Mohandas K Gandhi began writing his autobiography- The Story of My Experiments with Truth upon the persuasion of his co-workers Jeramadas and Swami Anand.
His memoir documents his life from childhood and his experiences as a law student in England. It also includes details of his public work both in South Africa and India. Gandhi’s humility, discipline, perseverance and sacrificial personality shine brightly through his life story.
His commitment to advocating for farmers in India and Indian indentured labourers in South Africa through non-violent approaches was remarkable. This influenced many great leaders after him such as Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in their movements for freedom and equality.
There are similar articles on the life lessons of influential leaders on this blog. These individuals include Kobe Bryant, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., Phil Knight, Lee Iacocca, Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali. Furthermore, there is an article that summarises the greatest life lessons from these influential individuals. Feel free to click through any of the previous links to read more content of this nature.
The following are 14 powerful lessons from the life of Mahatma Gandhi that resonated with me. Direct quotations are included with page numbers in certain instances.
Honoured his parents
Gandhi’s belief which was instilled by his parents forbade him from eating meat. However he had a friend who was persistent and introduced him to eating meat without his parent’s knowledge. While he tried meat he decided to cease out of respect for his parents.
“Though it is essential to eat meat, and also essential to take up food ‘reform’ in the country, yet deceiving and lying to one’s father and mother is worse than not eating meat” (p.23).
When Gandhi decided to travel to England to pursue studies in law, his mother was apprehensive. She feared that the new environment will sway him away from his religious upbringing. This view was also shared by leaders within the caste.
Despite the opinions of the leaders, Gandhi vowed to his mother that he would never eat meat. He also promised to honour the values that he was raised with. He kept this vow to his mother who died while he was studying abroad.
Gandhi shared the view of the caste position and stated:
“In the opinion of the caste, your proposal to go to England is not proper. Our religion forbids voyages abroad. We have also heard that it is not possible to live there without compromising our religion. One is obliged to eat and drink with Europeans” (p.40)!
Prudent financial management
Even as a law student abroad, Gandhi exercised prudent financial management. He accounted for every dollar that he spent on food, room and board.
Gandhi often revisited his practices to ensure that he was making the most cost effective decisions in his daily life. He examined things like where he lived so that he can walk various locations. He also prepared his own meals to save on the costs of food.
Maintained a habit of walking
At school, Gandhi being shy did not participate in sporting activities. Having read of the benefits of walking, he decided to embrace and maintain this practice. He stated upon reflecting on his school life:
“Today I know that physical training should have as much place in the curriculum as mental training” (p.15).
Upon returned to India from his studies in England, Gandhi was still ex-communicated from his caste. Gandhi was based on the regulations prohibited from being entertained by his relatives.
However, he was careful and upheld the regulations and received affection and generousity from the heads of the caste.
“Had I agitated for being admitted to the caste, had I attempted to divide it into more camps, had I provoked the castemen, they would surely have retaliated, and instead of steering clear of the storm, I should, on arrival from England, have found myself in a whirlpool of agitation, and perhaps a party to dissimulation”( p. 91).
Public speaking was one of Gandhi’s weaknesses again due to his shyness. He shared where he failed to execute on his speech at a farewell party after completing his law studies in England.
Gandhi only completed one sentence before abruptly sitting down at this event.
“It was only in South Africa that I got over this shyness, though I never completely overcame it. It was impossible for me to speak impromptu. I hesitated whenever I had to face strange audiences and avoided making a speech whenever I could” (p.61).
Gandhi’s shyness kept him from joining sporting activities at school and from being eloquent at making speeches. However, he believed that this was to his advantage as he was able to choose his words carefully.
“Experience has taught me that silence is part of the spiritual discipline of a votary of truth. Proneness to exaggerate, to suppress or modify the truth, wittingly or unwittingly, is a natural weakness of man, and silence is necessary in order to surmount it. A man of few words will rarely be thoughtless in his speech; he will measure every word” (p.62).
Picked his battles
When Gandhi was settling into Natal, South Africa, it was against the custom in that country for lawyers to wear turbans while taking at oath at the Supreme Court. Gandhi had strong grounds for resistance. However, he chose submission and removed his turban, a move that was criticised by several of his friends.
Gandhi position was:
“I wanted to reserve my strength for fighting bigger battles. I should not exhaust my skill as a fighter in insisting on retaining my turban. It was worthy of a better cause” ( p.147).
Embraced new experiences
While studying in England, he tried several new things as learning French, updating his style, playing the violin and dancing. Gandhi believed in simple living.
One of his first ways of cutting his expenses was learning to professionally launder his clothing. He bought a book, learnt the skill and also taught it to his wife. Gandhi was not very good at the art of washing and ironing at first.
However, he later mastered the skill.
“In the course of time I became an expert washerman so far as my own work went, and my washing was by no means inferior to laundry washing. My collars were no less stiff or shiny than others” (p. 212-213).
Kept a morning routine
Gandhi maintained a morning routine where he incorporated learning a new language as part of his morning habit. He also included memorising verses by sticking them to pieces of paper as part of his morning ritual.
Maintained honesty in his profession
Gandhi believed in maintaining integrity in his professional life as a lawyer. He communicated this clearly to clients and potential clients of his stance concerning honesty in his profession as a lawyer.
“I warned every new client at the outset that he should not expect me to take up a false case or to coach the witness, with the result that I built up such a reputation that no false cases used to come to me. Indeed some of my clients would keep their clean cases for me, and take the doubtful ones elsewhere” (p.362).
Acknowledged his shortcomings
Gandhi and his wife Kasturbai married as teenagers. His deep dedication to public work often left him with insufficient time to teach his children.
He spent years away from his first child while he was studying in England and during his initial migration to South Africa. The result of this was that he was unable to commit the time required to ensure that his children received an education.
Upon reflection, Gandhi indicated:
“Had I been able to devote at least an hour to their literary education with strict regularity, I should have given them, in my opinion, an ideal education. I am not heartbroken over it and the regret, if any, is that I did not prove an ideal father” (p.311).
Finishing what he started
Gandhi believed that all autobiographies are incomplete and inadequate. He reflected in his book on the accuracy of his writing and whether it is a pure reflection of the events of his life as it happened.
He questioned whether he should continue this assignment:
“I, therefore, wonder for a moment whether it might not be proper to stop writing these chapters. But so long as there is no prohibition from the voice within, I must continue the writing. I must follow the sage maxim that nothing once begun should be abandoned unless it is proved to be morally wrong” (p. 280).
Several examples are presented in Gandhi’s memoir where he gave of his time for social causes. Gandhi was instrumental in forming an Indian Ambulance Corps to nurse persons harmed in the Zulu rebellion in South Africa.
He also taught English to his fellow countrymen. Gandhi saw opportunities to serve and volunteered willingly to do so.
Gandhi dedicated his career to the service of others. His book gives deep insight into history the of both India and South Africa. His philosophy of non violence became the principles used by several incredible leaders after him.
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