Books which influenced Gandhi’s Life and Thought

  1. Light of Asia, by Sir Edwin Arnold, Trubner & Co., Londond, 1879.
    Told in verses, it describes the life and teachings of Gautama Buddha, a prince of India and the founder of Buddhism. Gandhi read this book in 1889, during his law studies in London. At that time he found it to be of greater interest than the Bhagavadgita. In his autobiography he wrote, “Once I had begun it I could not leave off.”
  2. Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments.
    In his autobiography, Gandhi wrote, “The Old Testament put me to sleep, but the New Testament produced a different impression, especially the Sermon on the Mount which went straight to my heart. I compared it with the Gita. The verses, ‘But I say unto you, that ye resist no evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man takes away thy coat let him have thy cloak too’, delighted me beyond measure. My young mind tried to unify the teaching of the Gita, the Light of Asia and the Sermon on the Mount. That renunciation was the highest form of religion, appealed to me greatly.”
  3. The Key to Theosophy, by Helene Petrovna Blavatsky, the Theosophical Publishing Co. Ltd., New York, 1889.
    This is a clear exposition, in the form of questions and answers, of the ethics, science and philosophy for the study of which the Theosophical Society was founded. Gandhi read this book in London, probably in December 1889, and wrote in his autobiography, “This book stimulated in me the desire to read books on Hinduism, and disabused me of the notion fostered by the missionaries, that Hinduism was rife with superstition.”
  4. On Heroes, Hero-worship and the Heroic in History, by Thomas Carlyle, James Fraser, London, 1841.
    Gandhi read the chapter on the Hero as a prophet and learnt of the Prophet’s greatness, bravery and austere living.
  5. Lives of the Successors of Mahomet, by Washington Irving, H. G. Bohn, London, 1850.
    After reading this book Gandhi felt a high regard for Muhammad.
  6. Return to Nature, by Adolf Just, Benedict Lust, New York, 1903
    This book was responsible for influencing Gandhi’s ideas regarding natural therapeutics. In it he read about earth treatment and became convinced that fresh fruits and nuts are the natural diet of man. He did not at once take to the exclusive fruit diet, but immediately began experiments in earth treatment and had wonderful results.
  7. Mahabharata and Bhagvadgita, translated from Sanskrit by Sir Edwin Arnold and titled, ‘The Song Celestial’, Trubner & Co., London, 11885.
    This is a discourse between Arjuna, a prince in India, and the supreme being under the form of Krishna. Gandhi read it in London together with two theosophists and wrote, in his autobiography, “The verses in the second chapter made a deep impression on my mind, and they still ring in my ears. The book struck me as one of priceless worth. The impression has ever since been growing on me with the result that I regard it today (1925) as the book par excellence for the knowledge of Truth.
  8. India: What can it teach us?, by Friederich Max Muller, Longmans, Green & Co., London, 1883
    Gandhi read this book with great interest and it influenced him profoundly.
  9. Many infallible proofs: the evidences of Christianity, or the written or living word of God, by Arthur Tappan Pierson, Morgan & Scott, London, 1889.
    Gandhi liked this book very much, although he could not follow some parts properly.
  10. Unto this Last: four essays on the first principles of political economy, by John Ruskin, Smith, Elder & Co., London, 1862.
    Gandhi read this book in October 1903, on a train between Johannesburg and Durban in South Africa, and was deeply impressed by it. From the moment that he opened it, he could not put it down. He could not sleep that night and read it over and over and resolved to put the principles of the book into practice immediately. In his autobiography Gandhi wrote, “The teachings of Unto This Last I understood to be: (1) That the good of the individual is contained in the good of all; (2) That a lawyer’s work has the same value as the barber’s in as much as all have the same right of earning their livelihood from their work; and (3) That a life of labor, i.e., the life of the tiller of the soil and the handicraftsman is the life worth living. The first of these I knew. The second I had dimly realized. The third had never occurred to me. Unto This Last made it as clear as daylight for me that the second and the third were contained in the first. I arose with the dawn, ready to reduce these principles to practice.” This book was responsible for influencing Gandhi to pursue simple and close-to-nature living. It played a significant role in transforming the ordinary Gandhi into Mahatma (the great souls) Gandhi.
  11. On the Duty of Civil Disobedience, by Henry David Thoreau, The Simple Press, London, 1903.
    Gandhi read this book after he had already developed his concept of Satyagraha. Nevertheless, the book impressed him and corroborated with his own idea of Civil Disobedience. In his book, Satyagraha in South Africa, Gandhi wrote, “Civil Disobedience is civil breach of unmoral statutory enactments. The expression was, so far as I am aware, coined by Thoreau to signify his own resistance to the laws of a slave State. But Thoreau was not perhaps an out and out champion of non-violence. Probably also, Thoreau limited his breach of statutory laws to the revenue law, i.e., payment of taxes. Whereas the term Civil Disobedience as practiced in 1919 covered a breach of any statutory and unmoral law. It signified the resister’s outlawry in a civil, i.e., non-violent manner. He invoked the sanctions of the law and cheerfully suffered imprisonment. It is a branch of Satyagraha.”
  12. The Gospel in Brief, by Leo Tolstoy, translated from the Russian, T. Y. Crowell & Co., New York, 1896.
    Gandhi made an intensive study of this book and ‘what to do’ especially influenced his life and thought.
  13. The Kingdom of God is within you: Christianity not as a mystic religion but as a new theory of life, by Leo Tolstoy, translated from the Russian, The Cassell Publishing Co., New York, 1894.
    This book overwhelmed Gandhi and left an abiding impression on him.


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