Albert Einstein Expresses His Admiration for Mahatma Gandhi, in Letter and Audio

In 1931, Albert Ein­stein wrote to Mohan­das K. Gand­hi to express his great admi­ra­tion for the Indi­an leader’s meth­ods. Trans­lat­ed from Ger­man, the let­ter reads in part:

You have shown through your works, that it is pos­si­ble to suc­ceed with­out vio­lence even with those who have not dis­card­ed the method of vio­lence.

The let­ter long pre­cedes the first atom­ic bombs and Einstein’s let­ters to F.D.R. warn­ing of their devel­op­ment and use; though often dis­cussed only in rela­tion to the hor­rif­ic events of World War II, the physicist’s oppo­si­tion to vio­lence and war was a long­stand­ing pas­sion for him. Ein­stein called his paci­fism an “instinc­tive feel­ing” based only on his “deep­est antipa­thy to every kind of cru­el­ty and hatred,” rather than any “intel­lec­tu­al the­o­ry.” His pol­i­tics often par­al­leled those of fel­low intel­lec­tu­al giant and anti-war activist Bertrand Rus­sell (the two col­lab­o­rat­ed on a 1955 “Man­i­festo” for peace).

Gand­hi remained an impor­tant influ­ence on Einstein’s life and thought. In the audio clip above from 1950, he again offers gen­er­ous praise for the man known as “Mahat­ma” (great soul). In the record­ing, Ein­stein says of Gand­hi:

I believe that Gandhi’s views were the most enlight­ened of all the polit­i­cal men of our time. We should strive to do things in his spir­it: not to use vio­lence in fight­ing for our cause, but by non-par­tic­i­pa­tion in any­thing you believe is evil.

Gandhi’s con­cept of satya­gra­ha, which rough­ly trans­lates as “devo­tion to the truth,” appealed to Ein­stein, per­haps, because of its prin­ci­pled stand against polit­i­cal expe­di­en­cy and for a kind of moral com­mit­ment that depend­ed on self-scruti­ny and inquiry into cause and effect. Like the counter-intu­itive the­o­ries of Ein­stein and Rus­sell, Gand­hi biog­ra­ph­er Mark Shep­ard writes that the con­cept of satya­gra­ha is “a hard one to grasp”–Especially, “for those used to see­ing pow­er in the bar­rel of a gun.”

For more archival record­ings of Ein­stein express­ing his views on reli­gion, war and peace, and sci­ence, vis­it Amer­i­can Pub­lic Media’s On Being web­site.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Bertrand Rus­sell Turned The Bea­t­les Against the Viet­nam War

Face to Face with Bertrand Rus­sell: ‘Love is Wise, Hatred is Fool­ish’

Josh Jones is a writer, schol­ar, and musi­cian. He recent­ly com­plet­ed a dis­ser­ta­tion on land, lit­er­a­ture, and labor.  

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Comments (35)
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  • Hanoch says:

    Albert should have stuck to physics. “[N]on-participation in any­thing you believe is evil” is nec­es­sary to be a moral per­son, but patent­ly insuf­fi­cient. Should the Allies have thrown down their arms in the face of Nazi aggres­sion?

    Thou­sands of years before Mahat­ma and Albert, a far more author­i­ta­tive moral imper­a­tive was issued: “You shall not stand by your fel­low’s blood.”

  • Mike says:

    Ein­stein signed a let­ter to Franklin Roo­sevelt urg­ing him to pur­sue research into the atom­ic bomb because he was afraid the Nazis would get one first. Of course the weapon was used on the Japan­ese, and Ein­stein regret­ted his action.

  • Hanoch says:

    My under­stand­ing is that a ground inva­sion of Japan would have been far more cost­ly in terms of human lives than the bomb­ing.

  • Mike says:

    It just seemed strange, Hanoch, that you would use the exam­ple of ‘throw­ing down arms in the face of Nazi aggres­sion’ in con­nec­tion with Ein­stein.

  • Joan says:

    con­grats, josh.
    much luck with the con­tin­u­ing jour­ney…

  • Josh Jones says:

    Thanks, Joan!

  • Joeschmo says:

    To the Hanoch per­son above,
    Ein­stein start­ed mak­ing his paci­fism pub­lic after world war one because he real­ized some­thing had to be done to pre­vent a future cat­a­stro­phe. He urged cit­i­zens of all coun­tries to refuse mil­i­tary ser­vice and that if enough refused, the gov­ern­ments could not pos­si­bly jail so many peo­ple. But with the rise of Hitler and Nazi Ger­many, Ein­stein real­ized that refusal and dis­ar­ma­ment was not plau­si­ble since it was clear Ger­many was on the verge of war and that oth­er Euro­pean nations would now be unwise to not pre­pare. He actu­al­ly upset many peace/pacifist groups because he stopped telling peo­ple to refuse mil­i­tary ser­vice in the mid-1930s. He ful­ly under­stood what Germany(his home­land) was capa­ble of and new that the Allies were com­plete­ly jus­ti­fied in stop­ping them. Paci­fism could work well in ghan­dis­’s case but on a glob­al scale Ein­stein said it could only tru­ly work if there was a cen­tral, glob­al orga­ni­za­tion (like the U.N. But actu­al­ly cap­bable of dic­tat­ing nations arms and weapons and such).

  • Kristen says:

    Why did you pho­to­shop Ghan­di into the pic­ture? The orig­i­nal is just of Ein­stein.

  • mike says:

    Good piece Josh and gen­er­at­ing discussion…great!

  • Carlo says:

    It’s fun­ny to me how peo­ple mak­ing gen­er­al com­ments here have no real knowl­edge of his­to­ry but are QUICK TO REGURGITATE lit­tle phras­es they have learned in the streets…


  • Carlo says:

    War­mon­gers always ask the ques­tion: Should we have let the Nazis win?

    Should USA have used the nuclear solu­tion against Japan?

    That way they think they will always win the argu­ment against non-vio­lence.

    The truth is: you can­not argue with EVIL!

  • G. Krishnamurthy says:

    I have come to know that Ein­stein had only two por­traits in his home, one of which was Mahat­ma Gand­hi and the oth­er of a sci­en­tist he had admired. Does any­one know who that sci­en­tist was?

  • Joe says:

    G.Krishnamurthy I think it’s Michael fara­day

  • Nilanjana says:

    To @Hanoch, I do not know if you are at all knowl­edge­able about what non-vio­lence is all about though the sen­tence “Should the Allies have thrown down their arms in the face of Nazi aggres­sion?” makes me think you have mis­in­ter­pret­ed this. In Gand­hi’s time when the for­eign British had unleashed ruth­less tor­ture on the Indi­ans, do you think all Gand­hi told us to do is ’embrace’ our invaders and sit with our hands fold­ed? NO. What Gand­hi advo­cat­ed for all his life is to oppose, to stand up for your coun­try­men but not using vio­lence, which is pos­si­ble, he showed us how. As he said, an eye for an eye will make the world blind. So next time you are post­ing a com­ment, at least make sure you know the fun­da­men­tal con­cep­tion.

  • Abhishek says:

    yet you cre­ate the atom­ic bomb

    • Zagarra says:

      Read what Eis­tein him­self thought of the atom­ic bomb, then come back and delete your own com­ment.

      • Jessica says:

        From what I’ve heard, Ein­stein felt so guilty about being a part of the Man­hat­tan Project that he went into depres­sion and had to see ther­a­pists because of it. I don’t think he ever recov­ered from the guilt of supporting/helping cre­ate the A‑bomb.

  • ron says:

    Tricky busi­ness stop­ping evil with­out becom­ing addict­ed to ones pow­er to do so, when one can.

  • Michael Perrott says:

    I think Ghan­di said at one point non­vi­o­lence makes no sense unless you have faith in a lov­ing God. This would tie in with the teach­ing of Jesus Christ.
    Hav­ing a faith in a lov­ing God I can just about make sense of non vio­lent means against the Nazis. I think Ghan­di acknowl­edged that mil­lions would be killed in a cam­paign of non­vi­o­lent direct action against the Nazis but between 60 and 85 mil­lion were killed any­way. 3% to 4% of world pop­u­la­tion.
    More than this have been killed in wars since 1945.

  • Krishna says:

    In a Gen­tle way, You can shake the world

  • Lynda says:

    Ein­stein said. “I know not what World War III will be fought with but I know World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

  • op says:

    “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

    “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

    “Live as if you were to die tomor­row; learn as if you were to live for­ev­er.”

    “Hap­pi­ness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in har­mo­ny.”

    “Prayer is not ask­ing. It is a long­ing of the soul. It is dai­ly admis­sion of one’s weak­ness. It is bet­ter in prayer to have a heart with­out words than words with­out a heart”

    “Non-vio­lence is the great­est force at the dis­pos­al of mankind. It is might­i­er than the might­i­est weapon of destruc­tion devised by the inge­nu­ity of man. Mahat­ma Gand­hi

  • op says:

    I love all human that are not vio­lent & Krish­na.….….…..

  • I could­n’t have picked bet­ter human the these two mega human­i­tar­i­ans
    Thank you
    Just love­ly

  • maheshkumar shah says:

    To under­stant mahat­ma Gand­hi, the intrest­ed one has to read “My exper­i­ment with truth” auto­bi­og­ra­phy of M.K.Gandhi and (2)Freedom At Mid­night” by Dominique Lpierre and Lar­ry Collins

  • Paul says:

    Are you say­ing that Gand­hi and Ein­sien did not meet?

  • Adithya Danaj says:

    It’s bet­ter to be violent,if we have vio­lence in our hearts than to put on the cloak of non vio­lence to cow­er our impo­tence.

  • Pallav says:

    Brave priests like Boen­ho­ef­fer died in Hitler’s con­cen­tra­tion camps when they stood up against the Nazi evil. At the end of the day, more than reli­gion, it is your own con­science and char­ac­ter. I have seen evil fol­low­ers of faith — who would pick ele­ments from their faith books out of con­text to jus­ti­fy their evil actions. Much as there are benev­o­lent and car­ing athe­ists. When the Church burnt “witch­es” or “heretics” at the stake for hun­dreds of years, I am sure peo­ple of faith saw good in those acts.

  • srikanth says:

    Gand­hi nev­er told to sit idle in case of agrees­sion like nazi.
    You mis­un­der­stood Gand­hi..
    In a 1948 inter­view to a news­pa­per gand­hi asked indi­an sol­diers to fight..

  • Subhendu Ghosh says:

    What gand­hi said & what he prac­tised is polar oppo­site. I think he is mad &power mon­ger. Through­out his life he only played tricks to befool oth­ers &he was suc­cess­ful.

  • N Venkatasubramanian says:

    The two great men nev­er met in per­son.

  • Noah Edelson says:

    I believe Ein­stein vis­it­ed dur­ing Gand­hi’s 70th birth­day par­ty. There, he gave this speech:

    “A leader of his peo­ple, unsup­port­ed by an out­ward author­i­ty: a politi­cian whose suc­cess rests not upon craft nor the mas­tery of tech­ni­cal devices, but sim­ply on the con­vinc­ing pow­er of his per­son­al­i­ty; a vic­to­ri­ous fight­er who always scorned the use of force, a man of wis­dom and humil­i­ty, armed with resolve and inflex­i­ble con­sis­ten­cy, who has devot­ed all his strength to the uplift­ing of his peo­ple and the bet­ter­ment of their lot; a man who has con­front­ed the bru­tal­i­ty of Europe with the dig­ni­ty of the sim­ple human being and thus at all times risen supe­ri­or. Gen­er­a­tions to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such a one as this ever walked upon this earth.”

  • Noah Edelson says:

    India lost over 6X as many sol­diers while fight­ing the Nazis as the USA. That is a great sac­ri­fice, and it must have been dif­fi­cult to decide to fight along­side the British, who had pre­vi­ous­ly enslaved them. India lost about 450K, sim­i­lar to the USA, while India lost 3 mil­lion. Although it is unpop­u­lar, I would like to hon­or the Russ­ian and Chi­nese sac­ri­fice dur­ing WW2 as well. In total, they lost 47. mil­lion lives, the major­i­ty of them civil­ians.

    In the USA, we like to for­get / ignore / down­play this, and also the fact that the Rus­sians sin­gle-hand­ed­ly defeat­ed over 80% of the Wehrma­cht (Nazi mil­i­tary). That fact is buried under a moun­tain of 12,000 words in the wikipedia arti­cle on the East­ern front. Because Wikipedia edi­tors LOVE Amer­i­ca (where the largest chunk of them live), and HATE Rus­sia. At least, alot of us do. Not me.

    ps: Thanks for the info on Gand­hi- I had no idea. Many peo­ple mis­un­der­stand Ein­stein as well, and/or are igno­rant of his high­est hon­or:

    Ein­stein was Hitler & the Nazi “Pub­lic Ene­my #1”. (Source: time [dot] com [slash] Ein­stein-Eng­land)

  • Dr Lynn says:

    It’s always an edu­ca­tion to read about the lives of great ppl, such as Mahat­ma Gand­hi and Ein­stein.

    What I would like to know is whether Ein­stein had an oppor­tu­ni­ty to know/learn/read in Ger­man or Eng­lish, the Gita? Sure­ly, with his asso­ci­a­tion with the Mahat­ma, he must have, right?

    Ein­stein became a veg­e­tar­i­an, pos­si­bly an influ­ence of the Mahat­ma.

    Today is Ein­stein ‘s Birth­day! Hap­py Birth­day sir!

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