Mahatma Gandhi: Lessons from the virtuous man

Father of Nation, Mahatma Gandhi was a virtuous man, a beacon of light for leaders all around the world, especially those who lead freedom movement or movement for democracy. He was the role model for Martin Luther King and also Nelson Mandela. Albert Einstein, a great scientist of all times, said, “Generations to come, it may well be, will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth.”Gandhi was a self actualized leader. He was never guided by anger, raze, hate and violence. According to him revenge and retribution were negative qualities. He believed in opposing the evil with non-violent but resolute protest. He always stood in the side of truth and justice. Gandhi’s method could be seen critically as many do, but there is universal respect for his truth, honesty and dedication to just and fair causes.

Gandhi’s role in the Freedom Struggle

Born on October 2, 1869 and raised in a Hindu merchant caste family in coastal Gujarat, western India, he was trained as a lawyer at the Inner Temple, London, Gandhi first He gave fillip to freedom struggle after he came to India in 1915 from South Africa where he fought against racial discrimination. He employed nonviolent civil disobedience as an expatriate lawyer in South Africa, in the resident Indian community’s struggle for civil rights. After coming to India, Mahatma Gandhi led the freedom struggle through his method of non-cooperation and civil disobedience based on non-violence, but resolute protest and indomitable will against the colonial powers and their injustice. He set about organising peasants, farmers, and urban labourers to protest against excessive land-tax and discrimination. Gandhi’s first major achievement came in 1917 with the Champaran agitation in Bihar. The Champaran agitation pitted the local peasantry against their largely British landlords who were backed by the local administration. He believed in Hindu and Muslim unity and so he invited the Muslim leaders to dovetail their khilapahat movement with India’s fight against British colonial regime. Gandhi felt that Hindu-Muslim co-operation was necessary for political progress against the British. He leveraged the Khilafat movement, wherein Sunni Muslims in India, their leaders such as the sultans of princely states in India and Ali brothers championed the Turkish Caliph as a solidarity symbol of Sunni Islamic community (ummah). Way back in his book Hind Swaraj (1909) Gandhi had declared that British rule was established in India with the co-operation of Indians and had survived only because of this co-operation. If Indians refused to co-operate, British rule would collapse and swaraj would come. Assuming leadership of the Indian National Congress in 1921, Gandhi led non-cooperation and civil disobedience movement with nationwide campaigns for boycotting foreign goods and raising protest against brutal British police. Later the same movement was directed by him to many social causes and achieving Swaraj or self-rule. Gandhi led the 400 km Dandi Salt March in 1930 to oppose the British-imposed salt tax and later led the masses in Quit India movement in 1942. He was imprisoned for many years, upon many occasions, in both South Africa and India. He lived modestly in a self-sufficient residential community. His simplicity evoked a statement from British Prime Minister Churchill about Gandhi- the half naked fakir. He wore cloths woven with yarn hand-spun on a charkha. He ate simple vegetarian food, and also undertook long fasts as a means of both self-purification and political protest. He enjoyed the faith of the people of India because he himself followed what he preached others. Although his method was based on non-violence, he always led from the front. Gandhi’s vision of an independent India based on religious pluralism and tolerance.

Gandhi, the Mahatma, is today more relevant for India and the world. When there are bloody wars and hate campaigns taking place in all the parts of the world, and market led growth has resulted into environmental imbalances, Gandhi is more relevant. He can be seen as a beacon of light in these confusing times of post truth. In the post truth era, morality and ethics are on the back seat and truth is the casualty of propaganda and fabricated lies appearing as true. The youth do not find any role model who consistently remains committed to noble values and ideal principles. The youth are often shocked by duality and hypocrisy of their leaders quite unlike Mahatma who followed what he preached and he loved even if he had disagreement of opinion. In these tough times of Machiavellian competition in the name of real politics and extremist nationalism bereft of tolerance we can only say “Aja re Baapu” (Father of Nation Please Come!) and help us in finding the right path and right karma.

Here are some of the thoughts of Mahatma which we recall at his birth anniversary to recommit ourselves with noble values and humanism based on love, non-violence and truth.

On thoughts

Mahatma Gandhi believed that the purity of our thought determines our dreams, aspirations and actions. A clear heart, good motives and intents never fail us in doing our duties. Mahatma opined that the moment there is suspicion about a person’s motives, everything he does becomes tainted. By having good thoughts we allow our pure and inner conscience to express. In fact he believed that ‘a man is but the product of his thoughts what he thinks, he becomes’. If you hold a good idea and if you stand in the side of truth, you need not bother what people say and feel about you. You should carry on because people would see truth eventually. He said if you come with new idea and start acting, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” The main purpose of life, according to Mahatma, is to live rightly, think rightly, act rightly. We should not just be guided by our own well being that leads to self centeredness. When we become totally self centered, then our soul suffers- “The soul must languish when we give all our thought to the body.”

 On morality and ethics

Mahatma Gandhi was the greatest moral thinker and practitioner of our time. He believed that morality is the basis of things and truth is the substance of all morality. He was a liberated soul as clear from one of his statements- “you can chain me, you can torture me, you can even destroy this body, but you will never imprison my mind.” He was never afraid of standing in the side of truth. Mahatma said that even if you are a minority of one, the truth is truth. My religion is based on truth and non-violence. Truth is my God. Non-violence is the means of realizing Him. According to non-violence and truth are inseparable and presuppose one another. Non cooperation with the evil is as much a duty as cooperation with the good. For truth, Mahatma was ready to stand against the majority. He said. In matters of conscience, the law of majority has no place.” He believed in synchronization of belief and action. He defines happiness as harmony in what you think, what you say and what you do.

According to Mahatma Gandhi, a progressive society must have space for discussion and dissent. Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress. Mahatma said, “The pursuit of truth does not permit violence on one’s opponent.” Gandhi ji was very clear about the purpose and meaning of religion. Mahatma Gandhi had a very broad definition of religion and said that the essence of all religions is one. Only their approaches are different. He asserted, “My religion is based on truth and non-violence. Truth is my God. Non-violence is the means of realising Him.” He said, “I reject any religious doctrine that does not appeal to reason and is in conflict with morality.” He was against exclusivist system and said, “No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive.”  Mahatma believed that intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit. He opined that the essence of all religions is one. Only their approaches are different. There is no need to panic from the rising trend of post truth. Mahatma said, “Truth stands, even if there be no public support. It is self-sustained.”

Action, struggle and endurance

According to Mahatma our actions express our priorities. In our actions it is not necessary that we are always successful. There are rocky roads in realization of our goals and dreams. In the end what counts is our indomitable spirit and endurance. Mahatma said, “We may stumble and fall but shall rise again; it should be enough if we did not run away from the battle.” Mahatma was above the mundane and believed in karma without attachment. One should not be let down by reverses and keep on hoping even in the most adverse circumstances. Hope should become out habit- it begins from individuals and become a habit of the whole society.  According to Mahatma what is true of the individual will be tomorrow true of the whole nation if individuals will but refuse to lose heart and hope. India today requires hope to realise its potential.

He said, “Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment, full effort is full victory.” The younger generation must learn from Mahatma what Gita calls “Nishkam Karma”. In fact the journey of life with virtuous path is the thing that brings happiness and satisfaction rather than achievements.  And even if fail in our efforts we should not be disappointed, but try again if we really love our goals. Our actions should be guided by educated and learned decisions. And we must enjoy the work which we do. We must be inspired and passionate in pursuing our goals. Mahatma rightly says, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

Mahatma Gandhi believed in the power of determination. He said, “A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.” And freedom struggle of India stands as an outstanding example in this respect.

Mahatma Gandhi believed in the importance of patience and perseverance. He said, “ If patience is worth anything, it must endure to the end of time. And a living faith will last in the midst of the blackest storm.”

On leadership, change and progress

Mahatma Gandhi said about him, “My life is my message.” Mahatma Gandhi believed that change cannot come by preaching others, but change is possible only by practicing what you preach, i.e. leading by practice. Mahatma said, “To believe in something, and not to live it, is dishonest.” This increases the authenticity of a person and also the path one takes. A person’s authencity and credibility rises high if s/he has good motive and intent, but these last only if the gap between precept and practice of a person is as less as possible. Mahatma said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” He believed in harmony between precept and practice as the path of happiness. He said “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.

We see today ideology and conviction are easily given up by the leaders for acquiring power. They do not stand committed to any ideology in the name of pragmatism, but in actuality this is many a times permissiveness for petty gains. Adjustment and negotiation are potent tools for finding solutions to problems, but in the process we should not give up our fundamental principles.Gandhi ji was clearly against such an approach. He said, “All compromise is based on give and take, but there can be no give and take on fundamentals. Any compromise on mere fundamentals is a surrender. For it is all give and no take.”

Leaders are not known only by the power they have, they need authority and credibility. It comes from their public image and public faith in them. Mahatma Gandhi said, “I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.”
To him man becomes great exactly in the degree in which he works for the welfare of his fellow-men. He said power is of two kinds. One is obtained by the fear of punishment and the other by acts of love. Power backed by love is a thousand times more effective and permanent than the one derived from fear of punishment. This is a guide for leadership, governance and administration.


Mahatma Gandhi was one of the greatest humanists that modern civilization had ever seen. Service to humanity was the purpose of life for Mahatma Gandhi and even the Indian freedom struggle was guided by this objective. Mahatma Gandhi’s fight against the colonial regime was not a fight against the British. It was a fight for liberty, justice and equality and fight against exploitation, subjugation and cruelty. It was a fight for human values and service to humanity. Service to humanity was his motto. He said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” We must think beyond our body. When Mahatma talks about service to humanity, he does not mean a compulsive act, but an act of joy. He points out, “Service which is rendered without joy helps neither the servant nor the served. But all other pleasures and possessions pale into nothingness before service which is rendered in a spirit of joy.”

He was aware that such a high ideal is not easy to find always in our interaction with the world. But human values should be practiced in all circumstances; even if the results are not coming soon we should not lose faith. He said that we should not hate the wrong doer, but the wrong act. We should not lose faith in virtues. He said, “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”

He believed that human beings may commit mistakes, mostly inadvertently and sometimes because they are not aware of the consequences of their wrong acts. Mahatma said that freedom is not worth having if it does not connote freedom to err.
He believed in the dictum that to err is human, to forgive divine. By forgiving somebody, we do not become weak. He said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

On Non-violence

Mahatma is called Mahatma for his ardent belief in the principle of non-violence, even while protesting and resisting against injustice. His statement reflects the broad vision he had about peaceful and happy coexistence in the world. He was against revenge and retribution by medieval methods. His remark that “an eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind” is reflective of his vision. He believed that ‘non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man’. There are many explanations about his principle of non-violence. Mahatma believed in basic goodness of man. He says, “We should meet abuse by forbearance. Human nature is so constituted that if we take absolutely no notice of anger or abuse, the person indulging in it will soon weary of it and stop.” Another reason why one should shun violence is that strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will. The main reason that makes us intolerant and violent is anger. Mahatma said, “Anger is the enemy of non-violence and pride is a monster that swallows it up.” According to Mahatma, anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding.

 He ardently believed that goodness has an impact in the long run and it changes the hearts. Mahatma opined that ‘in a gentle way, you can shake the world’. Mahatma believed that love is the greatest human value. And love can only be displayed by the brave. A coward is incapable of exhibiting love; it is the prerogative of the brave. According to Mahatma non-violence requires a double faith, faith in God and faith in man. He believed in egalitarian society and said, “Poverty is the worst form of violence.”Mahatma Gandhi believed that intolerance is against the spirit of democracy.  According to him intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to growth of true democratic spirit.

Non-violence 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. According to Mahatma, non-violence is the article of faith. Non-violence and truth are inseparable and presuppose one another. Mahatma knew that practice of non-violence is tough, yet he said that this should be our ideal goal. He said, “We may never be strong enough to be entirely nonviolent in thought, word and deed. But we must keep nonviolence as our goal and make strong progress towards it.” He goes to an extremely ideal situation and says, “I am prepared to die, but there is no cause for which I am prepared to kill.”

On sustainable Development

Mahatma Gandhi supported small and cottage industries. He supported growth of self sufficient villages. He also believed in a need based and environment friendly production system rather than consumerism. He said that the good man is the friend of all living things. He said that the greatness of nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated. In his view, iIt is the health which is the real wealth and not precious metals like gold and silver. Mahatma believed that man should be rational in deciding about his need and not be driven by “animal instincts” or greed.  He opined that there is sufficiency in the world for man’s need but not for man’s greed.

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