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PHILOSOPHY > SELECTED WRITINGS OF MAHATMA GANDHI > Aphorisms

Aphorisms

My writings should be cremated with my body. What I have done will endure, not what I have said and written. I have often said recently that even if all our scriptures were to perish, one mantra of Ishopanisha was enough to declare the essence of Hinduism, but even that one verse will be of no avail if there is no one to live it. Even so what I have said and written is useful only to the extent that it has helped you to assimilate the great principles of truth and ahimsa. If you have not assimilated them, my writings will be of no use to you.

(Harijan, 1st May 1937)


Let Gandhism be destroyed if it stands for error. Truth and ahimsa will never be destroyed, but if Gandhism is another name for sectarianism, it deserves to be destroyed. If I were to know, after my death, that what I stood for had degenerated into sectarianism, I should be deeply pained. We have to work away silently. Let no one say that he is a follower of Gandhi. It is enough that I should be my own follower. I know what an inadequate follower I am of myself, for I cannot live up to the convictions I stand for.

(Harijan, 2nd March 1940)


If we are armed with that attitude of mind, we may hope to propagate ahimsa principles. Without that, book and newspaper propaganda is of no avail. You do not know with what indifference I used to run Young India. I did not shed a single tear when Young India had to be stopped.

(Harijan, 13th May 1939)


My own experience has led me to the knowledge that the fullest life is impossible without an immovable belief in a Living Law in obedience to which the whole universe moves. A man without that faith is like a drop thrown out of the ocean bound to perish.

(Harijan, 25th April 1936)


I have made the world’s faith in God my own, and as my faith is ineffaceable, I regard that faith as amounting to experience. However, as it may be said that to describe faith as experience is to temper with Truth, it may perhaps be more correct to say that I have no word for characterizing my belief in God.

(Auto.)


God is that indefinable something which we all feel but which we do not know. To me God is Truth and Love, God is ethics and morality. God is fearlessness, God is the source of light and life and yet He is above and beyond all these. God is conscience. He is even the atheism of the atheist. He transcends speech and reason. He is personal God to those who need His touch. He is the purest essence. He simply Is to those who have faith. He is long suffering. He is patient but He is also terrible. He is the greatest democrat the world knows. He is the greatest tyrant ever known. We are not, He alone Is.

(Young India, 5th March 1925)


I do not regard God as a person. Truth for me is God, and God’s Law and God are not different things or facts, in the sense that an earthly king and his law are different. Because God is an Idea, Law Himself. Therefore, it is impossible to conceive God as breaking the Law. He, therefore, does not rule our actions and withdraw Himself. When we say He rules our actions, we are simply using human language and we try to limit Him. Otherwise, He and His Law abide everywhere and govern everything. Therefore, I do not think that He answers in every detail every request of ours, but there is no doubt that He rules our action and I literally believe that not a blade of grass grows or moves without His will.

(Harijan, 23rd March 1940)


You cannot realize the wider consciousness, unless you subordinate completely reason and intellect, and the body too.

(Harijan)


But I know that I have still before me a difficult path to traverse. 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 humanity.

(Auto.)


But He is no God who merely satisfies the intellect, if He ever does. God to be God must rule the heart and transform it. He must express Himself in every smallest act of His votary. This can only be done through a definite realization more real than the five senses can ever produce. Sense perceptions can be, often are, false and deceptive, however real they may appear to us. Where there is realization outside the senses it is infallible. It is proved not by extraneous evidence but in the transformed conduct and character of those who have felt the real presence of God within. Such testimony is to be found in the experiences of an unbroken line of prophets and sages in all countries and climes. To reject this evidence is to deny oneself.

(Young India, 11th October 1928)


No one can attain perfection while he is in the body for the simple reason that the ideal state is impossible so long as one has not completely overcome his ego, and ego cannot be wholly got rid of so long as one is tied down by the shackles of the flesh.

(Young India, 20th September 1928)


We are living in the midst of death. What is the value of ‘working for our own schemes’ when they might be reduced to naught in the twinkling of an eye, or when we may equally swiftly and unawares be taken away from them? But we may feel strong as a rock, if we could truthfully say ‘we work for God and His schemes’. Then nothing perishes. All perishing is then only what seems. Death and destruction have then, but only then no reality about them. For death and destruction is then but a change.

(Young India, 23rd September 1926)


Prayer is the very soul and essence of religion, and therefore, prayer must be the very core of the life of man, for no man can live without religion.

(Young India, 23rd January 1930)


Prayer is not asking. It is longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness….It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.

(Young India, 23rd January 1930)


Means and end are convertible terms in my philosophy of life.

(Young India, 26th December 1924)


I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and Non-violence are as old as the hills. All I have done is to try experiments in both on as vast a scale as I could. In doing so I have sometimes erred and learnt by my errors. Life and its problems have thus become to me so many experiments in the practice of truth and non-violence.

(Harijan, 28th March 1936)


Good travels at a snail’s pace. Those who want to do good are not selfish, they are not in a hurry, they know that to impregnate people with good requires a long time.

(I.H.R.)


Love and exclusive possession can never go together. Theoretically, when there is perfect love, there must be perfect non-possession. The body is our last possession. So a man can only exercise perfect love and be completely dispossessed, if he is prepared to embrace death and renounces his body for the sake of human service.

But that is true in theory only. In actual life, we can hardly exercise perfect love, for the body as a possession will always remain with us. Man will ever remain imperfect, and it will always be his part to try to be perfect. So that perfection in love or non-possession will remain an unattainable ideal as long as we are alive, but towards which we must ceaselessly strive.

(M. R., 1935)


I saw that nations like individuals could only be made through the agony of the Cross and in no other way. Joy comes not out of infliction of pain on others, but out of pain voluntarily borne by oneself.

(Young India, 31st December 1931)


Sex urge is a fine and noble thing. There is nothing to be ashamed of in it. But it is meant only for the act of creation. Any other use of it is a sin against God and humanity.

(Harijan, 28th March 1936)


Abstract truth has no value unless it incarnates in human beings who represent it by proving their readiness to die for it.

(Young India, 22nd December 1921)


I do dimly perceive that whilst everything around me is ever changing, ever dying, there is underlying all that change a living power that is changeless, that holds all together, that creates, dissolves and recreates. That informing power or spirit is God. And since nothing else I see merely through the senses can or will persist, He alone is.

And is this power benevolent or malevolent? I see it as purely benevolent, for I can see that in the midst of death life persists, in the midst of untruth truth persists, in the midst of darkness light persists. Hence I gather that God is Life, Truth, Light. He is Love. He is the supreme Good.

(Young India, 11th October 1928)


Human society is a ceaseless growth, an unfoldment in terms of spirituality.

(Young India, 16th September 1926)


I claim that human mind or human society is not divided into watertight compartments called social, political and religious. All act and react upon one another.

(Young India, 2nd March 1922)


I do not believe that the spiritual law works on a field of its own. On the contrary, it expresses itself only through the ordinary activities of life. It thus affects the economic, the social and the political fields.

(Young India, 3rd September 1925)


I believe in absolute oneness of God and therefore also of humanity. What though we have many bodies? We have but one soul. The rays of the sun are many through refraction. But they have the same source.

(Young India, 25th September 1924)


The individual is the one supreme consideration.

(Young India, 13th November 1924)


Rationalists are admirable beings, rationalism is a hideous monster when it claims for itself omnipotence. Attribution of omnipotence to reason is as bad a piece of idolatry as is worship of stock and stone believing it to be God. I plead not for the suppression of reason, but for a due recognition of that in us which sanctifies reason.

(Young India, 14th October 1926)


It is my firm conviction that nothing enduring can be built upon violence.

(Young India, 15th November 1928)


They say ‘means are after all means’. I would say ‘means are after all everything’. As the means so the end. There is no wall of separation between means and end. Indeed the Creator has given us control (and that too very limited) over means, none over the end. Realization of the goal is in exact proportion to that of the means. This is a proposition that admits of no exception.

(Young India, 17th July 1924)


The means may be likened to a seed, the end to a tree; and there is just the same inviolable connection between the means and the end as there is between the seed and the tree.

(I. H. R.)


Though you have emphasized the necessity of a clear statement of the goal, but having once determined it, I have never attached importance to its repetition. The clearest possible definition of the goal and its appreciation would fail to take us there, if we do not know and utilize the means of achieving it. I have, therefore, concerned myself principally with the conservation of the means and their progressive use; I know if we can take care of them attainment of the goal is assured. I feel, too, that our progress towards the goal will be in exact proportion to the purity of our means.

This method may appear to be long, perhaps too long, but I am convinced that it is the shortest.

(A.B.P. 17th September 1933)


The true source of rights is duty. If we all discharge our duties, rights will not be far to seek. If leaving duties unperformed we run after rights, they will escape us like a will-o’-wisp. The more we pursue them, the farther will they fly. The same teaching has been embodied by Krishna in the immortal words: ‘Action alone is thine. Leave though the fruit severely alone.’ Action is duty; fruit is the right.

(Young India, 8th January 1925)


But some comforts may be necessary even for man’s spiritual advancement. One could not advance himself by identifying himself with the discomfort and squalor of the villager.

A certain degree of physical harmony and comfort is necessary but above that level, it becomes a hindrance instead of help. Therefore the ideal of creating an unlimited number of wants and satisfying them seems to be delusion and a snare. The satisfaction of one’s physical needs, of one’s narrow self must meet at a point a dead stop, before it degenerates into physical and intellectual voluptuousness. A man must arrange his physical and cultural circumstances so that they may not hinder him in his service of humanity, on which all his energies should be concentrated.

(Harijan, 29th August 1936)


As long as you derive inner help and comfort from anything you should keep it. If you were to give it up in a mood of self-sacrifice or out of a stern sense of duty, you would continue to want it back, and that unsatisfied want would make trouble for you. Only give up a thing when you want some other condition so much that the thing no longer has any attraction for you, or when it seems to interfere with that which is more greatly desired.

(Vishwa-Bharati Quarterly, New Series II, Part II.)


Political power means capacity to regulate national life through national representatives. If national life becomes so perfect as to become self-regulated, no representation becomes necessary. There is then a state of enlightened anarchy. In such a state everyone is his own ruler. He rules himself in such a manner that he is never a hindrance to his neighbor. In the ideal state therefore, there is no political power because there is no state. But the ideal is never fully realized in life. Hence the classical statement of Thoreau that that government is best which governs the least.

(Young India, 2nd July 1931)


I look upon an increase in 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.

The state represents violence in a concentrated and organized form. The individual has a soul, but as the state is a soulless machine, it can never be weaned from violence to which it owes its very existence.

It is my firm conviction that if the state suppressed capitalism by violence, it will be caught in the coils of violence itself and fail to develop non-violence at any time.

What I would personally prefer, would be, not a centralization of power in the hands of the state but an extension of the sense of trusteeship; as in my opinion, the violence of private ownership is less injurious than the violence of the state.

I read Carlyle’s History of the French Revolution while I was in prison, and Pandit Jawaharlal has told me something about the Russian Revolution. But it is my conviction that inasmuch as these struggles were fought with the weapon of violence, they failed to realize the democratic ideal.

We want freedom for our country, but not at the expense or exploitation of others, not so as to degrade other countries. I do not want the freedom of India if it means the extinction of England or the disappearance of Englishmen. I want the freedom of my country so that other countries may learn something from my free country, so that the resources of my country might be utilized for the benefit of mankind. Just as the cult of patriotism teaches us to-day that the individual has to die for the family, the family has to die for the village, the village for the district, the district for the province, and the province for the country; even so, a country has to be free in order that it may die, if necessary for the benefit of the world. My love therefore of nationalism, or my idea of nationalism, is that my country may become free, that if need be, the whole country may die, so that the human races may live. There is no room for race-hatred there. Let that be our nationalism.

( I.V.)


You will see that my influence, great as it may appear to outsiders, is strictly limited; I may have considerable influence to conduct a campaign for redress of popular grievance because people are ready and need a helper. But I have no influence to direct people’s energy in a channel in which they have no interest.

(Harijan, 26th July 1942)


My ahimsa would not tolerate the idea of giving a free meal to a healthy person who has not worked for it in some honest way, and if I had the power, I would stop every sadavrata where free meals are given. It has degraded the nation and it has encouraged laziness, idleness, hypocrisy and even crime.

(Young India, 13th August 1925)


Do not say you will maintain the poor on charity. Only two classes of people are entitled to charity and no one else – the Brahmana who possesses nothing and whose business it is to spread holy learning, and the cripple and the blind. The iniquitous system of giving doles to the able-bodied idle is going on to our eternal shame and humiliation, and it is to wipe out that shame that I am going about with the message of the Charkha up and down the whole country.

(Young India, 24th February 1927)


Monotony is the law of nature. Look at the monotonous manner in which the sun rises. And imagine the catastrophe that would befall the universe, if the sun became capricious and went in for a variety pastime. But there is a monotony that sustains and a monotony that kills. The monotony of necessary occupations is exhilarating and life-giving. An artist never tires of his art.

The present distress is undoubtedly insufferable. Pauperism must go. But industrialism is no remedy. The evil does not lie in the use of bullock-carts. It lies in our selfishness and want of consideration for our neighbours. If we have no love for our neighbours, no change, however revolutionary, can do us any good.

(Young India, 7th October 1926)


I would say that if the village perishes India will perish too. India will be no more India. Her own mission in the world will get lost. The revival of the village is possible only when it is no more exploited. Industrialization on a mass scale will necessarily lead to passive or active exploitation of the villagers as the problems of competition and marketing come in. Therefore we have to concentrate on the village being self-contained, manufacturing mainly for use. Provided this character of the village industry is maintained, there would be no objection to the villagers using even the modern machines and tools that they can make and can afford to use. Only they should not be used as a means of exploitation of others.

(Harijan, 29th August 1936)


The conflict between monied classes and labourers is merely seeming. When labour is intelligent enough to organize itself and learns to act as one man, it will have the same weight as money if not much greater. The conflict is really between intelligence and unintelligence. Surely it will be folly to keep up such a conflict. Unintelligence must be removed.

Exploitation of the poor can be extinguished not by effecting the destruction of a few millionaires, but by removing the ignorance of the poor and teaching them to non-co-operate with their exploiters. That will convert the exploiters also. I have even suggested that ultimately it will lead to both being equal partners. Capital as such is not evil; it is its wrong use that is evil. Capital in some form or other will always be needed.

(Harijan, 28th July 1940)


By political independence I do not mean an imitation of the British House of Commons, or the Soviet rule of Russia or the Fascist rule of Italy or the Nazi rule of Germany. They have systems suited to their genius. We must have ours suited to ours. What that can be is more than I can tell; I have described it as Ramraja, i.e. sovereignty of the people based on pure moral authority.

(Harijan, 2nd January 1937)


It is my certain conviction that no man loses his freedom except through his own weakness.

Even the most despotic government cannot stand except for the consent of the governed which consent is often forcibly procured by the despot. Immediately the subject ceases to fear the despotic force, his power is gone.

(Young India, 30th June 1920, Tagore)


I do not believe in armed risings. They are a remedy worse than the disease sought to be cured. They are a token of the spirit of revenge and impatience and anger. The method of violence cannot do good in the long run. Witness the effect of the armed rising of the allied powers against Germany. Have they not become even like the Germans, as the latter have been depicted to us by them?

That nation is great which rests its head upon death as its pillow. Those who defy death are free from all fear.


Viceroy’s Camp India, (Simla)

7th October, 1943.

Personal

Dear Mr. Gandhi,

I have received your letter of 27th September. I am indeed sorry that your feelings about my deeds or words of mine should be as you describe. But I must be allowed, as gently as I may, to make plain to you that I am quite unable to accept your interpretation of the events in question.

As for the corrective virtues of time and reflection evidently these are ubiquitous in their operation, and wisely to be rejected by no man.

Yours sincerely

LINGLITHGOW

M. K .Gandhi, Esq.

Received on 15th October 1943.