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:

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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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