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PHILOSOPHY > THE MIND OF MAHATMA GANDHI > The Gospel of Bread Labour

 

The Gospel Of Bread Labour

Divine Law
GOD CREATED man to work for his food, and said that those who ate without work were thieves.
(YI, 13-10-1921, p. 325)


The great Nature has intended us to earn our bread in the sweat of our brow. Every one, therefore, who idles away a single minute becomes to that extent a burden upon his neighbours, and to do so is to commit a breach of the very first lesson of ahimsa. Ahimsa is nothing if not a well-balance, exquisite consideration for one's neighbour, and an idle man is wanting in that elementary consideration.
(YI, 11-4-1929, p. 144-15)


The law, that to live man must work, first came home to me upon reading Tolstoy's writing on bread labour. But, even before that I had begun to pay homage to it after reading Ruskin's Unto This Last. The divine law, that man must earn his bread by labouring with his own hands, was first stressed by a Russian writer named T.M. Bondaref. Tolstoy advertised it and gave it wider publicity. In my view, the same principle has been set forth in the third chapter of the Gita where we are told that he who eats without offering sacrifice eats stolen food. Sacrifice here can only mean bread labour. (FYM, p. 35)

Rule of Reason
Reason too leads to an identical conclusion. How can a man who does not do body labour have the right to eat? 'In the sweat of thy brow salt thou eat thy bread' , says the Bible. A millionaire cannot carry on for long, and will soon get tired of his life, if he rolls in bed all day long, and is even helped to his food. He, therefore, induces hunger by exercise and helps himself to the food he eats.

If every one, whether rich or poor, has thus to take exercise in some shape or form, why should it not assume the form of productive, i.e., bread labour? No one asks the cultivator to take breathing exercise or to work his muscles. And more than nine-tenths of humanity lives by tilling the soil. How much happier, healthier and more peaceful would the world become if the remaining tenth followed the example of the overwhelming majority, at least to the extent of labouring enough for their food!

Social Revolution
...There is a world-wide conflict between capital and labour, and the poor envy the rich. If all worked for their bread, distinctions of rank would be obliterated; the rich would still be there, but they would deem themselves only trustees of their property, and would use it mainly in the public interest. (ibid, pp. 35-36)


God never creates more than what is strictly needed for the moment, with the result that if any one appropriates more than he really needs, he reduces his neighbour to destitution. The starvation of people in several parts of the world is due to many of us seizing very much more than they need. We may utilize the gifts of nature just as we choose, but in her books the debits are always equal to the credits. There is no balance in either column. (AOA, pp.62-63)


Every man has an equal right to the necessaries of life even as birds and beasts have. And since every right carries with it a corresponding duty and the corresponding remedy for resisting any attack upon it, it is merely a matter of finding out the corresponding duties and remedies to vindicate the elementary fundamental equality. The corresponding duty is to labour with my limbs and the corresponding remedy is to non-co-operate with him who deprives me of the fruit of my labour. (YI, 26-3-1931, p. 49)

True Service
Intelligent bread labour is any day the highest form of social service. For what can be better than that a man should by his personal labour add to the useful wealth of the country? 'Being' is 'doing'.

The adjective 'intelligent' has been prefixed to labour in order to show that labour to be social service must have that definite purpose behind it. Otherwise every laborer can be said to render social service. He does in a way, but what is meant here is something much more than that. A person who labours for the general good of all serves society and is worthy of his hire. Therefore, such bread labour is not different from social service. (H, 1-6-1935, p. 125)


Obedience to the law of bread labour will bring about a silent revolution in the structure of society. Men's triumph will consist in substituting the struggle for existence by the struggle for mutual service. The law of the brute will be replaced by the law of man. (H, 29-6-1935, p. 156)


If everybody lives by the sweat of his brow, the earth will become a paradise. The question of the use of special talents hardly needs separate consideration. If everyone labours physically for his bread, it follows that poets, doctors, lawyers, etc., will regard it their duty to use those talents gratis for the service of humanity. Their output will be all the better and richer for their selfless devotion to duty.
(H, 2-3-1947, p. 47)

Field of Application
Bread labour is a veritable blessing to one who would observe non-violence, worship Truth and make the observance of brahmacharya a natural act. This labour can truly be related to agriculture alone. But at present at any rate. everybody is not in a position to take to it. A person can therefore, spin or weave, or take up carpentry or smithery, instead of tilling the soil, always regarding agriculture, however, to be the ideal.

Every one must be his own scavenger. Evacuation is as necessary as eating; and the best thing would be for every one to dispose of his own waste. If this is impossible, each family should see to its own scavenging.

I have felt for years that there must be something radically wrong where scavenging has been made the concern of a separate class in society. We have no historical record of the man who first assigned the lowest status to this essential sanitary service. Whoever he was, he by no means did us a good.

We should, from our very childhood, have the idea impressed upon our minds that we are all scavengers, and the easiest way of doing so is for every one who has realized this to commence bread labour as a scavenger. Scavenging, thus intelligently taken up, will help to a true appreciation of the equality of man. (FYM, pp. 36-37)

Voluntary Recognition
Return to the villages means a definite, voluntary recognition of the duty of bread labour and not it connotes. But says the critic, "Millions of India's children are today living in the villages and yet they are living a life of semi-starvation." This, alas, is but too true. Fortunately, we know that theirs is not voluntary obedience. They would perhaps shirk body labour if they could, and even rush to the nearest city if they could be accommodated in it.

Compulsory obedience to a master is a state of slavery, willing obedience to one's father is the glory of sonship. Similarly, compulsory obedience to the law of bread labour breeds poverty, disease and discontent. It is a state of slavery. Willing obedience to it must bring contentment and health. And it is health which is real wealth, not pieces of silver and gold. (H, 29-6-1935, p. 156)

Division of Labour
I believe in the division of labour or work. But I do insist on equality of wages. The lawyer, the doctor or the teacher is entitled to no more than the bhangi. Then only will division of work uplift the nation or the earth. There is no other royal road to true civilization or happiness. (H, 23-3-1947, p. 78)


The economics of bread labour are the living way of life. It means that every man has to labour with his body for his food and clothing. If I can convince the people of the value and necessity of bread labour, there never will be any want of bread and cloth. I shall have no hesitation in saying to the people with confidence that they must starve and go naked if they will neither work on the land nor spin and weave. (H, 7-9-1947, p. 316)


I adhere to what I had said in 1925, viz., that all adults above a certain age, male or female, who would contribute some body-labour to the State would be entitled to the vote. (H, 2-3-1947, p. 46)

Work as Worship
I cannot imagine anything nobler or more national than that for, say, one hour in the day, we should all do the labour that the poor must do, and thus identify ourselves with them and through them with all mankind. I cannot imagine better worship of God than that in His name I should labour for the poor even as they do. (YI, 20-10-1921, p. 329)


No work that is done in His name and dedicated to Him is small. All work when so done assumes equal merit. A scavenger who works in His service shares equal distinction with a king who uses his gifts in His name and as a mere trustee. (YI, 25-11-1926, p. 414)


...Service is not possible unless it is rooted in love or ahimsa...True love is boundless like the ocean and, rising and swelling within one, spreads itself out and crossing all boundaries and frontiers, envelops the whole world. This service is again impossible without bread labour, otherwise described in the Gita as Yajna. It is only when a man or woman has done bodily labour for the sake of service that he or she has the right to life. (YI, 20-9-1928, p. 320)

Duty of Sacrifice
"Brahma created His people, with the duty of sacrifice laid upon them, and said: 'By this do you flourish. Let it be the fulfiller of all your desire.' He who eats without performing this sacrifice, eats stolen bread," - thus says the Gita. "Earn thy bread by the sweat of thy brow," says the Bible. Sacrifices may be of many kinds. One of them may well be bread labour. If all laboured for their bread and no more, then there would be enough food and enough leisure for all. Then there would be no cry of overpopulation, no disease, and no such misery as we see around. Such labour will be the highest form of sacrifice. Men will no doubt do many other things, either through their bodies or through their minds, but all this will be no rich and no poor, none high and none low, no touchable and no untouchable.

This may be an unattainable ideal. But we need not, therefore, cease to strive for it. Even if, without fulfilling the whole law of sacrifice, that is, the law of our being, we perform physical labour enough for our daily bread, we should go a long way towards the ideal.
If we did so, our wants would be minimized, our food would be simple. We should then eat to live, not live to eat. Let anyone who doubts the accuracy of this proposition try to sweat for his bread, he will derive the greatest relish from the productions of his labour, improve his health and discover that many things he took were superfluities. (H, 29-6-1935, p. 156)

Gospel of work
There can never be too much emphasis placed on work. I am simply repeating the gospel taught by the Gita, where the Lord says: 'If I did not remain ever at work sleeplessly, I should set a wrong example to mankind.'

...If I had the good fortune to be face to face with one like him [the Buddha], I should not hesitate to ask him why he did not teach the gospel of work, in preference to one of contemplation. I should do the same thing if I were to med...these saints (like Tukaram and Dhyandev, etc.). (H, 2-11-1935, p. 298)


God created man to eat his bread in the sweat of his brow, and I dread the prospect of our being able to produce all that we want, including our food-stuffs, out of a conjuror's hat. (H, 16-5-1936, p. 111)


We should be ashamed of resting, or having a square meal, so long as there is one able-bodied man or woman without work or food. (YI, 6-10-1921, p. 314)


I have indeed wept to see the stark poverty and unemployment in our country, but I must confess our own negligence and ignorance are largely responsible for it. We do not know the dignity of labour as such. Thus, a shoemaker will not do anything beyond making his shoes, he will think that all other labour is below his dignity. That wring notion must go.
There is enough employment in India for all who will work with their hands and feet honestly. God has given everyone the capacity to work and earn more than his daily bread, and whoever is ready to use that capacity is sure to find work. No labour is too mean for one who wants to earn an honest penny. The only thing is the readiness to use the hands and feet that God has given us. (H, 19-12-1936, p. 356)


...It is surely the duty of a Government to ensure bread labour for all unemployed men and women, no matter how many they are. (H, 11-1-1948, p. 507)

Intellectual Labour
Let me not be misunderstood. I do not discount the value of intellectual labour, but no amount of it is any compensation for bodily labour which every one of us is born to give for the common good of all. It may be, often is, infinitely superior to bodily labour, but it never is or can be a substitute for it, even as intellectual food, though far superior to the grains we eat, never can be a substitute for them. Indeed, without the products of the earth, those of the intellect would be an impossibility.
(YI, 15-10-1925, pp. 355-6)


May not men earn their bread by intellectual labour? No. The needs of the body must be supplied by the body. "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's" perhaps applies here well. Mere mental, that is, intellectual labour is for the soul and is its own satisfaction. It should never demand payment. In the ideal state, doctors, lawyers and the like will work solely for the benefit of society, not for self.
(H, 29-6-1935, p. 156)


Intellectual work is important and has an undoubted place in the scheme of life. But what I insist is the necessity of physical labour. No man, I claim, ought to be free from that obligation. It will serve to improve even the quality of his intellectual output. (H, 23-2-1947, p. 36)


A laborer cannot sit at the table and write, but a man who has worked at the table all his life can certainly take to physical labour. (H, 18-1-1948, p. 520)