“A man is but the product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
The name Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is synonymous with ahimsa (non-violence). Born on October 2, 1869, Gandhi went on to lead India’s freedom struggle against British colonial rule. In an atmosphere fraught with violence and bloodshed, Gandhi strove to bring independence through peaceful methods. He set an example to the world by bringing about freedom from the colonial masters through a non-violent policy. Rightfully called Mahatma by the Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, Gandhi is now hailed as the Father of the Nation in India.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi has influenced and inspired a lot of prominent people during and after his lifetime. From Martin Luther King Junior to Nelson Mandela, all have regarded Gandhi as a source of inspiration. His methods of nonviolence and satyagraha have made him a symbol of peace throughout the world. Though he himself has never won the Nobel Peace Prize, Gandhi’s life epitomizes the importance of non-violence. It is no wonder that his birthday, October 2, is not only celebrated as Gandhi Jayanti but also as the International Day of Non-Violence.
Mahatma Gandhi was a highly educated man. His philosophy was inspired partly by the books that he read. This Gandhi Jayanti, let us look at the books that shaped the mind of one of the flag bearers of peace and non-violence.
Book: Bhagavad Gita
Author: Ved Vyas
In Gandhi’s own words, the Bhagavad Gita helped him “shape his code of conduct”. The 700-verse scripture is a part of Ved Vyas’ Mahabharata. It is a dialogue between the Pandava Prince Arjuna and Lord Krishna. Arjuna was in a dilemma when he was faced with the prospect of killing his own brethren during the great war with his cousins, the Kauravas, in Kurukshetra. Lord Krishna guided him to fulfill his duty by adopting the path of selflessness. The Bhagavad Gita provides nuanced insights into ethics, morality, spirituality, and actions. It is believed that all of life’s answers can be found in the Gita. It is no wonder that the Bhagavad Gita was a source of inspiration to Mahatma Gandhi.
Book: The Kingdom of God Is Within You
Author: Leo Tolstoy
Mahatma Gandhi and the Russian literary giant, Leo Tolstoy, had a lot in common. They both worshipped at the altar of humanity and non-violence. Naturally, both of them shared a great rapport through correspondence. Published in Germany in 1894, The Kingdom of God Is Within You is one of Tolstoy’s masterpieces. In this book, he underlined the importance of non-violence by emphasizing Jesus Christ’s teaching of turning the other cheek instead of resorting to violence. He urged people to look within themselves for moral guidance. Gandhi was very impressed by this book. Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God Is Within You helped him reaffirm his own ideals of non-violence whenever he became skeptical. In his autobiography, Gandhi stated that The Kingdom of God Is Within You was the book that made him an ardent believer in ahimsa, i.e., non-violence.
Book: Defense And Death of Socrates
Gandhi was a great admirer of Greek philosophy. Socrates was a Greek teacher who helped shape philosophy. He spoke freely and was not cowered by anyone. Perhaps, that is why he had a tragic end. The authorities of Athens put him on trial and sentenced him to death for corrupting young minds and not showing respect to the Athenian phaeton. Socrates never wrote down his teachings. It was his student, Plato, who put his words to paper. In Defense and Death of Socrates, Plato recorded Socrates’s teachings. Mahatma Gandhi was highly influenced by this work. It was one of his top literary recommendations. He translated it into English as the Story of a Soldier of Truth and published it in Indian Opinion. He also wrote a Gujarati translation of The Kingdom of God Is Within You so that the book could reach as many people as possible.
Book: India: What Can It Teach Us?
Author: Friedrich Max Muller
Philologist and orientalistFriedrich Max Muller had a profound impact on Mahatma Gandhi. In his series of lectures, compiled in India: What Can It Teach Us?, Muller champions Indian values. He applauds Vedic literature and compares them with Greek and Roman philosophy. Muller urges his readers to give up the obsession of world domination and adopt the values of morality and virtue. Friedrich Max Muller always asserted that an “authentic Indian way of life could be only found in its villages”. This theory influenced Gandhi who thought that an ideal India had its roots in self-sufficient villages.
Book: Unto This Last
Author: John Ruskin
Mahatma Gandhi himself said that John Ruskin’s Unto This Last was “impossible to lay aside”. First published in 1860 in Cornhill Magazine, the collection of four essays was so heavily criticized that its publication was stopped. This did not deter John Ruskin. Two years later, in 1862, he published the four essays in the book, Unto This Last. In this book, Ruskin talks about an economy grounded in ethics. He upholds the importance of basing the economy of a country on humanity. Ruskin puts forward the idea of investing money in vested interests. Gandhi was so enamored by this book that he established the Phoenix Settlement in Africa. It was a place where people lived communally as per Ruskin’s teachings, following the ideals of non-violence and spirituality. Mahatma Gandhi even translated Unto This Last in Gujarati and named it Sarvodaya.
It is widely regarded that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is one of the greatest minds that ever lived. In a time when the violent WWII was underway and various countries were striving to be free of colonial rule, Mahatma Gandhi proved that violence is not the only means to achieve one’s aim of independence. He showed the world the power of non-violence.
I am sure that many of us will be fascinated by the reading choices of such a luminary. Do comment and let me know which of the books from Gandhi’s read list have grabbed your attention.