Gandhi – An Autobiography

Gandhi - an AutobiographyAn Autobiography

or “The Story of My Experiments with Truth”

M.K. Gandhi, Penguin Books, 2007 (first published in 1927)

I knew nothing really of Gandhi but was drawn to read this autobiography because of comments I’d read about him in several places, including Napoleon Hill’s book “Think and Grow Rich“. I’d also heard that Albert Einstein had a number of very positive things to say about Gandhi, for example;

Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.

I found the book fascinating and yet hard-going in many places. He started with his childhood and arranged early marriage, his training to be a barrister in England, his early works in South Africa and later works in both South Africa and India. It was amazing to learn how shy he was as a young man and how little self-confidence he had. He had an unshakeable urge to be of service and he said “Service is its own reward”. He also had an unending desire to good and seek truth. This led him to fight injustices using Satyagraha, commonly translated as “non-violent resistance” although Gandhi did not like this translation. Another translation could be “civil disobedience”. Satyagraha consists of finding a reason, founded on fundamental goodness and truth, why it is impossible to comply with something unjust and then write a pledge about that. An example could be an unjust tax. The community who wants to fight the injustice advises the authorities of their view, takes their pledge and then refuses to pay the tax on that basis. By doing so, they risk imprisonment of course. As we see so many times in this book, such actions lead to successful outcomes. One of the keys to successful Satyagraha is non-violence. On a couple of occasions in India, Gandhi started Satyagraha with people who were not prepared to be peaceful and this lead to riots and nasty clashes with the authorities. Gandhi was remorseful after these events because he saw it as his problem for not ensuring the people were ready. The authorities sometimes assumed that Gandhi was inciting violence, but he most certainly was not.

It was also fascinating to get a glimpse of the history of England, South Africa and India between the late 1800’s up to about 1920. He focussed on his “experiments with truth” in this book and certainly didn’t cover all the history, but many if the glimpses of history were delightful.

Throughout this book, Gandhi said a great number of things that made me stop and think about how that would apply today and in my life. Some of my favourite quotes from the book are recorded below.

Gandhi – An Autobiography – Quotes

All these points are quotes from the book. By reading through them you’ll get a flavour for what this book was like and an idea of what was behind the great man M.K. Gandhi.

  • I literally ran back, because I could not bear to talk to anybody. I was even afraid lest anyone should poke fun at me.
  • I know that nothing is impossible for pure love.
  • And he who would be friends with God must remain alone, or make the whole world his friend.
  • Those pearl-drops of love cleaned my heart, and washed my sin away. Only he who has experienced such love can know what it is.
  • The term ‘religion’ I am using in its broadest sense, meaning thereby self-realisation or knowledge of self.
  • But the truly noble know all men as one.
  • Many such experiments taught me that the real seat of taste was not the tongue but the mind.
  • Even when I paid a social call the presence of half a dozen or more people would strike me dumb.
  • Proneness to exaggerate, to suppress or modify the truth, wittingly or unwittingly, is a natural weakness of man, and silence is necessary to surmount it.
  • My shyness has been in reality my shield and buckler. It has allowed me to grow. It has helped me in my discernment of truth.
  • Supplication, worship and prayer are no superstition; they are acts more real than the acts of eating, drinking, sitting or walking. It is no exaggeration to say that they alone are real, all else is unreal.
  • I have not the slightest doubt that prayer is an unfailing means of cleansing the heart of passions. But it must be combined with the utmost humility.
  • The incident increased my faith in God and taught me, to a certain extent, to cast off false shame.
  • I went fairly prepared with my subject, which was about observing truthfulness in business. I had always heard the merchants say that truth was not possible in business. I did not think so then, nor do I now.
  • But he apologised to me, for which there was no need. I had already forgiven him.
  • Here it was that the religious spirit within me became a living force.
  • I had learnt to find out the better side of human nature and to enter men’s hearts.
  • I lost nothing thereby – not even money, certainly not my soul.
  • I had long since taught myself to follow the inner voice. I delighted in submitting to it. To act against it would be difficult and painful to me.
  • If God could have sons, all of us were His sons. If Jesus was like God, or God Himself, then all men were like God and could be God Himself.
  • The heart’s earnest and pure desire is always fulfilled.
  • It has always been a mystery to me how men can feel themselves honoured by the humiliation of their fellow-beings.
  • Yet even differences prove helpful, where there are tolerance, charity and truth.
  • I began to realise more and more the infinite possibilities of universal love.
  • 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.
  • What barrier is there that love cannot break?
  • I have no doubt that the ideal is for public institutions to live, like nature, from day to day.
  • Up to this time I had not met with success because the will had been lacking, because I had no faith in myself, no faith in the grace of God, and therefore, my mind had been tossed on the boisterous sea of doubt.
  • I saw that the brahmachari’s food should be limited, simple, spineless, and, if possible, uncooked.
  • Fasting is as necessary as selection and restriction in diet.
  • Both feed the inner man, but the one only to keep the temple of God in good repair, while the other gorges himself makes the sacred vessel a stinking gutter.
  • Service was its own reward.
  • How heavy is the toll of sins and wrongs that wealth, power and prestige exact from man!
  • I believed then and I believe even now, that, no matter what amount of work one has, one should always find some time for exercise, just as one does for one’s meals. It is my humble opinion that, far from taking away from one’s capacity for work, it adds to it.
  • To my mind the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being. I should be unwilling to take the life of a lamb for the sake of the human body.
  • It is my constant prayer that there may be born on earth some great spirit, man or woman, fired with divine pity, who will deliver us from this heinous sin, save the lives of the innocent creatures, and purify the temple.
  • All that appears and happens about and around is uncertain, transient. But there is a Supreme Being hidden therein as a Certainty, and one would be blessed if one would catch a glimpse of that certainty and hitch one’s wagon to it. The quest for that Truth is the summum bonum of life.
  • I understood the Gita teaching of non-possession to mean that those who desired salvation should act like the trustee who, though having control over great possessions, regards not an iota of them as his own. It became clear to me that, non-possession and equability presupposed a change of heart, a change in attitude.
  • With the growing simplicity of my life, my dislikes for medicines steadily increased.
  • About this time I read of the formation of a ‘No Breakfast Association’ in Manchester. The argument of the promoters was that Englishmen ate too often and too much, that their doctor’s bills were heavy because they ate until midnight, and that they should at least give up breakfast, if they wanted to improve this state of affairs.
  • I know it is argued that the soul has nothing to do with what one eats or drinks, as the soul neither eats nor drinks; that it is not what you put inside from without, but what you express outwardly from within, that matters.
  • I shall content myself with merely declaring my firm conviction that, for the seeker who would live in fear of God and who would see Him face to face, restraint in diet both as to quantity and quality is as essential as restraint in thought and speech.
  • It is quite proper to resist and attack a system, but to resist and attack its author it tantamount to resisting and attacking oneself. For we are all tarred with the same brush, and are children of one and the same Creator, and as such the divine powers within us are infinite. To slight a single human being is to slight those divine powers, and thus to harm not only that being but with him the whole world.
  • The useful and the useless must, like good and evil generally, go on together, and man must make his choice.
  • That the good of the individual is contained in the good of all.
  • That is to say, fasting is futile unless it is accompanied by an incessant longing for self-constraint.
  • Fasting and similar discipline is, therefore, one of the means to the end of self-restraint, but it is not all, and if physical fasting is not accompanied by mental fasting, it is bound to end in hypocrisy and disaster.
  • I saw, therefore, that I must be an eternal object-lesson to the boys and girls living with me.
  • More caution and perhaps more restraint are necessary in breaking a fast than in keeping it.
  • So I had to decide for myself according to the dictates of the inner voice.
  • I also had the feeling that, just as meat is not man’s food, even so animal’s milk could not be man’s food.
  • As a student I had heard that the lawyer’s profession was a liar’s profession. But this did not influence me, as I had no intention of earning either position or money by lying.
  • Physical relationship divorced from spiritual is body without soul.
  • Service without humility is selfishness and egotism.
  • It is no exaggeration, but the literal truth, to say that in this meeting with the peasants I was face to face with God, Ahisma and Truth.
  • …but in obedience to the higher law of our being, the voice of conscience.
  • Human language can but imperfectly describe God’s ways.
  • If I could popularise the use of soul-force, which is but another name for love-force, in place of brute-force, I know that I could present you with an India that could defy the whole world to do its worst.
  • But you can wake a man only if he is really asleep
  • I was still in the twilight condition between sleep and consciousness when suddenly the idea broke upon me – it was as if in a dream.
  • …and from sense of duty towards them as neighbours and children of the same soil.
  • But, as happened on many a previous occasion, responsible work came to me all of a sudden.
  • The adoption of this practice brought us a world of experience. It enabled us to know, from direct contact, the conditions of life among the weaver, the extent of their production, the handicaps in the way of their obtaining their yard supply, they way in which they were being made victims of fraud, and, lastly, their ever growing indebtedness.
  • But then it only shows how powerfully the physical in man reacts to the phycological.
  • I do not know how far this movement is going to succeed, at present it is only in the incipient stage. But I have full faith in it. At any rate it can do no harm. On the contrary to the extent that it can add to the cloth production of the country, be it ever so small, it will represent so much solid gain. You will thus perceive that my movement is free from the evils mentioned by you.
  • …practicability of non-violent non-cooperation.
  • To safeguard democracy the people must have a keen sense of independence, self-respect and their oneness, and should insist upon choosing as their representatives only such persons as are good and true.
  • To see the universal and all-pervading Spirit of Truth face to face one must be able to love the meanest of creation as oneself. And a man who aspires after that 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.
  • Identification with everything that lives is impossible without self-purification; without self-purification the observance of the law of Ahisma must remain an empty dream; God can never be realised by one who is not pure of heart. Self-purification therefore must mean purification in all walks of life. And purification being highly infectious, purification of oneself necessarily leads to the purification of one’s surroundings.
  • To attain the perfect purity one has to become absolutely passion-free in thought, speech and action; to rise above the opposing currents of love and hatred, attachment and repulsion.
  • To conquer the subtle passions seems to me to be far harder than the physical conquest of the world by force of arms.
  • But I know that I have still before me a difficult path to traverse. I must reduce myself to zero. So long as a man does not of his own free will put himself last among his fellow creatures, there is no salvation for him. Ahimsa is the farthest limit of humility.

Gandhi – An Autobiography – Table of Contents


Part 1

  1. Birth and Parentage
  2. Childhood
  3. Child Marriage
  4. Playing the Husband
  5. At the High School
  6. A Tragedy
  7. A Tragedy (CONTINUED)
  8. Stealing and Atonement
  9. My Father’s Death and My Double Shame
  10. Glimpses of Religion
  11. Preparation for England
  12. Outcaste
  13. In London at Last
  14. My Choice
  15. Playing the English Gentleman
  16. Changes
  17. Experiments in Dietetics
  18. Shyness My Shield
  19. The Canker of Untruth
  20. Acquaintance with Religions

Part II

  1. Raychandbhai
  2. How I Began Life
  3. The First Case
  4. The First Shock
  5. Preparing for South Africa
  6. Arrival in Natal
  7. Some Experiences
  8. On the Way to Pretoria
  9. More Hardships
  10. First Day in Pretoria
  11. Christian Contacts
  12. Seeking Touch with Indians
  13. What Is It To Be a ‘Coolie’
  14. Preparation for the Case
  15. Religious Ferments
  16. Man Proposes, God Disposes
  17. Settled in Natal
  18. Colour Bar
  19. Natal Indian Congress
  20. Balasundaram
  21. The £3 Tax
  22. Comparative Study of Religions
  23. As a Householder
  24. Homeward
  25. In India
  26. Two Passions
  27. The Bombay Meeting
  28. Poona and Madras
  29. ‘Return Soon’

Part III

  1. Rumblings of the Storm
  2. The Storm
  3. The Test
  4. The Calm after the Storm
  5. Education of Children
  6. Spirit of Service
  7. Brahmacharya – I
  8. Brahmacharya – II
  9. Simple Life
  10. The Boer War
  11. Sanitary Reform and Famine Relief
  12. Return to India
  13. In India Again
  14. Clerk and Bearer
  15. In the Congress
  16. Lord Curzon’s Durbar
  17. A Month with Gokhale – I
  18. A Month with Gokhale – II
  19. A Month with Gokhale – III
  20. In Benares
  21. Settled in Bombay?
  22. Faith on its Trial
  23. To South Africa Again

Part IV

  1. Love’s Labour Lost?
  2. Autocrats from Asia
  3. Pocketed the Insult
  4. Quickened Spirit of Sacrifice
  5. Result of Introspection
  6. A Sacrifice to Vegetarianism
  7. Experiments in Earth and Water Treatment
  8. A Warning
  9. A Tussle with Power
  10. A Sacred Recollection and Penance
  11. Intimate European Contacts
  12. European Contacts (CONTINUED)
  13. Indian Opinion
  14. Coolie Locations or Ghettos?
  15. The Black Plague -I
  16. The Black Plague – II
  17. Location in Flames
  18. The Magic Spell of a Book
  19. The Phoenix Settlement
  20. The First Night
  21. Polak Takes the Plunge
  22. Whom God Protects
  23. A Peep into the Household
  24. The Zulu ‘Rebellion’
  25. Heart Searchings
  26. The Birth of Satyagraha
  27. More Experiments in Dietetics
  28. Kasterbai’s Courage
  29. Domestic Satyagraha
  30. Towards Self-restraint
  31. Fasting
  32. As Schoolmaster
  33. Literary Training
  34. Training of the Spirit
  35. Tares among the Wheat
  36. Fasting as Penance
  37. To Meet Gokhale
  38. My Part in the War
  39. A Spiritual Dilemma
  40. Miniature Satyagraha
  41. Gokhale’s Charity
  42. Treatment of Pleurisy
  43. Homeward
  44. Some Reminiscences of the Bar
  45. Sharp Practice?
  46. Clients Turned Co-workers
  47. How a Client Was Saved

Part V

  1. The First Experience
  2. With Gokhale in Poona
  3. Was it a Threat?
  4. Shantiniketan
  5. Woes of Third Class Passengers
  6. Wooing
  7. Kumbha Mela
  8. Lakshman Jhula
  9. Founding of the Ashram
  10. On the Anvil
  11. Abolition of Indentured Emigration
  12. The Stain of Indigo
  13. The Gentle Bihari
  14. Face to Face with Ahimsa
  15. Case Withdrawn
  16. Methods of Work
  17. Companions
  18. Penetrating the Villages
  19. When a Governor is Good
  20. In Touch with Labour
  21. A Peep into the Ashram
  22. The Fast
  23. The Kheda Satyagraha
  24. The Onion Thief
  25. End of Kheda Satyagraha
  26. Passion for Unity
  27. Recruiting Campaign
  28. Near Death’s Door
  29. The Rowlatt Bills and My Dilemma
  30. That Wonderful Spectacle!
  31. That Memorable Week! – I
  32. That Memorable Week! – II
  33. ‘A Himalayan Miscalculation’
  34. Navajivan and Young India
  35. In the Punjab
  36. The Khilafat against Cow Protection
  37. The Amritsar Congress
  38. Congress Initiation
  39. The Birth of Khadi
  40. Found at Last!
  41. An Instructive Dialogue
  42. Its Rising Tide
  43. At Nagpur


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