Back | Next

THE SELECTED WORKS OF MAHATMA GANDHI > Vol. V - THE VOICE OF TRUTH > Part II- Section VII : Economic Ideas > Dignity of Labour : Bread Labour


38. Dignity of Labour : Bread Labour

God created man to work for his food and said that those who ate without work were thieves.

Young India, 13-10-21, p. 325


Bodily sustenance should come from bodily labour, and intellectual labour is necessary for the culture of the mind. Division of labour there will necessarily be, but it will be a division into various species of bodily labour and not a division into intellectual labour to be confined to one class and bodily labour confined to another class.

Mahatma, Vol. III, (1952), p. 349


You must teach the people to labour with their hands and realize the dignity of work.

Mahatma, Vol. V, (1952), p. 185


If everybody lived by the sweat of his brow, the earth would become a paradise. The question of the use of special talents hardly needed separate consideration. If everyone laboured physically for his bread, it followed that poets, doctors, lawyers and other s would consider 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.

Mahatma, Vol. VII, (1953), p. 389


Leisure is good and necessary up to a point only. 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 foodstuffs, out of a conjurer’s hat.

Harijan, 16-5-36, p. 111


Supposing a few millionaires from America came and offered to send us all our foodstuffs and implored us not to work but to permit them to give vent to their philanthropy, I should refuse point-blank to accept their kind offer… specially because it strikes at the root of the fundamental law of our being.

Harijan, 7-12-35, p. 341


Last but not least, it seems to us that, after all, nature has intended man to earn his bread by manual labour-“by the sweat of his brow”-and intended him to dedicate his intellect not towards multiplying his material wants and surrounding himself with enervating and soul-destroying luxuries, but towards uplifting his moral being-towards knowing the will of the Creator-towards serving humanity and thus truly serving himself.

The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. X, p. 130


If all labored for their bread and no more, then there would be enough food and enough leisure for all. Then there would be no cry of over-population, 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 labour of love for the common good. These will then be no rich and 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 performed 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.

May not men earn their bread by intellectual labour? No. The needs of the body must be supplies by the body. “Render unto Caesar that which is 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. Obedience to the law of bread labour will bring about a silent revolution in the structure of society. Man’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.

Harijan, 29-6-35, p. 156


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.

Harijan, 15-10-25, p. 335


Intelligent bread labour is any day the highest form of social service….

The adjective ‘intelligent’ has been prefixed to labor in order to show that labour to be social service must have that definite purpose behind it. Otherwise every labourer 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.

Harijan, 1-6-35, p. 125


Return to the villages means a definite, voluntary recognition of the duty of bread labour and all 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.

Harijan, 29-6-35, p. 156


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-1 where free meals are given. It has degraded the nation and it has encouraged laziness, idleness, hypocrisy and even crime. Such misplaced charity adds nothing to the wealth of the country, whether material or spiritual, and gives a false sense of meritoriousness to the donor. How nice and wise it would be if the donor were open institutions where they would give meals under healthy, clean surroundings to men and women who would work for them. I personally think that the spinning wheel or any of the processes that cotton has to go through will be an ideal occupation. But if they will not have that, they may choose any other work; only the rule should be “No labour, no meal.”

Young India, 13-8-25, p. 282


I do feel that whilst it is bad no encourage begging, I will not send away a beggar without offering him work and food. If he does not work, I shall let him go without food. Those who are physically disabled like the halt and the maimed have got to be supported by the State. There is, however, a lot of fraud going on under cover of pretended blindness or even genuine blindness. So many blind have become rich because of ill-gotten gains. It would be a good thing if they were taken to an asylum, rather than be exposed to this temptation.

Harijan, 11-5-35, p. 99


1. A place where free meals are served