NPJ Book Review: Gandhi, An Autobiography, The story of my experiments with truth, Mahadev Desai, translator

Gandhi, An Autobiography, The story of my experiments with truth, Mahadev Desai, translator from the original in Gujarati. (1957)

“I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and non-violence are as old as the hills.”  (Carved on a wall at the Satyagraha Ashram in Ahmedabad)

Mahatma Gandhi’s words and even misquotes have been repeated countless times. His philosophy of non-violence has been preached throughout the world in various religions. His coinage of satyagraha or “to replace methods of violence  and (to be) a movement based entirely upon truth,” remains unique.

In his Autobiography Gandhi shares his struggles and insights. He was a complicated man – living, experiencing and experimenting with life within the context of his times (the first part of the 20thcentury). He admitted he intellectually and spiritually fell down – he always rose up to remain open to finding the truth regardless of how painful. What he found was that Truth is found in morsels. There is never the whole truth. The world is diverse, and people translate our words through the filters of their own minds just as he admitted to the same. To understand truth he sought the simple life of a peasant. He was very familiar with both the life of Buddha and Jesus.

Gandhi understood and tried to exemplify compassion for all living things. He explores the idea that no political undertaking such as a democracy can long survive with the sharp divisions between the rich and poor – such divisions are a violence to the person living a meager existence.

This thick volume is a shared personal look into his life’s experiences – from his days as a lawyer to his diet, to civil disobedience, imprisonment, communications with the Russian author Tolstoy to his feeling about life on a day-to-day basis and a myriad of insights. His vision and his methods were of a grand scale but ultimately he understood his own weaknesses and frailties. He constantly tested them. He experimented with truth on a daily basis.

There has been numerous volumes written about him – good and bad, some calling him wicked, racist, and tragic and others praising and calling him Father and enlightened one for without him the independence of India might not have occurred when it did. He was man of his times caught up in the web of wars, poverty, anger, populism and people seeking help for their profound conflicts in life. To understand the human struggle he adapted his life to be with the least among us. His self-examined life was a philosophical and political inquiry requiring action.

In light of what has been written about him during our own times I think it’s valuable to revisit Gandhi’s own words and actions and how he perceived the world around him. In his search he says,”To see the universal and all-pervading Spirit of Truth face to face one must be able to love the meanest of creation as oneself.”

Near the end Gandhi writes…”So long as man does not of his own free will put himself last among his fellow creatures, there is no salvation for him. Ahimsa (cause no injury) is the farthest limit of humility.”

This thoughtful work is a glimpse into the man through his own words. It serves as a reference tool.