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Quotes / Mahatma Gandhi

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Gandhi wrote incessantly for most of his life. His own writings, never mind his interviews or writings about him, equate to 100+ collected volumes, so it is difficult to capture the scope of his beliefs or personality. Still, a wide range of quotes were drawn from, especially focusing on several controversies mentioned throughout this site. The anthologies "The Essential Gandhi" (Louis Fisher, Ed.) and "Gandhi on Non-Violence" (Thomas Merton, Ed.) provide most of the quotes.


By Gandhi

On Violence and Non-violence in General...

"To lay down one's life for what one considers to be right is the very core of satyagraha."

"In non-violence the bravery consists in dying, not in killing."

"To me it is a self-evident truth that if freedom is to be shared equally by all — even physically the weakest, the lame and the halt — they must be able to contribute an equal share in its defense. How that can be possible when reliance is place on armaments, my plebeian mind fails to understand. I therefore swear and shall continue to swear by non-violence, i.e., by satyagraha, or soul force. In it physical incapacity is no handicap, and even a frail woman or a child can pit herself or himself on equal terms against a giant armed with the most powerful weapons."

"In non-violence the masses have a weapon which enables a child, a woman, or even a decrepit old man to resist the mightiest government successfully. If your spirit is strong, mere lack of physical strength ceases to be a handicap."

"I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence. I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonor. But I believe that nonviolence is infinitely superior to violence, forgiveness is more manly than punishment. Forgiveness adorns a soldier. But abstinence is forgiveness only when there is the power to punish; it is meaningless when it pretends to proceed from a helpless creature. But I do not believe India to be helpless. I do not believe myself to be a helpless creature. Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will. We do want to drive out the beast in the man, but we do not want on that account to emasculate him ... The world is not entirely governed by logic. Life itself involves some kind of violence and we have to choose the path of least violence."

"Non-violence is not a cover for cowardice, but it is the supreme virtue of the brave... Cowardice is wholly inconsistent with non-violence... Non-violence presupposes the ability to strike."

"So long as one wants to retain one's sword, one has not attained complete fearlessness."

Advice Leading Up to or During WWII...

To Chinese proponents of non-violence facing Japanese invasion:
"In a position of hopeless minority you may not ask your people to lay down their arms unless their hearts are changed and by laying down their arms they feel the more courageous and brave. But while you may not try to wean people from war, you will in your person live non-violence in all its completeness and refuse all participation in war. You will develop love for the Japanese in your hearts... You must be able to love them in spite of all their misdeeds. If you have that love for the Japanese in your hearts, you will proceed to exhibit in your conduct that higher form of courage which is the true hallmark of non-violence."

To Chinese Christians facing persecution from both sides:

"If China wins, you will go to the gallows in an attempt to wean China from copying Japan's methods."

To Indians facing Japanese invasion:

"Non-violent resisters would refuse them any help, even water. For it is no part of their duty to help anyone steal their country... Suppose the Japanese compel the resisters to give them water, the resisters must die in the act of resistance... The underlying belief in such non-violent resistance is that the aggressor will, in time, be mentally and physically tired of killing non-violent resisters. He will begin to search what this new (for him) force is which refuses cooperation without seeking to hurt, and will probably desist from further slaughter. But the resister may find that the Japanese are utterly heartless and that they do not are how many they kill. The non-violent resisters will have won the day inasmuch as they will have preferred extermination to submission."

To Jews facing German oppression and extermination:

"Several letters have been received by me asking me to declare my views about the... persecution of the Jews in Germany. It is not without hesitation that I venture to offer my views on this very difficult question... Germany is showing to the world how efficiently violence can be worked when it is not hampered by any hypocrisy or weakness masquerading as humanitarianism. It is also showing how hideous, terrible and terrifying it looks in its nakedness.

...Can the Jews resist this organized and shameless persecution? Is there a way to preserve their self-respect, and not to feel helpless, neglected and forlorn? I submit there is... If I were a Jew and were born in Germany and earned my livelihood there, I would claim Germany as my home even as the tallest gentile German might, and challenge him to shoot me or cast me in the dungeon; I would refuse to be expelled or to submit to discriminating treatment. And for doing this I should not wait for the fellow-Jews to join me in civil resistance, but would have confidence that in the end the rest were bound to follow my example. If one Jew or all the Jews were to accept this prescription here offered, he or they cannot be worse off than now. And suffering voluntarily undergone will bring them an inner strength and joy which no number of resolutions of sympathy passed in the world outside Germany can...

... I am convinced that, if someone with courage and vision can arise among them to lead them in non-violent action, the winter of their despair can in the twinkling of an eye be turned into the summer of hope. And what has today become a degrading manhunt can be turned into a calm and determined stand offered by unarmed men and women possessing the strength of suffering given to them by Jehovah. It will be then a truly religious resistance offered against the Godless fury of dehumanized man. The German Jews will score a lasting victory over the German gentiles in the sense that they will have converted the latter to an appreciation of human dignity. They will have rendered service to fellow-Germans and proved their title to be the real Germans as against those who are today dragging, however unknowingly, the German name into the mire."

On Africans, African Americans, and Race...

"So long as we have this contempt on the part of white races for the colored man, so long shall we have trouble. It is specially noticeable in those born here in South Africa. They are brought up to consider the native as so much dirt beneath their feet... The native has been likened to a child, and the comparison is reasonable enough. But the average treatment of natives is not what a parent would mete out to a child. No, the native, like the child, should be taught with patience. Many a testimony I have heard, from those who have treated their native servants as intelligent beings, of the faithfulness and integrity of the trained natives, who in times of stress, have proved themselves worthy of the trust placed in them... Any form of government of the natives, if it is to be successful, must recognize that he is not made of wood, and is capable of progress. And if we grant that he is intelligent, he has every right to have a voice in the government of his own race. (1906)"

"Theirs [African-Americans] is perhaps a task more difficult than ours. But they have some very fine workers among them. Many students of history consider that the future is with them. They have a fine physique. They have a glorious imagination. They are as simple as they are brave. Monsieur Finot has shown by his scientific researches that there is in them no inherent inferiority... All they need is opportunity. I know that if they have caught the spirit of the Indian movement their progress must be rapid. (1924)"

"It is a law of nature that the skin of races living near the equator should be black. And if we believe that there must be beauty in everything fashioned by nature, we should... steer clear of all narrow and one-sided conceptions of beauty... (1928)"

"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... (1928)"

"It may be through the Negroes that the unadulterated message of Non-violence will be delivered to the world. (1936)"

"If you think of the vast size of Africa, the distance and natural obstacles separating its various parts, the scattered condition of its people and the terrible divisions among them, the task might well appear to be hopeless. But there is a charm which can overcome all these handicaps. The moment the slave resolves that he will no longer be a slave, his fetters fall. He frees himself and shows the way to others. Freedom and slavery are mental states. Therefore the first thing is to say to yourself, 'I shall no longer accept the role of a slave. I shall not obey orders as such but shall disobey when they are in conflict with my conscience.' The so-called master may lash you and try to force you to serve him. You will say, 'No, I will not serve you for your money or under a threat.' This may mean suffering. Your readiness to suffer will light the torch of freedom which can never be put out. (1946)"

Socialism and Anarchism...

"Their one aim is material progress. Under their socialism there is no individual freedom. You own nothing, not even your body. You may be arrested at any time, though you may have committed no crime. They may send you wherever they like. I was a socialist before many of them were born. My claim will live when their socialism is dead. My socialism means 'even unto this last.' I do not want to rise on the ashes of the blind, the deaf and the dumb... I want freedom for full expression of my personality. I must be free to build a staircase to Sirius if I want to... my socialism means that the state does not own everything."

"Truth and ahimsa must incarnate in socialism. In order that they can, the votary must have a living faith in God. mere mechanical adherence to truth and ahimsa is likely to break down at the critical moment... God is a living Force... He who denies the existence of that great Force denies to himself the use of that inexhaustible Power and thus remains impotent... the socialism of such takes them nowhere."

"Not all legislation is violence. Legislation imposed by people upon themselves is non-violence to the extent that it is possible in society... That state is perfect and non-violent where the people are governed the least. The European democracies are to my mind the negation of democracy."

"The ideally non-violent state will be an ordered anarchy."

"No government on earth can make men who have realized freedom in their hearts salute against their will."


"I ask nobody to follow me. Everyone should follow his own inner voice."

"I must reduce myself to zero. So long as one 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 humility."

"War is a respectable term for hooliganism practiced on a mass or national scale."

"I think it would be a good idea."
— Apocryphal, When asked his opinion on "Western Civilization". this quote has yet to be traced but its famous enough in India that it was once cited by Salman Rushdie in one of his essays.

About Gandhi

"Christ gave us the goal, and Gandhi the tactics."

"He, and he alone, was responsible for the transformation of the demand for independence into a nationwide mass movement that mobilized every class of society against the imperialist, yet the free India that came into being, divided and committed to a program of modernization and industrialization, was not the India of his dreams. His sometime disciple, Nehru, was the archproponent of modernization, and it was Nehru's vision, not Gandhi's, that was eventually—and perhaps inevitably—preferred...These days, few people pause to consider the complex character of Gandhi's personality, the ambiguous nature of his achievement and legacy, or even the real causes of Indian independence. These are hurried, sloganizing times, and we don't have the time or, worse, the inclination to assimilate many-sided truths. The harshest truth of all is that Gandhi is increasingly irrelevant in the country whose "little father"—Bapu—he was."

"Strictly speaking, as a Nationalist, he was an enemy, but since in every crisis he would exert himself to prevent violence — which, from the British point of view, meant preventing any effective action whatever — he could be regarded as "our man." In private this was sometimes cynically admitted. The attitude of the Indian millionaires was similar. Gandhi called upon them to repent, and naturally they preferred him to the Socialists and Communists who, given the chance, would actually have taken their money away. How reliable such calculations are in the long run is doubtful; as Gandhi himself says, "in the end deceivers deceive only themselves"; but at any rate the gentleness with which he was nearly always handled was due partly to the feeling that he was useful."

-> "But one should, I think , realize that Gandhi's teachings cannot be squared with the belief that Man is the measure of all things and that our job is to make life worth living on this earth, which is the only earth we have. They make sense only on the assumption that God exists and that the world of solid objects is an illusion to be escaped from... Close friendships, Gandhi says, are dangerous, because "friends react on one another" and through loyalty to a friend one can be led into wrong-doing. This is unquestionably true. Moreover, if one is to love God, or to love humanity as a whole, one cannot give one's preference to any individual person. This again is true, and it marks the point at which the humanistic and the religious attitude cease to be reconcilable. To an ordinary human being, love means nothing if it does not mean loving some people more than others. The autobiography leaves it uncertain whether Gandhi behaved in an inconsiderate way to his wife and children, but at any rate it makes clear that on three occasions he was willing to let his wife or a child die rather than administer the animal food prescribed by the doctor. It is true that the threatened death never actually occurred, and also that Gandhi-with, one gathers, a good deal of moral pressure in the opposite direction- always gave the patient the choice of staying alive at the price of committing a sin: still, if the decision had been solely his own, he would have forbidden the animal food, whatever the risks might be. There must, he says, be some limit to what we will do in order to remain alive, and the limit is well on this side of chicken broth."
George Orwell from "Reflections on Gandhi"

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