21 Simple Rules to Live By (by Mahatma Gandhi).


Gandhi, 1948, via Wikimedia Commons

This post originally appeared on my Patheos Wake Up Call column, 1/20/17.

Do you have a code or set of rules you live by? I often resort to my favorite authors and books for guidance, but I recently came across a short, but compelling 21-point list from a legendary figure that I’m going to put into my spiritual arsenal. It comes from Mahatma Gandhi.

First, some background: Gandhi was the leader of the Indian independence movement that challenged British rule during the 1930s and 1940s. Through nonviolent civil disobedience, Gandhi helped lead India to independence, inspiring civil rights movements around the world. He later worked to bridge the divide between Hindus and Muslims, an act that would lead to his assassination at the age of 78.

More than a political leader, Gandhi was also recognized as his country’s spiritual leader. He wrote that his way-of-thinking was inspired by the Hindu holy book the Bhagavad Gita. He first became acquainted with “the Gita” in 1888 and he says that it taught him how “a perfected man is to be known.” They were in effect, his rules to live by.

Gandhi believed that all reality is “an incarnation of God.” There was no higher goal in life than to become like God. He believed it was the only way one can truly be at peace and “the only, ambition worth having.” To reach this state of self-realization, it required “desireless action…by dedicating all activities to God, by surrendering oneself to Him body and soul.”

This idea of “desireless action” means that as one goes through life, one must act but not be tied to outcomes. It’s a philosophy perhaps best encapsulated by the line from the Kipling poem If, encouraging us to “meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same”. Gandhi phrases the sentiment like this:

Do your allotted work but renounce its fruit—be detached and act—have no desire for reward, and act. He who gives up action, falls. He who gives up only the reward, rises.

What follows is a passage by Gandhi that addresses what it means to be a true devotee of the Gita. I think you will find its message is pertinent to people of all faiths, and something we all can and should aspire to be. While it appears in his writings as a complete paragraph, I have taken the liberty to break it down line by line.

21 Simple Rules to Live By. 

A true devotee lives his life:

  1. Jealous of no one,

  2. A fount of mercy,

  3. Who is without egotism,

  4. Who is selfless,

  5. Who treats alike cold and heat, happiness and misery,

  6. Who is always forgiving,

  7. Who is always contented,

  8. Whose resolutions are firm,

  9. Who has dedicated mind and soul to God,

  10. Who causes no dread,

  11. Who is not afraid of others,

  12. Who is free from exultation, sorrow, and fear,

  13. Who is pure,

  14. Who is versed in action and yet remains unaffected by it,

  15. Who renounces all fruits of action, good or bad,

  16. Who treats friend and enemy alike,

  17. Who is untouched by respect or disrespect,

  18. Who is not puffed up by praise,

  19. Who does not go under when people speak ill of him,

  20. Who loves silence and solitude,

  21. Who has a disciplined mind.


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