Quotes from Mahatma Gandhi and Leo Tolstoy: Letters

Mahatma Gandhi and Leo Tolstoy Letters

From the Preface:
- ‘The correspondence between great minds are landmarks in the development of the history of ideas.’
- ‘To read the correspondence between Mahatma Gandhi and Leo Tolstoy and fathom the thinking of these two literary giants is to capture the common threads running through Eastern and Western thought. Too often, we forget the fundamental unity of all religions…’
From the Introduction:
- ‘The writings of John Ruskin, particularly his Unto this Last, provided a powerful creative impetus for both Gandhi and Tolstoy.’
- ‘Both Gandhi and Tolstoy possessed vast intellectual knowledge. They strove to prove their theories about life through concrete action.’
- ‘Gandhi was so impressed by Count Leo Tolstoy’s message of love and non-resistance to evil that he decided to write to Tolstoy and ask his permission to reprint the letter. This accidental meeting through the printed word was to change Gandhi’s life.’
- ‘Gandhi and Tolstoy have shown that the search for truth and the practice of non-violence and love can transcend political and cultural boundaries, purify the spirit, and bring forth visionary, creative solutions to the most complex of problems.’
From Tolstoy:
- ‘I have read your book with great interest, because I think the question you have therein dealt with is important not only for Indians, but for the whole of mankind.’ [Gandhi sent Tolstoy his book on Indian Home Rule along with his first letter.]
- ‘The more I live – and specially now that I am approaching death, the more I feel inclined to express to others the feelings which so strongly move my being, and which, according to my opinion, are of great importance. That is, what one calls non-resistance, is in reality nothing else but the discipline of love undeformed by false interpretation. Love is the aspiration for communion and solidarity with other souls, and that aspiration always liberates the source of noble activities. That love is the supreme and unique law of human life which everyone feels in the depths of one’s soul.’
- ‘Christ knew, also, just as all reasonable beings must know, that the employment of violence is incompatible with love, which is the fundamental law of life.’
- ‘In reality as soon as resistance is admitted by the side of love, love no longer exists and cannot exist as the law of existence; and if the law of love cannot exist, there remains no other law except that of violence, that is, the right of the mighty. It was thus that the Christian Society has lived during these nineteen centuries.’
- ‘But the difference between the ideals of Christian peoples and that of other nations lies only in this: that in Christianity the law of love had been expressed as clearly and definitely as has never been expressed in any other religious doctrine.’
- ‘At present the question poses itself evidently in the following manner: either it must be admitted that we do not recognize any discipline, religious or moral, and that we are guided in the organization of life only by the law of force, or that all the taxes that we exact by force, the judicial and police organizations and, above all, the army must be abolished.’
- “This Spring in the religious examination of a secondary school for girls in Moscow, the Professor of Catechism as well as the Bishop had questioned the young girls on the Ten Commandments and above all on the sixth “Thou shalt not kill.” When the examiner received a good reply, the Bishop generally paused for another question: Is killing proscribed by the sacred Law always and in all cases? And the poor young girls perverted by their teachers must reply: No, not always; killing is permitted during war and for the execution of criminals. However one of these unfortunate girls, (what I relate is not a fiction but a fact that has been transmitted to me by an eyewitness) having been asked the same question, “Is killing always a crime?” was moved deeply, blushed and replied with decision “Yes, always.” To all the sophisticated questions habitual to the Bishop she replied with firm conviction: killing is always forbidden in the Old Testament as well as by Christ who not only forbids killing but all wickedness against our neighbors. In spite of all his oratorical talent and all his imposing grandeur, the Bishop was obliged to beat a retreat and the young girl came out victorious.”
Gandhi’s Introduction to translation of A Letter to a Hindu
- “Tolstoy’s life has been devoted to replacing the method of violence for removing tyranny or securing reform by the method of non-resistance to evil. He would meet hatred expressed in violence by love expressed in self-suffering. He admits of no exception to whittle down this great and divine law of love. He applies it to all the problems that trouble mankind.”
- “One need not accept all that Tolstoy says – some of his facts are not accurately stated – to realize the central truth of his indictment of the present system, which is to understand and act upon the irresistible power of the soul over the body, of love, which is an attribute of the soul, over the brute or body force generated by the stirring up in us of evil passions.”
A Letter to a Hindu, by Leo Tolstoy
            All that exists is One. People only call this One by different names
                                                                                                            THE VEDAS
            God is love, and he that abideth in love abideth in God, and God abideth in him
                                                                                                I John IV. 16
            God is one whole; we are the parts.
                        Exposition of the teaching of the VEDAS by Vivekananda”
- “Whenever thou feelest that thy feet are becoming entangled in the interlaced roots of life, know that thou hast strayed from the path to which I beckon thee: for I have placed thee in broad, smooth paths, which are strewn with flowers. I have put a light before thee, which thou canst follow and thus run without stumbling.
                                                                                                KRISHNA.      ”
- “The reason for the astonishing fact that a majority of working people submit to a handful of idlers who control their labor and their very lives is always and everywhere the same… This phenomenon seems particularly strange in India, for more than two hundred million people, highly gifted both physically and mentally, find themselves in the power of a small group of people quite alien to them in though, and immeasurably inferior to them in religious morality…the reason lies in the lack of a reasonable religious teaching which, by explaining the meaning of life, would supply a supreme law for the guidance of conduct…”
- “O ye, who see perplexities over your heads, beneath your feet, and to the right and left of you; you will be an eternal enigma unto yourself until you become humble and joyful as children. Then you will find Me, and having found Me in yourselves, you will rule over worlds, and looking out from the great world within to the little world without, you will bless everything that is, and find all is well with time and with you.
- “one and the same thought constantly emerged among different nations, namely, that in every individual a spiritual element is manifested that gives life to all that exists, and that this spiritual element strives to unite with everything of a like nature to itself, and attains this aim through love.”
- “The mere fact that this thought has sprung up among different nations and at different times indicates that is it inherent in human nature and contains the truth.”
- “The aim of the sinless One consists in acting without causing sorrow to others, although he could attain to great power by ignoring their feelings.
The aim of the sinless One lies in not doing evil unto those who have done evil unto him. If a man causes suffering, even to those who hate him without any reason, he will ultimately have grief not to be overcome…
Of what use is superior knowledge in the one, if he does not endeavor to relieve his neighbor’s want as much as his own?
                                                                                    THE HINDU KURAL
Thus is went on everywhere. The recognition that love represents the highest morality was nowhere denied or contradicted, but this truth was so interwoven everywhere with all kinds of falsehoods which distorted it, that finally nothing of it remained but words.”
“foreseeing such a perversion of the law of love, have constantly drawn attention to the one invariable condition of love (namely, the enduring of injuries, insults, and violence of all kinds without resisting evil by evil) people continued – regardless of all that leads man forward – to try to unite the incompatibles…”
- “such a teaching, despite its inner contradiction, was so firmly established that the very people who recognize love as a virtue accept as lawful at the same time an order of life based on violence and allowing men not merely to torture but even to kill one another.”
- “Do not resist the evil-doer and take no part in doing so, either in the violent deeds of the administration, in the law courts, the collection of taxes, or above all in soldiering, and no one in the world will be able to enslave you.”
- “Oh ye who sit in bondage and continually seek and pant for freedom, seek only for love. Love is peace in itself and peace which gives complete satisfaction. I am the key that opens the portal to the rarely discovered land where contentment alone is found.”
                                                                                    - KRISHNA
- “A man who sees all things are contained in the higher spirit cannot treat any being with contempt.”
                                                                                    - UPANISHADS, FROM VEDAS
Tolstoy Farm, by Mohandas Gandhi
- “Here we insisted that we should not have any servants, not only for the household work but as far as may be even for the farming and building operations. Everything, therefore, from cooking to scavenging was done with our own hands. As regards accommodating families, we resolved from the first that the men and women should be housed separately. The houses therefore were to be built in two separate blocks each at some distance from the other. For the time it was considered sufficient to provide accommodation for ten women and sixty men. Then again we had to erect a house for Mr. Kallenbach and by its side a school house, as well as a workshop for carpentry, shoemaking, etc.”
- “My presence acted as a check upon petty bickerings. The food was to be the simplest possible. The time as well as the number of meals was fixed up. There was to be one single kitchen, and all were to dine in a single row. Everyone was to see to the cleaning of his own dish and other things. The common pots were to be cleared by different parties in turn.”
- “Drinking, smoking, etc., were of course totally prohibited.”
- “As I have already stated, we wanted to be self-reliant as far as possible even in erecting buildings.”
- “The structures were of corrugated iron and therefore did not take long to raise. The timber too could be had ready made in all sizes required. All we had to do was to cut it to measure. There were not many doors or windows to be prepared. Hence it was that quite a number of buildings could be erected within such a short space of time.”
- “The weak became strong on Tolstoy Farm and labour proved to be a tonic for all.”
- “We therefore made  rule that one could go there [ Johannesburg ] by rail only on the public business of our little commonwealth, and then to travel third class. Anyone who wanted to go on a pleasure trip must go on foot and carry homemade provisions with him. None must spend anything on his food in the city. Had it not been for these drastic rules, the money saved by living in a rural locality would have been wasted on railway fares and city picnics.”
- “The reader must not imagine that this discipline operated upon the settlers at all as hardship. On the other hand it was accepted cheerfully. It would have been impossible to have a single settler if force had been employed.”
- “All waste water was collected in buckets and used to water the trees. Leavings of food and vegetable refuse were utilised as manure.”
- “The work before us was to make the farm a busy hive of industy, thus to save money and in the end to make the families self-supporting. If we achieved this goal, we could battle with the Transvaal Government for an indefinite period.”
            - like the Delancey Street model: self-sufficiency
- “A school was indispensable for the youngsters and the children. This was the most difficult of our tasks and we never achieved complete success in this matter till the very last.”
- “But this teaching experience was not fruitless. The children were saved from the infection of intolerance, and learnt to view one another’s religions and customs with a large-hearted charity. They learnt how to live together like blood-brothers
- “All of us slept on an open verandah. The boys and girls would spread themselves around me. There was hardly a distance of three feet between any two beds. Some care was exercised in arranging the order of the beds, but any amount of such care would have been futile in the case of a wicked mind. I now see that God alone safeguarded the honor of those boys and girls.”
- “On the farm we shaved and cut the hair of one another and we therefore kept scissors and clipping machines.”
- “The very purity was a guarantee of its victory. Before launching on such experiment, a teacher has to be both father and mother to his pupils and to be prepared for all eventualities whatever, and only the highest penance can fit him to conduct them.”
- “As we had intended to cut down expenses to the barest minimum, we changed our dress also.”
- “As for food we generally had rice, day, vegetable and rotti with porridge occasionally superadded. All this was served in a single dish which was not really a dish but a kind of bowl such as is supplied to prisoners in jail. We have made wooden spoons on the farm ourselves.”
- “Although we were living far from the amenities of city life, we did not even keep the commonest appliances against the possible attacks of illnesses.”
- “Tolstoy Farm proved to be a centre of spiritual purification and penance for the final campaign.”
- “But I do not entertain and would ask the reader not to entertain a shadow of a doubt that such latent assets do in God’s good time become patent.”

1 comment:

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