ARTICLES : Gandhi's Views on Health

Read articles written by very well-known personalities and eminent authors about Gandhian view on vatious topics.

Gandhian Approach Towards Health

By Dr Ravindra Vasant Nisal

I represent a premier institute of Nature cure in India. It is known as Nisargopchar Gramsudhar Trust's Nisargopchar Ashram, (Nature Cure Ashram) Uruli Kanchan, a small town situated 29 kms away from Pune city in Maharashtra State of India.
Gandhiji came to Pune in December 1945 along with Sardar Patel at Dr. Dinshaw Mehta's Nature cure clinic. He stayed there for 2 months. That Nature cure center is now known as National Institute of Naturopathy. Gandhiji was invited to Uruli Kanchan village for establishment of Nature cure center.
Mahatma Gandhi established nature cure Ashram in March 1946. On 22nd March 1946 he came along with his 200 disciples with a view to propagate the concepts of village sanitation and healthy living. He then decided to establish a nature cure center, which would be useful for poor and rich alike. He strongly believed that, there should not be any discrimination for health care provision in the society. During those days India was struggling for Independence while Gandhiji was leading a movement for equal justice and rights for non-white community consisting mostly of Africans and Indians in South Africa.
While Gandhiji was practicing law in South Africa he was suffering from digestive complaints. He used to take some herbal medicine. He thought that, every time taking some medicine for improving digestion and clearing bowels is not a proper way of treatment. He therefore thought that, there must be something wrong with the diagnosis and management of his problem. He was taking some medicines but they were ineffective. He thought that, what was the use of such therapy when every day one has to depend on a doctor and a chemist. One of his friends from the vegetarian society gave him a book written by Adolf Just titled "Return to the Nature". He studied that book and tried simple measures like dietary reform, mud application over abdomen, use of wet compresses etc. He experienced relief by these simple measures. He thought that, such drugless therapy would be beneficial for a developing country like India, where most of the people live in villages and they do not have access to doctors and hospitals. He wrote about his experiments in his own publication "Indian opinion" under the title "Guide to health" and some articles on nature cure, use of five elements and its effects. Those articles were written during the year 1906. When Gandhiji returned to India, those compiled articles were published while he was confined in Aga Khan Palace in 1942. The book is known as "Key to Health". It is translated in different Indian and European languages. The book became popular because Gandhiji wrote with a novel idea somewhat different from the ways adopted by medical practitioners and medical scientists.
Gandhiji incorporated education in health and hygiene in his 18-point constructive programmes aimed at achieving complete independence by truthful and non-violent means. He emphasised on vegetarianism, which is inseparable from naturopathic way of treatment. He believed in his famous eleven vows namely 'Non-violence, Truth, Control over Palate (taste), Celibacy, Physical work, Non-stealing, Non-possession, Fearlessness, Removal of caste barrier, Equality in religion, Swadeshi or self-reliance.'


According to him it is impossible to observe any basic principles of life without truth. He emphatically said that, Truth is God. Devotion to the truth is Justification to the existence of mankind. There should be Truth in speech, thought and action.
Truth in speech, thoughts and action depends upon how one uses his senses. Gandhiji's model of 3 monkeys is famous in India. He always used to say that,
- Do not see Evil
- Do not listen evil words
- Do not speak bad words
Indian philosophy based on Vedic scriptures says that, there should be balance between 5 motor organs and 5 sense organs. Our mental poise depends upon what we perceive thro' our sense organs since childhood. Stimulating scene, literature will have adverse effect on our mind. If we utter bad words the listener gets disturbed, his emotions get negative impact. One who quarrels, utters bad words also get disturbed. Thus mind plays a dual function. Soothing affectionate words will create joy. Worshiping God, Chanting prayers, Observing Natures beauty, fruits, vegetable, colourful flowers, butter flies, mountains, streams which we observe and experience bring joy. We perceive qualities of substances thro' senses, we get knowledge about a "substance" but substance doesn't have any sense or knowledge. The truth perceived thro' sense was, is and will be there i.e. "Omnipresent". That is the truth of the nature.
This truth manifests as knowledge through our senses. Substances are perishable but the eternal truth and knowledge is not. Therefore right kind of perception thro' motor and sense organs is essential for the knowledge of space, (Ether), air, fire, water and earth. Moderation in hearing, touch, vision, taste and smell, speech, thoughts, action, is necessary for balance of these elements in the human body. Physical and mental health depends upon good quality of perception thro' sensory and motor organs.
The balance is not possible without devotion. Health depends upon how one observes the laws of nature. If one is aware and practices self-discipline and good impression since childhood (Sanskara) then only health can be maintained. Any deviation from the laws of nature which are omnipresent, will cause ill health. Since the evolution of mother earth these laws are undisturbed and are going on since ages. If we do not behave physically, morally, spiritually in accordance with the laws of health, we are untruthful to this wonderful divine human existence, which the GOD created, and then we become prey to diseases at physical and psychological level.

Non violence - Love - (Ahimsa)

Only way to self-realization or heavenly truth is by way of observing non-violence at physical level in speech and at mental level. Nature has bestowed love while creating life in the form of animals and plants. Killing, destroying animals, plants, polluting earth, water, environment by greed, jealousy, hatred, urge for possession has created imbalance in physical level at large. Violent stimulating thoughts arise because of stimulating diet and urge to possess which (superiority over animals, plants) disturbs our internal environment. Not looking after self, injuring self with intoxicating agents such as tobacco, alcohol, stimulating spicy food etc. disturbs the digestion and assimilation, which is the basic cause of many diseases. Indulgence over these intoxicating substances has adverse effect on the thinking process as well which in turn leads to provocative behavior and the individual is caught in the vicious circle.
Therefore Gandhiji (and eminent naturopaths) advocated vegetarian diet which nature has created for the herbivorous human being. All vegetables, fruits, cereals are non-stimulating and have positive effect on health and mind.
Celibacy (Bramhacharya)
Gandhiji was observing celibacy since 1906. Indian philosophers, sages and saints are believers in celibacy. To achieve control over natural urges one must be truthful and non violent to self and nature.
Satva (Good quality) vegetarian food in the form of fruits, dry fruits, vegetables are essential to develop control over urges. It is possible to observe celibacy during marital life. There is difference between animal instinct (passion) and human intellectual awareness. Mating in animals except few species is not frequent. It is only for the procreation. Ayurveda and Naturopathy believe that, the vital fluid, which has capacity to procreate, has to be conserved. If it is wasted due to over indulgence it has delitarious effect on the body and mind. Celibacy doesn't have reference only for seminal ejaculation, but it has a wider meaning of control over 5 sense organs, 5 motor organs and the 11th sensory and motor function of mind. Therefore moderation in all activities is necessary for celibacy during married life.
One who attains control over urges alone can reach the stage of "Samadhi i.e. awareness of self". It is then that, the liberation of soul becomes possible. Touch, gesture word and thought of indecent perception is breach of this principle of chastity.
(Brahmacharya) means a behavioral pattern adopted in the search of truth. 20th and 21st Century are witnessing the ill effect of over indulgence in sensory and motor organs which has resulted in outbreak of HIV, AIDS, high prevalence of psychosomatic diseases, diseases of locomotor system respiratory problems, depression and stress, higher incidences of theft, robbery, disturbed relationship.

Control over the Palate and Taste (Aswad)

All natural food stuffs are tolerable since birth. Infants and babies do not overfeed. All medical pathies agree that, most of the problems arise due to modified diet, over eating processed food. Gandhi gave importance to moderation in eating habits instead of "What and how much to eat thought". He said over eating is a universal crime; it is a crime against society and sin against our own body. He was of the opinion that, over eating and indulgence in any bad habits like lying, stealing, indecent behavior is immoral.
Gandhiji was a member of vegetarian society while he was in England and South Africa. He experimented on dietetics with reference to the literature available in modern medicine. He strongly condemns eating meat as other eminent naturopaths believe. Naturopaths and Gandhiji also had opinion that milk is not essential for health. Once in 1917 Gandhi became very sick and could not recuperate from illness. He was reluctant to take milk. Somebody suggested use of goat milk. On the request of his wife he started consuming milk and fruits and he recovered very fast. In certain conditions and in country like India where people observe religious fasting, milk can be combined with fruits. Fundamental principle of Naturopathy believes that, we should not disturb what nature has given. Sweets, chocolates, Sugars, excess condiments are bad for health.
Nature has created vegetables, fruits with unique taste and colors. Each has unique taste, which is agreeable to most of the animals, birds, and insects. Human beings are in the habit of modifying taste of natural substances e.g. Sugar cane is modified to sugar; wheat modified to white flour, biscuits, cookies, and fruits to Jams and Jellies. All modifications increase the taste and we lose control over palate, overeating follows, which ultimately results in to ill health.
Habit of eating tasty food increases the desire to eat more. Habits once formed are difficult to shed. In naturopathy there is a concept of "No breakfast". Depending upon the age one should have two to three meals a day. It is our experience that after the age of 60, 2 meals a day are sufficient. Breakfast should consist of fruits, Juices and milk. In respiratory and digestive disorders, skin diseases and rheumatoid arthritis and heart diseases milk should be best avoided.
According to Gandhiji truth is not possible without non-violence, chastity (Bramhcharya) is not possible without control over senses. He himself experienced the effect of natural food for controlling sexual and other urges. Food he advised should be taken like medicine. One cannot consume more fruits and vegetables, cereals in their natural form. Self-restraint over taste once achieved is helpful in controlling passion and desire.


Eminent naturopaths advocate fasting on water, Juices and fruits for elimination of toxins. Gandhiji observed fast in South Africa as well as during freedom and independence movement in India. One experiences changes at physical and spiritual level. Short fasts of one to five days duration are effective in acute diseases as well as in chronic diseases. Long fasts must be done in some nature cure center under observation. Fasting has miraculous effect in chronic diseases. After fasting one should come back to normal diet in a stepwise manner.

Non Steading (Asteya)
  • "Not to lift or carry the thing which do not belong to you.
  • If one doesn't need specific thing, to purchase a thing without necessity is stealing. Mentioning thoughts from the literature of others without proper mention is theft.
  • Does not only mean stealing things, real meaning is give service to the community with minimum expectations. Gandhi looked at this minutely and deeply.

This is an important aspect for individual as well as for the health care providers. Great Indian sages of Ayurveda - Charaka, Sushruta, Hippocrates the father of modern medicine and Naturopathy considered medical profession as a noble profession. Proper advice regarding disease prevention, treatment from the doctors and to follow the instructions is essential for cure and health. Possessing unnecessary foodstuff, clothing and things of use is harmful to the society God never stores for tomorrow. He never creates what is strictly not needed for the moment. Everybody will live with contentment with essential needs for the individual for the self and for the society. There would not be any gap between rich and the poor.

Physical Activity - Exercises

Regular exercises, yoga is essential for maintaining vigor and stamina. Efficiency of Respiratory system, heart and circulatory system, muscles and joints increases to optimum level. It is the use of air element, which keeps the body in alert state. Gandhiji advocates brisk walking in fields, open air for 4 to 10 kms as the best exercise. Exercise acts as a great stress reliever. Long walks with rhythmic breathing, morning and evening has tranquilising effect.
Doing self-work, work in the house like sweeping, cleaning, gardening, physical work on the farm is all-important. Gandhiji promoted home industry for spinning cotton and weaving clothes, pot making, rope making, leather goods and other traditional craftsmanship for self-reliance at village level. Adults must do all personal work themselves and serve children, disabled and the aged. Motor organs-limbs are meant for work and movement- which is possible because of energy provided by the energy of propulsion i.e. air. If one doesn't use the energy then the (earth) will dominate and which will lead to obesity (Globesity) causing most of the diseases of twenty first century. Man can be saved from diseases and burden of ill health of the society for which most of the countries are spending huge amount on medicines of modern era. Regular exercises, Yoga and moderation in feeding habits will prevent huge expenses.


On social as well as, religious ground equality is important for social health. No one can deny freedom to persons following certain religion. Inequality on social, economic aspects has created health problems (stress) throughout the world.
All faiths constitute a revelation of "Truth", but all are imperfect and liable to error. All religions are based on the principal faith in The Creator-God the Almighty. Root of the religion is like a root of the tree with many branches.
Spiritual health is dependent on this faith, which is acceptance of the existence of innumerable bodies with a common universal existence of eternal "Soul".

Prayer (Ramanama)

Gandhiji presented Ramanama to the village folk as a Natural therapy No. 1 for the cure of the bodily ailments. All religions believe that, God is the reliever of peoples' distress. The promise is universal. It is not restricted to particular type of ailment. WHO has also accepted the dimensions of spiritual health. Existence of the super power (God) has no connection with superstition. It is the nature's Supreme law. The same law, which keeps us away from diseases, is applied to the cure. Gandhiji said that, the prayer is only for good end and not for an evil end. It brings purity of heart. Purity of heart will never allow self-indulgence. Nature's law is one. To observe her laws is the law of worship. A man who becomes one with the law does not stand in need of vocal recitation of his name.
To achieve perfect health, morning and evening prayer is a part of treatment and occupies an important place in daily regime in all institutes established by Gandhiji.
Gandhiji said, "Nature Cure treatment means that treatment which befits man". By "man" meant not only man as an animal, but as a creature possessing his body, both mind and soul for such a being prayer is the truest Nature cure, it is an unfailing remedy. Immortality is the attribute of the soul, which is imperishable. It is man's duty to try to express its purity.
"Therefore a person filled with the presence of God and who has attained the state of dispassion can live a long life. When a man comes to that complete living faith in the unseen power and becomes free from passion, the body undergoes internal transformation. It needs constant practice then only Gods' grace descends upon us."
Gandhiji's concept of natural positive health at the physical, psychological level goes beyond the WHO definition of health. His concepts go up to subtle level of human existence.

Five Elements

Human body is composed of the five natural elements. Man can live without food and water for some days, but life is not possible without Space (Akash) and Air (Pranic energy) for more than few minutes. God has therefore made air universally available. One should sleep in open space whenever the atmosphere is comfortable. The place should be clean. Activities of mind are dependent upon Space and positive pranic energy. For rational thinking Space between thoughts and expression is needed. Space is of utmost importance for the existence of other four elements as well as for the life on the earth.
Out of other three elements of the "Sunlight", the source of energy for animals and plants is essential. This is the energy of conversion which is used for conversion of food into body constituents, is possible by metabolic processes (Enzymes-Fire (Agni). Growth of plants and subsequently animals is dependent on energy of Sun, which gives variety of colours to food grains, vegetables and fruits, which make them attractive and more assimilable. The fourth element "water" came into existence during the process of evolution. Water is essential for internal and external purification of the body. Hydrotherapy is used widely for treatment of chronic ailments.
Mother earth supports all vegetations and animal life. Use of clay or mud is effective in chronic skin diseases, digestive disorders, Hypertension. It has a cooling and detoxifying effect.
Gandhiji wrote about importance of five natural elements for maintaining health and in disease conditions. The concepts of eastern naturopathy differ from concepts of western naturopathy. Gandhiji has given importance to all five elements where as western naturopaths take in to consideration only 4 elements. Scarcely the importance is given to psychological, moral and spiritual well being of individual and society. Only Dr. Lindlhar has given thought to psychological aspect of the health.
Gandhiji was not exclusively preacher of Naturopathy, but he practiced naturopathy and treated his family members. His son Manilal was suffering from high fever. He treated him with fasting, juices and wet sheet packs. His wife Kasturba suffered from severe bleeding problems, he treated her with same measures and vegetarian diet, even when doctors advised to give her mutton soup. Convinced with Gandhiji's experiments she followed his advice and recovered from debilitating illness.
During his stay at Uruli Kanchan Ashram Gandhiji treated many patients with dietary advice, mud poultice and water therapy. His prescription advocates prayer and recitation of 'Ramnama- The God'.
Our Institutes' approach towards health is based upon Gandhiji's vision. Gandhiji was of the opinion that, the treatment should be very simple. Natural elements like Sun, Air, Earth; water and food available locally, physical labour (Shram) should be used for treatment of acute and chronic diseases. It should be affordable to poor as well as available to all others. Since the inception of our institute we have adopted simple measures. Without any mechanisation the large numbers of patients coming from different states and abroad get a very good response for various psychosomatic problems. Our main emphasis is aimed at purification at the physical as well as spiritual level. The treatment consist of, advice regarding the proper eliminative diet and various supportive treatments. Nearly 70% beds are available for the middle-income group. People belonging to lower economic status get subsidised or free treatment.
The main objective of the nature cure and Gandhiji was also of the opinion that, a natural hygienist's role is to educate the community. In this direction daily discourses on naturopathy, dietetics, yoga and moral values are being conducted. To rich the remote rural areas we have conducted training programmes for the traditional healers, women's groups, school children, teachers and outdoor camps for the organized groups.

This article is prepared in memory of Mahatma Gandhi-founder of our institute on the occasion of his 136th birth anniversary on 2nd Oct. 2005 and originally published in 'Bhavan Australia', August 2012.

Dr. Ravindra Vasant Nisal, Programme Director, Nisargopchar Ashram. Dr. Nisal, born on October 5, 1950, is a graduate of Ayurvedic & Modern Medicine is in association with Nisargopchar Ashram since 1980. He has 25 years experience in general medicine and has treated thousands of needy patients in adverse rural conditions. As a medical advisor to Nisargopchar Ashram, he has brought changes at the Ashram. He has delivered radio talks on A.I.R. Pune on more than 20 topics related to Naturopathy and health apart from being part of many national and international conferences. He was invited to talk on social health Gandhian approach at Sao Paulo university of Brazil in Oct 2005. He has to his credit many reputed publications in reputed journals.