University of Oxford

Mahatma Gandhi: Peaceful Revolutionary

“THE LIGHT has gone out of our lives,” said Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, in an impromptu radio address upon Gandhi’s martyrdom; “there is darkness everywhere.” Could it really be that Gandhi’s light ceased to shine since he was no longer with us in his puny bundle of flesh and bones? Correcting himself, Nehru continued: “I was wrong. For the light that shone in this country was no ordinary light. The light that has illumined this country for these many years will illumine this country for many more years; and a thousand years later, that light will be seen in this country, and the world will see it and it will give solace to innumerable hearts. For that light represented something more than the immediate present; it represented the living truth . . . the eternal truths, reminding us of the right path, drawing us from error, taking this ancient country to freedom.”1

Gandhi may truly be said to be the prophetic voice of the twentieth century. Violence inflicts upon its practitioners physical and spiritual wounds; the way of non-violence, said Gandhi, “blesses him who uses it and him against whom it is used.”2 Again, “non-violence is the law of our species as violence is the law of the brute. The spirit lies dormant in the brute and he knows no law but that of physical might. The dignity of man requires obedience to a higher law — to the strength of the spirit.”3

Let us be sure we do not misunderstand the philosophy of non-violence embodied in Gandhi’s life and teachings. A practitioner of the non-violent way of life, far from being passive, is the most active person in the world. He is ready to join the fray -non-violently — wherever and whenever there is injustice or wrong. He neither tolerates nor compromises with injustice, wrong, tyranny, authoritarianism, totalitarianism, dictatorship. His task in life is not to destroy the evildoer but to redeem and to convert the evildoer by love. ” ‘With malice toward none, with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right,” he is ever ready to “bind up” humanity’s “wounds,” to minister to the underprivileged and to the misguided. The constant concern of the follower of non-violence is, in the words of Lincoln, to “achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

The spirit of India’s Gandhi as well as of America’s Lincoln is today sorely needed by a generation madly dancing over a precipice. We have learned to fathom the secrets of the atom, we have learned to master nature, but we have not yet learned to master our inner selves. Our scientists can predict with accuracy the long-range behavior and movements of stars and planets millions of miles away — but we are unable to foretell our nextdoor neighbor’s behavior and movements the very next moment.

The world has become a small neighborhood. Therefore, we are called upon to understand and appreciate our neighbors across the Atlantic and the Pacific, as well as across the Great Lakes and the Gulf. To understand other nations, we must know their values and their historical development. This requires a sympathetic approach to other nations, cultures, and religions. By understanding Gandhi we may build a bridge of understanding between ourselves and India, between ourselves and the Orient, between ourselves and noble free spirits the world over.

What is Gandhi’s message for our small neighborhood world divided into two camps — democratic and totalitarian? First of all, Gandhi would have us set our course by the twin stars of Truth and Non-Violence; which means, we must approach other peoples with charity and sympathy. Second, Gandhi would have us stand on a platform of values to which we must be faithful unto death; which means, we must act in accordance with principles, not expediency. Appeasement, even for the sake of peace, must be ruled out, because appeasement implies sacrifice of principles. Third, Gandhi would have us work ceaselessly for the realization of “common-human” values, as the sociologists say, for the triumph of the common-human way of life.

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Gandhi did not believe in imposing his values or his way of life upon others; by the same token, he resisted even to death the attempts of others to impose upon him or his people their values and way of life. To be true to the Gandhi spirit, we may not, we cannot, think of imposing our democratic values and way of life upon the nations behind the iron curtain; nor would we permit those nations to impose their totalitarian values and way of life upon us. At the same time, the Gandhi way of life imposes upon us the obligation to share our democratic values and way of life with the peoples behind the iron curtain by open and non-violent methods.

According to Gandhi, there are three types of human beings: (1) the coward, (2) the brave, (3) the superior. The coward, in order to save his skin, supinely acquiesces in injustice and wrong. The brave hero, on the other hand, violently resists injustice and wrong in order to re-establish justice and right. The superior person is he who, in the fullness of his strength, forgives the wrongdoer and tries to redeem him and convert him to the ways of doing good.

As Americans we hold the first type — the despicable, cowardly type — in low esteem. Our choice today and tomorrow must be between the second and third alternatives. Let each one decide, in the light of his conscience, in terms of his definition of the situation, which alternative he must adopt in the present crisis.

Our generation is doomed to live in a state of perpetual crisis. You and I are called upon to be on the alert every moment of our lives. Truly, the price of liberty is eternal vigilance; but ceaseless effort and continuous vigilance, untempered by inner poise, are apt to lead to nervous prostration. Hence inner serenity in the midst of crisis must be cultivated if we are to safeguard our personal integrity, national freedom, and universal human values.

In Mahatma Gandhi we have a sure guide to a happy, rich, and meaningful life. A self-disciplinarian, he embodied the Hindu concept of the superior man — of the Mahatma, the Great Soul.

Any one of us can become a Mahatma if we make a vocation of living the good life — putting principle above expediency, duty above pleasure, service above profit, God above the world, conscience above fleeting rewards.

Throughout the text, except in quoted passages, the word Hindese (derived from Hinda or Hind anglicized into India) has been preferred to the word Indian in order to obviate confusion between the Indians of India and the Indians of America.

The literature on Gandhi is growing apace. The very first biographical sketch of Gandhi to appear in any language was a work by Rev. Joseph J. Doke, entitled M. K. Gandhi: An Indian Patriot ( London: London Indian Chronicle, 1909). My book, Gandhi the Apostle ( Chicago: Universal, 1923), was the first full-length portrait of the Mahatma to appear in any language of the world. My second book, Gandhi Versus the Empire ( New York: Universal, 1932), was banned from India by the British Raj. In Gandhi Triumphant ( New York: Universal, 1939), I set forth Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of the fast and the story of his victorious struggle with the Prince of Rajkot. Sermon on the Sea, sometimes entitled Indian Home Rule or Hind Swaraj, written by Gandhi in South Africa in 1909, and edited by the present writer in this country ( Chicago: Universal, 1924), reveals Gandhi’s views on civilization and on soul force.

For a comprehensive biography the reader may refer to The Life of Mahatma Gandhi by Louis Fischer ( New York: Harper and Brothers, 1950). For a commendable interpretation of the mystic in Gandhi, read Lead, Kindly Light by Vincent Sheean ( New York: Random House, 1949). C. F. Andrews’s trilogy: Mahatma Gandhi — His Own Story ( 1930), Mahatma Gandhi’s Ideas ( 1930), Gandhi at Work ( 1931), all published by The Macmillan Co., New York, are indispensable to an understanding of the man. Nehru on Gandhi ( New York: The John Day Co., 1948) is a splendid little book which everyone should be familiar with. Mahatma Gandhi: A Biography for Young People by Catherine Owens Peare ( New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1950) should be helpful especially to High School teachers and pupils. The Navajivan Press, Ahmedabad, India, is getting out a uniform series of topical books containing the Mahatma’s voluminous writings over the past forty years. The two volumes containing Gandhi’s writings in Young India, Ahmedabad, published in this country by B. W. Huebsch, Inc., New York, and by The Viking Press, New York, respectively, as Young India 19191922 ( 1923), and Young India 1924-1926 ( 1927), are a veritable gold mine for the researcher. Gandhi’s autobiography: My Experiments with Truth, recently published in full in this country ( Washington: Public Affairs Press, 1948), is a must reading. Two books published in India have been particularly helpful to me: Gandhiji, edited by D. G. Tendulkar and others ( Bombay: Karnatak Publishing House, 1944, 2nd ed., 1945), and The Mind of Mahatma Gandhi by R. K. Prabhu and U. R. Rao ( Madras: Oxford University Press, 1945, 2nd ed., 1946). To Messrs. K. R. Kripalani, Gulzarilal Nanda, and M. R. Masani I am indebted for fresh material, respectively, on “Gandhi and Tagore,” “A Charter for Labor,” and “Is Gandhi a Socialist?” appearing in Gandhiji. Portions of my chapter on “Gandhi’s Pedagogy” had appeared in School and Society ( Lancaster, Pa.), Unity ( Chicago), and The Social Frontier ( New York). I am indebted to the authors and publishers named, to Dr. Hiram Haydn, editor of this series, and to countless others not named. Full credit is given in footnotes. So far as possible, references, listed at the end, have been made to books published in America. In addition to my three books on Gandhi mentioned, I have drawn freely from my book, The United Nations of the World ( New York: Universal, 1942; 2nd ed., 1944), especially for material embodied in Chapters III and VII.

When all is said and done, my greatest debt is to the Saint of Sabarmati, my association with whom at the Satyagraha Ashram, on the Dandi March, and in London, I count among the greatest privileges in life.




MAHATMA GANDHI belongs not to India alone but to the whole world. He belongs not to our generation alone, not to the twentieth century alone, but to posterity as well. In life as in death Gandhi has been revered by millions of his compatriots in India and millions abroad. Most of us of the present generation look upon him as a great political leader. As such, Gandhi would no doubt be classified with the great makers and moulders of nations — Cromwell, Napoleon, Mazzini, Washington, and Lincoln. Future generations, however, will, I believe, recognize in Gandhi one of the greatest spiritual forces of all times.

Whether we knew much or little about him, this man in a loin-cloth somehow reminded the men of the present generation, and will continue to remind future generations, of the great heights which the spirit of man can scale. In him we see an image of our higher self, of that nobler self which recognizes nonviolence and truth as the law of our species.

A proper understanding of Gandhi requires recognition of two strands woven in the makeup of his personality as of every human being: the universal and the particular.

Every human organism is subject to the universal biophysical processes of birth, growth, maturation, senescence, disintegration. Every human being, endowed with original nature, becomes human only as the original nature is transformed into human nature through socialization, through social interaction within a cultural context. This, too, is a universal process in which all human beings become involved immediately upon birth. Mind, intelligence, intellect, emotion, insight, all rooted in the organism, come to flowering as a result of interaction with nature, with fellow human beings, with culture. In this process, the heart, a physiological organ, is spiritualized into a special instrument of insight; notice, for instance, Gandhi’s frequent use of the idea: “Ultimately we are guided not so much by the intellect as by the heart.” He made that statement upon our arrival at Dandi Beach, a forlorn, forsaken place, with few trees or habitations to relieve the monotony of the open, sun-baked landscape. In this process of interaction, too, the human potential, in contrast to the subhuman potential, becomes realized as the soul or spirit of man. Upon man’s animal ancestry is superimposed a certain attribute, which distinguishes the world of human beings from the animal world. To the extent that man, by deliberate effort, achieves a way of living in which animal traits are subordinated to the distinctively human, to that extent does he realize his entelechy, his implicit destiny, a Greek concept — or his dharma, a Hindu concept. Such a way of living brings man near unto God. The realization of his soul, his self, becomes tantamount to realization of the Supreme Soul, the Supreme Self, or God.

This mode of reasoning, implicit in Hindu thinking, should not be unacceptable to social scientists. At any rate, Gandhi accepted the theory of the distinctively human traits differentiating man from the subhuman creation. “Non-violence,” he affirmed, “is the law of our species as violence is the law of the brute. The spirit lies dormant in the brute and he knows no law but that of physical might. The dignity of man requires obedience to a higher law — to the strength of the spirit.” 1

The distinctively human, or rather common-human, nature of man is succinctly described by Hindu seers in the formula: Tat-Twam-Asi — That thou art. You are part of That, part of the Godhead. You have within you some of the divine attributes. In. deed, you have, as the Quakers say, that of God within you. Thus man is a complex of animal-human-divine attributes. In some the animal traits predominate, in others the human, and in others again the divine: in the language of the Bhagavad Gita, some men are dominated by the Tamas quality, some by the Raids quality, and some by the Sattva quality.

Man, a specific person, as a complex of animal-humandivine attributes, may be best understood if from his behavior patterns we get a clue to the dominant and recessive qualities of his being. Gandhi belonged to the company of those in whom Sattva or the divine attribute is dominant and the other two attributes are recessive.

Gandhi made much of conscience. He used to quote with approval a verse from the Mahabharata:

The individual may be sacrificed for the sake of the family;

The family may be sacrificed for the sake of the village;

The village may be sacrificed for the sake of the province;

The province may be sacrificed for the sake of the country;

For the sake of conscience, however, sacrifice all.

What is this thing called conscience? The unsophisticated Polish peasant defined conscience as one’s own voice but somebody else’s words. We may look upon conscience as a highly developed instrument in the inner recesses of man’s heart, a subtle part of evolving human nature specializing in sensitive reactions to the world round about oneself. Conscience manifests itself in terms of sensitivity to sufferings and injustices, to right and wrong. Thus conscience is the internalized experience of the mores of a given society. Non-totalitarian societies exalt freedom of conscience alike for atheists and for theists; for non-conformists as well as conformists; for Catholics, Protestants, and Jews; for Hindus, Muslims, Parsees, Christians, Jews, and Sikhs.

The history of the human species eloquently bears testimony to the fact that those who are especially sensitive to the sufferings of others and, being sympathetic, are impelled by an inner urge to redeem their sufferings, are peculiarly exalted not only by those who benefit from the ministry of service but also by society at large. At the age of 24, when Gandhi landed in South Africa as legal retainer for a Muslim Hindese firm, he was no better and no worse than many a contemporary barrister-at-law, Hindese or non-Hindese. But when his conscience was shocked by the injustices done to his people, when he espoused the cause of the underprivileged and the downtrodden with utter abandon, without the slightest notion of monetary reward, he began to enmesh himself in a process that was to give him inner satisfaction and raise him to the pinnacle of glory successively as “our Bhai,” our Brother; as “the Mahatma,” Great Soul; as “Gandhiji,” revered Gandhi; as “Bapuji,” Dear Father.

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