Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948) was one of the most important historical figures of our lifetime. Influenced by the teachings of Christianity, Henry David Thoreau, John Ruskin and Leo Tolstoy, Gandhi introduced nonviolence in leading India’s struggle for liberation from British rule. The three essentials of Gandhi’s nonviolent direct action are constructive programs (spiritual, educational and economic development); noncooperation (strikes and boycotts); and civil disobedience (protests, marches, sit-ins and other demonstrations).
Gandhi’s legacy of nonviolence became a permanent fixture in the political world of the latter 20th century, most notably in the U.S. civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr. during the 1960s and in the East European and Central Asian independence movements of the early 1990s. Presented here are 100 teachings drawn from Gandhi’s writings. Perhaps in our time there will be even greater opportunities to put them to good use.
Wealth without Work
Pleasure without Conscience
Science without Humanity
Knowledge without Character
Politics without Principle
Commerce without Morality
Worship without Sacrifice
Peace will not come out of a clash of arms but out of justice lived and
done by unarmed nations in the face of odds.
Democracy and violence can ill go together.
Evolution of democracy is not possible if we are not prepared to hear the other side.
A coward is incapable of exhibiting love; it is the prerogative of the brave.
Hatred ever kills, love never dies; such is the vast difference between the
two. What is obtained by love is retained for all time. What is obtained by
hatred proves a burden in reality for it increases hatred.
Non-cooperation with evil is a sacred duty.
You assist an evil system most effectively by obeying its orders and decrees.
An evil system never deserves such allegiance. Allegiance to it means partaking of the evil.
A good person will resist an evil system with his or her whole soul.
Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is
mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man
It may be long before the law of love will be recognized in international
affairs. The machinery’s of government stand between and hide the hearts of
one people from those of another.
To forgive is not to forget. The merit lies in loving in spite of the vivid
knowledge that the one that must be loved is not a friend.
What kind of victory is it when someone is left defeated?
You must be the change you wish to see in the world.
Whether humanity will consciously follow the law of love, I do not know.
But that need not disturb me. The law will work just as the law of gravitation works, whether we accept it or not.
The person who discovered the law of love was a far greater scientist than any of our modern scientists.
Only our explorations have not gone far enough and so it is not possible for everyone to see all its workings.
Violent means will give violent freedom.
However much I may sympathize with and admire worthy motives, I am an
uncompromising opponent of violent methods even to serve the noblest of
Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by the fear of punishment and the
other by acts of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more
effective and permanent then the one derived from fear of punishment.
Man and his deed are two distinct things. Whereas a good deed should call
forth approbation, and a wicked deed disapprobation, the doer of the deed,
whether good or wicked always deserves respect or pity as the case may be.
Hate the sin and not the sinner is a precept which though easy enough to
understand is rarely practiced, and that is why the poison of hatred
spreads in the world.
Nonviolence and cowardice are contradictory terms. Nonviolence is the
greatest virtue, cowardice the greatest vice. Nonviolence springs from
love, cowardice from hate. Nonviolence always suffers, cowardice would
always inflict suffering. Perfect nonviolence is the highest bravery.
Nonviolent conduct is never demoralizing, cowardice always is.
Destruction is not the law of humans. Man lives freely only by his
readiness to die, if need be, at the hands of his brother, never by killing him.
Every murder or other injury, no matter for what cause, committed or inflicted on
another is a crime against humanity.
Man’s nature is not essentially evil. Brute nature has been known to yield
to the influence of love. You must never despair of human nature.
Nonviolence is not a garment to be put on and off at will.
Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our being.
It is good to see ourselves as others see us. Try as we may, we are never
able to know ourselves fully as we are, especially the evil side of us.
This we can do only if we are not angry with our critics but will take in good
heart whatever they might have to say.
It is the law of love that rules mankind. Had violence, i.e. hate, ruled us
we should have become extinct long ago. And yet, the tragedy of it is that
the so-called civilized men and nations conduct themselves as if the basis
of society was violence.
Gandhi was once asked what he thought about western civilization. His
response was: “I think it would be a good idea.”
1. A civilization is to be judged by its treatment of minorities.
2. A Government that is evil has no room for good men and women except in its prisons.
3. All faiths constitute a revelation of Truth, but all are imperfect.
4. All fear is a want of faith.
5. All other pleasures and possessions pale into nothingness before service which is rendered in a spirit of joy.
6. A nonviolent resister cannot wait or delay action till perfect conditions are forthcoming.
7. A nonviolent revolution is not a program for the seizure of power. It is a program for the transformation of relationships ending in a peaceful transfer of power.
8. A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.
9. By our actions we mean to show that physical force is nothing compared (to) moral force.
10. Capital as such is not evil; it is its wrong use that is evil.
11. Civil disobedience without constructive programs is bound to fail.
12. Cooperation with good is as much a duty as noncooperation with evil.
13. Do not undertake anything beyond your capacity, and at the same time do not harbor the wish to do less than you can. One who takes up tasks beyond his powers is proud and attached. On the other hand, one who does less than he can is a thief.
14. Do not worry about what others are doing! Each of us should turn the searchlight inward and purify his or her own heart as much as possible.
15. Each step upward makes me feel stronger and fit for the next step.
16. Every one of my failures has been a steppingstone.
17. Every right carries with it a corresponding duty.
18. Everything is done openly and aboveboard, for truth hates secrecy.
19. Evil can only be sustained by violence.
20. Exploitation is the essence of violence.
21. Faith does not admit of telling. It has to be lived and then it becomes self-propagating.
22. Faith is nothing but a living, wide-awake consciousness of God within.
23. Fearlessness is the first requisite of spirituality. Cowards can never be moral.
24. For a nonviolent person the whole world is one family. He will thus fear none, nor will others fear him.
25. Freedom won through bloodshed or fraud is no freedom.
26. Given the opportunity, every human being has the same possibility for spiritual growth.
27. God is conscience.
28. [God] reveals Himself daily to every human being but we shut our ears to “the still small voice.”
29. Good government is no substitute for self-government.
30. He who is ever brooding over results often loses nerve in the performance of duty.
31. I am a Christian and a Hindu and a Moslem and a Jew.
32. I am an uncompromising opponent of violent methods even to serve the noblest of causes.
33. I believe in the essential unity of man and, for that matter, all that lives. Therefore, I believe that if one man gains spiritually, the whole world gains with him; and, if one man falls, the whole world falls to that extent.
34. I believe that no government can exist for a single moment without the cooperation of the people, willing or forced, and if people suddenly withdraw their cooperation in every detail, the government will come to a standstill.
35. I can retain neither respect nor affection for a government which has been moving from wrong to wrong in order to defend its immorality.
36. I did not move a muscle when I first heard that the atom bomb had wiped out Hiroshima. On the contrary, I said to myself, “unless now the world adopts non-violence, it will spell certain suicide for mankind.”
37. If a father does an injustice, it is the duty of his children to leave the parental roof. If the headmaster of a school conducts his institution on an immoral basis, the pupils must leave the school. If the chairman of a corporation is corrupt, the members thereof must wash their hands clean of his corruption by withdrawing from it; even so, if a Government does a grave injustice, the subjects must withdraw cooperation wholly or partially, sufficiently to wean the ruler from his wickedness.
38. If one takes care of the means, the end will take care of itself.
39. I hate privilege and monopoly. Whatever cannot be shared with the masses is taboo to me.
40. Individuals or nations, who would practice nonviolence, must be prepared to sacrifice [everything] except honor.
41. In matters of conscience, the law of majority has no place.
42. In nonviolent resistance, success is possible even if there is only one nonviolent resister of the proper stamp.
43. In the secret of my heart I am in perpetual quarrel with God that He should allow such things to go on. (written in September 1939 at the start of World War II)
44. Intolerance betrays want of faith in one’s cause.
45. It has always been a mystery to me how men can feel themselves honored by the humiliation of their fellow beings.
46. It is a million times better to appear untrue before the world than to be untrue to ourselves.
47. It is not nonviolence if we love merely those who love us. It is nonviolence only when we love those who hate us.
48. It is sinful to buy and use articles made by sweated labor.
49. I want freedom for the full expression of my personality.
50. Love is the law of life.
51. Love never claims, it ever gives.
52. No human being is so bad as to be beyond redemption.
53. No man could be actively nonviolent and not rise against social injustice no matter where it occurred.
54. No matter how insignificant the thing you have to do, do it as well as you can, give it as much of your care and attention as you would give to the thing you regard as most important.
55. Nonviolence, in the very nature of things, is of no assistance in the defense of ill-gotten gains and immoral acts.
56. Nonviolence is never a method of coercion, it is one of conversion.
57. [Nonviolent] struggle is impossible without capital in the form of character.
58. Nothing enduring can be built on violence.
59. Our aim is the establishment of the kingdom of Righteousness on earth.
60. Peace has its victories more glorious than those of war.
61. Real disarmament cannot come unless the nations of the world cease to exploit one another.
62. Recall the face of the poorest and the most helpless man whom you may have seen and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he be able to gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny?
63. Religions are different roads converging on the same point.
64. Religion which takes no account of practical affairs and does not help to solve them is no religion.
65. Rights that do not flow directly from duty well performed are not worth having.
66. Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment. Full effort is full victory.
67. Silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly.
68. Strength of numbers is the delight of the timid. The valiant in spirit glory in fighting alone.
69. Terrorism and deception are weapons not of the strong but of the weak.
70. That line of action is alone justice which does not harm either party to a dispute.
71. The acquisition of the spirit of nonresistance changes one’s outlook upon life. It puts different values upon things and upsets previous calculations. And when it is set in motion, its effect can overtake the whole world. It is the greatest force because it is the highest expression of the soul.
72. The best politics is right action.
73. The danger is greatest when victory seems nearest.
74. The fabled godly Elephant King… was saved only when he thought he was at his last gasp.
75. The first principle of nonviolent action is that of noncooperation with everything humiliating.
76. The fullest life is impossible without an immovable belief in a Living Law in obedience to which the whole universe moves.
77. The highest moral law is that we should unremittingly work for the good of mankind.
78. The movement of noncooperation, if it may be considered a revolution, is not an armed revolt; it is an evolutionary revolution, it is a bloodless revolution. The movement is a revolution of thought, or spirit.
79. The problem is a world problem. No nation can find its own salvation by breaking away from others. We must all be saved or we must all perish together.
80. There is a power now slumbering within us, which if awakened would do to evil what light does to darkness.
81. The right to err, which means the freedom to try experiments, is the universal condition of all progress.
82. To believe that what has not occurred in history will not occur at all is to argue disbelief in the dignity of man.
83. To benefit by others’ killing and delude oneself into the belief that one is being very religious and nonviolent is sheer self-deception.
84. True morality consists not in following the beaten track, but in finding out the true path for ourselves and fearlessly following it.
85. Truth never damages a cause that is just.
86. Violence is suicide.
87. We are all children of one and the same God and, therefore, absolutely equal.
88. We hug the chains that bind us.
89. We leave things to Fate after exhausting all the remedies.
90. We may attack measures and systems. We may not, we must not, attack people. Imperfect ourselves, we must be tender toward others and slow to impute their motives.
91. We may not be God but we are of God — even as a little drop of water is of the ocean.
92. We must combat the wrong by ceasing to assist the wrongdoer, directly or indirectly.
93. Western democracy as it functions today, is diluted nazism or fascism. At best it is merely a cloak to hide the nazi and fascist tendencies of imperialism.
94. What is possible for one is possible for all.
95. When we disobey a law, it is not for want of respect for lawful authority, but in obedience to the higher law of our being, the voice of conscience.
96. Where Love is, there God is also.
97. Where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence.
98. Whilst… [conscience] is a good guide for individual conduct, imposition of that conduct upon others would be an insufferable interference with their freedom of conscience.
99. Whomsoever you follow, howsoever great he might be, see to it that you follow the spirit of the master and not imitate him mechanically.
100. You should be pioneers in presenting a living faith to the world and not the dry bones of a traditional faith which the world will not grasp.