Gandhi on non-violence

Authors: Sonia Sikka (University of Ottawa), and Manvitha Singamsetty (University of Ottawa)

Non-violence or ahimsa is a principle at the heart of Gandhi’s moral and political philosophy. Most fundamentally, the principle involves a commitment to not harming others in one’s interactions with them, but it is especially connected with a variety of peaceful civil resistance. Gandhi drew on classical schools of wisdom such as Jainism, Buddhism and Vedic thought to presents an ideal of non-violence adapted to a contemporary social and political climate.  This ideal encompasses the virtues of freedom, truth, love, justice, courage, honesty and sacrifice. Its political methods include, among others, satyagraha (“holding to the truth”), civil-disobedience and non-cooperation. For Gandhi, the goals of non-violence are political justice, social stability and economic self-sufficiency


Primary Sources
Secondary Sources
Compare/Contrast with

Primary Sources:

Duncan, R. ‘The Practice of Satyagraha or Civil Disobedience’ in Gandhi Selected Writings, Dover Publications, 2005, pp. 73-84

Parel, A (ed.) ‘Brute Force’ and ‘Passive Resistance’ in Gandhi ‘Hind Swaraj’ and other writings by Mohandas Gandhi, Cambridge University Press, 1997, pp. 79-99
(Online access available via Cambridge University Press Online Books)

A sizeable collection of relevant extracts from Gandhi’s writings is also given in
Part I of Mahatma Gandhi: Selected Political Writings, ed. Dennis Dalton (Hackett 1996): “Satyagraha: The Power of Nonviolence,” pp. 27-94.

Mohandas, K. Gandhi, An Autobiography – The Story of My Experiments with Truth, Navajivan Trust, 1927, pp. 243-280. Gives a detailed first hand account of the origins of satyagraha and the practice of non-violence, along with the socio-historical conditions in which these principles were formulated.

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Secondary Sources:

Nicholas, F. Gier, The virtue of non-violence from Gautama to Gandhi, State University of New York Press, 2004, pp. 28-38. Gives a general account of Gandhi’s ideas on non-violence with special reference to the Jain theories that underpin it.

Ronald J. Terchek, “Conflict and nonviolence,” in The Cambridge Companion to Gandhi, ed. Judith M. Brown and Anthony Parel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011); pp. 117-134. Overview of Gandhi’s commitment to non-violence as not only a political strategy but “a way of life that rests on an understanding about the inherent worth and dignity of all life.” Discusses Gandhi’s conceptions of justice, love, and truth in relation to the ideal of satyagraha.

Farah Godrej, “Nonviolence and Gandhi’s Truth: A Method for Moral and Political Arbitration,” Review of Politics, 68/2 (2006), 287-317. Argues that Gandhi’s understanding of nonviolence in the search for truth offers a realistic and complex model for mediating truth claims in a plural society.

Robert N. Minor, “Sri Aurobindo’s Dismissal of Gandhi and His Nonviolence,” in Indian Critiques of Gandhi, ed. Harold Coward (Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press, 2003); pp. 87-107. Account of Sri Aurobindo’s rejection of Gandhi’s ideal of nonviolence as limited and one-sided, and as not representative of Hindu thought.

Roland E. Miller, “Indian Muslim Critiques of Gandhi,” in Indian Critiques of Gandhi (see full reference above), pp. 217-238. Includes discussion of contemporaneous Muslim critiques of Gandhi’s commitment to ahimsa, nonviolence.

For a comprehensive list of online resources on and works by Gandhi, please see –

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Compare/Contrast with:

Christianity’s ideas of non-violence: Terrence, J. Rynne, Gandhi and Jesus The Saving Power of Non-Violence, Orbis Books, 2008, pp 38-83

Buddha’s ideas on compassion:

Martin Luther King Jr. on non-violence: Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. The Power of Non-Violent Action, Issue 814, UNESCO Publishing, 1999, pp. 173-200

Jainism: Stephen, N. Hay, Jain Influences on Gandhi’s Early Thought: Between Two Worlds, Institute of International Studies, UCLA, 1971
See also – Anekantavada or Multisidedness

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