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The Wit and Wisdom of Gandhi is a book better judged by its cover than its title, for the title makes it sound like a collection of jokes and sage observations from a retiring politician or has-been media personality, rather than a collection of writings from one of the 20th century’s most influential religious and political figures. There’s no idle whimsy here, only Gandhi writing at his most intense and serious. Its ideal audience is a reader who knows of Gandhi and is curious about his work, but can’t find or hasn’t the ambition for a larger volume like The Story of my Experiments with Truth.
The collection opens with excerpts on Gandhi’s religious writings, as he expresses his own sense of universalism – that God is present to varying degrees of all of humanity’s imperfect religions, and that Hinduism remains his mainstay because of its ability to assimilate the good from other traditions. From here, the collection shifts to applications of his religious beliefs, particularly nonviolence and noncooperation with evil. Given that Gandhi is known for creating and leading nonviolent protests against British policies in South Africa, and then the British presence in India, this portion takes up most of the book, but there are some interesting little remarks praising the very Empire he’s resisting, as well as observations about the rise of the Soviets. This is an idea little collection for someone who has heard of Gandhi and wants to read more into his thinking.
A man who aspires after [Truth] cannot afford to keep out of any field of life, That is why my devotion to Truth has drawn me into the field of politics; and I can say without the slightest hesitation, and yet in all humility, that those who say that religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means.
I do not like the word tolerance…. Tolerance may imply a gratuitous assumption of the inferiority of other faiths to one’s own, whereas ahimsa teaches us to entertain the same respect for the religious faiths of others as we accord to our own, thus admitting the imperfections of the latter.
We do not need to proselytize either by our speech or by our writing. We can only do so really with our lives. Let our lives be open books for all to study.
Manliness consists in making circumstances subservient to ourselves.
Evil in itself is sterile. It is self-destructive; it exists and flourishes thorough the implication of good that is in it.
Man’s estate is one of probation. During that period he is played upon by evil forces, as well as good, He is ever prey to temptations. He has to prove his manliness by resisting and fighting temptations. He is no warrior who fights outside foes of his imagination, and is powerless to lift his little finger against the innumerable foes within, or what is worse, mistakes them for friends.
To observe morality is to attain mastery over our mind and our passions.
Truth is not to be found by anybody who has not got an abundant sense of humility. If you would swim on the bosom of the ocean of Truth you must reduce yourself to zero.
Performance of one’s duty should be independent of public opinion…. One is bound to act according to what appears to oneself to be right, even though it may appear wrong to others…. If a man fails to follow the light within for fear of public opinion, or any other similar reason, he would never be able to know right from wrong, and in the end lose all sense of distinction between the two.
Europeans themselves will have to remodel their outlook, if they are not to perish under the weight of the comforts to which they are becoming slaves.
That there is no connection between the means and the end is a great mistake. Through that mistake even men who have been considered religious have committed grievous crimes…. The means may be likened to a seed, the end to a tree; and there is just the same inviolable connection between the means and the end as there is between the seed and the tree.
Non-cooperation with evil is as much a duty as is cooperation with good.
Hatred injures the hater, never the hated.
I discovered that the British Empire had certain ideals with which I have fallen in love, and one of those ideals is that every subject of the British Empire has the freest scope possible for his energies and honor, and whatever he thinks is due to his conscience. I think that this is true of the British Empire as it is not true of any other government. I feel, as you here perhaps know, that I am no lover of any government, and I have more than once said that that government is best which governs least; and I have found that it is possible for me to be governed least under the British Empire. Hence my loyalty to the British Empire. An Englishman never respects you till you stand up to him. Then he begins to like you.
Bolshevism is the necessary result of modern materialistic civilization. Its insensate worship of matter has given rise to a school which has been brought up to look upon materialistic advancement as the goal and which has lost all touch with the final things of life.
I have no hesitation in saying that the Bolshevik regime, in its present from, cannot last long. For … nothing enduring can be built on violence.
I remember reading Experiment with Truth years ago, and it was worth the commitment. It’s good to get the whole picture of his world and why he thought the way he did. But I can see how someone would want to stay away from his autobiography, although it wasn’t very difficult.
I like his opine about Europeans and becoming slaves of comfort. Sounds very familiar.
He’s a fascinating man — much too intense for me in ways, but I understand his zeal and admire that passion in part. Such a shame that such violence followed in the wake of India’s partition, especially after Nehru died and his daughter and grandson both died to violence. (Not that Indira was an innocent — I haven’t read a focused history of her administration, but have read general histories of India that touched on it.)