my views had since undergone a change.
As a matter of fact the very
same line of argument that persuaded me to take part in the Boer
War had weighed with me on this occasion. It was quite clear to me
that participation in war could never be consistent with ahimsa. But
it is not always given to one to be equally clear about one’s
duty. A votary of
truth is often obliged to grope in the dark.
By enlisting men for ambulance work in
South Africa and in England, and recruits for field service in India,
I helped not the cause of war, but I helped the institution called
the British Empire in whose ultimate beneficial character I then
believed. My repugnance to war was as strong then as it is today;
and I could not then have and would not have shouldered a rifle.
But one’s life is not a single straight line; it is a bundle of
duties very often conflicting. And one is called upon continually to
make one’s choice between one duty and another. As a citizen not
then, and not even now, a reformer leading an agitation against the
institution of war, I had to advise and lead men who believed in
war but who from cowardice or from base motives, or from anger
against the British Government, refrained from enlisting. I did not
hesitate to advise them that so long as they believed in war and
professed loyalty to the British constitution they were in duty bound
to support it by enlistment….I do not believe in retaliation, but I
did not hesitate to tell the villagers near Bettia four years ago
that they who knew nothing of ahimsa were guilty of cowardice in
failing to defend the honour of their womenfolk and their property
by force of arms. And I have not hesitated…only recently to tell
the Hindus that if they do not believe in out-and-out ahimsa and
cannot practice it they will be guilty of a crime against their
religion and humanity if they failed to defend by force of arms the
honour of their women against a kidnapper who chooses to take away
their women. And all this advice and my previous practice I hold to
be not only consistent with my profession of the religion of ahimsa
out-and-out, but a direct result of it. To state that noble doctrine
is simple enough; to know it and to practise it in the midst of a
world full of strife, turmoil and passions is a task whose difficulty
I realize more and more day by day. And yet the conviction too
that without it life is not worth living is growing daily deeper.
There is no defence for my conduct weighed
only in the scales of ahimsa, I draw no distinction between those
who wield the weapons of destruction and those who do Red Cross
work. Both participate in war and advance its cause. Both are guilty
of the crime of war. But even after introspection during all these
years, I feel that in the circumstances in which I found myself I
was bound to adopt the course I did both during the Boer War and
the Great European War and for that matter the so-called-Zulu
‘rebellion’ of Natal in 1906.
Life is governed by a multitude of
forces. It would be smooth sailing, if one could determine the course
of one’s actions only by one general principle whose application at
a given moment was too obvious to need even a moment’s reflection.
But I cannot recall a single act which could be so easily
Being a confirmed war resister I
have never given myself training in the use of destructive weapons
in spite of opportunities to take such training. It was perhaps thus
that I escaped direct destruction of human life. But so long as I
lived under a system of government based on force and voluntarily
partook of the many facilities and privileges it created for me, I
was bound to help that government to the extent of my ability when
it was engaged in a war unless I non-co-operated with that
government and renounced to the utmost of my capacity the privileges
it offered me.
Let me take an illustration. I am
a member of an institution which holds a few acres of land whose
crops are in imminent peril from monkeys. I believe in the
sacredness of all life and hence I regard it a breach of ahimsa to
inflict any injury on the monkeys. But I do not hesitate to
instigate and direct an attack on the monkeys in order to save the
crops. I would like to avoid this evil. I can avoid it by leaving
or breaking up the institution. I do not do so because I do not
expect to be able to find a society where there will be no
agriculture and therefore no destruction of some life. In fear and
trembling, in humility and penance, I therefore participate in the
injury inflicted on the monkeys, hoping some day to find a way out.
Even so did I participate in the
three acts of war. I could not, it would be madness for me to,
sever my connexions with the society to which I belong. And on
those three occasions I had no thought of non-co-operating with the
British Government. My position regarding the Government is totally
different today and hence I should not voluntarily participate in its
wars and I should risk imprisonment and even the gallows if I was
forced to take up arms or otherwise take part in its military
But that still does not solve
the riddle. If there was a national government, whilst I should not
take any direct part in any war I can conceive occasions when it
would be my duty to vote for the military training of those who
wish to take it. For I know that all its members do not believe in
non-violence to the extent I do. It is not possible to make a
person or society non-violent by compulsion.
Non-violence works in a most
mysterious manner. Often a man’s actions defy analysis in terms of
non-violence; equally often his actions may wear the appearance of
violence when he is absolutely non-violent in the highest sense of
the term and is subsequently found so to be. All I can then claim
for my conduct is that it was in the instances cited actuated in
the interests of non-violence. There was no thought of sordid
national or other interest. I do not believe in the promotion of
national or any other interest at the sacrifice of some other
I may not carry my argument any
further. 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. I know I fail
often, sometimes consciously, more often unconsciously. It is a matter
not of the intellect but of the heart. True guidance comes by
constant waiting upon God, by utmost humility, self-abnegation, by being
ever ready to sacrifice one’s self. Its practice requires fearlessness
and courage of the highest order. I am painfully aware of my
But the Light within me is
steady and clear. There is no escape for any of us save through
truth and non-violence. I know that war is wrong, is an unmitigated
evil. I know too that it has got to go. I firmly believe that
freedom won through bloodshed or fraud is no freedom. Would that
all the acts alleged against me were found to be wholly indefensible
rather than that by any act of mine non-violence was held to be
compromised or that I was ever thought to be in favour of violence
or untruth in any shape or form! Not
violence, not untruth but
non-violence, Truth is the law of our being.
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
realization of my own limitations.
I am used to misrepresentation all my
life. It is the lot of every public worker. He has to have a
tough hide. Life would be burdensome if every misrepresentation has
to be answered and cleared. It is a rule of life with me never to
explain misrepresentations except when the cause required correction.
This rule has saved much time and worry.
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. My services have many
limitations, but God has up to now blessed them in spite of the
For confessions of error is
like a broom that sweeps away dirt and leaves the surface cleaner
than before. I feel stronger for my confession. And the cause must
prosper for the retracing. Never has man reached his destination by
persistence in deviation from the straight path.
The mahatma I leave to his fate. 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
The time has now come to bring these
chapters to a close….My life from this point onward has been so
public that there is hardly anything about it that people do not
know….My life has been an open book. I have no secrets and I
encourage no secrets.
also MM, 4
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. And, even though my
efforts in this behalf may prove fruitless, let the readers know that
the vehicle, not the great principle, is at fault.
Ever since my return to India I have had
the experiences of the dormant passions lying hidden within me. The
knowledge of them has made me feel humiliated though not defeated.
The experiences and experiments have sustained me and given me great
joy. But I know that I have still before me a difficult path to
traverse. I must reduce myself to zero. So long as a man does not
of his own free will put himself last among his fellow creatures,
there is no salvation for him. Ahimsa is the farthest limit of
I have become literally sick of the
adoration of the unthinking multitude. I would feel certain of my
ground if I was spat upon by them. Then there would be no need
for confession of Himalayan and other miscalculations, no retracing, no
I have no desire for prestige anywhere. It
is furniture required in courts of kings. I am a servant of
Mussulmans, Christians, Parsis and Jews as I am of Hindus. And a
servant is in need of love, not prestige. That is assured to me so
long as I remain a faithful servant.
Somehow or other I dread a visit to
Europe and America. Not that I distrust the peoples of these great
continents any more than I distrust my own, but I distrust myself. I
have no desire to go to the West in search of health or for
sightseeing. I have no desire to deliver public speeches. I detest
being lionized. I wonder if I shall ever again have the health to
stand the awful strain of public speaking and public demonstrations.
If God ever sent me to the West, I should go there to penetrate
the hearts of the masses, to have quiet talks with the youth of the
West and have the privilege of meeting kindred spirits – lovers of
peace at any price save that of truth.
But I feel that I have as yet no
message to deliver personally to the West. I believe my message to
be universal but as yet I feel that I can best deliver it through
my work in my own country. If I can show visible success in India,
the delivery of the message becomes complete. If I came to the
conclusion that India had no use for my message, I should not care
to go elsewhere in search of listeners even though I still retained
faith in it. If I ventured out of India, I should do so because I
have faith, though I cannot demonstrate it to the satisfaction of all,
that the message is being received by India, be it ever so slowly.
Thus whilst I was hesitatingly
carrying on the correspondence with friends who had invited me, I saw
that there was need for me to go to Europe, if only to Romain
Rolland. Owing to my distrust of myself over a general visit, I
wanted to make my visit to that wise man of the West the primary
cause of my journey to Europe. I, therefore, referred my difficulty to
him and asked him in the frankest manner possible whether he would
let me make my desire to meet him the primary cause of my visit
to Europe. He says that in the name of truth itself, he will not
think of letting me go to Europe if a visit to him is to be the
primary cause. He will not let me interrupt my labours here for the
sake of our meeting. Apart from this visit I felt within me no
imperative call. I regret my decision but it seems to be the
correct one. For whilst there is no urge
within to go to Europe,
there is an incessant call within for so much to do here.
I hold myself to be incapable of hating
any being on earth. By a long course of prayerful discipline, I have
ceased for over forty years to hate anybody. I know this is a big
claim. Nevertheless, I make it in all humility. But I can and do
hate evil wherever it exists I hate the system of government that
the British people have set up in India. I hate the ruthless
exploitation of India even as I hate from the bottom of my heart
the hideous system of untouchability for which millions of Hindus
have made themselves responsible. But I do not hate the domineering
Englishmen as I refuse to hate the domineering Hindus. I seek to
reform them in all the loving ways that are open to me.
Some days back a calf having been maimed
lay in agony in the ashram. Whatever treatment and nursing was
possible was given to it. The surgeon whose advice was sought in
the matter declared the case to be past help and past hope. The
suffering of the animal was so great that it could not even turn
its side without excruciating pain.
In these circumstances I felt that
humanity demanded that the agony should be ended by ending life
itself. The matter was placed before the whole ashram. At the
discussion, a worthy neighbour vehemently opposed the idea of killing
even to end pain. The ground of his opposition was that one has no
right to take life which one cannot create. His argument seemed to
me to be pointless here. It would have point, if the taking of life
was actuated by self-interest. Finally in all humility but with the
clearest of convictions I got in my presence a doctor kindly to
administer the calf a quietus by means of a poison injection. The
whole thing was over in less than two minutes.
I knew that public opinion
especially in Ahmedabad would not approve of my action and that it
would read nothing but himsa in it. But I know too that performance
of one’s duty should be independent of public opinion. I have all
along held that one is bound to act according to what to one
appears to be right, though it may appear wrong to others. And
experience has shown that that is the only correct course. That is
why the poet has sung: ‘The path way of love is the ordeal of fire,
the shrinkers turn away from it.’ The pathway of ahimsa, that is, of
love, one has often to tread all alone.
The question may legitimately be put
to me: Would I apply to human beings the principle I have
enunciated in connexion with the calf? Would I like it to be
applied in my own case? My reply is ‘Yes’; the same law holds good
in both the cases. The law, ‘as with one so with all’, admits of no
exceptions, or the killing of the calf was wrong and violent. In
practice, however, we do not cut short the sufferings of our ailing
dear ones by death because, as a rule, we have always means at our
disposal to help them and they have the capacity to think and
decide for themselves. But supposing that in the case of an ailing
friend, I am unable to render any aid and recovery is out of the
question and the patient is lying in an unconscious state in the
throes of agony, then I would not see any himsa in putting an end
to his suffering by death.
Just as a surgeon does not commit
himsa but practises the purest ahimsa when he wields his knife, one
may find it necessary, under certain imperative circumstances, to go a
step further and sever life from the body in the interest of the
sufferer. It may be objected that whereas the surgeon performs his
operation to save the life of the patient, in the other case we do
just the reverse. But on a deeper analysis it will be found that
the ultimate object sought to be served in both the cases is the
same, namely, to relieve the suffering soul within from pain. In the
one case you do it by severing the diseased portion from the body,
in the other you do it by severing from the soul the body that has
become an instrument of torture to it. In either case it is the
relief of the soul from pain that is aimed at, the body without the
life within being incapable of feeling either pleasure or pain. Other
circumstances can be imagined in which not to kill would spell himsa,
while killing would be ahimsa. Suppose, for instance, that I find my
daughter, whose wish at the moment I have no means of ascertaining,
is threatened with violation and there is no way by which I can
save her, then it would be the purest form of ahimsa on my part to
put an end to her life and surrender myself to the fury of the
The trouble with our votaries of
ahimsa is that they have made of ahimsa a blind fetish and put the
greatest obstacle in the way of the spread of true ahimsa in our
midst. The current – and, in my opinion, mistaken – view of ahimsa has
drugged our conscience and rendered us insensible to a host of other
and more insidious forms of himsa like harsh words, harsh judgements,
ill will, anger, spite and lust of cruelty; it has made us forget
that there may be far more himsa in the slow torture of men and
animals, the starvation and exploitation to which they are subjected
out of selfish greed, the wanton humiliation and oppression of the
weak and the killing of their self-respect that we witness all
around us today than in mere benevolent taking of life. Does any
one doubt for a moment that it would have been far more humane to
have summarily put to death those who in the infamous lane of
Amritsar were made by their tortures to crawl on their bellies like
worms? If anyone desires to retort by saying that these people
themselves today feel otherwise, that they are none the worse for
crawling, I shall have no hesitation in telling him that he does not
know even the elements of ahimsa. There arise occasions in a man’s
life when it becomes his imperative duty to meet them by laying
down his life; not to appreciate this fundamental fact of man’s
estate is to betray an ignorance of the foundation of ahimsa. For
instance, a votary of truth would pray to God to give him death to
save him from a life of falsehood. Similarly a votary of ahimsa
would on bent knees implore his enemy to put him to death rather
than humiliate him or make him do things unbecoming the dignity of
a human being. As the poet has sung: ‘The way of the Lord is meant
for heroes, not for cowards.’
It is this fundamental
misconception about the nature and the scope of ahimsa, this confusion
about the relative values, that is responsible for our mistaking mere
non-killing for ahimsa and for the fearful amount
of himsa that goes
on in the name of ahimsa in our country.
Truth to me is infinitely dearer than the
‘mahatmaship’, which is purely a burden. It is my knowledge of my
limitations and my nothingness which has so far saved me from the
oppressiveness of ‘mahatmaship’. I am painfully aware of the fact
that my desire to continue life in the body involves me in constant
himsa, that is why I am becoming growingly indifferent to this
physical body of mine. For instance, I know that in the act of
respiration I destroy innumerable invisible germs floating in the air.
But I do not stop breathing. The consumption of vegetables involves
himsa but I cannot give them up. Again, there is himsa in the use
of antiseptics yet I cannot bring myself to discard the use of
disinfectants like the kerosene, to rid myself of the mosquito pest
and the like. I suffer snakes to be killed in the ashram when it
is impossible to catch and put them out of harm’s way. I even
tolerate the use of the stick to drive the bullocks in the ashram.
Thus there is no end of himsa which I directly and indirectly
commit. And now I find myself confronted with this monkey problem.
Let me assure the reader that I am in no hurry to take the
extreme step of killing them. In fact I am not sure that I would
at all be able finally to make up my mind to kill them. But I
cannot promise that I shall never kill the monkeys even though they
may destroy all the crop in the ashram. If as a result of this
confession of mine, friends choose to give me up as lost I would be
sorry, but nothing will induce me to try to conceal my imperfections
in the practice of ahimsa. All I claim for myself is that I am
ceaselessly trying to understand the implications of great ideals like
ahimsa and to practice them in thought, word and deed and that not
without a certain measure of success, as I think. But I know that I
have a long distance yet to cover in this direction.
MT, II, 425-26
I am a poor mendicant. My earthly
possessions consist of six spinning wheels, prison dishes, a can of
goat’s milk, six homespun loin-cloths and towels, and my reputation
which cannot be worth much.¹
MT, III, 142
1. To the customs official at Marseilles,
11 September 1931.
When I found myself drawn into the
political coil, I asked myself what was necessary for me, in order to
remain untouched by immorality, by untruth, by what is known as
political gain. I came definitely to the conclusion that, if I had
to serve the people in whose midst my life was cast and of whose
difficulties I was a witness from day to day, I must discard all
wealth, all possession.
I cannot tell you with truth that,
when this belief came to me, I discarded everything immediately. I
must confess to you that progress at first was slow. And now, as I
recall those days of struggle, I remember that it was also painful
in the beginning. But, as days went by, I saw that I had to throw
overboard many other things which I used to consider as mine, and a
time came when it became a matter of positive joy to give up those
things. One after another then, by almost geometric progression, things
slipped away from me. And, as I am describing my experiences, I can
say a great burden fell off my shoulders and I felt that I could
now walk with ease and, do my work also in the service of my
fellow men with great comfort and still greater joy. 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 found that there were many people who
did not have the thing, although they wanted it; and I would have
to seek the police assistance also if some hungry famine-stricken
people, finding me in a lonely place, wanted not only to divide the
thing with me but to dispossess me. And I said to myself: if they
want it and would take it, they do so not from any malicious motive,
but they would do it because theirs was a greater need than mine.
And I said to myself: possession
seems to me to be a crime; I can only possess certain things when
I know that others, who also want to possess similar things are able
to do so. But we know–every one of us can speak from
experience-that such a thing is an impossibility. Therefore, the only
thing that can be possessed by all is non-possession, not to have
anything whatsoever. Or, in other words, a willing surrender….Therefore,
having that absolute conviction in me, such must be my constant
desire that this body also may be surrendered at the will of God,
and while it is at my disposal, must be used not for dissipation,
not for self-indulgence, not for pleasure, but merely for service the
whole of your waking hours. And if this is true with reference to
the body, how much more with reference to clothing and other things
that we use?
And those who have followed out
this vow of voluntary poverty to the fullest extent possible-to
reach absolute perfection is an impossibility, but the fullest
possible for a human being-those who have reached the ideal of
that state, testify that when you dispossess yourself of everything
you have, you really possess all the treasures of the world.¹
MT, III, 155-57
1. From an address delivered at the Guild
Hall, London, on 27 September 1931.
From my youth upward I learnt the art of
estimating the value of scriptures on the basis of their ethical
teaching. Miracles had no interest for me. The miracles said to have
been performed by Jesus, even if I had believed them literally, would
not have reconciled me to any teaching that did not satisfy
universal ethics. Somehow, words of religious teachers have for me, as
I presume for the millions, a living force which the same words
uttered by ordinary mortals do not possess.
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. The adjective ‘begotten’ has a deeper and
possibly a grander meaning than its spiritual birth. In his own
times he was the nearest to 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. A regenerate outgrows the original taint,
even as purified gold outgrows the original alloy.
I have made the frankest
admission of many sins. But I do not carry their burden on my
shoulders. If I am journeying godward, as I feel I am, it is safe
with me. For I feel the warmth of the sunshine of His presence. My
austerities, fastings and prayers are, I know, of no value, if I rely
upon them for reforming me. But they have an inestimable value, if
they represent, as I hope they do, the yearnings of a soul,
to lay his weary head in the lap of the Maker.
MT, IV, 93
An English friend has been at me for the
past thirty years trying to persuade me that there is nothing but
damnation in Hinduism and I must accept Christianity. When I was in
jail I got from separate sources no less than three copies of Life
of Sister Therese, in the hope that I should follow her example and
accept Jesus as the only begotten son of God and my Saviour. I
read the book prayerfully but I could not accept even St.Therese’s
testimony. I must say I have an open mind, if indeed at this stage
and age of my life I can be said to have an open mind on this
question. Anyway, I claim to have an open mind in this sense that
if things were to happen to me as they did to Saul before he
became Paul, I should not hesitate to be converted. But today I rebel
against orthodox Christianity, as I am convinced that it has distorted
the message of Jesus. He was an Asiatic whose message was delivered
through many media and when it had the backing of a Roman emperor,
it became an imperialist faith as it remains to this day. Of course,
there are noble but rare exceptions, but the general trend is as I
MT, IV, 95
My mind is narrow. I have not read much
literature. I have not seen much of the world. I have concentrated
upon certain things in life and beyond that I have no other
MT, VI, 356
I have not the shadow of a doubt that
any man or woman can achieve, what I have, if he or she would make
the same effort and cultivate the same hope and faith.
I fancy I know the art of living and
dying non-violently. But I have yet to demonstrate it by one perfect
MGP, II, 475
There is no such thing as ‘Gandhism’ and I
do not want to leave any sect after me. I do not claim to have
originated any new principle or doctrine. I have simply tried in my
own way to apply the eternal truths to our daily life and problems.
There is, therefore, no question of my leaving any code like the code
of Manu. There can be no comparison between that great law-giver and
me. The opinions I have formed and the conclusions I have arrived
at are not final, I may change them tomorrow. 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. In doing so, I have sometimes erred and learnt by
my errors. Life and its problems have thus become to me so many
experiments in the practice of truth and non-violence. By instinct, I
have been truthful, but not non-violent. As a Jain muni once rightly
said, I was not so much a votary of ahimsa, as I was of truth, and
I put the latter in the first place and the former in the second.
For, as he put it, I was capable of sacrificing non-violence for the
sake of truth. In fact, it was in course of my pursuit of truth
that I discovered non-violence. Our scriptures have declared that
there is no dharma higher than truth. But non-violence, they say, is
the highest duty. The word dharma, in my opinion, has different
connotations as used in the two aphorisms.
Well, all my philosophy, if it may
be called by that pretentious name, is contained in what I have
said. But, you will not call it ‘Gandhism’ ; there is no ‘ism’ about
it. And no elaborate literature or propaganda is needed about it.
The scriptures have been quoted against my position, but I have held
faster than ever to the position that truth may not be sacrificed
for anything whatsoever. Those who believe in the simple truths I
have laid down can propagate them only by living them. People have
laughed at my spinning wheel, and an acute critic observed that when
I died the wheels would serve to make the funeral pyre. That,
however, has not shaken my faith in the spinning wheel. How am I to
convince the world by means of books that the whole of my
constructive programme is rooted in non-violence? My life alone can
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, three miles from the nearest railway
station; and 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 and of whose
wonderful possibilities I had yet to learn. It was he who had
prophesied in his letter to me that I was leading a movement which
was destined to bring a message of hope to the down-trodden people
of the earth. So you will see that I have not approached the
present task in any spirit of enmity to Great Britain and the West.
After having imbibed and assimilated the message of Unto This Last, I
could not be guilty of approving fascism or nazism, whose cult is
of the individual and his liberty.
I have no secrets of my own in this
life. I have owned my weaknesses. If I were sensually inclined, I
would have the courage to make the confession. It was when I
developed detestation of the sensual connexion even with my own wife
and had sufficiently tested myself that I took the vow of
brahmacharya in 1906, and that for the sake of better dedication to
the service of the country. From that day, began my open life….And
from that day when I began brahmacharya, our freedom began. My wife
became a free woman, free from my authority as her lord and master,
and I became free from my slavery to my own appetite which she had
to satisfy. No other woman had any attraction for me in the same
sense that my wife had. I was too loyal to her as husband and too
loyal to the vow I had taken before my mother to be slave to any
other woman. But the manner in which my brahmacharya came to me
irresistibly drew me to woman as the mother of man….My brahmacharya
knew nothing of the orthodox laws governing its observance. I framed
my own rules as occasion necessitated. But I have never believed
that all contact with woman was to be shunned for the due
observance of brahmacharya. That restraint which demands abstention
from all contact, no matter how innocent, with the opposite sex is a
forced growth, having little or no vital value. Therefore, the natural
contacts for service were never restrained. And I found myself
enjoying the confidence of my sisters, European and Indian, in South
Africa. And when I invited the Indian sisters in South Africa to
join the civil resistance movement, I found myself one of them. I
discovered that I was specially fitted to serve the womankind. To
cut the-for me enthralling-story short, my return to India found me
in no time one with India’s women. The easy access I had to their
hearts was an agreeable revelation to me. Muslim sisters never kept
purdah before me here, even as they did not in South Africa. I
sleep in the ashram surrounded by women, for they feel safe with me
in every respect. It should be remembered that there is no privacy
in the Segaon Ashram.
If I were sexually attracted
towards women, I have courage enough, even at this time of life, to
become a polygamist. I do not believe in free love-secret or open.
Free open love I have looked upon as dog’s love. Secret love is
MT, V, 241-42
‘You have failed to take even your son
with you,’ wrote a correspondent. ‘May it not, therefore, be well for
you to rest content with putting your own house in order?’
This may be taken to be a taunt,
but I do not take it so. For the question had occurred to me,
before it did to anyone else. I am a believer in previous births
and rebirths. All our relationships are the result of the samskaras
we carry from our previous births. God’s laws are inscrutable and
are the subject of endless search. No one will fathom them.
This is how I regard the case
of my son. I regard the birth of a bad son to me as the result
of my evil past, whether of this life or previous. My first son was
born, when I was in a state of infatuation. Besides, he grew up
whilst I was myself growing and whilst I knew myself very little. I
do not claim to know myself fully even today, but I certainly know
myself better than I did then. For years he remained away from me,
and his upbringing was not entirely in my hands. That is why, he
has always been at a loose end. His grievance against me has always
been that I sacrificed him and his brothers at the altar of what I
wrongly believed to be the public good. My other sons have laid
more or less the same blame at my door, but with a good deal of
hesitation, and they have generously forgiven me. My eldest son was
the direct victim of experiments-radical changes in my life-and so he
cannot forget what he regards as my blunders. Under the circumstances
I believe I am myself the cause of the loss of my son, and have,
therefore, learnt patiently to bear it. And yet, it is not quite
correct to say that I have lost him. For it is my constant prayer
that God may make him see the error of his ways and forgive me my
shortcomings, if any, in serving him. It is my firm faith that man
is by nature going higher, and so I have not at all lost the hope
that, some day, he will wake up from his slumber and ignorance. Thus,
he is part of my field of experiments in non-violence. When or
whether I shall succeed, I have never bothered to know. It is enough
for my satisfaction that I do not slacken my efforts in doing what
I know to be my duty.
MT, V, 378-79
I read a newspaper cutting sent by a
correspondent to the effect that a temple has been erected where my
image is being worshipped. This I consider to be a gross form of
idolatry. The person who has erected the temple has wasted his
resources by misusing them, the villagers who are drawn there are
misled, and I am being insulted in that the whole of my life has
been caricatured in that temple. The meaning that I have given to
worship is distorted. The worship of the charkha lies in plying it
for a living, or as a sacrifice for ushering in swaraj. 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. A man is worshipped only to the extent
that he is followed not in his weaknesses, but in his strength.
Hinduism is degraded when it is brought down to the level of the
worship of the image of a living being. No man can be said to be
good before his death. After death too, he is good for the person
who believes him to have possessed certain qualities attributed to
him. As a matter of fact, God alone knows a man’s heart. And hence,
the safest thing is not to worship any person, living or dead, but
to worship perfection which resides only in God, known as Truth. The
question then certainly arises, as to whether possession of photographs
is not a form of worship, carying no merit with it. I have said as
much before now in my writings. Nevertheless, I have tolerated the
practice, as it has become an innocent though a costly fashion. But
this toleration will become ludicrous and harmful, if I were to give
directly or indirectly the slightest encouragement to the practice
above described. It would be a welcome relief, if the owner of the
temple removed the image and converted the building into a spinning
centre, where the poor will card and spin for wages, and the others
for sacrifice and all will be wearers of khaddar. This will be the
teaching of the Gita in action, and true worship of it and me.
MT, VII, 100
My imperfection and failures are as much a
blessing from God as my success and my talents, and I lay them both
at His feet. 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.
MGP, II, 801
I did not move a muscle, when I first I
first heard that an atom bomb had wiped out Hiroshima. On the
contrary I said to myself, ‘Unless now the world adopts non-violence,
it will spell certain suicide for mankind.’
MGP, II, 808
I do not sit in judgement upon the world
for its many misdeeds. Being imperfect myself and needing toleration
and charity, I tolerate the world’s imperfections till I find or
create an opportunity for fruitful expostulation.
MT, I, 285
When I have become incapable of evil and
when nothing harsh or haughty occupies, be it momentarily, my
thought-world, then, and not till then, my non-violence will move all
the hearts of all the world.
MGP, II, 800
If one has completely merged oneself with
Him, he should be content to leave good and bad, success and failure
to Him and be careful for nothing. I feel I have not attained that
state, and, therefore, my striving is incomplete.
MGP, II, 453
There is a stage in life when a man does
not need even to proclaim his thoughts much less to show them by
outward action. Mere thoughts act. They attain that power. Then it
can be said of him that his seeming inaction constitutes his
action…. My striving is in that direction.
MGP, II, 463
I would love to attempt an answer to a
question which has been addressed to me from more than one quarter
of the globe. It is: How can you account for the growing violence
among your own people on the part of political parties for the
furtherance of political ends? Is this the result of the thirty
years of non-violent practice for ending the British rule? Does your
message of non-violence still hold good for the world? I have
condensed the sentiments of my correspondents in my own language.
In reply I must confess my
bankruptcy, not that of non-violence. I have already said that the
non-violence that was offered during the past thirty years was that
of the weak. Whether it is good enough answer or not is for the
others to judge. It must be further admitted that such non-violence
can have no play in the altered circumstances. India has no
experience of the non-violence of the strong. It serves no purpose
for me to continue to repeat that non-violence of the strong is the
strongest force in the world. The truth requires constant and
extensive demonstration. This I am now endeavouring to do to the
best of my ability. What if the best of my ability is very little?
May I not be living in a fool’s paradise? Why should I ask the
people to follow me in the fruitless search? These are pertinent
questions. My answer is quite simple. I ask nobody to follow me.
Everyone should follow his or her own inner voice. If he or she
has no ears to listen to it, he or she should do the best he or
she can. In no case, should he or she imitate others sheeplike.
One more question has been and
is being asked. If you are certain that India is going the wrong
way, why do you associate with the wrong doers? Why do you not
plough your own lonely furrow and have faith that if you are right,
your erstwhile friends and your followers will seek you out? I regard
this as a very fair question. I must not attempt to argue against
it. All I can say is that my faith is as strong as ever. It is
quite possible that my technique is faulty. There are old and tried
precedents to guide one in such a complexity. Only, no one should
act mechanically. Hence, I can say to all my counselors that they
should have patience with me and even share my belief that there is
no hope for the aching world except through the narrow and straight
path of non-violence. Millions like me may fail to prove the truth
in their own lives, that would be their failure, never of the eternal
MT, VIII, 22-23
The partition has come in spite of me. It
has hurt me. But it is the way in which the partition has come
that has hurt me more. I have pledged myself to do or die in the
attempt to put down the present conflagration. I love all mankind as
I love my own countrymen, because God dwells in the heart of every
human being, and I aspire to realize the highest in life through the
service of humanity. It is true that the non-violence that we
practiced 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. Nor did I present to them weapon of non-violence because
they were weak or disarmed or without military training, but because
my study of history has taught me that hatred and violence used in
howsoever noble a cause only breed their kind and instead of
bringing peace jeopardize it. Thanks to the tradition of our ancient
seers, sages and saints, if there is a heritage that India can share
with the world, it is this gospel of forgiveness and faith which is
her proud possession. I have faith that in time to come, India will
pit that against the threat of destruction which the world has
invited upon itself by the discovery of the atom bomb. The weapon of
truth and love is infallible, but there is something wrong in us, its
votaries, which has plunged us into the present suicidal strife. I am,
therefore, trying to examine myself.
MGP, II, 246
I have passed through many an ordeal in
my life. But perhaps this is to be the hardest. I like it. The
fiercer it becomes, the closer is the communion with God that I
experience and the deeper grows my faith in His abundant grace. So
long as it persists, I know it is well with me.
MGP, II, 246
If I were a perfect man, I own, I should
not feel the miseries of neighbours as I do. As a perfect man I
should take note of them, prescribe a remedy, and compel adoption by
the force of unchallengeable Truth in me. But as yet I only see as
through a glass darkly and therefore have to carry conviction by
slow and laborious processes, and then, too, not always with success….I
would be less human if, with all my knowledge of the avoidable
misery pervading the land…I did not feel with and for all the
suffering of the dumb millions of India.
I want to declare to the world that,
whatever may be said to the contrary, and although I might have
forfeited the regard and even the trust of many in the West-and I
bow my head low-but even for their friendship or their love, I must
not suppress that voice within, call it conscience, call it prompting
of my inner basic nature. There is something within me impelling me
to cry out my agony. I have known exactly what it is. That
something in me which never deceives me tells me now: ‘You have to
stand against the whole world although you may have to stand alone.
You have to stare the world in the face although the world may
look at you with bloodshot eyes. Do not fear. Trust that little
thing in you which resides in the heart and says: Forsake friends,
wife, all; but testify to that for which you have lived and for
have to die.’
My soul refuses to be satisfied so long
as it is a helpless witness of a single wrong or a single misery.
But it is not possible for me, a weak, frail, miserable being, to mend
every wrong or to hold myself free of blame for all the wrong I
see. The spirit in me pulls one way, the flesh in me pulls in the
opposite direction. There is freedom from the action of these two
forces but that freedom is attainable only by slow and painful
stages. I cannot attain freedom by a mechanical refusal to act, but
only by intelligent action in a detached manner. This struggle
resolves itself into an incessant crucifixion of the flesh so that
the spirit may become entirely free.
MGP, II, 324
I believe in the message of truth
delivered by all the religious teachers of the world. 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.
I shall be content to be written down an imposter if my lips utter
a word of anger or abuse against my assailant at the last
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
I do not want to die…of a creeping
paralysis of my faculties – a defeated man. An assassin’s bullet may
put an end to my life. I would welcome it. But I would love, above
all, to fade out doing my duty with my last breath.
MGP, I, 562
I am not aching for martyrdom, but if it
comes in my way in the prosecution of what I consider to be the
supreme duty in defence of the faith I hold…I shall have earned
Assaults have been made on my life in the
past, but God has spared me till now, and the assailants have
repented for their action. But if someone were to shoot me in the
belief that he was getting rid of a rascal, he would kill not the
real Gandhi, but the one that appeared to him a rascal.
If I die of a lingering illness, nay
even by as much as a boil or a pimple, it will be your duty
to proclaim to the world, even at the risk of making people
angry with you, that I was not the man of God that I claimed
to be. If you do that it will give my spirit peace. Note down
this also that if someone were to end my life by putting a
bullet through me – as someone tried to do with a bomb the other
day – and I met his bullet without a groan, and breathed my last
taking God’s name, then alone would I have made good my
MGP, II, 766
1. This was uttered on the night of 29
January 1948, less than twenty hours before he was shot.
If anybody tried to take out my body
in a procession after I died, I would certainly tell them – if my
corpse could speak – to spare me and cremate me where I had
After I am gone, no single person will be
able completely to represent me. But a little bit of me will live
in many of you. If each puts the cause first and himself last, the
vacuum will to a large extent be filled.
I do not want to be reborn. But if I
have to be reborn, I should be born an untouchable, so that I may
share their sorrows, sufferings, and affronts levelled at them, in order
that I may endeavour to free myself and them from that miserable