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Mohandas Gandhi: Essential Writings (Modern…

Mohandas Gandhi: Essential Writings (Modern Spiritual Masters Series)

by Mahatma Gandhi

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Gandhi is awe inspiring. It’s mind boggling that a man of his resolve and purity existed. (Side note, if you’ve never seen the 1982 movie, you should.) He was truly Christ-like, but genuine, existing in the 20th century, and without the mythology of walking on water. He was a deeply holy man – every day for nearly 50 years, he read from the Sermon on the Mount, the Koran, and the Bhagavad Gita, with a focus on the second chapter, which called for a renunciation of selfishness. He used his strength of will in nonviolent ways to achieve great change, getting the British out of India among other things.

In this selection of essays and letters, Gandhi wrote words so beautiful and kind it makes me weep to think that he once walked the earth, and showed us a model, an ideal, that if only we could or would follow, the world would be a better place.

It’s also of great interest that he lived at a time when “ultimate evil” rose to power; he was 69 when Hitler invaded Poland to start WWII, and it’s fascinating to me to read his letter to Hitler, appealing to him to prevent war. Ponder that. The farthest extreme of good – Gandhi – reaching out to the farthest extreme of evil – Hitler. It’s the stuff of legends, and a time that was the true test of nonviolence.

Unfortunately, I think this is where the philosophy breaks down, much as I adore him. For there is a time for standing up to and fighting evil. Gandhi comes across as naïve when he writes “Jews need not feel helpless [against Nazi Germany] if they take to the nonviolent way.”, and then later “…if the Jews can summon to their aid the soul power that comes only from nonviolence, Hitler will bow before the courage which he has never yet experienced in any large measure in his dealings with people…”. Wow.

I’m also not keen on the need to embrace religion to achieve enlightenment - as he put it, “no one can live without religion” - or the need to embrace chastity, as he did at the age of 37, writing, “If one is married, one will not have sexual intercourse even with one’s spouse, but will regard the spouse as a friend and establish a relationship of perfect purity.”

With that said, Gandhi holds up a moral beacon for us, an idealism to aspire to, in the effort to transcend our base impulses, and to break the cycle of violence which has plagued mankind for time immemorial. 5 stars for the man, for his life, and for his message. I knock it down in part because of the items above, and in part because of the repetition in the collection.

On America (this in 1938, in an interview with American teachers):
“America is today exploiting the so-called weaker nations of the world along with other powers. It has become the richest country in the world, not a thing to be proud of when we come to think of the means by which she has become rich. Again, to protect these riches you need the assistance of violence. You must be prepared to give up these riches.”

On the Bible; I had a similar reaction:
“…I could not possibly read through the Old Testament. I read the book of Genesis, and the chapters that followed invariably sent me to sleep. But just for the sake of being able to say that I had read it, I plodded through the other books with much difficulty and without the least interest or understanding. I disliked reading the book of Numbers.
But the New Testament produced a different impression, especially the Sermon on the Mount, which went straight to my heart.”

On Christianity, couldn’t agree more:
“I consider Western Christianity in its practical working a negation of Christ’s Christianity. I cannot conceive Jesus, if he was living in the flesh in our midst, approving of modern Christian organizations, public worship, or modern ministry. If Christians will simply cling to the Sermon on the Mount, which was delivered not merely to the disciples but a groaning world, they would not go wrong, and they would find that no religion is false…”

On forgiveness:
“People and their deeds 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 to understand, is rarely practiced, and that is why the poison of hatred spreads in the world.”

And this one, also on oneness:
“God is present in all of us. For my part, every moment I experience the truth that though many, we are all one. … From this it follows that the sin of one is the sin of all. And hence it is not up to us to destroy the evildoer. We should, on the contrary, suffer for him.”

On Hinduism:
“Untouchability, which has deep roots in Hinduism, is altogether irreligious. The so-called untouchables have an equal place in the ashram. The ashram does not believe in caste, which it considers has injured Hinduism, because its implications of superior and inferior status, and of pollution by contact, are contrary to the law of love.”

On Israel, which I also find to be words of truth, though highly contentious, this in 1938:
“The cry for the national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me. The sanction for it is sought in the Bible and the tenacity with which the Jews have hankered after return to Palestine. Why should they not, like peoples of the earth, make that country their home where they are born and where they earn their livelihood?
Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs.”

On love:
“Never, never give up truth and love. Treat all enemies and friends with love.”

On manufacturing overseas, this one ahead of its time:
“The person who has taken the vow of Swadeshi will never use articles, such as foreign clothing, which conceivably involve violation of truth in their manufacture or on the part of their manufacturers. It follows, for instance, that a votary of truth will not use articles manufactured in the mills of England, Germany, or India, for we cannot be sure that they involve no such violation of truth.”

On non-violence, this in 1940. Consider it in light of Hitler and fascism, and the war to come:
“You know that even a society based on violence functions only with the help of experts. We want to bring about a new social order based on truth and nonviolence. We need experts to develop this into a science. … A country like Germany which regards violence as God is engaged only in developing violence and glorifying it. … Btu the way of violence is old and established. It is not so difficult to do research in it. The way of nonviolence is new.”

“I would say to any who would assault me that they may destroy my home and hearth, why, even my person, but they would not be able to destroy my soul.”

And, testing the limits, and raising interesting moral questions:
“If there ever could be a justifiable war in the name of and for humanity, a war against Germany, to prevent the wanton persecution of a whole race, would be completely justified. But I do not believe in any war.”

On religion:
“I believe in the fundamental truth of all great religions of the world. I believe that they are all God-given, and I believe that they were necessary for the people to whom these religions were revealed. And I believe that, if only we could all of us read the scriptures of different faiths from the standpoint of the followers of those faiths, we should find that they were at bottom alone and were all helpful to one another.”

“Religion without compassion is a fraud.”

“The ashram believes that the principal faiths of the world constitute a revelation of Truth, but as they have all been outlined by imperfect people, they have been affected by imperfections and alloyed with untruth. One must therefore entertain the same respect for the religious faith of others as for one’s own. Where such tolerance becomes a law of life, conflict between different faiths becomes impossible, and so does all effort to covert others to one’s own faith.”

On war, this in 1945, at the end of WWII, which indeed came to pass:
“Peace must be just. In order to be that, it must neither be punitive not vindictive. Germany and Japan should not be humiliated. The strong are never vindictive. Therefore, fruits of peace must be equally shared. The effort then will be to turn them into friends. The Allies can prove their democracy by no other means.” ( )
1 vote gbill | Mar 2, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0195632087, Paperback)

This balanced selection of Gandhi's writings, taken from his letters, articles, and books, represents the complete cross-section of his thought, from his early years as a young barrister in London, to his final days as sage and counsel to newly independent India.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:12 -0400)

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