I do not want to foresee the future. I am concerned with taking care of the present. God has given me no control over the moment following.
I have been known as a crank, faddist, madman. Evidently the reputation is well deserved. For wherever I go, I draw to myself cranks, faddists and madmen.
The world knows so little of how much my so-called greatness depends upon the incessant toil and drudgery of silent, devoted, able and pure workers, men as well as women.
I look upon myself as a dull person. I take more time than others in understanding some things, but I do not care. There is a limit to man's progress in intelligence; but the development of the qualities of the heart knows no bounds.
It may fairly be said that intellect has played a subordinate part in my life. I think I am a dull person. It is literally true in my case that God provides the man of faith with such intelligence as he needs. I have always honoured and reposed faith in ciders and wise men. But my deepest faith is in truth so that my path though difficult to tread has seemed easy to me.
In the majority of cases addresses presented to me contain adjectives which I am ill able to carry. Their use can do good neither to the writers nor to me. They unnecessarily humiliate me, for I have to confess that I do not deserve them. When they are deserved, their use is superfluous. They cannot add to the strength of the qualities possessed by me. They may, if I am not on my guard easily turn my head. The good that a man does is more often than not better left unsaid. Imitation is the sincerest flattery.
The goal ever recedes from us. The greater the progress the greater the recognition of our unworthiness. Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment. Full effort is full victory.
I have not conceived my mission to be that of a knight-errant wandering everywhere to deliver people from difficult situations. My humble occupation has been to show people how they can solve their own difficulties.
If I seem to take part in politics, it is only because polities encircle us today like the coil of a snake from which one cannot get out, no matter how much one tries. I wish therefore to wrestle with the snake.
My work of social reform was in no way less or subordinate to political work. The fact is, that when I saw that to a certain extent my social work would be impossible without the help of political work, I took to the latter and only to the extent that it helped the former. I must therefore confess that work of social reform or self-purification of this nature is a hundred times dearer to me than what is called purely political work.
I am, myself, the father of four boys whom I have brought up to the best of my lights. I have been an extremely obedient son to my parents, and an equally obedient pupil to my teachers. I know the value of filial duty. But I count duty to God above all these.
(MT, II, 27-28)
I deny being a visionary. I do not accept the claim of saintliness. I am of the earth, earthy.... I am prone to as many weaknesses as you are. But I have seen the world. I have lived in the world with my eyes open. I have gone through the most fiery ordeals that have fallen to the lot of man. I have gone through this discipline.
I have never made a fetish of consistency. I am a votary of Truth and I must say what I feel and think at a given moment on the question, without regard to what I may have said before on it.... As my vision gets clearer, my views must grow clearer with daily practice. Where I have deliberately altered an opinion, the change should be obvious. Only a careful eye would notice a gradual and imperceptible evolution.
I am not at all concerned with appearing to be consistent. In my pursuit after Truth I have discarded many ideas and learnt many new things. Old as I am in age, I have no feeling that I have ceased to grow inwardly or that my growth will stop with the dissolution of the flesh. What I am concerned with is my readiness to obey the call of Truth, my God, from moment to moment.
At the time of writing I never think of what I have said before. My aim is not to be consistent with my previous statements on a given question, but to be consistent with Truth, as it may present itself to me at a given moment. The result has been that I have grown from truth to truth; I have saved my memory an undue strain; and what is more, whenever I have been obliged to compare my writing even of fifty years ago with the latest, I have discovered no inconsistency between the two. But friends who observe inconsistency will do well to take the meaning that my latest writings may yield unless of course they prefer the old. But before making the choice, they should try to see if there is not an underlying and abiding consistency between the two seeming inconsistencies.
(MT, V, 206)
It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.
Behind my non-co-operation there is always the keenest desire to co-operate on the slightest pretext even with the worst of opponents. To me, a very imperfect mortal, ever in need of God's grace, no one is beyond redemption.
My non-co-operation has its root not in hatred, but in love. My personal religion peremptorily forbids me to hate anybody. I learnt this simple yet grand doctrine when I was twelve years old through a school book and the conviction has persisted up to now. It is daily growing on me. It is burning passion with me.
What is true of individuals is true of nations. One cannot forgive too much. The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.
Suffering has its well-defined limits. Suffering can be both wise and unwise, and when the limit is reached, to prolong it would be not wise, but the height of folly.
Ours will only then be a truly spiritual nation when we shall show more truth than gold, greater fearlessness than pomp of power and wealth, greater charity than love of self. If we will but clean our houses, our palaces and temples of the attributes of wealth and show in them the attributes of morality, one can offer battle to any combination of hostile forces, without having to carry the burden of a heavy militia.
(MT, I, 241-42)
I would far rather that India perished than that she won freedom at the sacrifice of truth.
If I had no sense of humour, I should long ago have committed suicide.
My philosophy, if I can be said to have any, excludes the possibility of harm to one's cause by outside agencies. The harm comes deservedly and only when the cause itself is bad or, being good, its champions are untrue, faint-hearted or unclean.
Somehow I am able to draw the noblest in mankind, and that is what enables me to maintain my faith in God and human nature.
If I was what I want to be I would not then need to argue with anyone. My word would go straight home. Indeed I would not even need to utter the word. The mere will on my part would suffice to produce the required effect. But I am painfully aware of my limitations.
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 a God. I plead not for the suppression of reason, but for a due recognition of that in us which sanctifies reason.
In every branch of reform constant study giving one a mastery over one's subject is necessary. Ignorance is at the root of failures, partial or complete, of all reform movements whose merits are admitted, for every project masquerading under the name of reform is not necessarily worthy of being so designated.
In dealing with living entities, the dry syllogistic method leads not only to bad logic but sometimes to fatal logic. For if you miss even a tiny factor ―and you never have control over all the factors that enter into dealings with human beings ―your conclusion is likely to be wrong. Therefore, you never reach the final truth, you only reach an approximation; and that too if you are extra careful in your dealings.
It is a bad habit to say that another man's thoughts are bad and ours only are good and that those holding different views from ours are the enemies of the country.
Let us honour our opponents for the same honesty of purpose and patriotic motives that we claim for ourselves.
(SB, 193) It is true that I have often been let down. Many have deceived me and many have been found wanting. But I do not repent of my association with them. For I know how to non-co-operate, as I know how to co-operate. The most practical, the most dignified way of going on in the world is to take people at their word, when you have no positive reason to the contrary.
If we are to make progress, we must not repeat history but make new history. We must add to the inheritance left by our ancestors. If we may make new discoveries and inventions in the phenomenal world, must we declare our bankruptcy in the spiritual domain? Is it impossible to multiply the exceptions so as to make them the rule? Must man always be brute first and man after, if at all?
In every great cause it is not the number of fighters that counts but it is the quality of which they are made that becomes the deciding factor. The greatest men of the world have always stood alone. Take the great prophets Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad―they all stood alone like many others whom I can name. But they had living faith in themselves and their God, and believing as they did that God was on their side, they never felt lonely.
Meetings and group organizations are all right. They are of some help, but very little. They are like the scaffolding that an architect erects ―a temporary and makeshift expedient. The thing that really matters is an invincible faith that cannot be quenched.
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. For it will be by those small things that you shall be judged.
As to the habit of looking to the West for light, I can give little guidance if the whole of my life has not provided any. Light used to go out from the East. If the Eastern reservoir has become empty, naturally the East will have to borrow from the West. I wonder if light, if it is light and not a miasma, can ever be exhausted. As a boy I learnt that it grew with the giving. Anyway I have acted in that belief and have, therefore, traded on the ancestral capital. It has never failed me. This, however, does not mean that I must act like a frog in the well. There is nothing to prevent me from profiting by the light that may come from the West. Only I must take care that I am not overpowered by the glamour of the West. I must not mistake the glamour for true light.
I do not subscribe to the superstition that everything is good because it is ancient. I do not believe either that anything is good because it is Indian.
I am no indiscriminate worshipper of all that goes under the name 'ancient'. I never hesitate to demolish all that is evil or immoral, no matter how ancient it may be, but with that reservation, I must confess to you, that I am an adorer of ancient institutions and it hurts me to think that people in their rush for everything modern despise all their ancient traditions and ignore them in their lives.
True morality consists, not in following the beaten track, but in finding out the true path for ourselves and in fearlessly following it.
No action which is not voluntary can be called moral. So long as we act like machines, there can be no question of morality. If we want to call an action moral, it should have been done consciously and as a matter of duty. Any action that is dictated by fear or by coercion of any kind ceases to be moral.
One earns the right of fiercest criticism when one has convinced one's neighbours of one's affection for them and one's sound judgment, and when one is sure of not being in the slightest degree ruffled if one's judgment is not accepted or enforced. In other words, there should be love faculty for clear perception and complete toleration to enable one to criticize.
The word 'criminal' should be taboo from our dictionary. Or we are all criminals. 'Those of you that are without sin cast the first stone.' And no one was found to dare cast the stone at the sinning harlot. As a jailer once said, all are criminals in secret. There is profound truth in that saying uttered half in jest. Let them be therefore good companions. I know that this is easier said than done. And that is exactly what the Gita and as a matter of fact all religions enjoin upon us to do.
Man is the maker of his own destiny in the sense that he has the freedom of choice as to the manner in which he uses his freedom. But he is no controller of results.
(MGP, I, 421)
Goodness must be joined with knowledge. Mere goodness is not of much use. One must retain the fine discriminating quality which goes with spiritual courage and character. One must know in a crucial situation when to speak and when to be silent, when to act and when to refrain. Action and non-action in these circumstances become identical instead of being contradictory.
(MGP, I, 429-30)
Everything created by God, animate or inanimate, has its good side and bad side. The wise man, like the fabled bird which separating the cream of milk from its water helps himself to the cream leaving the water alone, will take the good from everything leaving the bad alone.
(MT, II, 384)
It was forty years back, when I was passing through a severe crisis of skepticism and doubt, that I came across Tolstoy's book The Kingdom of God is Within You, and was deeply impressed by it. I was at that time a believer in violence. Its reading cured me of my skepticism and made me a firm believer in ahimsa. What has appealed to me most in Tolstoy's life is that he practised what he preached and reckoned no cost too great in his pursuit of truth. Take the simplicity of his life, it was wonderful. Born and brought up in the midst of luxury and comfort of a rich aristocratic family, blessed in an abundant measure with all the stores of the earth that desire can covet, this man who had fully known all the joys and pleasures of life turned his back upon them in the prime of his youth and afterwards never once looked back.
He was the most truthful man of this age. His life was a constant endeavour, an unbroken tide of striving to seek the truth, and to practice it as he found it. He never tried to hide truth or tone it down but set it before the world in its entirety without equivocation or compromise, undeterred by the fear of any earthly power.
He was the greatest apostle of non-violence that the present age has produced. No one in the West, before him or since, has written and spoken on non-violence so fully or insistently and with such penetration and insight as he. I would even go further and say that his remarkable development of this doctrine puts to shame the present-day narrow and lop-sided interpretation put upon it by the votaries of ahimsa in this land of ours. In spite of India's proud claim of being the karmabhumi, the land of realization, and in spite of some of the greatest discoveries in the field of ahimsa that our ancient sages have made, what often goes by the name of ahimsa among us today is a travesty of it. True ahimsa should mean a complete freedom from ill will and anger and hate and an overflowing love for all. For inculcating this true and higher type of ahimsa amongst us, Tolstoy's life with its ocean-like love should serve as a beacon light and a never failing source of inspiration. Tolstoy's critics have sometimes said that his life was a colossal failure, that he never found his ideal, the mystical green stick, in whose quest his entire life was passed. I do not hold with these critics. True, he himself said so. But that only shows his greatness. It may be that he failed fully to realize his ideal in life, but that is only human. 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 shackles of the flesh. It was a favourite saying of Tolstoy that the moment one believes that he has reached his ideal, his further progress stops and his retrogression begins and that the very virtue of an ideal consists in that it recedes from us the nearer we go. To say, therefore, that Tolstoy on his own admission failed to reach his ideal does not detract a jot from his greatness, it only shows his humility.
Much has been often sought to be made of the so-called inconsistencies of Tolstoy's life; but they were more apparent than real. Constant development is the law of life and a man who always tries to maintain his dogmas in order to appear consistent drives himself to a false position. That is why Emerson said that foolish consistency was the hobgoblin of little minds. Tolstoy's so-called inconsistencies were a sign of his development and his passionate regard for truth. He often seemed inconsistent because he was continuously outgrowing his own doctrines. His failures were public, his struggles and triumphs private. The world saw only the former, the latter remained unseen probably by Tolstoy himself most of all. His critics tried to make capital out of his faults, but no critic could be more exacting than he was with regard to himself. Ever on the alert for his shortcomings, before his critics had time to point at them, he had already proclaimed them to the world magnified a thousand fold and imposed upon himself the penance that seemed to him necessary. He welcomed criticism even when it was exaggerated and like all truly great men dreaded the world's praise. He was great even in his failures and his failures give us a measure not of the futility of his ideals but of his success.
The third great point was a doctrine of 'bread labour', that every one was bound to labour with his body for bread and most of the grinding misery in the world was due to the fact that men failed to discharge their duties in this respect. He regarded all schemes to ameliorate the poverty of the masses by the philanthropy of the rich, while they themselves shirked body labour and continued to live in luxury and ease, as hypocrisy and a sham, and suggested that if only man got off the backs of the poor, much of the so called philanthropy would be rendered unnecessary.
And with him to believe was to act. So in the afternoon of his life, this man who had passed all his days in the soft lap of luxury took to a life of toil and hard labour. He took to boot-making and farming at which he worked hard for full eight hours a day. But his body labour did not blunt his powerful intellect; on the contrary it rendered it all the more keen and resplendent and it was in this period of his life that his most vigorous book ―What is Art? ―which he considered to be his masterpiece, was written in the intervals saved from the practice of his self-chosen vocation.
Literature, full of the virus of self-indulgence, and served out in attractive forms, is flooding our country from the West and there is the greatest need for our youth to be on their guard. The present is for them an age of transition of ideals and ordeals; the one thing needful for the world, its youth and particularly the youth of India in this crisis, is Tolstoy's progressive self-restraint, for it alone can lead to true freedom for themselves, the country and the world. It is we ourselves, with our inertia, apathy and social abuse that more than England or anybody else block our way to freedom. And if we cleanse ourselves of our shortcomings and faults, no power on earth can even for a moment withhold swaraj from us.... The three essential qualities of Tolstoy's life mentioned by me are of the utmost use to the youth in this hour of the world's trial.
(MT, II, 418-20)
It is my settled conviction that no deserving institution ever dies for want of support. Institutions that have died have done so either because there was nothing in them to commend them to the public or because those in control lost faith, or which is perhaps the same thing, lost stamina. I would therefore urge the conductors of such institutions not to give in because of the general depression. It is a time of test for worthy institutions.
I had learnt at the outset not to carry on public work with borrowed money. One could rely on people's promise in most matters except in matters of money.
I disbelieve in the conversion of one person by another. My effort should never be to undermine another's faith but to make him a better follower of his own faith. This implies the belief in the truth of all religions and respect for them. It again implies true humility, a recognition of the fact that the divine light having been vouchsafed to all religions through an imperfect medium of flesh, they must share in more or less degree the imperfection of the vehicle.
(MT, II, 450)
[To X who asked if it was true that Gandhi had allowed a venomous snake to pass over his body, he wrote:]
It is both true and not true. The snake was passing over my body. In a case like that, what could I or anyone else do except to lie motionless? This hardly calls for any praise. And who knows whether or not the snake was poisonous? The idea that death is not a fearful event has been cherished by me for many a year, so that I recover soon enough from the shock of the death even of near and dear ones.
We have been taught to believe that what is beautiful need not be useful and what is useful cannot be beautiful. I want to show that what is useful can also be beautiful.
(MGP, I, 168)
People who claim to pursue 'art for art's sake' are unable to make good their claim. There is a place for art in life, apart from the question ―What is art? But art can only be a means to the end which we must all of us achieve. If however it becomes an end in itself, it enslaves and degrades humanity.
There are two aspects of things ―the outward and the inward. It is purely a matter of emphasis with me. The outward has no meaning except in so far as it helps the inward. All true art is thus the expression of the soul. The outward forms have value only in so far as they are the expression of the inner spirit in man. Art of that nature has the greatest possible appeal for me. But I know that many call themselves artists, and are recognized as such, and yet in their works there is absolutely no trace of the souls upward urge and unrest.
All true art must help the soul to realize its inner self. In my own case, I find that I can do entirely without external forms in my soul's realization. My room may have blank walls; and I may even dispense with the roof, so that I may gaze out upon the starry heavens overhead that stretch in an unending expanse of beauty. What conscious art of man can give me the panoramic scenes that open out before me, when I look up to the sky above with all its shining stars? This, however, does not mean that I refuse to accept the value of productions of art, generally accepted as such, but only that I personally feel how inadequate these are compared with the eternal symbols of beauty in Nature. These productions of man's art have their value only so far as they help the soul onward towards self-realization.
I love music and all the other arts, but I do not attach such value to them as is generally done. I cannot, for example, recognize the value of those activities which require technical knowledge for their understanding.... When I gaze at the star-sown heaven, and the infinite beauty it affords my eyes, that means to me more than all that human art can give me. That does not mean that I ignore the value of those works generally called artistic; but personally, in comparison with the infinite beauty of Nature, I feel their unreality too intensely.... Life is greater than all art. I would go even further and declare that the man whose life comes nearest to perfection is the greatest artist; for what is art without the sure foundation and frame-work of a noble life?
Truly beautiful creations come when right perception is at work. If these moments are rare in life they are also rare in art.
True art takes note not merely of form but also of what lies behind. There is an art that kills and an art that gives life. True art must be evidence of happiness, contentment and purity of its authors.
We have somehow accustomed ourselves to the belief that art is independent of the purity of private life. I can say with all the experience at my command that nothing could be more untrue. As I am nearing the end of my earthly life I can say that purity of life is the highest and truest art. The art of producing good music from a cultivated voice can be achieved by many, but the art of producing that music from the harmony of a pure life is achieved very rarely.
If I can say so without arrogance and with due humility, my message and methods are, indeed, in their essentials for the whole world and it gives me keen satisfaction to know that it has already received a wonderful response in the hearts of a large and daily growing number of men and women in the West.
The highest honour that my friends can do me is to enforce in their own lives the programme that I stand for or to resist me to their utmost if they do not believe in it.