Tag Archives: ahimsa

Publications available from The Gandhi Foundation


‘The Happiness Manual’ Gandhian Ways of Living
by Prof. Narinder Kapur, £5 + £1 p+p

click on the link for further information about this publication:

Simply Gandhi by Mark Hoda, 17pp £1.50

Muriel Lester, Gandhi and Kingsley Hall by David Maxwell, 16pp £3.50

Frontier Gandhi: Abdul Ghaffar Khan by Shireen Shah, 28pp £3

The Life of Abdul Ghaffar Khan, 49pp £2

The Conquest of Violence by Bart de Ligt, £5

All Men Are Brothers by M K Gandhi, 251pp £4

The Mind of Mahatma Gandhi ed. by Prabhu & Rao, 589 pp HB £7

Quotes of Gandhi ed. by S Bhalla, 224pp HB £7

My Religion by M K Gandhi, 166pp £3

Truth is God by M K Gandhi, 159pp £3

My Nonviolence by M K Gandhi, 373pp £5

Gandhi in Anecdotes by Ravindra Varma, 188pp HB £5

Mahatma Gandhi: A Biography by B R Nanda, 542pp £12

Gandhi the Man by Eknath Easwaran (illustrated), 184pp £10

Gandhi Wields the Weapon of Moral Power by Gene Sharp, 316pp £5

Sonja Schlesin: Gandhi’s South African Secretary by G Paxton, 101pp £7.50

Meditations on Gandhi: A Ravindra Varma Festschrift, 227pp HB £15

The United Nations and its Future edited by Vijay Mehta, 274pp £10

Gandhi’s Outstanding Leadership by P A Nazareth £12

Gandhi and the Contemporary World (Collection of essays), 421pp PB £5, HB £7 – special offer

Please add 25% for postage within UK.

For postage overseas, please contact George Paxton at the e-mail address below.

If you would like to order any of the above, please contact:

George Paxton at (books@gandhifoundation.org)

87 Barrington Drive, Glasgow G4 9ES, Scotland

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What Would a Gandhian Society Look Like? – by George Paxton

Kasturba with Gandhi

Much of Gandhi’s constructive programme was based on village India where the majority of Indians lived (and I believe still do). However, in the West, and increasingly throughout the world, most people live in urban centres. This, along with changes in society brought about by rapid technological developments perhaps require some adaptation of Gandhi’s ideas. Gandhi at times severely criticised modern civilisation, most especially in Hind Swaraj (Indian Home Rule) written in 1909, but at other times he was more accepting of technological developments. If Gandhi’s broad principles were applied to modern society what would it look like ?

Among the liberal democracies a tolerance of the diverse religious and ideological traditions has taken root, indeed increasingly going beyond tolerance to embracing a real interest in both the different and the common elements of traditions other than ones own. Gandhi, although calling himself a Hindu, went further and adopted elements from Jainsim, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam and Humanism. British society has gone some way to catching up with Gandhi in this respect. While some intolerance persists, and indeed in some quarters has increased, an acceptance of a pluralistic society is widespread.

How different is the picture when we turn to the political and economic sphere, especially the latter. A basically free market system operates which admittedly has its worse features mitigated by social security in the developed states. But even in these communities there is gross inequality with outrageously high incomes for a small minority who are so oblivious to the injustice that they take their millions without embarrassment (and even when they have done their job badly). Gandhi was a great egalitarian, something which we badly need both between nations and within them (Wilkinson and Pickett have demonstrated this in The Spirit Level).

One of Gandhi’s major ideas, however, has, I believed, not proven a practical way forward and that is Trusteeship – that the wealthy should retain their wealth but not for their own use. Such is human nature that few will use their wealth only for the good of others. A more realistic way forward is to have common ownership of companies by those who work in them with decisions taken collectively. Private ownership, except for very small businesses, should disappear so that profits do not accrue to one individual or a small elite. This would also mean a healthy empowerment of the workers in the company. But if Trusteeship is interpreted in a wider sense, that is that everyone has a responsibility to use their income and wealth wisely, then there is value in the concept.

Another aspect of our economic world is the vast size of multi-national companies, some exceeding the wealth of smaller countries. The power yielded by the few who control these corporations is anti-democratic and sometimes dangerous. International agreements to limit the size and sphere of operations of these giants is desirable. Gandhi’s preference was always for small scale, whether in political or economic structures. Another relevant aspect is what Gandhi called swadeshi – a preference for local products, whether in agricultural products or in manufactured goods. This ties in with small scale activities and is also highly relevant to reducing impact on the environment. Trade where price only matters results in goods being transported from one side of the world to the other without consideration of wider impacts. Where international trade does take place it is important that it should be done on a fair trade basis. As individuals we can make purchasing decisions that have an impact and if we are not on very low incomes we have options. Today there is also too much travel by too many people who are using up limited oil reserves and polluting the atmosphere. Gandhi travelled a good deal (although he was never on an aeroplane) but that was at a time when world population was much smaller than today and many fewer people travelled.

A fundamental principle of current economic ideology is that one must have growth – something that runs counter to our knowledge of the finite resources of the planet. Gandhi’s advocacy of restraint and a more static society fits the facts in a way that conventional economics doesn’t. It is important, Gandhi believed, that everyone who is fit to work should – there is an obligation on the individual to seek work, but the corollary is that the state has an obligation to provide employment if necessary.

European culture’s distinction between animals we keep as pets or companions and those we eat is not one Gandhi would recognise. A population that was vegetarian in diet, or vegan even more so, would be more consistent ethically. Furthermore the greatly reduced animal population that would result would help reduce global warming through reduced methane and carbon dioxide emissions. It would also save large areas of land which could be used for edible vegetation or trees, and savings in water usage, something which is appearing in many parts of the world. On economic, ecological and humane grounds a widespread move away from a flesh diet towards ahimsa would be an advantage.

Gandhi had a great belief in ‘nature cure’ to deal with health problems as well as advocating a health style conducive to good health. The latter is readily accepted in the West – in principle, although in a rather indulgent culture the practice often does not match up. Most people however would doubt the efficacy of natural cures when it comes to many illnesses. Gandhi himself was deeply grateful to have an appendectomy by a British army surgeon when in prison in 1924 so his belief in nature cure was qualified.

One area where Western culture has more than caught up with Gandhi is gender equality. Gandhi showed support for women wanting to enter careers when he encouraged his secretary in South Africa, Sonja Schlesin, to apply for training as an advocate. The application in 1909 was rejected as no woman had been envisaged in such a role. In India many of his staunchest colleagues were women and many women participated in satyagraha campaigns.

Perhaps the least useful idea and the least likely to be accepted in general in the desirability of celibacy. It is an issue difficult to ignore because it was so important to Gandhi, but he also universalised it and thought that everyone should follow the path of restraint or brahmacharya. This is also how excessive population size was to be avoided. He believed his control of the sex drive enabled him to achieve what he could not otherwise achieve. Gandhi was generally ascetic and while few would follow him all the way a less hedonistic lifestyle than we have today has something to be said for it.

Last, but no means least, is the issue of war and peace, violence and nonviolence. While Gandhi admired courage (as a child he had been timid) which might be displayed by a soldier, better still was the courage of a nonviolent soldier or satyagrahi. He believed it was possible to defend a country, or community or an individual, by nonviolent means and it is necessary to develop methods for this. Alas, many states are more heavily armed than ever before, including India. Most politicians still have a misguided faith in the efficacy of the threat of destruction and death. It should be obvious that a world that had destroyed its nuclear weapons, abolished trade in weapons, and greatly reduced armaments in general would be a safer world, and in fact the countries of the world have agreed that general disarmament should be an achievable goal. It would also release vast resources for life-enhancing purposes. As inequalities between and within states diminish conflicts would too. Conflicts would still occur but they would be amenable to nonviolent solutions including those pioneered by Gandhi.

A Gandhian society would exhibit a tolerance of diversity, a fairer economic system, a change in diet, a greater awareness of impacts on the environment, and a new concept of defence. To reach such a society we require a new attitude of mind and there will be vested interests to overcome but, I suggest, none of theses things are impossible.

George Paxton is Editor of The Gandhi Way

Reflections on God – by Negeen Sai Zinovieff

People sometimes say in this secular society that Gandhi was old-fashioned because he was deeply religious and spiritual. Yet his teachings are, for the most part, avant-garde. He believed, as did the Masters of Humanity, that Truth and God were synonymous and stuck tenaciously till the end, emphasising that Truth was that “spiritual inner voice” of those that practised Ahimsa and Satyagraha. In My Religion he writes:

‘There should be truth in thought, truth in speech and truth in action but truth is the right designation of God. Hence there is nothing wrong in every man following Truth according to his lights”.

But in practice we see many opinion leaders teaching from the pulpit of Truth which contradicts the Truth of other seekers. The theosophists such as Helena P Blavatsky have a slogan “there is no religion higher than Truth”. Gandhi always praised the theosophist Anne Besant for introducing true Hinduism to him and he took a step nearer to God by saying He alone is the sought-for reward for a true disciplined heart and educated mind. Then we see people swearing through their teeth that the gospel according to Truth is their slogan. Leninism and Maoism have captured the minds of reformists, scientists and academicians. These have done much harm to the Truth as God as practiced by Jesus or Zoroaster.

While Gandhi teaches nonviolence and passive resistance in response to the search for God, Marxism teaches brute violence and calls to arms those who labour and are exploited by the bourgeoisie and capitalists. All those teachings which have denied man as spirit have helped to create a cerebral humanity who avenges itself on the spiritual-cum-emotional self by denying that soul, God and heart exist.

When Gandhi insisted that “the small inner voice” was his authority, he also says that one must find this self through discipline and perseverance. What is discipline, the key to the door of ‘inner self’’? Gandhi believed asceticism, piety and chastity and life-long marriage with Haq (the Truth) was the basis for practicing Ahimsa (love) and well-informed reason for finding God. He says in My Religion (p 103):

“In such selfless search for Truth nobody can lose his bearings for long. Directly he takes to the wrong path he stumbles and is thus redirected to the right path.”

What the Sufis ascribe to the Spiritual Master, Gandhi ascribes to the educated self or ‘voice within’. Thus everyone is encouraged to practice self-effacement and search for God through himself. “Know yourself and you will know God.” This Gandhian teaching, in times when Spiritual Masters have arisen everywhere, capturing the hearts and minds of ill-informed people, is an elixir.

The New Testament which inspired Gandhi a good deal invites people to practice ocean-consciousness. In John 4, verse 24 we read

“God is spirit and all worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

In book 3 verse

“But whosoever lives by the truth comes into the light so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”

In the holy Quran we see many references to truth seeking. In Surah 16 verse 36,

“so travel the earth and see what was the end of those who denied the truth. But he will be set right who selflessly seeks and observes the unfettered Truth.”

Zarathustra, the Persian prophet (1200 BCE) similarly called God Absolute Truth to be found by those who dedicate their lives in thought, word and deed to the pursuit of Divine Power, Ahura Mazda. While Gandhi and Jesus spread the gospel of love, Zoroaster sought help through reason from the archangels of God, in particular the ‘Good Mind’ or ‘Spenta Mainya’. He taught that once the spirit of Benediction has been found, the Good Mind, one can know God as the Father of Truth. It is with such a faith that the truth seeker practising Ahimsa and Satyagraha will reach the shores of peace in the whirlpool of existence.

One cannot hope to find the right ‘inner voice’ without asceticism and self-discipline. Gandhi believed “truth resides in every human heart and one has to search for it there and be guided by the truth as one sees it. But no one has a right to coerce others to act according to his views of truth (The Mind of Mahatma Gandhi, page 44). Again emphasising his commitment to Haq (God) he says in The Mind of Mahtma Gandhi page 43:

“But as long as I have not realised the Absolute Truth, so long must I hold by the relative truth as I have conceived it. That relative truth must, meanwhile, be my beacon, my shield and my buckle.”

These teachings have been practised for several thousand years and we have to find them again. Zoroaster, Buddha, Confucius have all had the taste for God, self-realisation and Fana (self-annihilation in God).  Yasna 46 v. 18 has:

“Oh Mazda I seek but to fulfil your will through Truth”.

Everyone hence must strive to live a truth-inspired existence. Truth is like a vast tree which yields more and more fruit the more you nurture it, the deeper the search in the mine of truth, the richer the discovery of the gems buried there. In the awe-inspiring Proverbs (the Old Testament) we are reminded that love and faithfulness never leave you.

“Bind them around your neck and write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favour and a good name in the sight of God and man” (Proverbs 3 verse 3).

Let us conclude with the much quoted saying of Gandhi: “Without Ahimsa it is not possible to seek and find Truth. Ahimsa and Truth are so intertwined that it is practically impossible to disentangle and separate them.”(My Religion p. 106).

My Religion M K Gandhi, Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad 380014
The Mind of Mahatma Gandhi, Compiled and edited by R K Prabhu and U R Rao
The Holy Bible New International Version, Hodder and Stoughton
The Holy Quran, Text, Translation & Commentary by A. Yusef Ali 1983.
The Ancient Gods, E O James, Phoenix Giant 1960
The Gathas of Zarathustra, Piloo Nanavutty 1999

Peace and Security and Economics – by Eirwen Harbottle

George Paxton has persuaded me to share some thoughts on developing our Gandhi Foundation Trustees’ discussion on monetary reform. I am clearly no academic; merely an ordinary member of the public who has become increasingly angry over the financial mess that is causing so much misery and the injustice of handing on such toxic chaos to the rising generation.

18 months ago, I asked Canon Peter Challen whether he would allow me to attend the weekly meetings of his Global Round Table on Monetary Reform since when I have been listening and learning, grateful for his kind tolerance of my often childish questions.

Now I feel led to share this diagram with GF supporters. It shows how I suggest we might accept the inter-twining of peace and security in which economics is a crucial factor:

Over the past 60 years I have experienced global un-peace stretching from the dying months of the British mandate in Palestine, through WW2 and the violent birth of the Cyprus Republic, subsequent Greek/Turk conflict on that island, world disarmament and (working with my Michael) a reappraisal of the military role in peacekeeping/peacebuilding.

Now I can see with absolute certainty that the popular excuse “Oh, I don’t do economics…” is just a lazy cop-out. It is totally unacceptable because our inaction is threatening the very survival of our peerless planet.

So what to do ? I admire the 3 leading tenets of Jainism: we must recognise the ‘many-sidedness’ of our lives, act with ‘non-possessiveness’ and ‘do no harm’ (ahimsa). Were these not akin to the bedrock of Gandhi’s own thinking ? Would that it might also be that of all our bankers today !

If we are truly seeking financial ‘perestroika’, we have to educate ourselves on the history of money; the ethics of usury; the psychology of taking risks with no thought to the consequences of so doing; the rule of law to curb injustice; and ultimately to see all of this as the ‘many-sidedness’ of global wellbeing.

In his day, Buckminster Fuller often used the icosahedron 20-sided symbol to demonstrate wholeness. Perhaps we might use the same design now to present a Gandhian view of security and peace?

Eirwen Harbottle is a Patron of the Gandhi Foundation and a founder of Peace Child International. She received the first GF International Peace Award on behalf of her late husband Brigadier Michael Harbottle who founded Generals for Peace.

Thomas Merton’s Reflections on Mahatma Gandhi – by Rasoul Sorkhabi

Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in New Delhi 1948 (now sixty years ago) and Thomas Merton, a renowned Trappist monk and author, was killed in a tragic accident in 1968 (forty years ago). These anniversaries are valuable opportunities to reflect on the legacies, works and teachings of these two great men of peace. Gandhi has influenced many minds and movements of the twentieth century. In this article, we review Merton’s impressions of Gandhi and how they are helpful for our century and generation as well.

Thomas Merton, born in 1915, was forty-six years junior to Gandhi. Merton spent the first two decades of his life in France, UK and USA. In 1939, he received his MA in English literature from Columbia University, and decided to become a Catholic monk. The following year, he accepted a teaching position at St Bonaventure University, a Franciscan college in southwest New York State. In 1942, he entered the Abbey of Gethsemane, a Trappist (Franciscan) monastery in Kentucky, as a novice monk. Merton or Father Louis as he was later called at Gethsemane lived the rest of his life there in a quiet and contemplative life and an inspiring natural environment. He kept journals and wrote many essays and poems, and books. His autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, published in 1948 became a best seller.

In the 1960s, Merton was attracted to Eastern religious thoughts and traditions, including Gandhi’s ideas. Merton wrote two articles about Gandhi: (1) The first entitled ‘Gandhi: The Gentle Revolutionary’ was first published in Ramparts (December 1964), a magazine founded two years earlier by Edward Michael Keating (1925-2003). This article was also included in Merton’s book The Seeds of Destruction (1964), and more recently in an anthology of Merton entitled Passion for Peace (edited by William Shannon, Crossroad, New York, 1995, and an abridged version in 2006). (2) The second article, ‘Gandhi and the One-Eyed Giant’ first appeared in the January 1965 issue of Jubilee, a magazine founded in 1953 by Ed Rice (1918-2001; Merton’s friend from school days in Columbia). This article was later included as an introduction to Gandhi on Non-Violence (New Directions, New York, 1965), a selection of Gandhi’s words by Merton from a much larger, two-volume anthology Non-Violence in Peace and War (published by Navajivan, Hyderabad, 1942, 1949).

In both articles, Merton analyses Gandhi’s thought mainly from a Christian standpoint with references to Jesus’ teachings. (For instance, Merton quotes Gandhi as saying: “Jesus died in vain, if he did not teach us to regulate the whole life by eternal law of love.”) This is all understandable given Merton’s background and the fact that both Ramparts and Jubilee were Catholic intellectual magazines. Nevertheless, Merton’s underscoring of ‘Christian elements’ in Gandhian thought is significant as most of the writings about Gandhi’s life and works have been either political history or Indian religious philosophy.

In ‘Gandhi: The Gentle Revolutionary’, Merton remembers his first encounter with Gandhi in 1931 when the latter was visiting London as a representative of the Indian Congress to attend the Round Table Conference the British government was hosting to discuss the Indian issue. Merton was then a student at Oakham boarding school in Rutland, England. He was sympathetic to Gandhi’s ideals about a free India and recalls an argument he had with his school football coach who believed that Indians were primitive people and needed to be governed by the British Raj. Merton then adds that

“a dozen years after Gandhi’s visit to London there were more hideous barbarities perpetuated in Europe, with greater violence and more unmitigated fury than all that has ever attributed by the wildest imaginations to the despots of Asia. The British Empire collapsed. India attained self-rule. It did so peacefully and with dignity. Gandhi paid with his life for the ideals in which he believed.”

Merton devotes the rest of his article to the significance of Gandhi’s political thought and action. He singles out Gandhi “as a great leader, one of the noblest men of our century” because he was truly and sincerely (not opportunistically or verbally) committed to peace politics. Gandhi resented power politics as a means to empower oneself and to humiliate or wipe out the other party in the battle, and instead suggested Svad-dharma (‘religion of service’) as characterizing his political action. And Gandhi’s political action was based on a thoroughly religious understanding of being, life, love and human’s place in the world. Merton quotes Gandhi: “If love is not the law of our being, the whole of my argument fails to pieces.” Merton refers to Gandhi’s concept of Satyagraha (usually translated as ‘Truth Force’) and defines it as “simply conforming one’s words to one’s inner thought.” Merton then explains that “our aims, our plans of actions, our outlook, our attitudes, our habitual response to the problems and challenges of life” more effectively than words ‘speak’ of our inner being.”

Merton also refers to Gandhi’s other formula – Ahimsa (‘nonviolence’) – and remarks that unlike the dirty, greedy politicians who wage wars in the name of catch phrases like liberation, Gandhi did not use the word Ahimsa deceitfully against the English; Gandhi really meant and intended it, and “did not think that peace and justice could be attained through violent or selfish means.” In short, Merton remarks that

“Gandhi is not above all criticism, no man is. But … he was unlike all the other world leaders of his time in that his life was marked by a wholeness and a wisdom, an integrity and a spiritual consistency.”

Merton opens his second article ‘Gandhi and the One-Eyed Giant’ with the remark that the white man came to Africa, Asia, and America like a one-eyed giant, “bringing with him the characteristic split and blindness which were at once his strength, his torment, and his ruin.” Gandhi emerged against this background in world history and Asian-African geography. Merton then discusses the salient features of Gandhi’s life mission and legacy which may be outlined below:

(1) Gandhi discovered the East through the West. He was educated in England, read Tolstoy, Thoreau and the New Testament, and rediscovered many Christian values in his own Indian religions.

(2) In his rediscovery of ‘the right mind’ in Indian religions, Gandhi’s approach was not that of a bookish scholar but as a simple human in touch with the Indian people and life. Therefore, “the Indian people were awakening in him” as well.

(3) Unlike the re-awakening process of some Asian nations (for example, Japan), Gandhi did not lead the Indian mind toward intolerance, extreme nationalism or exclusive religion. He reached out for humanity, unity, love and peace both nationally and internationally.

(4) Gandhi’s life was “eminently active rather than merely contemplative.” Although Gandhi prayed, fasted and practised his religion, his spiritual life was not separate from his political life; he participated “in the life and dharma of his people;” “for him the public realm was not secular, it was sacred.”

(5) Gandhi adopted Ahimsa, non-violent methods of struggle against injustice and oppression, not out of naivety, escapism or cowardice,but out of love, caring, bravery (“a kind of bravery far different from violence”) and the wisdom that “to punish and destroy the oppressor is merely to initiate a new cycle of violence and oppression; the only real liberation is that which liberates both the oppressor and the oppressed at the same time.”

(6) Gandhi considered his Indian experience not as a limited national case but as a part and an example of a world experiment to create a new human history.

(7) Gandhi did not consider political liberty and social freedoms as end-products of his mission; Gandhi stressed (and showed by his own example) that inner freedom from selfishness and seeing “all life as one in a sacred cosmic family” are crucially important for the spiritual and social development of humans as well as the humanity.

It was for all these causes and ideals that Gandhi lived and stood, and for which gave his life in the end. Merton concludes his essay: “Gandhi’s principles are, then, extremely pertinent today, more pertinent even than they were conceived and worked out in practice in the ashrams, villages and highways of India.”

Merton’s selected texts of Gandhi in a small but rich volume, Gandhi on Non-Violence, brings out the essence of Gandhi’s doctrine and practice of ahimsa. He divides the book into five sections: (1) Principles of Non-violence; (2) Non-violence: True and false; (3) The spiritual dimensions of non-violence; (4) The political scope of nonviolence; and (5) The purity of non-violence. There are many gems in this book – words uttered by Gandhi and loved by Merton. Here are three:

“When the practice of ahimsa becomes universal, God will reign on earth as He does in heaven.”

“Man as animal is violent but as spirit is non-violent. The moment he awakes to the spirit within he cannot remain violent.”

“Non-violence is the only thing that atom bomb cannot destroy . . . Unless now the world adopts non-violence, it will spell certain suicide for mankind.”

It is true that Gandhi was influenced not only by the Bhagavad-Gita but also by other religious scriptures including the Gospels and the Qu’ran. Reading through Merton’s essays, it appears that only in Gandhi’s political life Merton finds a Christian model of non-violent struggle for world peace for the contemporary generation. This is not surprising. First because the essence of all major religions is “the law of love.” Moreover, in the political history the so-called Christian West, as Merton would have agreed, one finds less and less Jesus and more violence and more greed. Perhaps that is why, in his second article Merton writes: “What has Gandhi to do with Christianity? Everyone knows that the Orient has venerated Christ and distrusted Christians ever since the first colonisers and missionaries came from the West.”

In 1968, Merton went to Asia – his first trip ever to the East. He was to give a lecture at a monastic conference in Bangkok in December. He journeyed to India during October and November, and then went to Thailand. He was killed in a Bangkok hotel by electric shock as he stepped out of his bath and touched an un-grounded electric fan. That was 10 December 1968, twenty-seven years after Merton had entered the Gethsemane monastery, and twenty years after Gandhi had been gunned by a Hindu nationalist fanatic opposing his efforts to bring about peace between India and the new partitioned Pakistan. Today, there is an International Gandhi Peace Prize, which has been awarded annually by the Government of India since 1995, and also a Thomas Merton Award, awarded by the Thomas Merton Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, since 1972. Gandhi and Merton were brothers in soul, two great peaceful minds of the twentieth century; their legacies and messages are to inspire people of this century as well.

Rasoul Sorkhabi lives in Salt Lake City, USA.
Copyright: Rasoul Sorkhabi (2008).


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