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 21: Selfless Service

Truly is it said that without yajna this world would perish. But yajna is not merely kindling wood and pouring ghee and other things into it. This may purify the air, but surely it will not purify the spirit. When we offer up our bones to burn like wood, pouring out our blood like ghee in order that they may burn, and sacrifice our flesh to the flames, that alone will be true yajna, and by such sacrifice will the earth be sustained.
Without such yajna, such sacrifice of self, it cannot be sustained.

Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. XII, p. 319, 5-1-1914

Work is prayer but it can also be madness.

Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. XXV P- 38, 25-8-1924

To put forth effort is in our hands but not to command success. We should rest content after we have exerted ourselves to the best of our capacity, and never acknowledge defeat.

Letters to Manibehn Patel, p. 23, 11-1-1926

We really live through and in our work. We perish through our perishable bodies, if instead of using them as temporary instruments, we identify ourselves with them.

Bapu's Letters to Mira, p. 41, 27-4-1927

Who knows whether we gain more by serving what we have or by losing. It may be that what has been saved has really been lost and what has been lost has really been saved. But everyone likes to be saved, and we are thankful to God, when we are saved. Actually, however, one should thank God for everything that transpires. That is what is meant by the state of equanimity.

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

He alone who is always absorbed in the perfor¬mance of his duties can be allowed to be indifferent, about other matters. The stone may be indifferent, but it is inanimate, as compared with it, we are animate. So only if we remain indifferent to other things because of our complete absorption in our immediate duties, may be held to have lived successfully. Such steadiness of mind does not come about suddenly.

Bapu's Letters to Ashram Sisters, p. 40, 8-8-1927

One who works to his full capacity does all that can be expected. But in our work we should develop the Gita attitude which we desire to have. That attitude is that whatever we do, we do it selflessly in a spirit of service. Spirit of service means in a spirit of dedication to God. Such a person no longer thinks in terms like, "It is I who am doing this." He feels no ill-will towards anybody.
On the contrary he is generous to others. Even about the smallest bit of service you render, you should keep asking yourselves whether you fulfill these ideals.

Bapu's Letters to Ashram Sisters, p. 46, 19-9-1927

Success lies in the effort itself. God has promised that effort for the good never goes fruitless and all of us have had experience of this fact to some extent.

Bapu's Letters to Ashram Sisters, p. 52, 31-9-1927

Our joy must lie in our devotion to duty, and not in the success of our efforts or in the circumstances. Narasinh Mehta has said: "If Man had the power to do everything, no one would be unhappy, for he would destroy his enemies and allow only friends to live." But Man is a lowly creature. He can be great only when he gives up pride and becomes one with God. A drop of water in the ocean, by itself can serve no useful purpose; but remaining in the ocean, it can share in bearing the heavy burden of this huge ship. In the same way, if we learn to merge our identity with the Ashram, and thereby with the world and with God, we may be said to be bearing the burden of the world. But in such a state, the 'I' or 'Thou' is abandoned, and only 'He' remains.

Bapu's Letters to Ashram Sisters, p. 53, 7-11-1927

People who sing Gita verses about being steadfast in wisdom must form the habit of working quietly. When we are rolling chapatis or cleaning rice, why cannot we withdraw into ourselves completely and remain fully absorbed in our work.

Bapu's Letters to Ashram Sisters, p. 60, 6-8-1928

Whatever work you once undertake, carry it out fully, never give up merely when you did not feel like it. If at any time you have to be absent, you must make some arrangement for your work to be done; and if no arrangement can be made, one should never omit doing it oneself.

Bapu's Letters to Ashram Sisters, p. 61, 26-11-1928

We might not undertake a piece of work at all, but, once having undertaken it, we must stick to it to the last. God always helps those who work steadfastly in this spirit.

Bapu's Letters to Ashram Sisters, p. 85, 11-11-1929

Those who think of their own selves and interests will surely suffer a fall. Those who are devoted to their duties will have no time even to fall. I have always found that it is only those who are or who become averse to Truth that fall. A sinful act needs secrecy. It is generally done in secret. We do find persons who have abandoned all sense of shame and act sinfully in the open. There are others who regard vice as virtue. We are not thinking of such persons at present. Most of our activities have fallen back because of the regard for oneself referred to above. In this selfishness lies the danger of our fall and the fall of society also. Think deeply over this, and let each of you examine your own life from this standpoint.

Bapu's Letters to Ashram Sisters, p. 92, 23-12-1929

Had I learnt to use the body merely as an instru¬ment of service and His temple, old age would have been like a beautiful ripe fruit with all the qualities of its species at their highest. It would be a stroke of good fortune if I escape merely with such disability.

Bapu's Letters to Mira, p. 177, 8-4-1932

Chivalry is made of sterner stuff. Chivalrous knight is he who is exquisitely correct in his conduct towards perfect strangers who are in need of help but who can make no return to him and who are unable even to utter a few words of thanks.

The Diary of Mahadev Desai, Vol. I, p. 102, 6-5-1932

There is a general impression that I am able to make men work as hard as they can. If this is a fact, the reason is that I never suspect anyone of theft, and I am satisfied with what effort each of them puts forth. Some even say that people are able to deceive me as they can deceive no one else. If they are right, I am not sorry for it. It is enough if I get a testimonial that I deceive none. If others are not prepared to issue such a certificate to me, I will issue it myself. Untruth hurts me as nothing else does.

The Diary of Mahadev Desai, Vol. I, pp. 220-21, 10-6-1932

Where people work in the family spirit and where each has the same sense of personal responsibility as the others, it is impossible to fix the maximum period applicable to all and may even be improper. How can we frame a rule that one who is physically fit and mentally ready and who has no other service to perform shall not work overtime if he wishes? The long and short of it is that if there is discrimination and the right spirit in work and no bustle, no one would feel it to be burden. Things are felt as a burden only if they are imposed upon us from outside. Work done spontaneously and joyfully is never oppressive. But he who works in a demoniacal spirit will subject himself to considerable burden from selfishness and suffer a breakdown afterwards. He does not enjoy mental tranquility and we can never take him for our model.

The Diary of Mahadev Desai, Vol. I, pp. 166-67, 16-6-1932

There is nothing like finding one's full satisfaction from one's daily task however humble it may be. To those that wait and watch and pray, God always brings greater tasks and responsibilities.

The Diary of Mahadev Desai, Vol. I, p. 167, 11-6-1932

The man who loves God does not measure his work by the eight-hour system. He works at all hours and is never off duty. As he has opportunity he does good. Everywhere, at all times, and in all places, he finds opportunity to work for God. He carries fragrance with him wherever he goes.

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

If a man is absorbed in his work, he will not feel the burden of it; it will not therefore wear him down. But if he takes no delight in it, even a little work will be too much for him. For a man in prison a day is as long as a year; for the sensualist a year is as a day. I was soon tired of European music when I heard it before, but now I understand and appreciate something of it.

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

A scientific experimenter has profound confidence in himself and is therefore never down-hearted. At the same time he is so humble that he is never satisfied with his own work, and is not guilty of drawing hasty conclusions. On the other hand, he measures his progress off and on and declares emphatically that the result of X can be Y only. Our workers are generally lacking in this humility of the real man of science.

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

A detached worker is capable of working very much harder than one who is attached. It seems as if he has nothing to do, and he is the last to be attacked by fatigue. As a matter of fact he should be above fatigue, but that is only the ideal.

The Diary of Mahadev Desai, Vol. I, p. 189, 22-6-1932

All our philosophy is dry as dust if it is not immediately translated into some act of loving service.

The Diary of Mahadev Desai, Vol. I, p. 261, 31-6-1932

This is enough for the man who is true to himself: "Do not undertake anything beyond your capacity, and at the same time do not harbour the wish to do less than you can." One who takes up tasks beyond his powers is proud and attached; on the other hand one who does less than he can is a thief. If we keep a time-table, we can save ourselves from this last mentioned sin indulged in even unconsciously. I do not say 'save' but only 'can save', for if the time-table is not cheerfully and intelligently adhered to, it does not yield the maximum results.

The Diary of Mahadev Desai, Vol. I, p. 221, 10-7-1932

I am definitely going to live. Who will say that I am dead, so long as a single sister is doing my work? We may leave aside, if we like, the philosophy of the Gita about the immortality of the soul. The immortality to which I refer here, however, is visible to the physical eye. Therefore you are not to be unhinged or disturbed. I do hope you will give a good account of yourself, and thus bring credit to yourself as also to others around you. Be and remain at peace with yourself by laying at the feet of God body, mind and wealth.

To A Gandhian Capitalist, p. 137, 19-9-1932

And why do you think that we can serve only with the body? The mind is far more powerful instrument of service. They serve best who have perfect purity of heart. Indeed we serve so as to attain perfect purity. Thoughts of the pure in heart can do what bodies with corrupt hearts can never do.

Selected Letters-II, p. 26

Keep up the habit of writing, and always try to improve your hand. But all these things are not an end in themselves; they are only means to an end. The end is performance of one's allotted duty. The whole duty of man is to wish well and to do good to others. And as the first step towards discharging it, you should learn to love one another as your own blood sisters, and share one another's sorrows as well as joys.

Selected Letters- I, p. 5

Let us do good for its own sake, and not in order to win a reward.

Selected Letters-II, p. 56

The Gita first of all points out the summum bonum of life and secondly tells us how we should live so as to make continuous progress towards it. Its teaching may be thus summarized: "Discharge fully whatever duty comes your way as you march to your goal, but be detached from the fruits of your actions." This is the principle we apply in solving the problems which face the Ashram. As for thieves, we would certainly invite them to join the Ashram if we could, but as we have not still acquainted the capacity to assimilate such refractory material, we deal with them as we think fit in view of our spiritual poverty. As regards stray cattle and insects which damage our crops, we have not still been able to devise non-violent methods of dealing with them. We therefore do some violence to them out of sheer helplessness. To drive out stray cattle by shouting at or beating them, to frighten birds away by throwing or pretending to throw stones at them, to destroy insects in course of ploughing operations or otherwise, to catch hold of snakes and carry them out of harm's way or to permit people to kill if that is impossible,—all these things are, I am aware, a negation of the Ashram ideal. But the Ashram and its members are far from perfect. Therefore they take such action, although it is wrong. Thus alone can they find out the way to the Eternal City. I have not the shadow of a doubt that to give up all activity is very much worse than to act as we are doing. The author of the Gita says: "All action is clouded by defects as fire by smoke" (XVIII, 48). Therefore, we should be humble, do our allotted duty in a spirit of service and realize that we are mere tools in the hands of the 'Great Carpenter'.

Selected Letters-II, pp. 16.17

To strive is the whole duty of man. And if the enemy floors us while we continue the struggle to the best of our ability, let us not be down-hearted in the least. We must be on our legs again and resume the struggle. There is no reason to be ashamed so long as we have not contributed to our defeat, for it is not a defeat at all.

Selected Letters-II, p. 32

Faith is either derived or revealed from within. You should derive it from the testimony without exception of all the teachers and seers of all climes, countries and times. A true prayer is not a mere lip expression. Selfless service is prayer.

Selected Letters-II, p. 33