Mahatma Gandhi, Letter To American Friends, August 3, 1942

Dear friends,


As I am supposed to be the spirit behind the much discussed and equally well abused resolution of the Working Committee of the Indian National Congress on independence, it has become necessary for me to explain my position. For I am not unknown to you. I have in America perhaps the largest number of friends in the West – not even excepting Great Britain. British friends knowing me personally are more discerning than the American. In America I suffer from the well-known malady called hero worship.

The good Dr. Holmes, until recently of the Unity Church of New York, without knowing me personally became my advertising agent. Some of the nice things he said about me I never knew myself. So I receive often embarrassing letters from America expecting me to perform miracles. Dr. Holmes was followed much later by the late Bishop Fisher who knew me personally in India. He very nearly dragged me to America but fate had ordained otherwise and I could not visit your vast and great country with its wonderful people.


Moreover, you have given me a teacher in Thoreau, who furnished me through his essay on the “Duty of Civil Disobedience” scientific confirmation of what I was doing in South Africa. Great Britain gave me Ruskin, whose Unto This Last transformed me overnight from a lawyer and city-dweller into a rustic living away from Durban on a farm, three miles from the nearest railway station and Russia gave me in Tolstoy a teacher who furnished a reasoned basis for my nonviolence. He blessed my movement in South Africa when it was still in its infancy and of whose wonderful possibilities I had yet to learn. It was he who had prophesied in his letter to me that I was leading a movement which was destined to bring a message of hope to the downtrodden people of the earth.

So you will see that I have not approached the present task in any spirit of enmity to Great Britain and the West. After having imbibed and assimilated the message of Unto This Last, I could not be guilty of approving of Fascism or Nazism, whose cult is suppression of the individual and his liberty.


I invite you to read my formula of withdrawal or, as it has been popularly called, “Quit India,” with this background. You may not read into it more than the context warrants.
I claim to be a votary of truth from my childhood. It was the most natural thing to me. My prayerful search gave me the revealing maxim “Truth is God” instead of the usual one “God is Truth.” That maxim enables me to see God face to face as it were. I feel Him pervade every fibre of my being. With this Truth as witness between you and me, I assert that I would not have asked my country to invite Great Britain to withdraw her rule over India, irrespective of any demand to the contrary, if I had not seen at once that for the sake of Great Britain and the Allied cause it was necessary for Britain boldly to perform the duty of freeing India from bondage. Without this essential act of tardy justice, Britain could not justify her position before the unmurmuring world conscience, which is there nevertheless.

Singapore, Malaya and Burma taught me that the disaster must not be repeated in India. I make bold to say that it cannot be averted unless Britain trusts the people of India to use their liberty in favour of the Allied cause. By that supreme act of justice Britain would have taken away all cause for the seething discontent of India. She will turn the growing ill-will into active goodwill. I submit that it is worth all the battleships and airships that your wonder-working engineers and financial resources can produce.


I know that interested propaganda has filled your ears and eyes with distorted versions of the Congress position. I have been painted as a hypocrite and enemy of Britain under disguise. My demonstrable spirit of accommodation has been described as my inconsistency, proving me to be an utterly unreliable man. I am not going to burden this letter with proof in support of my assertions. If the credit I have enjoyed in America will not stand me in good stead, nothing I may argue in self-defence will carry conviction against the formidable but false propaganda that has poisoned American ears.

You have made common cause with Great Britain. You cannot therefore disown responsibility for anything that her representatives do in India. You will do a grievous wrong to the Allied cause if you do not sift the truth from the chaff whilst there is yet time. Just think of it. Is there anything wrong in the Congress demanding unconditional recognition of India’s independence? It is being said, “But this is not the time.” We say, “This is the psychological moment for that recognition.” For then and then only can there be irresistible opposition to Japanese aggression. It is of immense value to the Allied cause if it is also of equal value to India. The Congress has anticipated and provided for every possible difficulty in the way of recognition. I want you to look upon the immediate recognition of India’s independence as a war measure of first class magnitude. 

I am,
Your friend,
M. K. Gandhi 

When God Laughs

GOD laughs on two occasions. He laughs when the physician says to the patient’s mother, “Don’t be afraid, mother, I shall certainly cure your boy.” God laughs saying to Himself, “I am going to take his life, and this man says he will save it!” The physician thinks he is the master, forgetting that God is the Master.

God laughs again when two brothers divide their land with a string, saying to each other, “This side is mine, that side is yours.” He laughs and says to Himself, “The universe belongs to Me, but they say they own this portion or that portion,”

—Tales and Parables of Sri Ramakrishna

Nirvanashatakam or Song of Self-Realization

If night and day are but the wink of God’s eye,

A million calyxes have opened and closed in a single wink.

Desire blinds and bewilders memory of love, like the slow torpor of heat escaping a tormented earth

the wrath that follows is a midnight howl,

a bloodless gash in the soul of man,

wrought in the anvils of lust,

ever gluttonous bitterness, ever paralyzing,

now violent now lecherous, a pestilential torrent beating against the castle of the soul,

sullen like a devil who cannot wet it.

Sorrows only end when we become perfect witnesses

and he who no longer seeks umbrage in grief nor joy ,

he who is like the stillness of a quiet summer night,

seated in the garden, moonflowers vining their way into the light,

he has learned the secret of witnessing,

he is the perfect witness, for he has nothing to gain from the object of his witnessing,

nothing to prove,

in whom self has conquered self,

for whom only the bliss of knowing the love of God exists—

to seek such a purity of intent in the works of life, to work as witness,

to love the wicked and good,

hold the sinner and saint in one’s arms with the same devotion, with the same unflinching embrace of truth.

Indeed only these can be judged as true works, works wrought in the fine filigree of sacrifice,

as a reaper’s scythe against the harvest,

pitiless in its shearing of sheaves,

yet seeking not its fruit for his own gain—

stern, simple, salutary,

like a a stack of white linens

freshly dried in the sun.

Knowledge is like this: a play of a play within a play and the world is its stage–

as darkness is the source of light and light the cause of shadow,

the lie also bears the seed of truth,

for the liar too is a truth-teller

ever revealing the very truth

he seeks to suppress, and so enlightening us all

as a murderer gives birth to life

as a mother suppresses it

As a soldier yearns for peace on the battlefield, so a false peace-monger may be the harbinger of pusillanimity

In evil a glimmer of good

and in the good always the glimmer of evil

all that is is also all that isn’t

and all that was is also all that is and will be,

for matter and spirit can neither be created nor destroyed

and response is not merely a function of the living, but also the non living

Death is but the beginning of life

and life but the beginning of death

Pain the precipitate of pleasure

And pleasure an escape of pain –

as the sun rises in one place and sets elsewhere,

as the tide leaps even as it recedes

amidst the relativity of time and space,

love is the only constant

love that slips a sapling out of the earth and nourishes it with rain,

love that draws a flock of geese into a wild dance against the break of day,

Love that syncopates the choral cacophony of human voices into metric harmony,

Love that pulls the heavens tightly around the earth, like some spangled blanket, soft and ethereal, studded with the diamonds of the night.

Ahimsa as a Science Of Love and Social Action

Impure means result in an impure end. Hence, prince and the peasant will not be equaled by cutting off the prince’s head, nor can the process of cutting off equalize the employer and the employed. One cannot reach truth by untruthfulness. Truthful conduct alone can reach truth.

—Gandhiji

The artist of this untitled piece, K.H. Ara, was a satyagrahi who was imprisoned for his participation in the famous Salt Satyagraha. The production of salt, a dietary staple, was heavily taxed by the British colonial administration. Satyagrahis marched for nearly a month on foot to the sea. More than 80, 000 were arrested. Not a single weapon was in their hands. Martin Luther King Jr. would preach about Gandhi’s strategy and leadership of the Salt March upon his return to the United States from his trip to the Land Of Gandhi in a sermon entitled “Palm Sunday Sermon on Mohandas K. Gandhi remarking

And you have read of the Salt March, which was a very significant thing in the Indian struggle. And this demonstrates how Gandhi used this method of nonviolence and how he would mobilize his people and galvanize the whole of the nation to bring about victory. In India, the British people had come to the point where they were charging the Indian people a tax on all of the salt, and they would not allow them even to make their own salt from all of the salt seas around the country. They couldn’t touch it; it was against the law. And Gandhi got all of the people of India to see the injustice of this. And he decided one day that they would march from Ahmadabad down to a place called Dandi.

We had the privilege of spending a day or so at Ahmadabad at that Sabarmati ashram, and we stood there at the point where Gandhi started his long walk of two hundred and eighteen miles. And he started there walking with eighty people. And gradually the number grew to a million, and it grew to millions and millions. And finally, they kept walking and walking until they reached the little village of Dandi. And there, Gandhi went on and reached down in the river, or in the sea rather, and brought up a little salt in his hand to demonstrate and dramatize the fact that they were breaking this law in protest against the injustices they had faced all over the years with these salt laws.

Gandhi’s method of protest, it should be remembered, was a scientific method based on sociology, psychology, law, economics, as well as theology. It draws on all these methods of knowing the truth in order to heal the human personality, which he recognized had become inured to the notion that it is human nature to be violent. Like Socrates, who averred that humanity tended towards justice rather than injustice, love rather than hatred, Gandhi too maintained that in the end, any Republic founded on the “interest of the stronger” would not last, for the arc of the moral universe, as Dr. King also said, bends towards justice. Such is the genius of Gandhiji’s science of Ahimsa, which, he insisted, was the science of love. Love strives to rise above nature, to transform nature in its image. Gandhi, it should be noted, took love as a force in the universe, as an animating primum mobile capable of effecting measurable change in the order of universe. In the Salt Satyagraha, we see a concrete social example of human action anchored in the philosophy of Ahimsa; the Indian people transmute the quotient of their moral discipline and physical suffering into energy that is in turn dedicated to the production of a necessity seized by the imperialist. satyagraha is rooted in renunciation and self-sacrifice, which is a philosophical idea integral to the practice of Hinduism. This forceful collective renunciation powered the movement for swaraj because in impelling the masses to forego attachment to their physical reality even unto death, Gandhi emphasized that they would be redeemed in the love of their children for whom they struggled.

The soul-force is infinitely greater than the physical form and the revolutionary, in particular, must learn this truth if he or she is striving to overcome the fear of death, which is really a fear of love because if we love from the soul force we will know that we never truly die. We we will return again and again, like the universe sucking into itself until at last we are at the center of that which is changeless, formless, that which is beyond space, time, and causality, the perfect stillness which the Christians call the peace which passeth understanding and the Hindus call Brahman, which represents the totality of the soul force.

As an energetic force, love represents more than willpower for Gandhi as Schoepenhauer had claimed; rather, love is an acknowledgement of the ephemerality of the physical form itself; it can work as a physical principle because it cuts across time. It is the understanding that desire produces suffering and that we are responsible for our misery because we are too attached to our material life at the grave expense of our spiritual life. Consequently, we are bound to the rigors of mortality, bogged down by the petty crimes and frustrations of everyday life which keep us further distracted from the truth: that all is maya and that in truth, we are energetic forms that are merely taking new shape and new intervals navigating the great force field that is the universe. We depend on light for life but where does it come from and does it come from us, if the kingdom of God is inside us? The search for “scientific truth” has taken modern Western man outward; and yet as our sages and leaders have told us, to seek truth, we must indeed go inward–the inward journey, in the words of the great Howard Thurman. In the form of Hinduism Vivekananda emphasized, when one escapes rebirth, one returns to complete unity with the universal soul or the Atman. In truth, he argues, we are all perfect; it is just that we have become inured to ignorance as a result of our attachment to illusions of reality. To truly achieve the freedom of the soul, both Gandhi and Vivekananda suggest, one must overcome these illusions and confront the truth of one’s soul force. The soul force is ancient as it is new. It represents the embedded unity of past, present, and future because it is time itself. Time would not exist without the soul in this epistemology for it is the karma of the soul which impels causality in time-space.

The Salt Satyagraha reveals that Ahimsa is more than a concept: it is an actual perception capable of being shared by a large mass of people and uniting them in common purpose and action, in karma and dharma. It represents a new epistemology that compels man to overcome the brute in him by recognizing the grand illusions and painful distortions of reality that hold us in bondage to suffering.

Fundamental to the Gandhian epistemology is a rejection of the rigid empiricism characteristic of Western science. Rather, it embraces the central message of peace underlying all of the world’s religions and sees them as temporally dialogical to Science. We might remember here that even Western science began in African and Asian religious and scientific texts, which acknowledged, as it is revealed in the Vedas, the unity in the plurality of forms. The distinction that has arisen between Religion and Science in the West is dispelled in the thought of Vivekananda and Gandhi, revealed as something of a false dichotomy, for the real question is the relation of humanity to nature and this question takes us to both science and religion; this theoretical legacy is indebted to with the teachings of the Vedanta as well as the sacred texts of other religions.However, this idea of non-injury as the highest ideal of civilization is reiterated most impactfully in the modern epoch in the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and his greatest disciple Swami Vivekananda, both of whom Gandhiji admired greatly. Again, we are entering a new epistemology here because historically in the West Science has been emptied of moral purpose and Religion has unfortunately been declared, even by great social scientists like Marx, as a deviation from scientific truth. Like Vivekananda, who insisted upon the unity of all of the world’s religions, Gandhi recognizes “a perfect unity in the plurality of designs.” Thus he did not see a contradiction between Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, and other faiths and science. It is for this reason that he defends his theory of Ahimsa as scientific; as he maintained

Nevertheless, I do feel, as the poor villagers felt about Mysore, that there is orderliness in the universe, there is an unalterable law governing everything and every being that exists or lives. It is not a blind law, for no blind law can govern the conduct of living being and thanks to the marvelous researches of Sir J. C. Bose it can now be proved that even matter is life

Salt of the earth