Mahatma Gandhi's life synthesized spirituality and political activism. Gandhi believed in human dignity and freedom; he fought injustice with words, ideals, and self-discipline. Gandhi's unique philosophy helped free India and influenced generations of peace activists.
An important spiritual goal pursued by Gandhi was austerity, particularly based on control of bodily appetites. As a young man, Gandhi began using food in experiments to test his willpower: "As I searched myself deeper, the necessity for changes both internal and external began to grow on me . . . I saw that the writers on vegetarianism had examined the question very minutely, attacking it in its religious, scientific, practical, and medical aspects." The test of his willpower and subsequent control of his will were disciplines that Gandhi cultivated in himself for the rest of his life. Later, this same austerity would help Gandhi to lead his people by example.
Gandhi's curiosity and his desire to understand and improve himself led him to spend hours studying religious books and contemplating philosophical ideas. He found the Bhagavad-Gita, the sacred text of the Hindus, especially inspiring. This text contained lessons in discipline and selflessness, mercifulness, and freedom from greed or jealousy. Yet certain aspects of Hinduism did not appeal to Gandhi. He rejected the notion that to be devout meant to live quietly, meditating as some mystic Hindus did. Instead, Gandhi felt the need to be active and useful. Likewise, he believed that no person should be regarded as evil, even one who had committed evil deeds, "'Hate the sin and not the sinner' is a precept which, though easy enough to understand, is rarely practised, and that is why the poison of hatred spreads in the world." For Gandhi, the search for morality and truth were a lifelong, ongoing process.
Although Gandhi's main orientation was Hinduism, he borrowed freely from the principle...