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How to Live by Mahatma Gandhi's Principles

Updated on December 29, 2012

Mohandas Gandhi & Jawaharlal Nehru


"Be the change you want to see in the world."

Mahatma is not Gandhi's first name. Gandhi's name is actually Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. He was born on October 2, 1869 and was assassinated on January 30, 1948. He was give the title of Mahatma which means Great Soul. He did not like the title, as he was modest. He was often called Bapu, which means Father, as he is considered the father of the nation of India.

Gandhi showed us a noble way to live as human beings. Gandhi could have lived today as his teachings are still relevant. He was all about openess, connection, accessibility, democratization, and decentralization. He was extrodinarily creative. This allowed him to find solutions that not everyone else could see or understand at first. This can translate to our lives today. We can use his principles and decide how we can incorporate them into our lives.

Non Violence Sculpture by Carl Fredrik Reutersward in Malmo Sweden


Ahimsa - Nonviolence

Gandhi grew up learning Ahimsa from his mother. She practiced Jainism. Ahisma is a fundamental practice of Jainism. In his studies of world religions he found that this belief carried through most religions. The definition of Ahimsa per Gandhi is, "the largest love, the greatest charity. If I am a follower of Ahisma, I must love my enemy."

Gandhi believed non violence to be the morally superior path and that it was as effective as violence to achieve goals but at much less cost. However, Gandhi did not want cowardice to be hidden under a shield of nonviolence. Gandhi felt that physical force was only used by weak people. Real strength resides in a person's capacity to express their ideal.

Gandhi used nonviolence as civil disobedience when needed. He would put himself in harms way and did not fight back when attacked. For instance, in 1930 Gandhi began a march to oppose Britian's Salt Tax. Britain had a monopoly on the production and sale of salt. No one in India was allowed to collect or sell salt. Salt was a necessary part of everyone's diet so this tax produced hardship for Indians, especially the poor. Gandhi, along with others, started a 240 mile march from Sabarmati to Dandi. Gandhi arrived at Dandi and picked up a salt deposit. Many people followed his lead and civil disobedience broke out all over India.

About a month after Gandhi picked up that salt deposit another group of 2,500 people marched to the Dharasana Salt Works. The peaceful demonstrators were beaten by police. This incident, documented by an American journalist, prompted international support against the salt tax. These marches were considered an integral point in gaining India's freedom from Britain seventeen years later.

Ahmisa literally means not hurting non violence. Life lives on life. As man lives, he is always hurting something by eating and drinking. Therefore, we as humans will always be hurting something in order to live, be it cutting down a tree to make a house or killing a chicken for dinner. Gandhi worked to do the least amount of violence possible to hurt living beings the least he possibly could. This in turn improved his self restraint or Brahmacharya.

Gandhi Quotes on Ahisma (Non Violence)

"Nonviolence is not a garment to be put on and off at will. Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our being."

"Truth is never illustrated through the use of violence."

"I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent."

"An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind."

Ways to Live Ahimsa in your Life

  1. Stand up for what you know in your heart is right. Do so in a non-violent manner.
  2. Do not retaliate but do not submit.
  3. Do not insult your opponent or use harsh words.

Satyagraha - Unflinching Adherance to the Truth

Satyagraha is a word developed by Gandhi in 1906. It is a combination of two Sanskrit words. The first part of the word comes from the word satya. Satya means truth. The second part of the word comes from the work Agraha. Agraha means insistence or holding firmly to. Satyagraha is tied closely to non-violence as Satyagraha is what Gandhi named his movement. Truth includes being honest with yourself and others. Truth is not only honesty but also living in accordance with what is true.

Gandhi Quotes on Satyagraha (Truth)

"Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth."

"Our life is a long and arduous quest after Truth."

"An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it."

Ways to Live Satayagraha in your Life

  1. Be honest and kind.
  2. Live your life in accordance to what you know in your heart to be true.
  3. Stand up for that truth.

Asteya - Non-stealing

Asteya is the act of not breaching any beings ownership or sense of entitlement to any possessions. This ties closely to Asangraha (Non Materialistic).

Ways to Live Asteya in your Life

  1. Do not steal.

Asangraha - Non Materialistic

Following his idea of non-possession, Gandhi let his insurance policy lapse. He believed that God would take care of him and his family.He gave his brother all the money that he had saved but explained that he would not give him future savings. He would use any future savings for the benefit of the community. His brother was angry. His brother felt that Gandhi needed to support the family as part of his responsibility, just as his father had. Gandhi felt that he was doing exactly as his father has done. Only, Gandhi's meaning of family had widened. His brother ended his relationship with Gandhi until near his death.

Gandhi Quotes on Asangraha (Non-Materialistic)

"You may have occasion to possess or use material things, but the secret of life lies in never missing them."

"A life of sacrifice is the pinnacle of art, and is full of true joy."

Ways to Live Asangraha in your Life

  1. Do not seek possession.
  2. Limit the possessions that you have.
  3. Do not feel like you need those possessions to live. An ipod is just an ipod. It is not required to live.
  4. Give joyfully of your time.
  5. Donate money joyfully.

Brahmacharya - Self Discipline

Brahmacharya literally means conduct that leads one to God. Gandhi felt that this was the control of the senses in thought, word, and deed. He knew that this was extremely difficult. Gandhi felt that God makes the existence of controlling the mind possible.

He took a vow to always follow Brahmacharya after the Zulu Rebellion. It was very difficult and he struggled to improve on it throughout his whole life. It is self discipline of everything in his body and mind, even self discipline of thought and bodily restraint. This also includes control of appetite and self imposed celibacy.

Gandhi Quotes on Brahmacharya (Self Discipline)

"A man is but the product of his thoughts - what he thinks, he becomes."

"Always aim at complete harmony of thought and word and deed. Always aim at purifying your thoughts and everything will be well."

Ways to Live Brahmacharya in your Life

  1. Chastity
  2. Control your appetite. Only eat what you need to survive.
  3. Keep your mind pure. If you have bad thoughts, cast them aside. Don't allow them to occupy your mind.
  4. Keep your actions pure. Act in the manner that you believe God would approve of.

Sharira Shram - Physical Labor

Gandhi kept his house in South Africa as simple as possible. He had one household servant at the time. This was early on in his life while he was still practicing law. He increased the expectations on his family and asked them to help the one household servant with the duties of taking care of the house. The family cleaned the bathroom instead of having the servant do it.

The Zulu Rebellion in Natal broke out in 1906. A Zulu Chief told his group not to pay a new tax that was imposed on them. It was a revolt against the tax and against British rule. Gandhi volunteered to form an Indian Ambulance Group for Natal. His group mainly took care of injured Zulu's. The white soldiers tried to get Gandhi's Ambulance Group to stop attending to the Zulu's medical needs. When the Ambulance Group refused, they became angry. The Zulu Rebellion gave Gandhi a lot to think about and it was a hardship to experience. He was living in a war zone but he felt happy that he could assist the wounded that otherwise would have gone unaided.

Gandhi Quotes on Sharira Shram (Physical Labor)

"I cannot imagine anything nobler or more national than that for, say, one hour in the day we should all do the labor the poor must do, and thus identify ourselves with them and through them, with all mankind."

"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others."

Ways to Live Sharira Shram in your Life

  1. Volunteer
  2. Help others with tasks you might not want to do.

Sarva Dharma Samanatva - Equality of All Religions

As a student in London Gandhi was exposed to other religious books including the bible. He particularly liked The Sermon on the Mount in the bible. However, we was not able to focus to much on religion while in college as he had to focus on learning the law. He planned to read more about religion in the future.

Later on, Christianity awakened a religious quest in Gandhi. He researched many religions in his desire for self realization. He became absorbed in serving the community.

He put into practice whatever pieces of religion that he found appealing in his studies. From Hinduism, he began studying yogic practices but not to the extent he desired. He began to realize the infinite possibilities of universal love.

While working in South Africa his religious spirit grew. He did not believe he needed to become a Christian to go to heaven.He believed all people were God's children and believed that there were many paths to God.

Gandhi Quotes on Sarva Dharma Samanatva (Equality of All Religions)

"God has no religion."

"As soon as we lose the moral basis, we cease to be religious. There is no such thing as religion over-riding morality."

Ways to Live Sarva Dharma Samanatva in your Life

  1. Learn about and respect other people's religious beliefs.
  2. Recognize that religions include common factors. The most important factors are love, charity, and forgiveness. These can be seen in religions throughout the world regardless of dogma.

Sparsh Bhavana - Respect for all beings

Gandhi respected all beings. This was shown in his genuine concern for the poor and lower classes. He was concerned about everyone's basic needs - water, sanitation, health. He also felt for all living things. To Gandhi, the life of an animal was no less precious than that of a human being. He felt that the more helpless a creature, the more entitled they were to protection by man from the cruelty of man.

One day a leper came to his door. He invited the leper in and cared for him. As a result, this encouraged him to work as a nurse dispensing medicine for two hours a day in a small charitable hospital.

Gandhi Quotes on Sparsh Bhavana

"I want to realize brotherhood or identity not merely with the beings call human, but I want to realize identity with all life, even with such things as crawl upon earth."

"Hate the sin, love the sinner."

"Wherever you are confronted with an opponent, conquer him with love."

"Love is the strongest force the world possesses, and yet it is the humblest imaginable."

"Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty."

Ways to Live Sparsh Bhavana in your Life

  1. Treat everyone and everything with respect.
  2. Put yourself in other people's shoes so you can try to understand where they are coming from and what they are gong through.
  3. Become a vegetarian or vegan.
  4. Assist those in need.
  5. Give of your time, money, and possessions to those that need them.
  6. Support worthy causes that protect other beings. This could include, but would not be limited to, protecting the environment as the environment sustains all beings.

Gandhi and his wife Kasturbhai, 1902


Books that Influenced Mahatma Gandhi


Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth by Mohandas K. Gandhi.

Ahimsa by Mohondas K. Gandhi, The Modern Review, October 1916

Salt March,,

Indentured Labour, Gandhiji's First Peaceful War, April 3, 2011,


All dividers used in this hub are used with permission granted on hub, Creating Dividers to Use on Your Hubs.


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    • mcnielvea profile image


      3 years ago

      Thank you for your perspective and your writing.

      I understand that Dr. King believed that a satyagrahi could be violent in word and this would constitute himsa. I have only read one book by Dr. King, so my understanding is that he asked people to commit to forego "all violence of tongue and fist".

      I also have read that Dr. King allowed people around him to carry firearms to protect him. I have no judgement of that decision.

      As Gandhiji himself and many other teachers have said, it is impossible to do no harm. Harm is part of the survival of a life, your life--and you deserve to live.This is dharma--the good.

      This is separate from a planned action where you commit to not strike back or react by swearing at the attacker, etc., due to the action. One must be clear about what the commitment is about and what one is trying to achieve.

      Of course, it is always good to be kind and nice, generally.

      This also applies to lawsuits--but sometimes this is not possible and to do good--a good action, both. Many times lawsuits prevent further victimization by a perpetrator of violence.

      The question with himsa has to do with dharma.

      Gandhji himself read the Gita and struggled with himsa and ahimsa, dharma and adharma, just as we do in the reading of the Gita. This is a daily decision sometimes.

      It is not always easy to decide in one's verbal and public statements about what is himsa and ahimsa. Very hard to judge another's.

      Being angry sometimes is necessary to protect lives or many lives--which is also nonharm. i.e. Buddha killing a murderer. If we refuse to act--then what?

      Sometimes even words that seem insulting are only so because of a lack of truth or knowledge in the mind of the person judging. Truth is truth. Gandhiji asks that we examine and in accurate thought and language what is truth. It is not always kind and nice.

    • fpherj48 profile image


      4 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      learning about and understanding Hinduism has always been one of those things I've kept on my list of future endeavors . Well, today must be the day I finally begin. I came upon your hub and it is fabulous. Thank you so much for sharing this with your readers...YOU are my first lesson and I appreciate it. My interest has been sparked. Thank you. Up+++

    • profile image


      4 years ago


    • Kimberly Vaughn profile imageAUTHOR

      Kimberly Vaughn 

      5 years ago from Midwest

      Thanks HSchneider! I agree, if more people and countries followed his philosophies the world would be a better place.

    • profile image

      Howard Schneider 

      5 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Excellent Hub, Kimberly. You have described all of Gandhi's teachings and philosophies very well. He was indeed a great and influential man. I wish the countries of this world would adopt more of his philosophies into their governance. There would be much less violence and poverty in this world.

    • Kimberly Vaughn profile imageAUTHOR

      Kimberly Vaughn 

      5 years ago from Midwest

      Aww, thanks Ruchira! I really appreciate that. I spent a lot of time researching his life and his beliefs so I could accurately explain them.

    • Ruchira profile image


      5 years ago from United States

      He was an unselfish soul and I still got to learn a lot from his practices. Thanks for this interesting hub giving him the best tribute ever!

    • Kimberly Vaughn profile imageAUTHOR

      Kimberly Vaughn 

      5 years ago from Midwest

      Thanks shiningirisheyes! Gandhi has inspired so many people. He was an amazing human being. And, I like your quote. I have never heard that one before but it is definitely true.

    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 

      5 years ago from Upstate, New York

      "the largest love, the greatest charity. If I am a follower of Ahisma, I must love my enemy."

      This is just one of the many exemplary traits that have always garnered my great respect for this kind soul.

      Non-violence while standing up for what is right. This takes much more bravery and backbone than standing with a weapon.

      Also such a kind soul who loved and appreciated so many of natures animals.

      When I think of Bapu's attitude and how in tune he was with all living things, I am reminded of another quote as a child I learned. "God loved the birds and invented trees, Man loved the birds and invented cages. "

      Great hub and I am voting up and sharing


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