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Modern Spiritual Masters

Mohandas Gandhi: Essential Writings

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Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948), acknowledged as one of the great souls of the twentieth century and leader of the Indian independence movement, defined the modern practice of nonviolence. These writings reveal the heart and soul of a man whose message of nonviolence bears special relevance to all spiritual seekers today

192 pages, Paperback

First published June 1, 1970

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Mahatma Gandhi

743 books6,328 followers
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.

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5 stars
139 (41%)
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119 (35%)
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47 (14%)
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Displaying 1 - 21 of 21 reviews
Profile Image for Rachel Sharp.
319 reviews50 followers
April 9, 2017
I had been meaning to read this for a long time now. I had to stop and giggle every so often at some of the silly and simplistic things Gandhi touched on and felt so inclined to comment on. Not as heavy a read as I had imagined. Amazing nonetheless. Gandhi will always be my #1 hero!
Profile Image for Maureen.
726 reviews88 followers
August 31, 2009
An overview of Gandhi's writings, this book samples every period of his life. The pieces vary in length and subject matter, and include his time in Britain, South Africa, and India. What does not vary is Gandhi's voice: he speaks out against oppression in a variety of situations. For anyone wanting an introduction to Gandhi's work, this is an edifying collection, and a good place to begin.
Profile Image for Ben Siems.
80 reviews22 followers
February 19, 2011
I would argue that the editor/narrator of this book has infused too much of himself into it, and would have been better served keeping his presence to a minimum. Nevertheless, I can hardly think of better writings to read in these tumultuous times than those of the Mahatma, and this book presents a great collection of them. Some day, I might write a length review titled, 'Arguing with the Mahatma,' in which I take up some of the areas where I dare to disagree with one of the greatest thinkers of the twentieth century. But even if I do create that work and it sells a zillion copies, it would still be a fool who reads my writings instead of Gandhi's. Inspiration and guidance of the first order.
Profile Image for Valerie.
245 reviews5 followers
August 5, 2009
This was a disappointing read and in all truthfulness, I never finished it. Once I started it I realized that it was Gandhi's autobiography I thought I'd checked out. I look forward to the autobiography, but this book was too choppy for my taste.
Profile Image for Ostap Bender.
935 reviews12 followers
October 1, 2021
Gandhi is awe inspiring. It’s mind boggling that a man of his resolve and purity existed. (Side note, if you’ve never seen the 1982 movie, you should.) He was truly Christ-like, but genuine, existing in the 20th century, and without the mythology of walking on water. He was a deeply holy man – every day for nearly 50 years, he read from the Sermon on the Mount, the Koran, and the Bhagavad Gita, with a focus on the second chapter, which called for a renunciation of selfishness. He used his strength of will in nonviolent ways to achieve great change, getting the British out of India among other things.

In this selection of essays and letters, Gandhi wrote words so beautiful and kind it makes me weep to think that he once walked the earth, and showed us a model, an ideal, that if only we could or would follow, the world would be a better place.

It’s also of great interest that he lived at a time when “ultimate evil” rose to power; he was 69 when Hitler invaded Poland to start WWII, and it’s fascinating to me to read his letter to Hitler, appealing to him to prevent war. Ponder that. The farthest extreme of good – Gandhi – reaching out to the farthest extreme of evil – Hitler. It’s the stuff of legends, and a time that was the true test of nonviolence.

Unfortunately, I think this is where the philosophy breaks down, much as I adore him. For there is a time for standing up to and fighting evil. Gandhi comes across as naïve when he writes “Jews need not feel helpless [against Nazi Germany] if they take to the nonviolent way.”, and then later “…if the Jews can summon to their aid the soul power that comes only from nonviolence, Hitler will bow before the courage which he has never yet experienced in any large measure in his dealings with people…”. Wow.

I’m also not keen on the need to embrace religion to achieve enlightenment - as he put it, “no one can live without religion” - or the need to embrace chastity, as he did at the age of 37, writing, “If one is married, one will not have sexual intercourse even with one’s spouse, but will regard the spouse as a friend and establish a relationship of perfect purity.”

With that said, Gandhi holds up a moral beacon for us, an idealism to aspire to, in the effort to transcend our base impulses, and to break the cycle of violence which has plagued mankind for time immemorial. 5 stars for the man, for his life, and for his message. I knock it down in part because of the items above, and in part because of the repetition in the collection.

On America (this in 1938, in an interview with American teachers):
“America is today exploiting the so-called weaker nations of the world along with other powers. It has become the richest country in the world, not a thing to be proud of when we come to think of the means by which she has become rich. Again, to protect these riches you need the assistance of violence. You must be prepared to give up these riches.”

On the Bible; I had a similar reaction:
“…I could not possibly read through the Old Testament. I read the book of Genesis, and the chapters that followed invariably sent me to sleep. But just for the sake of being able to say that I had read it, I plodded through the other books with much difficulty and without the least interest or understanding. I disliked reading the book of Numbers.
But the New Testament produced a different impression, especially the Sermon on the Mount, which went straight to my heart.”

On Christianity, couldn’t agree more:
“I consider Western Christianity in its practical working a negation of Christ’s Christianity. I cannot conceive Jesus, if he was living in the flesh in our midst, approving of modern Christian organizations, public worship, or modern ministry. If Christians will simply cling to the Sermon on the Mount, which was delivered not merely to the disciples but a groaning world, they would not go wrong, and they would find that no religion is false…”

On forgiveness:
“People and their deeds are two distinct things. Whereas a good deed should call forth approbation and a wicked deed disapprobation, 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 to understand, is rarely practiced, and that is why the poison of hatred spreads in the world.”

And this one, also on oneness:
“God is present in all of us. For my part, every moment I experience the truth that though many, we are all one. … From this it follows that the sin of one is the sin of all. And hence it is not up to us to destroy the evildoer. We should, on the contrary, suffer for him.”

On Hinduism:
“Untouchability, which has deep roots in Hinduism, is altogether irreligious. The so-called untouchables have an equal place in the ashram. The ashram does not believe in caste, which it considers has injured Hinduism, because its implications of superior and inferior status, and of pollution by contact, are contrary to the law of love.”

On Israel, which I also find to be words of truth, though highly contentious, this in 1938:
“The cry for the national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me. The sanction for it is sought in the Bible and the tenacity with which the Jews have hankered after return to Palestine. Why should they not, like peoples of the earth, make that country their home where they are born and where they earn their livelihood?
Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs.”

On love:
“Never, never give up truth and love. Treat all enemies and friends with love.”

On manufacturing overseas, this one ahead of its time:
“The person who has taken the vow of Swadeshi will never use articles, such as foreign clothing, which conceivably involve violation of truth in their manufacture or on the part of their manufacturers. It follows, for instance, that a votary of truth will not use articles manufactured in the mills of England, Germany, or India, for we cannot be sure that they involve no such violation of truth.”

On non-violence, this in 1940. Consider it in light of Hitler and fascism, and the war to come:
“You know that even a society based on violence functions only with the help of experts. We want to bring about a new social order based on truth and nonviolence. We need experts to develop this into a science. … A country like Germany which regards violence as God is engaged only in developing violence and glorifying it. … Btu the way of violence is old and established. It is not so difficult to do research in it. The way of nonviolence is new.”

“I would say to any who would assault me that they may destroy my home and hearth, why, even my person, but they would not be able to destroy my soul.”

And, testing the limits, and raising interesting moral questions:
“If there ever could be a justifiable war in the name of and for humanity, a war against Germany, to prevent the wanton persecution of a whole race, would be completely justified. But I do not believe in any war.”

On religion:
“I believe in the fundamental truth of all great religions of the world. I believe that they are all God-given, and I believe that they were necessary for the people to whom these religions were revealed. And I believe that, if only we could all of us read the scriptures of different faiths from the standpoint of the followers of those faiths, we should find that they were at bottom alone and were all helpful to one another.”

“Religion without compassion is a fraud.”

“The ashram believes that the principal faiths of the world constitute a revelation of Truth, but as they have all been outlined by imperfect people, they have been affected by imperfections and alloyed with untruth. One must therefore entertain the same respect for the religious faith of others as for one’s own. Where such tolerance becomes a law of life, conflict between different faiths becomes impossible, and so does all effort to covert others to one’s own faith.”

On war, this in 1945, at the end of WWII, which indeed came to pass:
“Peace must be just. In order to be that, it must neither be punitive not vindictive. Germany and Japan should not be humiliated. The strong are never vindictive. Therefore, fruits of peace must be equally shared. The effort then will be to turn them into friends. The Allies can prove their democracy by no other means.”
439 reviews5 followers
March 10, 2008
Gets 5 star for social change and revolutionary commentary but gets 1 star for religious commentary.

Gandhi's teaching of nonviolence is amazing and world changing and served as a great example for men like Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela and for those ideas I give him all the credit in the world. I also applaud his well thought out opinion on Jews in Palestine. I think he changed the course of history in a great way.

Here is where I think he was wrong/misguided. Not condemning Hitler. He could have handled this much better. And, with all due respect to Gandhi, he has NEVER dealt with someone like Hitler. He dealt with the British and white people in South Africa. I would call them at least fairly reasonable imperialistic overlords. Egomaniacal dictators are an entirely different ballgame which he is not familiar at all. He would have said "You can shoot me or..." to a Nazi and not gotten to the word shoot before having a bullet through his head. Hitler would've have marched through any country with this attitude. Gandhi was flat out wrong.

Vow of celibacy. Ok, Gandhi kind of cheated because he already had 4 kids when he took his vow. You know what happens if everyone takes a vow of celibacy from the beginning of their lives? The extinction of the human race! Your bad Gandhi. this is not a globally sustainable idea.

I can't defend this "all religions are the same" jargon because it directly contradicts most, if not all, religions. Jesus said "no one comes to the Father but through ME." That's pretty exclusive. Kind of negates belief in lots of other things or at least dictates worship. I'm sorry but his religious arguments just sound new-age and trendy and not well thought out.

Nonviolence towards all living creatures? Many animals kill other animals. They're called carnivores. You know what carnivores have? Incisors. You know what humans have? INCISORS! Sorry Gandhi but your opinions are WAY too culturally situated.

Not to mention the fact that Gandhi just ignores the Old Testament because he doesn't like it (you like all religions huh? How about the JEWS?! you know the old testament is kind of their thing. You're saying they're wrong?) Probably doesn't like it because of all of that 'just wars' stuff and God telling the Jews to wipe out nations and such. Doesn't fit neatly into your religious scheme does it Gandhi? Oh, but everyone else is the one who's mistaken. Human errors put those in the Bible but God told you the truth? But you wouldn't err would you? of course not.

Profile Image for Dan Smee.
Author 1 book12 followers
January 18, 2011
Mahatma Gandhi, or the Great Soul, remains known some 62 years after his death by assassination for his steadfast forwarding of non-violence as a political and spiritual movement, and accredited with gaining India’s independence from British rule in 1947. Gandhi’s legacy is rooted in his moral authority by acting in concert with his beliefs. John Dear in the introduction to Mohandas Gandi Essential Writings describes Gandhi as an “apostle of non-violence” Though considered an agitator by the British government and imprisoned multiple times for civil disobedience, Gandhi never wavered from his ideals of racial equality, religious tolerance, eradication of poverty among them, despite the heavy cost to him (e.g., loss of freedom, death of his wife who was also imprisoned). Mocked by some in the British government (Winston Churchill reputed as one) for his eccentricities in clothing, his extreme emaciated form, and his rigidness in thought, Gandhi’s example of gentleness and peaceful opposition to unjust laws remains an influence to all today.

Dan Smee
Author, "Totally American"
Totally American by Dan Smee
Profile Image for Rachel.
1,187 reviews17 followers
October 3, 2015
Gandhi was an amazing man, who carved an amazing path to battle injustice, through love and self-sacrifice. I'm still trying to figure out how to fit these truths into my daily life, but I believe it will be worth the effort.

10/2/2015: My husband reminded me of a great quote from the book: "The means are the ends."

Whatever your goal, the means that you use to achieve it will ultimately be the end.
Profile Image for Shawn.
62 reviews
January 22, 2019
While Gandhi's words and ideas retain their power, as a product I'd have to rate this book a disappointment. The introduction to this book of fewer than 200 pages is nearly 50 pages. Much of the introduction is repeated later on, which, needless to say, gives the book a slight and repetitive feel. I'll go to one of the many Gandhi biographies for a better understanding of what drove this incredible man.
Profile Image for Ryan.
170 reviews5 followers
July 26, 2010
Provides a wealth of food for thought but clearly shows the agenda of the person selecting the writings, placing a heavy emphasis on particular topics while I would have appreciated a more even handed approach.
Profile Image for Melissa.
27 reviews16 followers
January 18, 2008
I will always be "currently reading" this book. This man was a prophet. We all have something to learn from him and his teachings of non-violence.. .especially our own country's leaders.
Profile Image for Megs.
172 reviews7 followers
March 4, 2008
This is a great book! Full of many words of wisdom. I checked it out of the library but I almost wish I owned it because its the kind of book that one can read and read again...
Profile Image for M.J. Mandoki.
Author 3 books7 followers
September 13, 2015
This book offers an insight into Gandhi's philosophy of life. It is interesting and educational. It helps to know about his life story and general viewpoint to truly appreciate it.
Profile Image for Michelle Wruck.
56 reviews18 followers
June 2, 2019
Although I had, of course, heard a lot about Gandhi and was expecting great things from this book, I was still surprised by how much I liked it.

Gandhi was a role model more than he was an author but that is only because he understood that the purpose of writing is to point beyond itself.

This collection pulls together and organizes snippets from a comprehensive publication of his work, and organizes these snippets into topics: Autobiographical Writings, The Search for God, The Pursuit of Truth, The Practice of Nonviolence, The Discipline of Prayer and Fasting, The Urgent Need for Nuclear Disarmament, The Life of Steadfast Resistance, and Epilogue. The snippets are sometimes short - a single paragraph, and sometimes long - a few pages, depending on what is needed to really get the gist of what he's saying.

John Dear's introduction is also moving and left me with the desire to read more of his work. The book is obviously a labor of love that was published under the genuine hope that Gandhi's writing would inspire more people to see both the logic, political power, and potential spiritual emancipation of universal love and a commitment to nonviolence.

I could not recommend this book more highly.
Profile Image for Morthen.
333 reviews1 follower
March 10, 2020
Tässä kirjassa oli koottuna Mahatma Gandhin kirjoituksia mm. Satyagrahasta, Uskonnosta ja moraalista, Väkivallattomuudesta, Nationalismista, Poliittisesta ja taloudellisesta järjestelmästä, sekä Rauhasta ja kansainvälisistä suhteista.

Kirjoituksia oli valittu teemoittain ja siitä syystä ne eivät missään nimessä olleet kronologisessa järjestyksessä. Onneksi joka kirjoituksessa oli mainittuna päivämäärä ja vuosi, milloin ne oli kirjoitettu, ja niin pystyi tekstejä lukiessa sijoittamaan ja suhteuttamaan ne paremmin maailman senaikaisiin tapahtumiin (mm. Italian tekemään Etiopian valtaamiseen, Hitlerin valtaannousuun, atomipommin pudottamisten jälkeiseen aikaan jne).

Olen pitänyt joistain muista Gandhista kertovista kirjoista enemmän, mutta silti pidin myös tästä kirjasta. Suosittelen tätä teosta kaikille, jotka ovat yhtään kiinnostuneita rauhanomaisemman maailman rakentamisesta tai edes uneksivat sellaisesta.
Profile Image for Peri.
21 reviews
April 7, 2023
I enjoyed Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography. It is a collection of short chapters. Since he wrote it himself you learn a lot about him. One of the things that was interesting to me was his exploration of faith. Also, his resolve to not do something anymore.
Profile Image for Ernesto Melgin.
71 reviews7 followers
August 4, 2017
Beautifull and powerfull life philosophy from Mohandas Gandhi. Recommended book for every human in this world!
1,008 reviews1 follower
November 3, 2016
From the 95 volumes of Gandhi's writings, John Dear has carefully selected writings which present the reader with a view of Gandhi's life and philosophy. This is a valuable compilation.
Profile Image for Karenbike Patterson.
1,031 reviews
April 27, 2017
There is no disputing that Gandhi made an impact on the world with his non-violent teachings and living. Non-violence, prayer and meditation, and fasting (11 times publicly)was his life, his creed and his way to truth and to God. Serving humanity was his action and he was powerful enough to influence South Africans into ending oppression against people from India then to bring independence from British rule to India. While his speeches and writings are all profound, I found this to be the same truth over and over in different words: non-violence is the only way to peace, to finding God, to serving humanity. Toward the end of the book there is a piece on Jews and Palestine. He was opposed to Jews displacing Palestinians. He thought the "proud Arabs" would always resist. Gandhi felt that Jews should work on ending oppression in the countries where they lived. Makes sense, right?
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