I’ve been reading The Essential Gandhi: An Anthology of His Writings on His Life, Work, and Ideas by Mahatma Gandhi, and compiling quotes from it. Reading it I’m impressed by the truth, compassion, determination, and non-violence in the way he thought, let alone acted.
Of course, I knew about him getting the English out of India through non-violent action but I didn’t know many details. It’s also just fun to get a glimpse into his mind and life in India, South Africa, and England at that time.
For example, he often condemns himself for being too lustful towards his own wife! Not something people in the U.S. worry about now.
Here’s some info about his early life with quotes and context.
Gandhi was born in India in 1869, he was married at the age of 13, and went to England to study to be a lawyer in 1888.
When he went back to India a couple years later he did very poorly as a lawyer but was soon hired to serve as the lawyer for a community of Indian (Porbandar) Muslims in South Africa. The editor of the book notes:
[Gandhi was a self-made man and the transformation began in South Africa…. His was a remarkable case of second birth in one life time.] -p30
Gandhi suffered racism, “insults” and “beatings”, when trying to ride first-class on the train, trying to stay at hotels, and trying to practice law in the courts. “Suffice it to say, all these experiences sank into me….” -p32
In fact, many years later he referred to his first experience being kicked off a train for refusing to leave his first-class seat as his “most creative experience.”
When he reached Pretoria, where he would work, he brought together a meeting of all the Indians in the city, mostly Muslim merchants and some Hindus. He was 24 and he gave his first public speech.
I had always heard the merchants say truth was not possible in business. I did not think so then nor do I now…. I strongly contested this position in my speech and awakened the merchants to a sense of duty…. -p33
He worked with Indians and the local authorities in improving the rights of Indians in South Africa and was known for not exaggerating and actually being understanding of the situation of the white man in South Africa as well.
My experience has shown me that we win justice quickest by rendering justice to the other party. -p43
Still, some newspapers villainized him and he was attacked by an angry mob. He refused to prosecute them:
I have no anger against them. I am only sorry for their ignorance and their narrowness. I know that they sincerely believe that what they are doing today is right and proper. I have no reason therefore to be angry with them. -p44
[Gandhi had been interviewed by the Natal Advertiser…. This] interview and my refusal to prosecute the assailants produced such a profound impression that the Europeans of Durban were ashamed of their conduct. The press declared me to be innocent and condemned the mob. Thus the lynching proved to be a blessing for me, that is, for the cause. It enhanced the prestige of the Indian community in South Africa and made my work easier. -p46
The way Gandhi had both real compassion AND real determination seems to be what made him so effective.
Also apparently Gandhi had a bad temper growing up. Later he said:
I have learnt through bitter experience, the one supreme lesson to conserve my anger, and as heat conserved is transmuted into energy, even so our anger controlled can be transmuted into a power which can move the world. -xii
May we all transform the anger we feel at injustice into compassion and determination to change the world.