John Dear, editor,
Mohandas Gandhi:
Essential Writings

(Orbis, 2002)

The only people in the whole world that do not understand,
much less accept, the nonviolence of Jesus are Christians.

- Gandhi

Mohandas Gandhi: Essential Writings was compiled by John Dear, who also provided a lengthy introduction. It is one of the books in the Modern Spiritual Masters series.

Dear "discovered" Gandhi while at the Jesuit novitiate in Wernersville, Pa. He delved into the life and teachings of Gandhi, eventually reading the entire 95 volumes of The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi. This collection, published in 1984, contains more than 43,000 pages and took the government of India over 20 years to collect and compile.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, born 2 Oct. 1869, is considered to be one of the greatest spiritual leaders of all time. He was adamant that the only way to deal with any situation was nonviolently, yet he was assassinated on 30 Jan. 1948, at age 79, as he walked to evening prayer in Delhi. During his lifetime, he created many movements that brought social reform, civil rights and justice. He founded newspapers and established multiple ashrams. He was a leader of leaders!

It is almost laughable that all Gandhi sought was to live the life of a pauper in peace and quiet. But no matter where he went, people arrived by the thousands. His home and land always became the focal point of mass pilgrimages.

Dear has selected works by Gandhi, most taken straight from The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, and grouped them into categories and topics such as "The Search for God" and "The Urgent Need for Nuclear Disarmament." Dear says he has applied "Gandhi's feminism" to his quotes and has "changed the text to inclusive language" in some cases.

Essential Writings begins with a detailed chronology of Gandhi's life. It is amazing what this man accomplished! Oddly, a list of recommended readings immediately follows, instead of being located in the back. Then Dear goes into his take on Gandhi and provides details of Gandhi's life experiences, movements and activities. My favorite of these passages is the story of the British student who sent a pamphlet to Gandhi, got a reply and traveled to India to meet him. Gandhi walked three miles, in his 60s at the time, to meet this young man. He immediately began his conversation, without formality of a hello, just as though they had been talking for hours "As I was saying in my letter...." This sheds so much light on Gandhi's personality!

It would be impossible to pick one favorite quote from Gandhi. He had a way with simplifying things while presenting them in an eloquent manner. One of his most powerful statements was:

God can be served in only one way alone. To serve the poor is to serve God. What is the aim of life? It is to know the self. This realization of self, or self-knowledge, is not possible until one has achieved unity with all living beings, until one has become one with God. To accomplish such unity implies deliberate sharing of the suffering of others and the eradication of such suffering.

Dear did a fine job of organizing the quotes into a manuscript that flows smoothly from one passage to the next. His introduction is interesting and well written. If you like Gandhi or simply would like to understand him better, this is a must read.

- Rambles
written by Alicia Karen Elkins
published 22 February 2003

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