An Anthology of His Writings on His Life, Work & Ideas Mohandas K. Gandhi, called Mahatma (“great soul”), was the father of modern India, but his influence has spread well beyond the subcontinent, and is as important today as it was in the first part of the twentieth century, and during this nation’s own civil rights movement. Taken from Gandhi’s writings throughout his life. The Essential Gandhi introduces us to his thoughts on politics, spirituality, poverty, suffering, love, non-violence, civil disobedience, and his own life. The pieces collected here, with explanatory head-notes by Gandhi biographer Louis Fischer, offer the clearest, most thorough portrait of one of the greatest spiritual leaders the world has known. “Gandhi was inevitable. If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable... We may ignore him at our own risk.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
With a new Preface drawn from the writings of Eknath Easwaran
In the annals of spirituality certain books stand out both for their historical importance and for their continued relevance. The Vintage Spiritual Classics series offers the greatest of these works in authoritative new editions, with specially commissioned essays by noted contemporary commentators. Filled with eloquence and fresh insight, encouragement and solace, Vintage Spiritual Classics are incomparable resources for all readers, who seek a more substantive understanding of mankind's relation to the divine.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, commonly known as Mahatma Gandhi, was the preeminent leader of Indian nationalism in British-ruled India. Employing non-violent civil disobedience, Gandhi led India to independence and inspired movements for non-violence, civil rights and freedom across the world.
The son of a senior government official, Gandhi was born and raised in a Hindu Bania community in coastal Gujarat, and trained in law in London. Gandhi became famous by fighting for the civil rights of Muslim and Hindu Indians in South Africa, using new techniques of non-violent civil disobedience that he developed. Returning to India in 1915, he set about organizing peasants to protest excessive land-taxes. A lifelong opponent of "communalism" (i.e. basing politics on religion) he reached out widely to all religious groups. He became a leader of Muslims protesting the declining status of the Caliphate. Assuming leadership of the Indian National Congress in 1921, Gandhi led nationwide campaigns for easing poverty, expanding women's rights, building religious and ethnic amity, ending untouchability, increasing economic self-reliance, and above all for achieving Swaraj—the independence of India from British domination. His spiritual teacher was the Jain philosopher/poet Shrimad Rajchandra.
This book changed my life. It is by far the best biography I have ever read, but I think the unique format lends itself to that. While it is officially an anthology, the editor strung it in a way that Gandhi himself narrates the story. Drawing from all of Gandhi’s writings, this blend really makes up something special.
It is more than the fact that it is packed with a bunch of quotes you might find on dentist office posters or written on your mirror though (which there are plenty of that I will note at the end of this review). It inspired me to be a better person. I second what Einstein said, that “generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked this earth” (323).
One of the most refreshing things about this biography is that Gandhi is very frank and honest about his human shortcomings. This might sound really silly, but I remember once taking the Meyer Briggs test and noting that Gandhi was also an INFJ (of course someone else took it for him, but still). After reading this book I can start to believe that he and I may have actually shared a lot in common, at least, when he was young. As a child he was “very shy” and would run straight home from school because he “could not bear to talk to anybody” (6). He also admits that he was very afraid of things (11), had a problem with secrecy (12), and once had to confess to his father than he stole from his brother (13). I laughed as I went through marking the pages—so many parallels to my own life, particularly his obsession with seeking truth (14). I remember as a young teenager some of my earliest terrible poems were about the conundrum of truth, especially around the time of my parents’ divorce. It does not really shock me that I am now very interested in the authenticity of experience and storytelling for my field study projects. I doubt I would have made that connection had I not read this biography.
I’m not saying I hope to be half as good as a person as Gandhi was, but it does give me hope that I can try.
In general I appreciated learning more about the history of both South Africa and India’s independence. I finally have a story to put behind the man you see in the pictures with his homespun kadi. I think the most amazing part of his life was his death, and how he seemed to know exactly what it was that would happen. He said that he did “not want to die of a creeping paralysis…a defeated man.” He went on to say that “an assassins’ bullet may put an end to my life. I would welcome it… I shall be content to be written down an imposer if my lips utter a word of anger or abuse against my assailant at the last moment (318). And of course, his last words when Godse’s bullet hit him on January 25, 1948 were “Oh, God” (323).
I would like to learn more about the modern India and where Gandhi fits in (or does not fit in) to it. I look at all my rupee notes and see pictures of this man who is the father of India, yet you cannot find homespun anywhere in Delhi. The villages are being filtered into the ever growing cities. All major world car dealerships are on every street corner. His economic theories are so antiquated that it is hard to tell what his lasting impact has been on India. I am anxious to look more into this. The tension is definitely evident by the end of this book after Independence with the formation of Pakistan, but what did it look like from there?
I am left with further questions about his family life—which seems to be the only glaring fault I could find with the man in later life. At first this was something that really bothered me. Can you save the world and still be there at home? Could Gandhi have been Gandhi and still put his family first? He does not seem to think so—going as far as saying that he sees “no purpose or meaning in having a family or raising children. You can do more service to mankind by not forming those attachments.” It seems to be a common theme in my field study here in India and in Eastern thought in general, which is very contrary to my own religious beliefs as a Latter-day Saint. By the time we get to his wife’s death though I felt like I had a better picture. She died in his lap in jail, to which he admits she was his “teacher in non-violence” and his “better half.” They were married for 62 years.
What a man. What a story. I just want to throw out a few favorite quotes:
“Brute force will avail against brute force only when it is proved that darkness can dispel darkness” (80)
“A government that is evil has no room for good men and women except in its prisons” (154)
“A reverent study of other religions will not weaken or shake one’s faith in one’s own religion” (185)
“A man is but a product of his thoughts; what he thinks, he becomes” (163)
It is not “ungentlemanly to labor with one’s hands and feet for one’s livelihood or schooling… An academic grasp without practice behind it is like an embalmed corpse, perhaps lovely to look at but nothing to inspire or ennoble” (205)
“Three-fourths of the miseries in the world will disappear if we step into the shoes of our advisories and understand their standpoint” (222)
“We tend to become what we worship” (237)
“Prayer has saved my life” (269)
“I am an irrepressible optimist, because I believe in myself” (274)
“If I had no sense of humor I should long ago have committed suicide” (276)
“There is nothing that wastes the body like worry, and one who has any faith in God should be ashamed to worry about anything whatsoever” (277)
“It is trite saying that one half of the world knows not how the other lives. Who can say what sores might be healed, what hurts solved, were the doings of each half of the worlds inhabitants understood and appreciated by the other?” (284)
“The art of dying follows as corollary from the art of living” (300)
“After I am gone no single person will be able to completely represent me. But a little bit of me will live in many of you” (319)
Such a simple philosophy on how to make the world better, adopt non-violence ('satyagraha'), renounce materiality, act on convictions and eradicate inequality, exploitation and idleness. I admire Gandhi not only because of his bold statements, his ability to inspire, his active resolve, his visionary perspectives and his articulate mind, but also because he was so humble in recognizing his own personal weaknesses. I found it so tragic that he was assassinated at a time when it seemed like all was lost as India was being split in two. I sense he knew that he was asking too much of his people, but his message still holds true for the world to listen to today.
Some of my favorite quotes: "In my opinion, there is no place on earth and no race, which is not capable of producing the finest types of humanity, given suitable opportunities and education..."
"The law of the survival of the fittest is the law for the evolution of the brute, but the law of self-sacrifice is the law of evolution for the man."
"Passive resistance [is] an infinitely superior force to that of the vote, which history shows has often been turned against the voters themselves...Experience in South Africa shows that Indians will neither deserve nor gain the respect of their European neighbors until they give unmistakable signs of their own capacity for self-respect."
"[All] terrorism is bad whether put up in a good cause or bad. [Every] cause is good in the estimation of its champion...pure motives can never justify impure or violent action..."
"There is no such thing as slow freedom. Freedom is like a birth. Till we are fully free we are slaves. All birth takes place in a moment."
"Nature is revenging herself upon us with terrible effect for this criminal waste of the gift she has bestowed upon us human beings."
"If you could see the inner springs of actions and not the outward manifestations thereof, you would find a wonderful unity...Leave the outward expression, the doctrine, the dogma and the form and behold the unity and oneness of spirit. ..Then there will be no need to divide this universe of ours between heaven and hell, no need to divide fellow-beings into virtuous and vicious, the eternally saved and the eternally damned. Love shall inform your actions and pervade your life."
"...human nature is much the same, no matter under what clime it flourishes, and that if you approached people with trust and affection you would have ten-fold trust and thousand-fold affection returned to you."
"For me the voice of God, of Conscience, of Truth or the Inner Voice or ‘the still small Voice’ mean one and the same thing. I saw no form. I have never tried, for I have always believed God to be without form. One who realizes God is freed from sin for ever.... But what I did hear was like a Voice from afar and yet quite near. It was as unmistakable as some human voice definitely speaking to me, and irresistible. I was not dreaming at the time I heard the Voice. The hearing of the Voice was preceded by a terrific struggle within me. Suddenly the Voice came upon me. I listened, made certain that it was the Voice, and the struggle ceased. I was calm. The determination was made accordingly, the date and the hour of the fast were fixed.... Could I give any further evidence that it was truly the Voice that I heard and that it was not an echo of my own heated imagination? I have no further evidence to convince the sceptic. He is free to say that it was all self-delusion or hallucination. It may well have been so. I can offer no proof to the contrary. But I can say this — that not the unanimous verdict of the whole world against me could shake me from the belief that what I heard was the true voice of God."
I didn't know anything about Gandhi before, so I learned a lot about his life and philosophies, both of which were fascinating. I found much of his writing inspiring. I think the only problem with this book is that the editing is not as strong as it should be -- there were times when passages were repeated, and sometimes the chosen passages felt choppy together. Other times, things got repetitive. Still, it's a huge amount of information to condense into a manageable book for the average reader, so I can't complain much.
One of the most important books that I have ever read. Although the editing of this book could have been better, the essence of Gandhi's message was preserved. The book weaves together some of the Great Soul's best writings and introduces us to his beliefs, political views, philosophies and his relationship with his own spirituality. Gandhi's achievements give us hope that if we embrace our enemies with love and compassion, and constantly battle our own demons and vices, then we have a real chance at living in this world free of war, violence and bloodshed.
This is an interesting book on Gandhi's perspectives and life's work, but not as good as his autobiographical "My Experiments With the Truth", which was more of a narrative and flowed much better. This book felt pastiched and scattered, though I did learn some things I didn't get from the aforementioned other work (e.g., he was adamantly against being called "Mahatma"). Overall, it's a worthwhile read, but I'd get "My Experiments" first if you're just getting into Gandhi.
Too powerful to have a proper reaction after the first read. I'll return to this book later in the year and give it another go, and hopefully be able to grasp it better. Much of his ideas are beautifully undeniable, but reading a lot of what he says also raises questions, which Gandhi of course would have had no issue with. I'll be thinking about this into the unforeseeable future.
This book made me realize how like-able Gandhi Ji really was! There may be things about him that I may not agree to or ideas that may not resonate with me but I guess that's OK. He was just like me or any other human grappling to get a hold of life - to find the perfect balance between carnal desires, obligations and one's true purpose in life or at least the pursuit of it. It helped me feel calmer in my pursuit of life's true meaning and make peace with the fact that the answers will appear, mostly with no dramatics and drum-rolls and that no one but the seeker will know when they do.
I am just in awe that a man such as this existed. The mere thought that a man fasting would bring people together is mind blowing. I misunderstood Gandhi's non violence movement before this book. His faith in that fact that humanity is good is unparalleled to anything that I have read before. I like that he never thought he had the absolute truth but just trying his best to find it.
The book is a condensed version of a biography of Gandhi and many of his teachings as well. Much of it is drawn from Gandhi's own autobiography or otherwise drawn from his own words. It is easy to read and generally well-written. Gandhi's life was in many respects a quest for truth, which in turn kept him humble, open to new ideas and the criticism of others. As he said, "the conviction that morality is the basis of things and that truth is the substance of all morality. Truth became my sole objective." (p 16)
In addressing his approach to the apartheid of South Africa, "It has always been a mystery to me how men can feel themselves honored by the humiliation of their fellow beings." (p 44) Discrimination in South Africa heightened his awareness of the injustice of the untouchables in India. When trying to rally support in India against the discrimination directed at Indians in South Africa, Gandhi noted, "My experience has shown me that we win justice quickest by rendering justice to the other party," (p 48) a lesson all would do well to remember in all times. Further, "Let us...honor our opponents for the same honesty of purpose and patriotic motive that we claim for ourselves." (p 210) In spite of becoming a prominent leader through his struggle and receiving gifts, he renounced wealth, "a public worker should accept no costly gifts." (p 58)
Yet Gandhi's virtues did not always mean a happy or easy life. He had a difficult relationship with his wife and in mastering his lust for her. He had trouble raising his own children and positively influencing the children of his brother, bringing to mind the lesson of Siddhartha.
The key to the non-violent civil resistance for which Gandhi became so famous lay in his understanding of the citizen's relationship with the state, "[Whether] there is or there is not any law in force, the Government cannot exercise control over us without our cooperation...he who has mastered the art of obedience to law knows the art of disobedience to law." (p 85) Many of Gandhi's principles lead directly to the ideal of small, limited government accountable to the people, "The public should be the bank for all public institutions, which should not last a day longer than the public wish. An institution run with the interest of accumulated capital ceases to be amenable to public opinion and becomes autocratic and self-righteous." (p 95) "[A] Government that is ideal governs the least." (p 196) However, Gandhi did not hold a blind faith in democracy per se, "I consider [Passive Resistance] an infinitely superior force to that of the vote, which history shows has often been turned against the voters themselves." (p 109) "[Man] cannot be made good by law...to regulate these things by law...would be a remedy probably worse than the disease...The evolution of public opinion is at times a tardy process but it is the only effective one." (p 247) "[Government] control gives rise to fraud, suppression of truth, intensification of the black market and artificial scarcity. Above all, it unmans the people and deprives them of initiative, it undoes the teaching of self-help...it makes them spoon-fed." (p 359) He also repudiates modern civilization with its modern methods and urbanization, placing him in a difficult position as opposing the general progress of history. (p 118)
Gandhi undermined the ends-justified-the-means arguments, saying ends and means were interchangeable, "[All] terrorism is bad whether put up in a good cause or bad. [Every] cause is good in the estimation of its champion." (p 151) "Permanent good can never be the outcome of untruth and violence...I object to violence because, when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary, the evil it does is permanent...Terrorism set up by reformers may be just as bad as Government terrorism, and it is often worse because it draws a certain amount of false sympathy." (p 201) "Whilst I have the greatest admiration for the self-denial and spirit of sacrifice of our [Communist] friends, I have never concealed the sharp difference between their method and mine...Their one aim is material progress...I want freedom for full expression...I look upon an increase of the power of the State with the greatest fear because, although while apparently doing good by minimizing exploitation, it does the greatest harm to mankind by destroying individuality which lies at the root of all progress." (p 304) Gandhi goes on to explode utilitarianism by conventional means.
As for the power of non-violent resistance, "the moment we cease to support the Government it dies a natural death...[civil disobedience] becomes a sacred duty when the state has become lawless or, which is the same thing, corrupt." (p 166) "Imprisonments...are courted because we consider it to be wrong to be free under a government we hold to be wholly bad...A Government that is evil has no room for good men and women except in its prisons." (p 176)
Gandhi showed by his sometimes extreme example that he didn't just talk the talk but walked the walk, "where the leader himself becomes a servant, there are no rival claimants for leadership." (p 107) He also opposed charity and philanthropy, taking an attitude that people should have to work for their keep, "I must refuse to insult the naked by giving them clothes they do not need instead of giving them work which they sorely need. I will not commit the sin of becoming their patron..." (p 145) "We dare not support able-bodied members of the family--men or women--who will not work." (p 236) Ironically, he applauded American colleges and universities for being arranged to allow students to work their way through school and advised Indian education emulate it--a thing to remember in a day and age where many Americans crow about student debt and the high cost of education, rather than on focusing on more practical concerns.
Gandhi was concerned about India's poverty, "Their [farmers and workers] poverty is India's curse and crime. Their prosperity alone can make India a fit country to live in." (p 149) Yet while he (rightly) defends the rights of Indians in South Africa to undersell their European-origin neighbors through thrift and hard work, he [wrongly} assails European industry for underselling inferior-quality Indian cloth with higher quality, cheaper textiles. He tries to foster a rural spinning revolution in India to revive an outmoded industry put to rest by the very modern methods he objects to. While he is right in being concerned with finding work for India's idle, and in seeing skilled labor (the use of spinning) as a means of improving a worker's value over an unskilled worker, his insistence on an already-obsolete method showed a lack of reflection. He should indeed have concerned himself with practical vocational training and motivating the rural population, seasonally idle, to apply themselves to something productive in their off-time. That said, strikes and minimum wages have proven ineffective as against improving job skills and the value of a worker's labor. Gandhi's understanding of morality was far and above his understanding of economics.
Gandhi labored to bring peace and reconciliation among India's different communities. He had more success in trying to abolish the untouchables among the Hindus than he did in resolving Hindu-Muslim conflict; he sadly lived to see massive communal violence around the time of independence. He saved most of his criticism for his fellow Hindus, though he did make some insightful remarks toward his Muslim countrymen, "The sword is the emblem of Islam...The sword is too much in evidence among Mussalmans. It must be sheathed if Islam is to be what it means---peace." (p 211) Fischer quotes from British Prime Minister Attlee's investigation of Muslim-Hindu relations, noting that the division of India was fraught with danger and weaknesses. (p 351)
For someone looking for a quick-and-dirty introduction to Gandhi's life and teaching, this makes a fine source. For someone looking for an in-depth look, this would make a fine starting point. I enjoyed it and recommend it to anyone.
An interesting book for someone new to Gandhi, but a strange and hard-to-read format. If you are after a biography of Gandhi, or just want to read things he wrote/spoke, I recommend you look for a different book.
On each page there might be quotes of Gandhi from 5 or 6 different sources, sometimes from decades apart, in the wrong time order, and with chunks of paragraphs taken out. It's hard not to feel like there is context missing from things, or to wonder if the editor is putting words together to make Gandhi say something he didn't originally say.
The preface by Eknath Easwaran was the best part of the book for me, and gave a wonderful overview of Gandhi's life and beliefs in just 15 pages.
First, the bad... As much as I enjoyed the narrative quality of the way Ghandi's writings were organized and the historical background interspersed throughout, I can't help but feel the editor was a little too heavy handed here. There were too many brackets, too many ellipses. And paragraphs written sometimes as much as 25 years apart were presented side by side as if part of the same text. On a single page, there were as many as 5 different source texts, with varying audiences and political contexts, for instance a letter to a friend, a speech to the Congress, and a newspaper article.
I think this format is great for a first-time reader of Ghandi who wants a little historical hand-holding and a basic idea of Ghandi's philosophies on various topics. If you're looking to understand how Ghandi's views changed through his nearly eight decades of life, you won't find it here. Nor will you be able to delve into his complicated relationships with various people and political groups, since the intended audience of his writings is only referenced in footnotes.
That said, no amount of editing could diminish what this amazing man has to share with the world. I have never felt compelled to use the Goodreads update status before, but for this book, I used it over a dozen times to note excerpts that made an impact on me. Those quotes will say more than any review I can offer. The power of his humility and love and depth of his self-sacrifice for his fellow human being puts me in tears, puts me to shame, but most importantly inspires me to be a more humble, patient, loving person. Ghandi is the definition of what humanity should be.
There are far too many ellipses in this book for my taste. The author/complier who was trying to convey Gandhi's ideas literally cobbled together quotes throughout the entire book. Having several sets of ellipses in just about every sentence was ridiculous. It leaves you wondering whether or not the quotes are being used in the proper context.
The author did provide fastidious footnotes for the quotes, but I really wouldn't want to have to check that many sources by hand. The reason I purchased this book was that I wanted a good general overview of Gandhi's life and the ideas he espoused.
Considering how fragmented and repetitive the book seemed, a better result could've been reached in essay format in about 10 pages.
If you read this book thinking that it will be an easy guide about life, you'll be disappointed if you even finish. Gandhi's thought provoking questions about humility and its dysfunctional response to the universal lack of, “The rule of law,” sends a clear message that even the Neanderthals would be hard pressed not too understand. Fischer attempt’s to capture the essential ideas of a man far more advance in human thought than almost any person alive at that time. His simple ideals transcend the self imposed isolation of rational thought and lays it on the alter of life. Hard to understand at times, but the reader who peruse its understanding will not go away disappointed
Gandhi's voluminous writings have been organized and condensed to read like an autobiography, and the numerous bracketed summaries and ellipses never let the reader forget that this book has been heavily edited.
Nevertheless, Gandhi in Gandhi's own words is a fascinating subject. He is fearless in his self reflection and is surprisingly candid about such personal topics as his sex life with his wife, his failures as a father, and his disappointments in leading India's nonviolence movement. As thrilling as it is to read about Gandhi the spiritual leader, it is even more inspiring to read about Gandhi the man.
The editor invaded this book. I barely got through the first chapter because it felt so man-handled; molested, even. Th editing felt like such an insult to the idea of Gandhi. Gandhi wrote and spoke in the moment; that was how he practiced truth. I forget who edited this, but whoever did claimed to be an expert in Gandhi. If he was such an expert, how could he bring himself to do the exact opposite of what Gandhi strived to do? It was simply blasphemous.
I'd prefer to read Gandhi's "My experiments with the truth" in Gandhi's own words, just as he wrote it and as he intended to share it.
Don't take my rating the wrong way. As I expected them to be the writings of Gandhi were overwhelming, and caused much introspection for me, but this particular compilation left much to be desired. The editing was poor, and it tended toward taking a paragraph here and there from different writings and pasting them together. I am always leery of writings pasted like this, often intentionally or unintentionally the original direction of the piece is cut away, leaving side notes or worse.
This really is the essential Gandhi. Starting out I kind of had pre-set ideas of Gandhi and his beliefs. This was great to read in its entirety. You see Gandhi's views change over his life and I love how he does not hold everyone to his personal standards, but inspires them to reach farther, and to become better. His undying faith in the goodness of humankind and the power to reach him or her through love is amazing and inspiring.
i'd heard most of the mainstream things about Gandhi and wanted to learn more. I thought this book was a great way to learn about his life and teachings and really liked the mix of Gandhi's own writings with the biographer's explanitory notes...it made it easy to read and gave further context to understanding the message.
Great book. I knew very little about Ghandi before reading this. Found it at a library sale for 10 cents. Fischer takes you through Ghandi's life and philosophies using Ghandi's own words compiled from various writings.
It's a great introduction to both Ghandi's life and his ideas. Pretty easy reading, too.
This is an awesome resource for primary material (Gandhi's own writings). The book presents excerpts from multiple sources, both from his time in South Africa and in India, in what seems to be a mostly chronological order. The way it's written makes it easy to read, almost like a first person novel.
In terms of the content itself, Gandhi was brilliant and way ahead of his time.
Very disappointing. Difficult to read as the writer took Gandhi's quotes and then wrote a bit in between them giving some background. Would just as soon have read a biography online. Very dull. Gandhi's heart and soul were lost in translation. Had to make myself read it, which I very seldom make myself do.
It took me a few months to finish this. I'd read a bit & then need to process for a while. I really was impressed by Gandhi's humility and his simple, simple ideas for improving the state of the world around oneself. I will definitely be referencing this book again in my life.
A broad overview of Gandhi's life and philosophy, in his own words. Editor Louis Fischer intersperses the passages with brief introductions or segues, to help the reader understand the historical setting. Worthwhile.
So much to take in - how does one even live a snippet of Gandhi's life? The more I read his letters, the more I realise how incredible he was and how much we need a Gandhi today, and how rare such people are.
Love reading Gandhi's writings. I read this and MLK's autobiography around the same time. It was good to read both at the same time. Two very purposeful nonviolent leaders who changed the world near the same time.
It's hard to separate a "book review" from a general opinion of Gandhi's works and teachings. For what it was worth it was a great introduction to the man and his accomplishments. He's an excellent writer too.
Awkwardly edited and a difficult/slow read for much of the time. Some good parts are buried throughout, but too many bracketed background summaries from the editor trying to link those parts together. Wouldn't recommend this particular compilation edition of Ghandi's writings and work.