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 20: Self-development

Our ultimate capital is not the money we have, but our courage, our faith, our truthfulness and our ability.

Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. VI, p. 302, 28-1-1907

There is only one simple way of winning divine grace — that of practising truth and other virtues, gradually and deliberately, and of concentrating on one attachment or devotion to the Supreme! to the exclusion of all others.
Eat the whole body, O crow !
Peck away at my flesh;
But pray consume not the two eyes,
I still hope to see my beloved.
This is said of a lover and his beloved; but in truth it shows the yearning of the soul to see the beloved in the form of God. He does not care if the body is lost. If the crow of passion does not eat away the eye of knowledge, he is bound to meet the beloved.

Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. X, p. 311, 31-8-1910

It is our duty to obey our elders so long as their orders do not conflict with our moral life. Therein lies our ultimate good.

Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. X, p. 406, 8-2-1911

We should have compassion on ourselves as on all creatures, looking on them as one, and draw back in alarm from destruction of life for any purpose of ours.
We should cherish no fond attachment for the body and have no fear whatever of death.
We should strive for moksha right now, knowing that the body is all too apt to let us down.

Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. XII, p. 366, 1-3-1914

If the heart is pure, the grosser impulses of the body will have no scope. But what do we mean by the heart? And when may we believe the heart to be pure? The heart is nothing else but the atman or the seat of the atman. To imagine that it is pure is to imply perfect realization of the atman and, in the presence of such realization, the cravings of the senses are inconceivable. But ordinarily we attribute purity to the heart when we are but striving after such purity.

Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. XII, p. 376, 7-3-1914

If I have unceasing love, I should be perfectly enlightened man, which, indeed, I am not. Anyone for whom I have true love will not misunderstand my intentions or words, nor will such a one bear ill-will to me. It follows from this that, when anyone looks upon us as his enemy, the fault is primarily ours. This is also true of our relations with the whites. Perfect purity of heart, therefore, is the final stage. Before we have reached that stage, as we advance towards greater and greater purity, the cravings of the senses will subside in corresponding measure. These cravings do not originate in the senses.
The mind alone is the cause of man's being bound or free.
The senses are the points at which impulses in the mind become manifest. Through them we come to recognize the impulses as such.
And so, by destroying the senses, we do not do away with the impulses in the mind, Eunuchs, as we observe, are full of desires. Those who are such by birth are so full of them that they have been known to be guilty of unnatural acts. I am deficient in the sense of smell; even so, I feel the desire to enjoy fragrance, so much so that, when I find anyone talking about the fragrance of the rose or other flowers, the mind, like the donkey, immediately runs after it and is held back with the greatest difficulty.
We have heard of men who, passionate in their convictions, cut off their organs when they found it impossible to control their minds. It may possibly be one's duty to do so in such circumstances. Supposing my mind becomes a prey to desire and I cast an evil eye on my sister; I am burning with lust but have not been totally blinded by it. In such a situation, I think, cutting off one's organ would be a sacred duty if there is no other remedy. This will not happen to a man who advances gradually. It may perhaps happen to one who has suddenly lost all desire but whose past life was none too good. To want an instantaneously effective method of ensuring freedom from desire and the urgency of the senses is much the same as asking for a son of a barren woman. Such a result can be achieved only with the utmost patience. A mango tree created by magic is only meant for the eye; much the same is true of mental purity brought about with complete suddenness. Yes, it may happen sometimes, that the mind is ready for purification and is merely looking for association with holy men which is a kind of a philosopher's stone. On getting this it becomes instantly aware of its purity and the absence of it earlier becomes a dream. Surely, this [change] is no instantaneous occurrence, but the simple and the shortest and, to that extent, the quickest method is:
Withdrawal into solitude, seeking association with holy men, singing the names of God and telling sacred stories, reading edifying books, unremitting mortifica¬tion of the body, a spare diet, living on fruits, minimum of sleep, giving up of pleasures; anyone who can practise these things will find control of the mind quite easy as the 'amalak' in the hand.1 Practise these and meditate over the rest. Whenever the mind is disturbed with desire, one should turn to observances such as fasting.

Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. XII, pp. 376-77, 7-3-1914

One who rises early should make no exception on Sundays. If we do, we shall anxiously await the coming of a Sunday.

Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. XII, p. 409, 17-4-1914

That a sound body carries a sound mind is after all a truism, but it is to be interpreted with many qualifications. Take the celebrated Sandow. His is, as you would consider, one of the soundest bodies. I am not sure that he necessarily carries a sound mind with it. To me a sound body means one which bends itself to the spirit and is always a ready instrument at its service. Such bodies are not made, in my opinion, on the football field. They are made on cornfields and farms.

Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. XIII, p. 49, 17-4-1915

The first and the last thing we have to attend to is to reform ourselves. In trying to reform, we seem to be judging.

Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. XIII, p. 452

Don't hide your ignorance out of false shame.

Selected Letters-II, p. 18, 2-6-1919

Never mind if you are mistaken for a fool, but don't take the risk of going wrong as a result of your ignorance.

Selected Letters-II, p. 19, 2-6-1919

To express purest love is like walking on the edge of a sword. "None of self and all of Thee", is easier sung than practised. We never know when we are not selfish even when we fancy we are all love. The more I think of it, the more I feel the Truth of what I have often said. Love and truth are two faces of the same coin and both most difficult to practise and the only things worth living for. A person cannot be true, if he does not love all God's creatures; truth and love are therefore the complete sacrifice. I shall therefore pray that both you and I may realize this to the fullest measure.

My Dear Child, pp. 53-54, 1920

If the body is the temple of the Holy, it requires the utmost care—certainly not pampering but equally certainly not disregard or even indifference.

My Dear Child, p. 57

A disciplined conscience is one to obey. It is the voice of God. And undisciplined conscience leads to perdition, for the devil speaks through it.

My Dear Child, p. 56

Self-surrender does not mean giving up one's judgment. Sincere self-surrender is not inertia, it is energy; knowing that there is someone to whom to turn ultimately, the person undertakes, with due regard for his limitations, a thousand experiments one after another. But they are all undertaken with humility, knowledge and discrimination.

Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. XX, pp. 500-1, 13-8-1921

Self-confidence is that which remains unshaken even amidst disappointment. If I have faith in truth and non-violence, I will stick to them even in adversity.

Letters to Manibehn Patel, p. 11, 11-5-1924

Arrogance and firmness are generally found together. The former will gradually take a secondary place, if we go on promoting the sattvic tendencies in us. The best way of overcoming arrogance is to try and refrain from reacting to opposition.

Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. XXIV P- 87, 20-5-1924

Purity and restraint are virtues to be treasured.

Letters to Manibehn Patel, p. 12, 20-5-1924

The mind itself is our enemy as well as our friend. It is our duty to keep it under control. No medicine from a doctor is required for this.

Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. XXIV p. 284, 23-6-1924

True strength is that of the heart. The intellect seems to be insignificant. If the intellect says, "I love you," but the heart refuses to do so, what good is the intellect's saying that it does?

Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. XXV P- 257, 22-10-1924

We acquire certain habits and then we are unable to do anything different. This is a virtue so far as good habits are concerned. One who is sincerely devoted to non-violence becomes in the end incapable of violence. And this not only in deed but also in thought. Thought is father of action. When thought goes, action automatically goes with it.

Letters to Manibehn Patel, p. 25, 1926

Devotion means faith—faith in God and in one's self. Such faith will lead one to make all sacrifices. Sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice is difficult, but if it is made in the service of others, it is easy. No mother would want to sleep in the wet for its own sake. But she would gladly do so if she can thereby find her child a dry place to sleep.

Bapu's Letters to Ashram Sisters, p. 14, 24-1-1927

We must entertain the same regard for others as we have for ourselves. And if we did, we would be ashamed to find other people's children dirty as we would be if they were our own. So also if we found others in distress, we would make that distress our own and try to relieve it.

Selected Letters-1, p. 7, Jan., 1927

We should make up our minds that we will never commit suicide. The kind of people who commit suicide either worry too much about worldly affairs, or try to hide their shortcomings from the world. We should never try to appear what we are not, or try to do what is clearly beyond us.

Bapu's Letters to Ashram Sisters, p. 39, 1-8-1927

The first step in purifying oneself is the admission and eradication of whatever bad feelings one might have about others. As long as we harbour ill-will or suspicion against our neighbours and do not strive to get rid of it, we cannot learn ever the first lessons of having genuine love for them.

Bapu's Letters to Ashram Sisters, p. 48, 3-10-1927

We do not want to deceive ourselves, others, or the world. So whatever is working in our hearts must be brought out into the open. Once the heart is purified, it will take long for it to become impure again. But if any impurity is allowed to remain in the heart, even good thoughts will get sullied, just as water poured into a dirty vessel gets sullied. If we begin by having a suspicion about someone once, we often end by suspecting everything about him.

Bapu's Letters to Ashram Sisters, p. 49, 10-10-1927

To be generous is having no anger against those whom we consider to be at fault, and loving and serving them. It is not the quality of generosity or love, if we have goodwill for others only as long as they are united with us in thought and action. That might be called merely friendship or mutual affection. The use of the word 'love' is wrong in such cases. 'Love' means friendly feeling for the enemy.

Bapu's Letters to Ashram Sisters, p. 50, 17-10-1927

There can never be truth where there is no courage. To do a wrong thing is sin; but to hide the wrong is a greater sin. He who admits his misdeed with a pure heart has his sin washed off, and he can travel once again by the right path. But he who hides his misdeed out of a false sense of shame falls into a deeper pit. We have seen this to be true every time, and hence I request all of you to avoid a false sense of shame. If you have done wrong, whether knowingly or unknowingly, make it known at once and make a resolution not to do it again.

Bapu's Letters to Ashram Sisters, p. 71, 8-4-1929

The optimist is he who continues to hope in the face of a multitude of disappointments. And he is credulous who reposes truth in the sweet words of anybody whom he happens to meet. This credulity is not a desirable quality.
Optimism depends upon the inner voice while credulity builds its castles on outward circumstances as the basis.

The Diary of Mahadev Desai, Vol. I, p. 133, 27-5-1932

Feeling is of the heart. It may easily lead us astray unless we would keep the heart pure. It is like keeping house and everything in it clean. The heart is the source from which knowledge of God springs. If the source is contaminated, every other remedy is useless. And if its purity is assured nothing else is needed.

My Dear Child, p. 91, 29-5-1932

You must not lose self-confidence. Evil thoughts may enter the mind; but just as the house from which the refuse is removed from time to time is clean, so is the mind which rejects the evil thoughts just as they enter it, and victory is bound to attend its effort at self- purification. One who is thus vigilant cannot be considered a hypocrite. The golden rule for salvation from hypocrisy is this: Do not conceal the evil thoughts but make a public confession of them. This need not be made with the beat of drum. But the fault must be revealed to a friend. And it should not matter if everyone else also comes to know about it.

The Diary of Mahadev Desai, Vol. I, pp. 169-70, 17-6-1932

A fault is a bad thing; therefore we should be ashamed of it. But to admit and ask pardon for a fault is a good thing; therefore we should not feel shame in doing so. To ask pardon for a fault implies a determination not to default any more. Is such determination something to be ashamed of? There can be no comparison between truth and non-violence. But if such comparison must be instituted, I would say .that truth is superior even to non-violence. For untruth is tantamount to violence. The lover of truth is bound to make a discovery of non-violence sooner or later.

The Diary of Mahadev Desai, Vol. I, p. 177, 19-6-1932

Self-confidence means an unflinching faith in one's work. Once this faith is acquired, there is no need to be anxious about the numerous errors we are unconsciously bound to commit from time to time. We must not permit ourselves to be paralyzed by the fear that we are perhaps on the wrong path.

The Diary of Mahadev Desai, Vol. I, p. 178, 19-6-1932

We must not make an individual the object of our affection which should be reserved only for his virtues. Every person's virtues result in some concrete act or other. If we admire his virtues, we should promote the activities which constitute their outward expression.

The Diary of Mahadev Desai, Vol. I, p. 262, 31-7-1932

Learning should be acquired only with a view to service. But service is full of inexhaustible joy. Therefore we may say that learning is an aid to blessedness. Mere learning without service has never been known to lead to eternal bliss.

The Diary of Mahadev Desai, Vol. I, p. 276, 7-8-1932

Instead of thinking of improving the world, let us concentrate our attention on self-improvement. We can scarcely find out if the .world is on the right or the wrong path. But if we take the straight and narrow path, we shall find all taking it too or discover the method of inducing them to take it. To know oneself is to forget the body or to reduce oneself to zero.

The Diary of Mahadev Desai, Vol. I, p. 276, 7-8-1932

I had adversaries before, and have them now. However I have never been angry with them. Even in a dream I have never been ill-disposed towards them, with the result that many adversaries have become friends. No opposition to me has been successful to this very day. I am still here, three attacks on my person notwithstanding. That is not to say that the adversary will never succeed in attaining his object. He may or may not succeed, and I have nothing to do with it. My duty consists in wishing him well and serving him on a suitable occasion. I have practised this doctrine to the best of my ability. I believe that it is an integral part of my mental constitution. I am worried when thousands of people revere me. I have never come to believe that I am fit for this reverence which leaves me utterly cold. On the other hand I have been aware of my unfitness. I do not remember that I had at any time a craving for honour. But I have always yearned to work. I have tried to turn those who would honour me into co-workers. When they have resisted this transformation, I have rejected their advances. I would be happy as a bird if I reached my goal, but that is only an aspiration at present.

The Diary of Mahadev Desai, Vol. I, p. 284, 12-8-1932

One need not cultivate haughtiness or incivility in order to stand up against the world. Jesus faced the world and so did Buddha, and Prahlad. But they were all the very picture of humility. The essential requisites are self-confidence and faith in God. Those who opposed the world in their pride have collapsed at last.

The Diary of Mahadev Desai, Vol. I, p. 284, 12-8-1932

You must not think you are wrong so long as your heart does not say so. After all that is our only standard of judgment. We therefore try to keep our hearts pure. The sinner thinks sin is a meritorious thing, because his heart is impure. In any case he will persist in his error so long as he has not acquired knowledge. Therefore none else can point out what is good for you. I can only say that we have to tread the path of truth and nonviolence, and keep the observances to that end.

The Diary of Mahadev Desai, Vol. I, p. 286, 14-8-1932

What to do in order that one never gets angry? For this he has to be generous to all and to have a heart grasp of the idea that we are in all beings, and all beings are in us. Every drop and yet they all combine to make the ocean. The same is the case as regards the ocean that is this universe. Where then is the occasion for anyone to be angry with someone else?

The Diary of Mahadev Desai, Vol. I, p. 286, 14-8-1932

Without mental purity external action cannot be performed in a selfless spirit. Therefore mental purity can be measured in terms of the purity of external action. One who tries to attain mental purity without purifying external action runs the risk of going astray.

The Diary of Mahadev Desai, Vol. I, p. 305, 23-8-1932

Do not seek to prove how thoughts work. Enough for you to believe that they do work and produce mighty results. Therefore always cultivating purity of heart, you should be perfectly at peace, whether you are well in body or not.

Selected Letters-II, p. 26, 20-10-1932

Cleanest air, cleanest water, simplest food and cleanest thinking which really means communion with God are the four laws, the first three flowing from the fourth. Hence your English saying, plain, that is, simple living and high thinking. I would like to simplify that saying into-clean thinking and clean living. Boils are a symptom of unclean living in my sense of the expression.

Selected Letters-II, p. 25, 13-11-1932

Pure devotion must lead to detachment (anasakti) and wisdom (Jnana). If it doesn't, it is not devotion, but mere emotionalism. Wisdom means the power of distinguishing right from wrong. If literary studies fail to invest a person with this power, they are nothing but pedantry.

Selected Letters-II, p. 52, 6-12-1932

Do not imagine causes but wait patiently for the knowledge if it is to come and in any case never imagine the worst. Since God is a God of Mercy, if we must imagine it is best to imagine the best. Of course a votary of Gita never imagines anything. Good and bad are after all relative terms. He takes not of things as they happen and reacts naturally to them, fulfilling his part as if propelled by the great Mechanic, even as a piece of machine in good order responds automatically to the call of the mechanist. It is the most difficult thing for an intelligent being to be like a machine. And yet, if one is to become a zero, that is precisely what one desiring perfection has to become. The vital difference between the machine and the man is that the machine is inert, the man is all life and consciously becomes like a machine in the hands of the Master Mechanic.

Bapu's Letters to Mira, p. 238, 19-1-1933

Well, you have to rejoice in your suffering both mental and physical. You must now do what satisfied your own inner voice. And the end will be all right. But we are all in God's hands. Not a blade moves but by His command. If we had all our own ways, the world will go to pieces. It is perhaps as well that our wishes are often frustrated. It is the test of our loyalty to God that we believe in Him even when He refuses to fulfill our wishes. I want you therefore to enjoy perfect peace even while things seem to you to be all going wrong.

My Dear Child, p. 102, 15-12-1933

Very recently I happened to read 'a thought for the day' in English which in effect means that man should brood over his virtues and not his faults, because man becomes what he broods over. This does not mean that one should not see one's own faults. They must be seen. But one should not become mad by constantly thinking of them. A similar dictum can be found in our scriptures also. You should, therefore, have self-confidence and feel assured that only good deeds are going to be performed by you.

To A Gandhian Capitalist, p. 105, 26-12-1938

Faith cannot be acquired by force of intellect. It comes but slowly after deep meditation and continuous practice. We pray, sing hymns, read books, seek the association of men of God, and perform the spinning sacrifice in order to attain that faith.

Selected Letters - II, p. 22

Contentment is the best of riches.

Selected Letters - II, p. 42

Vanity is emptiness: self-respect is substance. No one's self-respect is ever hurt except by self, vanity is always hurt from outside.

Selected Letters - I, p. 42

Hypocrisy comes easy to those alone who are wedded to untruth. I do not know of anything so injurious as hypocrisy.

Selected Letters - I, p. 46

We are all members one of another, and influence one another by our actions. Actions here include thoughts, so that not a single thought is without its effect. Therefore we must cultivate the habit of always thinking good thoughts.

Selected Letters - I, p. 55

Grace is the diction of poetry. Devotion (bhakti) is itself poetry. But poetry is no improper or inferior or unnecessary thing. On the contrary it is badly needed. Science would tell us that water is a chemical compound of hydrogen and oxygen, but in the language of poetry water is the gift of God. Understanding such poetry is an essential element of life, while ignorance of the chemical composition of water does not matter in the least. It is perfectly logical to say that whatever happens is the fruit of action. But 'impenetrable is the secret of action' (Gita IV, 17). We mortals are so constituted that we cannot know all the causative factors of even a very ordinary event. We are therefore perfectly right in saying that nothing happens except by the will and the grace of God. Again the body is a prison for the soul, who is like the air enclosed by a jar. The air in the jar is ineffective so long as it thinks itself to be different from the atmosphere. In the same way the soul imprisoned in the body will be unable to draw upon the Reservoir of Power that is God so long as she imagines herself to be a doer. Therefore to say that whatever happens by the will of God is to state a matter of fact, and such humility befits a seeker of truth.

Selected Letters - I, p. 54

We should not worry over anything, no matter how important it is or how profoundly it touches us personally, if it has not been assigned to us. This is the teaching of religion in general and the Gita in particular. We must train ourselves to consider nothing as personal or to look upon everything as personal or to be absorbed in the allotted task as the only thing personal.

Selected Letters - I, p. 20

You should make a fixed resolution to be good. Always pray to God to make you good and you will be good.

Selected Letters - II, p. 31

Rest assured that if we are good ourselves, so is all the world besides. You find that very few people are bad, and that is a fact. None is bad by nature. Many appear bad because we have not the eye in order to discern the good in them.

Selected Letters - II, p. 33

Yes, there is no calm without a storm, there is no peace without strife. Strife is inherent in peace. We should not know it without. Life is a perpetual struggle against strife whether within or without. Hence the necessity of realizing peace in the midst of strife.

My Dear Child, p. 90

  1. 1. A traditional phrase meaning 'as easy as a myrobalan in the grip of hand'.