the Spirit of Mahatma Gandhi lives through every nonviolent action

Prof. Dr. Yogendra Yadav

Gandhian Scholar

Gandhi Research Foundation, Jalgaon, Maharashtra, India

Contact No. – 09415777229, 094055338




Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi


Tolstoy was a famous writer and philosopher. He had done a lot of experiment in his life. Mahatma Gandhi had read a lot of books. He wrote him letter and he wrote him letters also. He guided Mahatma Gandhi on his view of Ahimsa. Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “It is believed that, in the western world at any rate, there is no man so talented, learned and as ascetic as Count Tolstoy. Though he is now nearly eighty years old, he is quite healthy, industrious and mentally alert. Tolstoy was born of a noble family in Russia. His parents had enormous wealth, which he inherited. He is himself a Russian nobleman, and has, in his youth, rendered very good service to his country by fighting gallantly in the Crimean War. In those days, like the other noblemen of his time, he used to enjoy all the pleasures of the world, kept mistresses, drank and was strongly addicted to smoking. However, when he saw the carnage and bloodshed during the war, his mind brimmed over with compassion. His ideas changed; he began a study of his own religion and read the Bible. He read the life of Jesus Christ which made a deep impression on his mind. Not satisfied with the then current Russian translation of the Bible, he studied Hebrew, the language in which it was originally written, and continued his researches into the Bible. It was also about this time that he discovered in himself a great talent for writing. He wrote a very effective book on the evil consequences of war. His fame spread throughout Europe. To improve the morals of the people he wrote several novels which can be equaled by few books in Europe. The views expressed by him in all these books were so very advanced that the Russian clergy were displeased with him, and he was excommunicated. Disregarding all this, he kept up his efforts and began to propagate his ideas. His writings had a great effect on his own mind. He gave up his wealth and took to a life of poverty. He has lived like a peasant for many years now and earns his needs by his own labour. He has given up all his vices, eats very simple food and has it in him no longer to hurt any living being by thought, word or deed. He spends all his time in good works and prayer. He believes that:

 1. In this world men should not accumulate wealth;

 2. No matter how much evil a person does to us, we should always do well to him. Such is the Commandment of God, and also His law;

 3. No one should take part in fighting;

 4. It is sinful to wield political power, as it leads to many of the evils in the world;

5. Man is born to do his duty to his Creator; he should therefore pay more attention to his duties than to his rights;

 6. Agriculture is the true occupation of man. It is therefore contrary to divine law to establish large cities, to employ hundreds of thousands for minding machines in factories so that a few can wallow in riches by exploiting the helplessness and poverty of the many. These views he has very beautifully supported by examples from various religions and other old texts. There are today thousands of men in Europe who have adopted Tolstoy’s way of life. They have given up all their worldly goods and taken to a very simple life. Tolstoy is still writing with great energy. Though himself a Russian, he has written many strong and bitter things against Russia concerning the Russo-Japanese War. He has addressed a very pungent and effective letter to the Czar in regard to the war. Selfish officers view him with bitterness, but they, and even the Czar, fear and respect him. Such is the power of his goodness and godly living that millions of peasants are ever ready to carry out his wish no sooner than it is spoken.”1

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I should like all in Phoenix to read Tolstoy’s Life and My Confessions. Both are soul-stirring books. They can be easily read in two days. The Gujaratis should also read Kavi’s two volumes the books I have got. Thakar may have brought them. They may give 10 minutes of the half-hour evening service and half hour of the hour’s service on Sundays, which the Gujaratis have for themselves. The more I consider his life and his writings, the more I consider him to have been the best Indian of his times. Indeed, I put him much higher than Tolstoy in religious perception. The books I have read have afforded me the highest solace. They should be read over and over again. So far as English books are concerned, Tolstoy is incomparable in my opinion in chastity of thought. His definition of the purpose of life is unanswerable and easy to understand. Both Kavi and Tolstoy have lived as they have preached. Kavi writes from richer experience. Will you ask Chhaganlal to write Revashanker Jagjiwan & Co. to let me know what I owe them and what they advance monthly to my sister? Manilal is naturally somewhat dissatisfied with his studies. But it is inevitable. We are in the experimental stage and the first students have to be the victims. However, let him learn well what is given to him. I hope one of these days to examine him. He was sure of his geometry lessons, but he was found wanting. Let him cultivate regular and studious habits, and learn to rely on himself in his studies. One of these days I may be able to undertake part of his tuition myself. I understand too his worry about gardening. He should be patient, give the best that is in him and then remain perfectly cheerful without anxiety or fretting. I wish the boys would talk to Manikum in Tamil. I am glad Kitchin was at Phoenix for a day. Manilal does not mention whether he was pleased with his stay there. I hope everything was done to make him comfortable there. I suggest to Maganlal that now that he has learnt so many English pieces by heart he should commit to memory some Tamil sentences. Is Chanchi cheerful? Or does she brood over her separation from Harilal? Does Mrs. Gandhi now take part in household work? Pray thank Dr. Nanji for his attention to the Phoenix settlers. He is ever adding to the debt I am under to him. What is the progress of the school-building? I think Chhaganlal should represent to Mr. Gora on my behalf that he should consent to the boarding allowance to be raised so as to free the guardians from eternal worry about half-pennies. I am glad Swamiji is prolonging his stay. I hope to learn more from him about the sacred thread on meeting. I hope he received my letter addressed to him at Pietermaritzburg, from the train. I am anxious that he should do everything he can to promote the goodwill existing between Hindus and Mahomedans. I expect Anandlal to keep to his promise not to abandon his studies and to make the garden smile. Please ask west to continue the Sunday services in spite of difficulties, if any. During Mrs. West’s illness, they may be held elsewhere but so far as possible should not be omitted. Will you please have the Phoenix part copied and sent to West? Then all can read it, and let Chhaganlal give me a detailed reply embodying messages from all who have any to send. I would expect a letter from Chhaganlal at the latest on the 7th May. That would give him ample time.”2

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I take the liberty of inviting your attention to what has been going on in the Transvaal South Africa for nearly three years. There is in that Colony a British Indian population of nearly 13,000. These Indians have, for several years, laboured under various legal disabilities. The prejudice against colour and in some respects against Asiatics is intense in that Colony. It is largely due, as far as Asiatics are concerned, to trade jealousy. The climax was reached three years ago, with a law which I and many others considered to be degrading and calculated to unman those to whom it was applicable. I felt that submission to a law of this nature was inconsistent with the spirit of true religion. I and some of my friends were and still are firm believers in the doctrine of non-resistance to evil. I had the privilege of studying your writings also, which left a deep impression on my mind. British Indians, before whom the position was fully explained, accepted the advice that we should not submit to the legislation, but that we should suffer imprisonment, or whatever other penalties the law may impose for its breach. The result has been that nearly one-half of the Indian population that was unable to stand the heat of the struggle, to suffer the hard-ships of imprisonment, have withdrawn from the Transvaal rather than submit to the law which they have considered degrading. Of the other half, nearly 2,500 have for conscience’s sake allowed they to be imprisoned, some as many as five times. The imprisonments have varied from four days to six months, in the majority of cases with hard labour. Many have been financially ruined. At present there are over a hundred passive resisters in the Transvaal jail. Some of these have been very poor men, earning their livelihood from day to day. The result has been that their wives and children have had to be supported out of public contributions, also largely raised from passive resisters. This has put a severe strain upon British Indians, but, in my opinion, they have risen to the occasion. The struggle still-continues and one does not know when the end will come. This, however, some of us at least has seen most clearly, that passive resistance will and can succeed where brute force must fail. We also notice that, in so far as the struggle has been prolonged, it has been due largely to our weakness and, hence, to a belief having been engendered in the mind of the Government that we would not be able to stand continued suffering. Together with a friend, I have come here to see the Imperial authorities and to place before them the position, with a view to seeking redress. Passive resisters have recognized that they should have nothing to do with pleading with the Government, but the deputation has come at the instance of the weaker members of the community, and it therefore represents their weakness rather than their strength. But, in the course of my observation here, I have felt that if a general competition for an easy on the Ethics and Efficacy of Passive Resistance were invited, it would popularize the movement and make people think. A friend has raised the question of morality in connation with the proposed competition. He thinks that such an invitation would be inconsistent with the true spirit of passive resistance and that it would amount to buying opinion. May I ask you to favour me with your opinion on the subject of morality? And if you consider that there is nothing wrong in inviting contributions, I would ask you also to give me the names of those whom I should specially approach to write upon the subject. There is one thing more with reference to which I would trespass upon your time. A copy of your letter addressed to a Hindu on the present unrest in India has been placed in my hands by a friend. On the face of it, it appears to represent your views. It is the intention of my friend, at his own expense, to have 20,000 copies printed and distributed and to have it translated also. We have, however, not been able to secure the original, and we do not feel justified in printing it, unless we are sure of the accuracy of the copy and of the fact that it is your letter. I venture to enclose herewith a copy of the copy, and should esteem it a favour if you kindly let me know whether it is your letter, whether it is an accurate copy and whether you approve of its publication in the above manner. If you will add anything further to the letter, please do so. I would also venture to make a suggestion. In the concluding paragraph you seem to dissuade the reader from a belief in re-incarnation. I do not know whether if it is not impertinent on my part to mention this you have specially studied the question. Re-incarnation or transmigration is a cherished belief with millions in India, indeed, in China also. With many, one might almost say, it is a matter of experience, no longer a matter of academic acceptance. It explains reasonably the many mysteries of life. With some of the passive resisters who have gone through the jail of the Transvaal, it has been their solace. My object in writing this is not to convince you of the truth of the doctrine, but to ask you if you will please remove the word “reincarnation” from the other things you have dissuaded your reader from. In the letter in question, you have quoted largely from Krishna and given reference to passages. I should thank you to give me the title of the book from which the quotations have been made. I have wearied you with this letter. I am aware that those who honour you and endeavour to follow you have no right to trespass upon your time, but it is rather their duty to refrain from giving you trouble, so far as possible. I have, however, who am an utter stranger to you, taken the liberty of addressing this communication in the interests of truth, and in order to have your advice on problems the solution of which you have made your life-work.”3

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “I beg to tender my thanks for your registered letter in connection with the letter addressed to a Hindu, and with the matters that I dealt with in my letter to you. Having heard about your failing health I refrained, in order to save you the trouble, from sending an acknowledgment, knowing that a written expression of my thanks was a superfluous formality; but Mr. Aylmer Maude, whom I have now been able to meet reassured me that you were keeping very good health indeed and that unfailingly and regularly you attended to your correspondence every morning. It was very gladsome news to me, and it encourages me to write to you further about matters which are, I know, of the greatest importance according to your teaching. I beg to send you herewith a copy of a book written by a friend an Englishman, who is at present in South Africa, in connection with my life, in so far as it has a bearing on the struggle with which I am so connected, and to which my life is dedicated. As I am very anxious to engage your active interest and sympathy, I thought that it would not be considered by you as out of the way for me to send you the book. In my opinion, this struggle of the Indians in the Transvaal is the greatest of modern times, inasmuch as it has been idealized both as to the goal as also the methods adopted to reach the goal. I am not aware of a struggle in which the participators are not to derive any personal advantage at the end of it, and in which 50 per cent. of the persons affected have undergone great suffering and trial for the sake of a principle. It has not been possible for me to advertise the struggle as much as I should like. You command, possibly, the widest public today. If you are satisfied as to the facts you will find set forth in Mr. Doke’s book, and if you consider that the conclusions I have arrived at are justified by the facts, may I ask you to use your influence in any manner you think fit to popularize the movement? If it succeeds, it well be not only a triumph of religion, love and truth over irreligion, hatred and falsehood, but it is highly likely to serve as an example to the millions in India and to people in other parts of the world, who may be down-trodden and will certainly got a great way towards breaking up the party of violence, at least in India. If we hold out to the end, as I think we would, I entertain not the slightest doubt as to its ultimate success; and your encouragement in the way suggested by you can only strengthen us in our resolve. The negotiations that are going on for a settlement of the question have practically fallen through, and together with my colleague I return to South Africa this week, and invite imprisonment. I may add that my son has happily joined me in the struggle and is now undergoing imprisonment with hard labour for six months. This is his fourth imprisonment in the course of the struggle.”4

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “You will recollect my having carried on correspondence with you whilst I was temporarily in London. As a humble follower of yours, I send you herewith a booklet which I have written. It is my own translation of Gujarati writing. Curiously enough, the original writing has been confiscated by the Government of India. I, therefore, hastened the above publication of the translation. I am most anxious not to worry you, but, if your health permits it and if you can find the time to go through the booklet, needless to say I shall value very highly your criticism of the writing. I am sending also a few copies of your Letter to a Hindoo4, which you authorized me to publish. It has been translated in one of the Indian languages also.”5

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “The great Tolstoy has quit this corporeal frame at the ripe old age of 83. It is truer to say that “he has quit this corporeal frame” than that “he has died”. There can be no death for Tolstoy’s soul. His name will ever remain immortal. Only his body, which was of dust, has returned to dust. Tolstoy is known to the entire world; but not as a soldier, though once he was reputed to be an expert soldier; not as a great writer, though indeed he enjoys a great reputation as a writer; nor as a nobleman, though he owned immense wealth. It was as a good man that the world knew him. In India, we would have described him as a Maharshi or fakir. He renounced his wealth, gave up a life of comfort to embrace that of a simple peasant. It was Tolstoy’s great virtue that he himself put into practice what he preached. Hence thousands of men clung loyally to his words his teaching. We believe Tolstoy’s teaching will win increasing appreciation with the passage of time. Its foundation was religion. Being a Christian, he believed that Christianity was the best religion. He did not, however, denounce any other religion. He said, on the contrary, that truth was undoubtedly present in all the religions. At the same time, he also pointed out that selfish priests, Brahmins and Mulls had distorted the teaching of Christianity and other religions and misled the people. What Tolstoy believed with especial conviction was that in essence all religions held soul-force to be superior to brute force and taught that evil should be requited with good, not evil. Evil is the negation of religion. Irreligion cannot be cured by irreligion, but only by religion. There is no room in religion for anything other than compassion. A man of religion will not wish ill even to his enemy. Therefore, if people always want to follow the path of religion, they must do nothing but good. In his last days, this great man wrote a letter to Mr. Gandhi to acknowledge copies of Indian Opinion in which he expressed these same ideas. The letter is in Russian. We give in this issue a Gujarati translation of it, based on an English translation. The translation is worth reading. What he has said there about Satyagraha deserves to be pondered over by all. According to him, the Transvaal struggle will leave its mark on the world. Everyone he says has much to learn from it. He extends encouragement to the satyagrahis and assures them of justice from God, if not from the rulers. The latter, being enamored of their strength, will certainly not be pleased with Satyagraha. Despite that, satyagrahis must have patience and continue to fight. Citing, further, the example of Russia, Tolstoy states that there, too, soldiers’ everyday turns their back upon their profession. He is convinced that, though this movement has had no tangible results in the present, it will assume a big form in the end and Russia will be free. It is no small encouragement to us that we have the blessings of a great man like Tolstoy in our task. We publish his photograph in today’s issue.”6

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “Once said that if we would but get off the backs of our neighbours the world would be quite all right without any further help from us. And if we can only serve our immediate neighbours ceasing to prey upon them, the circle of unities thus grouped in the right fashion will ever grow in circumference till at last it is co-terminus with that of the whole world. More than that it is not given to any man to try or achieve is as true today as ages ago when it was first uttered by an unknown rishi.”7

Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “What is your view on what Tolstoy calls ‘bread labour’? Do you really earn your living by your bodily labour? Strictly speaking, bread labour is not a word of Tolstoy’s coining. He took it from another Russian writer Bondaref, and it means that everyone is expected to perform sufficient body labour in order to entitle him to it. It is not, therefore, necessary to earn one’s living by bread labour, taking the word living in its broader sense. But everyone must perform some useful body labour. For me, at the present moment, spinning is the only body labour I give. It is a mere symbol. I do not give enough body labour. That is also one of the reasons why I consider myself as living upon charity. But I also believe that such men will have to be found in every nation who will give themselves body; soul and mind to it and for their sustenance throw themselves on the mercy of their fellowmen, that is, on God.”8



  1. Indian Opinion, 2-9-1905
  2.   VOL. 9: 23 JULY, 1908 - 4 AUGUST, 1909 327
  3. LETTER TO LEO TOLSTOY, October 1, 1909
  4.   LETTER TO LEO TOLSTOY, November 10, 1909
  5. LETTER TO LEO TOLSTOY, April 4, 1910
  6.   Indian Opinion, 26-11-1910
  7.   Young India, 12-5-1920
  8.   VOL. 33: 25 SEPTEMBER, 1925 - 10 FEBRUARY, 1926 203




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