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“All men are brothers”, Mahatma Gandhi

Mariam Cook
6 August 2006

all men are brothers

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"All men are brothers: autobiographical reflections "
by Mahatma Gandhi
Continuum | December 1997 | ISBN 0826400035

Recommended by Mariam Cook: I’ve never read Gandhi in his own words before, but this felt like a good place to start.

All Men are Brothers is deeply spiritual, morally and intellectually challenging and insightful, as well as providing an autobiographical account of the man himself and his place in history.

I struggle to describe this book without indulging in my philosophical positions in relation to his, but suspect I would not be alone in feeling such attachment to it. The text seems to suck one into a world where the most secret and wandering questions of your soul come rushing out to confront you.

The book is split into handy sections, such as ‘autobiographical’, ‘democracy and the people’ and ‘women’ (of course everyone needs an opinion on them) - meaning once you have devoured it cover to cover you can quickly return to a subject you have a particular interest in, or a quote that inspired thought. One which struck me as a quirky and rare admission is this:

“I have never made a fetish of consistency. I am a votary of truth and I must say what I feel and think at a given moment on the question.”

The search for truth to the point of relinquishing almost all else marks the passage of Gandhi’s life. It is this that makes each insight of his so compelling, as they cannot fail to seem illuminated by his apparent honesty.

I must confess, and I hope this would not put off any reader for that is not my intention; I was rather disappointed in the religious basis behind much of Gandhi’s thought. But once accustomed to the drone of this undertone I began to take the view that his appeal on grounds of faith could be of enormous value in the world today, so bloodied by real and manufactured religious quarrels. Just a month on from the first anniversary of the 7/7 terrorist attack in London, it seems all the more apt to explore such conciliatory ideas:

“I believe in the fundamental truth of all great religions of the world. I believe that they are all God-given, and I believe that they were necessary for the people to whom these religions were revealed. And I believe that, if only we could all of us read the scriptures of the different faiths from the standpoint of the followers of those faiths, we should find that they were at the bottom all one and were all helpful to one another.”

In a time when we so many of us live immersed in modern consumer culture the view of a man who lived so simply during the quest to help his nation and his species is a startling curiosity if nothing else. If I could, I might him ask how he knew all this when he could not draw certain facts to him at the click of a mouse. I might ask how it could be that my own thoughts manage to resound so spectacularly with his, when I have never read of them before. I might also ask flippantly, why someone who often, to my mind, got it so right, could sometimes have got it so wrong.

Ever preaching his own humility, Gandhi himself declared:

“I deny being a visionary. I do not accept the claim of saintliness. I am of the earth, earthy… I am prone to as many weaknesses as you are.”

So there we have it.

Sometimes the only way one can cope with the bereavement when reaching the end of a book like this is to be pointed in the direction of more such stimulus. Gandhi wrote that a certain book by Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God is within You, inspired him at an uncertain moment in his life. It seems I shall have to secure a copy as soon as possible.

I cannot judge whether a better job could have been done in the selection and order of these snippets, but in the stated purpose, ‘drawn from a wide range of his reflections on world peace’ the editor has built a compendium that allows the reader to fly effortlessly through a series of writings and speeches that span decades.

This is a must read for historians of the British E empire, those curious about spirituality, anyone searching to have their values challenged, as well as anyone who simple wants to know more about a man who had cast off all the trappings of his worldly success before being murdered with little to show for his life but his legacy. Whatever your reason for picking up this book, I doubt you will regret you did so.

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