A wise person once said that if you want to succeed, read about successful people — and learn your lessons from them. If one wants to challenge conventional wisdom and upend power structures through non-violent resistance, then you must read Mohandas Gandhi.
Also known as “Mahatma,” meaning “Great Soul,” Gandhi was born in 1869 in western India. He practiced law, moved to South Africa, turned into a prominent civil rights leader who used nonviolent resistance to challenge racism there, moved back to India, and ultimately helped his country win independence from the British government. He was assassinated in 1948.
Albert Einstein once wrote about Gandhi: “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this walked the earth in flesh and blood.”
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who was greatly informed by Gandhi, wrote: “If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. He lived, thought, and acted, inspired by the vision of humanity evolving toward a world of peace and harmony. We may ignore him at our own risk.”
Gandhi came up with a way of life and activism he called “satyagraha,” or loosely translated as “insistence on truth.”
“Truth (satya) implies love,” Gandhi wrote, “and firmness (agraha) engenders and therefore serves as a synonym for force.”
Countless numbers of books have been written about Mohandas Gandhi, and there are various collections of his writings. Gandhi, understanding the need for mass communication, published his own newspapers.
One excellent, and intriguing, collection is Gandhi on Non-Violence. It was edited by American Catholic monk Thomas Merton, who was widely admired in his day — he lived between 1915 and 1968. The 94-page book offers concise, thought-provoking ideas and wisdom from Gandhi in a reader-friendly format. Merton understood what he was doing.
But arguably the best book to learn about Mohandas Gandhi, his ways, and his thinking is An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth. (We also recommend the outstanding 1982 film Gandhi.)
Written in installments for his newspapers in the 1920s, Gandhi covers his childhood through 1921. A panel of experts deemed the autobiography as one of 100 best spiritual books of the 20th century — two books by Thomas Merton also landed on that list.
What one learns when reading An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth is that non-violence is more than not being physically violent. It’s also about not using spiritual or verbal or other types of violence against another person — an idea that’s particularly relevant in today’s divisive, violent times in the United States and elsewhere.
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. understood the importance of this concept. As did South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, another civil and human rights titan. To create lasting, peaceful, meaningful change, one had to go beyond war and revenge and destruction. Such an approach will not only transform the world, but the life of one who practices it.