Excerpts: Gandhi on Non-Violence edited by Thomas Merton


The political scope of non-violence

Gandhi does not envisage a tactical non-violence confined to one area of life or to an isolated moment.

His non-violence is a creed which embraces all of life in a consistent and logical network of obligations. One cannot be violent, for example, in interpersonal or family relations, and non-violent with regard to conscription and war. Genuine non-violence means not only non-cooperation with glaring social evils, but also the renunciation of benefits and privileges that are implicitly guaranteed by forces which conscience cannot accept.

Austere political implications of the non-violent way of life are suggested in some of these texts.

So long as I lived under a system of government based on force and voluntarily partook of the many facilities and privileges it created for me, I was bound to help that government to the extent of my ability when it was engaged in a war, unless I non-cooperated with that government and renounced to the utmost of my capacity the privileges it offered me.            I–73

There is no escape for any of us save through truth and non-violence. I know that war is wrong, is an unmitigated evil. I know too that it has got to go. I firmly believe that freedom won through bloodshed or fraud is no freedom.      I–75

Merely to refuse military service is not enough…This is [to act] after all the time for combating evil is practically gone.     I–106

Non-cooperation in military service and service in non- military matters are not compatible.        I–108

Non-Violence to be a creed has to be all-pervasive. I cannot be non-violent about one activity of mine and violent about others. That would be a policy, not a life force. [1935]


[Non-violence in great nations?]

If they can shed the fear of destruction, if they disarm themselves, they will automatically help the rest to regain their sanity. But then these great powers will have to give up their imperialistic ambitions and their exploitation of the so-called uncivilized or semi-civilized nations of the earth and revise their mode of life. It means a complete revolution.   I–158

The states that are today nominally democratic have either to become frankly totalitarian or, if they are to be truly democratic, they must become courageously non- violent.          I–159

Peace will never come until the great powers courageously decide to disarm themselves.            I–176

Don’t listen to friends when the Friend inside you says “Do this!”             I–182

Without the recognition of non-violence on a national scale there is no such thing as a constitutional or democratic government.     I–199

Democratic government is a distant dream so long as non- violence is not recognized as a living force, an inviolable creed, not a mere policy.            I–200

[True democracy]

The true democrat is he who with purely non-violent means defends his liberty and therefore his country’s and ultimately that of the whole of mankind. In the coming test pacifists have to prove their faith by resolutely refusing to do anything with war, whether of defense or offense. But the duty of resistance accrues only to those who believe in non-violence as a creed— not to those who will calculate and will examine the merits of each case and decide whether to approve or oppose a particular war. It follows that such resistance is a matter for each person to decide for himself and under the guidance of an inner voice, if he recognizes its existence.      I–204

You cannot build non-violence on a factory civilization… Rural economy as I have conceived it eschews exploitation altogether, and exploitation is the essence of violence. You have therefore to be rural minded before you can be non- violent, and to be rural-minded you have to have faith in the spinning wheel.     I–243

Morality is contraband in war.    I–268

The cause of liberty becomes a mockery if the price to be paid is the wholesale destruction of those who are to enjoy liberty.  I–272


Excerpted from ‘Gandhi on Non-Violence’ edited by Thomas Merton, published by Speaking Tiger, New Delhi, 2016.


Gandhi on Non-Violence brings together the political and moral philosophies central to the life and work of Mahatma Gandhi, pared down to their essentials. Philosophies which have influenced generations and inspired some of the world’s most transformative leaders and its greatest movements; from Martin Luther King, Jr. and Steve Biko to Václav Havel and Aung San Suu Kyi; from the Civil Rights movement in America and anti-apartheid struggles in South Africa to non-violent battles for democracy in Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe.

The principles of ahimsa and satyagraha as practised by Gandhi were selected for this volume by Thomas Merton, theologian, social activist, and one of the most influential religious thinkers of the twentieth century. In his comprehensive introduction, Merton describes ahimsa and satyagraha as not merely political tools, but a response to evil itself. Which, if followed with truth and faith, can bring men—and nations—to their ‘right mind’ and free them forever from violence. And emphasizing the universality of ahimsa and satyagraha, Merton describes how they are linked to the traditional concept of Hindu dharma, the teachings of the Greek philosophers Socrates and Plato, and to Christian thought, especially the act of forgiveness.

Challenging, provocative and eternally valid, Gandhi’s principles are, as Merton himself puts it, ‘required reading for anyone who is seriously interested in man’s fate in the nuclear age.’

About the Author:

mertonThomas Merton, poet, Catholic theologian, social activist and Trappist monk, was one of the most influential religious thinkers of the twentieth century. Merton entered the Cistercian Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky following his conversation to Catholicism in 1949. In the 1960s he was increasingly drawn into a dialogue between Eastern and Western religions, and domestic issues of war and racism. His many books include New Seeds of Contemplation, The Seven Story Mountain, Bread in the Wilderness, Raids on the Unspeakable, My Argument with the Gestapo, The Wisdom of the Desert, Zen and the Birds of Appetite and The Way of Chang Tzu. Merton d