SECTION II : Extracts From Letters

[ from Selected Works of Mahatma Gandhi : Vol - 4 ]

Mahatma Gandhi

Selected Works of Mahatma Gandhi
Volume IV

Table of Contents

  • Foreword
  • Publisher's Note



  1. Faith in God
  2. Religions and Scriptures
  3. Value of Prayer
  4. Truth and Non-violence
  5. The Science of Satyagraha
  6. Fasting in Satyagraha
  7. Unto This Last
  8. Khadi and Village Industry
  9. East and West
  10. Hindu-Muslim Unity
  11. Upliftment of Women
  12. The Good of All
  13. India's Freedom
  14. Education
  15. Caste System and Untouchability
  16. Brahmacharya
  17. Fearlessness
  18. Health and Hygene
  19. Self-restraint
  20. Self-development
  21. Selfless Service
  22. Voluntary Poverty

About This Volumes

Selected Works of Mahatma Gandhi

Selected Works of Mahatma Gandhi comprises of Five volumes.

  • Vol-I: Autobiography
  • Vol-II: Satyagraha in South Africa
  • Vol-III: Basic Works
    1. Ethical Religion
    2. Unto This Last
    3. Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule
    4. From Yeravada Mandir
    5. Discourses on the Gita
    6. Constructive Programme
    7. Key to Health
  • Vol-IV: Selected Letters
  • Vol-V: Voice of Truth

This book, Selected Letters, is volume-4.

Written by : M. K. Gandhi
General Editor : Shriman Narayan
Volume Selected Works of Mahatma Gandhi : A set of five books
ISBN: 81-7229-278-3 (set)
Printed and Published by :
Jitendra T. Desai
Navajivan Mudranalaya,
© Navajivan Trust, 1968


Chapter 2: Religions and Scriptures

Throughout the Bhagwadgita,1 I can see no warrant for holding that a man who can only control "the organs of action" but cannot help "dwelling in his mind on the objects of the senses" had better use the organs of action until the mind, too, is under control. In ordinary practices, we call such use an indulgence, and we know, too, that, if we can control the flesh even while the spirit is weak, always wishing that the, spirit were equally strong, we will certainly arrive at a right correspondence.

The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi -Vol. X, p. 248, 10-5-1910

Personally, I think the world as a whole will never have, and need not have, a single religion.

The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi -Vol. XII, p. 94, 30-5-1913

Comparison of religions is uncalled for. One must gain a mature understanding of one's own religion and then study others. For purposes of comparison in a general way, the criterion is compassion as a rule of life. The greater the scope for compassion in a way of life, the more of religion it has. "The ethical way has its roots in compassion" that is the first principle to be taught to everyone; and the second, "Brahman is the Reality; the Phenomenal world is unreal." No single principle may appeal to all, but it would seem that one who is in quest of the atman will have the right principle spring to his lips at the right time.
In fact, there are as many paths as there are human beings. So long as men differ (in temperament), their paths are bound to differ. He who sees the identity of his atman with the atmans of others will also see unity in the religions.
When the atman is free from bondage to the body, it is said to have attained moksha. The nature of that state is not to be described. It can only be experienced. Ghosts, etc., are an evil order of beings. Those guilty of wicked deeds are born in that order.

The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi -Vol. XII, p. 127, 2-7-1913

David's Psalm has a meaning which is worth understanding. He desires in it the destruction of the wicked; the significance of this is that he cannot bear evil. The same idea appears in the Ramayana.2 Gods and men both pray for the destruction of rakshasas.3
The prayer Jaya Rama Rama4 is inspired by the same sentiment. The spiritual significance of the Psalm is that David (Arjuna—denoting god ward attributes) desires destruction of Duryodhana and others (denoting satanic attributes). This is the sattvic impulse. It comes into play when one is in a state of bhakti. When one attains to the state of jnana5, both the impulses subside and all that remains is pure consciousness—Knowledge Absolute. You will not probably find this state described in the Bible. Though David was imperfect, he was a bhakta.6 His sentiments have found expression in the Psalm in simple language and, though a great man, he makes himself humble before God, looking upon himself as a mere blade of grass.

The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi - Vol. XII, p. 407, 12-4-1914

Our scriptures place parents on a level with God. It is not always that parents in this world are fit to carry such responsibility. Being but earthly, they pass on the legacy to their children and so from generation to generation mere embodiments of selfishness come into this world.

The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi - Vol. XIV P- 221, 27-2-1918

The true end of all effort in life is to gain control over the impulses of one's nature; that is Dharma.

The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi - Vol. XIV p. 385, 1-5-1918

My bent is not political but religious and I take part in Politics because I feel that there is no department of life which can be divorced from religion and because politics touch the vital being of India almost at every point.

The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi - Vol. XIV p. 5, 4-8-1919

I consider myself a Hindu of Hindus. I believe that I have a fine perception of the truth of Hinduism and the priceless lesson I have learnt from it is that I should not wish that others may become Hindus but that they become best specimens in their own faith.

The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi - Vol. XVI, p. 477, 13-1-1920

Reciting Gayatri7, daily or occasionally, without a fixed rule can never bring the same reward as reciting it with a devout heart at a fixed hour every day. Progress in life is possible only if one regulates one's life according to rules.

The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi - Vol. XVII, p. 526, 13-2-1920

Holy men of tapascharya8 have told us that those who study the Vedas9 but do not follow Dharma10 in conduct are mere pedants; that they neither swim across themselves, nor help others to do so. So it is that I am never impressed by those who have the Vedas on their lips or have got the commentaries by heart and, instead of marvelling at their learning, cherish my little knowledge as of greater value.

The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi - Vol. XIX, p. 98, (on or after) 11-12-1920

True religion being the greatest thing in life and in the world, it has been exploited the most. And those who have seen the exploiters and the exploitation and missed the reality naturally get disgusted with thing itself. But religion is after all a matter for each individual and then too a matter of the heart, call it then by whatever name you like, that which gives one the greatest solace in the midst of the severest fire is God.

A Bunch of Old Letters, p. 43, 25-4-1925

Religion declares that so long as man harbours evil he is impure and unfit to stand before God. So the first duty of any of you who has such thoughts is to confess about it and thus purge yourselves of the evil.

Bapu's Letters to Ashram Sisters, p. 47, 26-9-1927

We should not kill others for what we regard as True and Pure. We should prepare to die for that Truth and, when the call comes, give our life for it and put the seal of our blood on our Truth. In my view this is the essence of all religions.

Letters to Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, p. 223

What you say about rebirth is sound. It is nature's kindness that we do not remember past births. Where is the good either of knowing in detail the numberless births we have gone through? Life would be a burden if we carried such a tremendous load of memories. A wise man deliberately forgets many things, even as a lawyer forgets the cases and their details as soon as they are disposed of. Yes, "death is but a sleep and a forgetting".

Bapu's Letters to Mira, p. 154, 25-1-1931

Pinda is our body, and Brahmanda is the universe. Now everything found in the body is found in the universe also; and if anything is not there in the former it is absent from the latter too. Our body is of the earth earthy. There are five elements on the earth (earth, water, fire, air, ether) as well as in the body. There is a variety of living beings on the earth and of living cells in the body. The body dies and is reborn; so the earth also undergoes transformation. And so on. From this we may infer that if we have true knowledge of the body, we shall have knowledge of the universe too, and need not go far a field in search of it. The body is at hand, and if we get to know it, we shall have attained our object. If we try to know the universe this knowledge must always remain incomplete. Therefore wise men have told us that there is nothing in the universe which is not in the body too, and therefore if we know the self, this knowledge embraces all knowledge whatever. But in the act of knowing the self we get to know something about other objects, and we have the right to derive what enjoyment we can from this external knowledge, as it is part of self-knowledge.
We should not mix up the historic Krishna with the Krishna of the Gita who was not discussing the question of violence and non-violence. Arjuna was not averse to killing in general, but only to killing his own relatives. Therefore Krishna suggested that in doing one's duty one may not treat one's relations differently from other people. In the age of the Gita the question whether one should or should not wage war was not raised by any important person. Indeed it appears to have been raised only in recent times. All Hindus in those days believed Ahimsa (non-violence), but what amounted to and what did not amount to violence was a question debated then as it is debated now. Many things which we look upon as non-violent will perhaps be considered violent by future generations. For we destroy life when we use milk or cereals as food. Therefore it is quite possible that posterity will give up milk production and the cultivation of food grains. Just as we consider ourselves as non-violent in spite of our consumption of milk and food grains, so also in the age of the Gita fighting was such a common thing that no one thought it was contrary to Ahimsa. Therefore I do not see anything wrong in the Gita having used warfare as an illustration. But if we study the whole of the Gita and examine its descriptions of sthitaprajana,11 brahma-bhuta12, bhakta13 and yogi14 we can reach only this conclusion that the Krishna of the Gita was the very incarnation of Ahimsa and his exhortation to Arjuna to fight does not detract from his greatness. On the other hand if he had given him different advice, his knowledge would have been proved inadequate, and he would not have been entitled to be called Yogeshuara (the prince of Yogis) and Puma Avatara
(the perfect incarnation).

The Diary of Mahadev Desai, Vol. I, pp. 93-94, 28-4-1932

Tulsidas holds that the name of Rama is more powerful than Rama himself and suggests that there is no relation between the word Rama and its meaning. The meaning will be filled in later by the devotee in accordance with the nature of his devotion. That is the beauty of this repetition (japa). Otherwise it would be impossible to prove that it will make a new man even of a simpleton. The devotee must fulfil only a single condition. The name should not be repeated for show or with a view to deceiving others, but with determination and faith. If a man perseveres with such repetition, I have not the shadow of a doubt that it will be for a universal provider. Everyone who has the requisite patience can realize this in his own case. For days and sometimes for years, the mind wanders and becomes restless; the body craves for sleep when one is engaged in repeating the name. Indeed even still more painful symptoms intervene. Still if the seeker perseveres with the repetition, it is bound to bear fruit. Spinning is a gross material accomplishment and yet it can be acquired only after our patience is sorely tried. Things more difficult than spinning demand a greater effort on our part. Therefore he who is out to attain the Supreme must undergo the necessary discipline for a long, long time and never be downhearted.

The Diary of Mahadev Desai, Vol. I, pp. 120-21, 20-5-1932

As the sixth chapter assures us, the least little sadhana (spiritual effort) is not wasted. The seeker will proceed further in his next birth, starting from it as a base. Similarly if a person has the will but not the ability to make spiritual progress, his environment in his subsequent birth will be such as to strengthen that will. But this fact must not be made an excuse for relaxation now. If it is so made, it means that the will is only intellectual and not heart-felt. Intellectual willing serves no useful purpose, as it does not persist after death If the will is heart-felt, it must manifest itself in effort But it is quite possible that physical weakness as well as the environment may come in its way. Even so, when the soul leaves the body, it carries its goodwill with it. which fructifies into deed in the subsequent birth when circumstances are more favourable. Thus one who does good is sure to make steady progress.
Jnaneshvar15 may have meditated on Nivritti16 during the latter's life-time. But we must not follow his example. One on whom we meditate must be a perfect individual. To ascribe such perfection to a living person is improper and unnecessary. Again it is possible that Jnaneshvar meditated on Nivritti not as he actually was but as he had imagined him to be. Such refinement is not however for people like ourselves. When we raise the question of meditating on living person, there is no room for a mental image of him. If the question is answered with such an image in view, it can only throw the questioner into mental confusion.
All the names given in the first chapter of the Gita are in my opinion not so much proper nouns as names of qualities. In describing the eternal warfare between the heavenly and the devilish natures, the poet has personified them as the characters in the Mahabharat. This does not imply a refusal to believe that an actual battle took place at Hastinapur between the Pandavas and the Kauravas. I hold that the poet took some such actual event as the thread upon which to hang his discourse. But I may be wrong. Again if all the names given are the names of real historical characters, the poet has done nothing improper in giving the list at the historical beginning. And as the first chapter is an essential part of the subject-matter of the Gita, it too should be recited as part of Gita-patha.17

The Diary of Mahadev Desai, Vol. I, pp. 171-72, 18-6-1932

Nama-japa18 helps one to conquer sin. One who repeats the Name with a pure heart is full of faith that the repetition is bound to help him in this conquest. To conquer sin in other words means self-purification. One who repeats the Name in faith will never tire of it, so that the Name which is at first on the tongue enters the heart and purifies it. This is the universal experience without any exceptions. Even psychologists hold that as a man thinks, so he becomes. This principle applies to Ramanama. I have the fullest faith in Nama- japa. Its discoverer was a man of experience, and I am firmly of opinion that his discovery is extremely important. Purification should be possible even for the illiterate. And here Nama-japa comes in (Gita, IX, 22; X, 10). Telling the beads of a rosary is a help in achieving mental concentration.

The Diary of Mahadev Desai, Vol. I, p. 275, 7-8-1932

Silence is looked upon as a very important thing among our people. Samadhi means silence. Muni (sage) and mauna (sage-hood, silence) are both derived from the same root. It is true that when we practise silence at first, many thoughts enter our minds and we even begin to doze. Silence is intended to remedy these defects. We are accustomed to talk much and hear loud sounds. Silence, therefore, seems difficult. A little practice however enables us to like it, and when we like it, it gives us a sense ineffable peace. We are seekers of truth. We must therefore understand what silence means and observe it accordingly. We can certainly take Ramanama during silence. The fact is that we should prepare the mind for it. We shall realize its value if we bestow a little thought on it.

The Diary of Mahadev Desai, Vol. I, p. 313, 28-8-1932

You have asked me for my opinion about occult sciences. I am not in love with them. The book of life is open to the simplest minds and it should be so. There is nothing occult in God's plan. Anyway the mysterious and the occult have never made any appeal to me. Truth has no secrets, and truth is God.

Selected Letters-II, p. 27, 30-10-1932

Because I do not find a particular thing helpful for me, I may not be indifferent about others and not take the trouble of knowing whether it is helpful for them. I know that that particular form of idolatry is helpful for millions, not because they are less developed than I am, but because they are differently constituted. What must not be forgotten about me is that not only do I not consider idol worship to be a sin, but I know that in some form or other it is a condition of our being. The difference between one form of worship and another is a difference in degree and not in kind. Mosque-going or church-going is a form of idol worship. Veneration of the Bible, the Kuran, the Gita and the like is idol worship, and even if you do not use a book or a building, but draw a picture of divinity in your imagination and attribute to it certain qualities, it is again idol worship. And I refuse to call the worship of the one who has a stone image a grosser form of worship. Learned judges have been known to have such images in their own homes. A philosopher like Pandit Malaviyaji will not eat his meal without offering worship to the household deity. It would be both arrogant and ignorant to look down upon such worship as superstition. Again in the imagination of the worshipper, God is in consecrated stone and not in the other stones lying about him. Even so the sanctuary in a church is more sacred than any other place in it. You can multiply for yourself instances of this character. All this is a plea not for laxity in thought or worship, but it is a plea for a definite recognition of the fact that all forms of honest worship are equally good and equally efficient for the respective worshippers. Time is gone for the exclusive possession of the right by an individual or group. God is no respecter of forms or words, for He is able to penetrate our actions and our speech and understand our thoughts even when we do not understand them ourselves, and it is just our thoughts that matter to Him.

Selected Letters-II, pp. 29-30, 29-11-1932

Nirvan is utter extinction of all egoism, self. Its positive aspect is capable of being experienced but incapable of being described. But we know from inference that it is something vastly superior to any bliss that we can possibly experience on this earth.

Bapu's Letters to Mira, p. 233, (probably) 29-12-1932

There is nothing so bad in all the world. And yet I cannot leave religion and therefore Hinduism. My life would be a burden to me, if Hinduism failed me. I love Christianity, Islam and many other faiths through Hinduism. Take it away and nothing remains for me. But then I cannot tolerate it with untouchability—the high-and-low belief. Fortunately Hinduism contains a sovereign remedy for the evil. I have applied the remedy.

A Bunch of Old Letters, p. 113, 2-5-1933

The Mahabharata is poetry not history. The poet tries to show that if a man resorts to violence, untruth too is sure to come in, and even people like Krishna cannot escape it. A wrong is a wrong, no matter who the wrongdoer is.

Selected Letters-I, p. 41

  1. Literally, the Divine Song. It is the epitome of Hindu religion and philosophy as expounded by Lord Krishna to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.
  2. The national epic of which Rama is the divine hero.
  3. Demons
  4. Victory to Rama
  5. Enlightenment
  6. Devotee
  7. Most potential Vedic Mantra to eliminate evil
  8. Penance, austerity
  9. Most profound and highly lyrical works of the Aryans from which sprang the religious beliefs or practices and their social structure, etc.
  10. Religion or religious duty
  11. One whose understanding is steadfast.
  12. Absorbed into the Supreme Spirit
  13. Devotee
  14. One who practises Yoga, the process of inner and bodily purification through the inhaling and exhaling process of breathing.
  15. Medieval saint of Maharashtra who at 16 composed most illuming treatise on Bhagwadgita, known as Dnaneshwari.
  16. His eldest brother and initiator into the knowledge of Him.
  17. Recitation of Gita
  18. Repeating God's name