Mahatma Gandhi’s List of the 7 Social Sins; or Tips on How to Avoid Living the Bad Life


In 590 AD, Pope Gre­go­ry I unveiled a list of the Sev­en Dead­ly Sins – lust, glut­tony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride – as a way to keep the flock from stray­ing into the thorny fields of ungod­li­ness. These days though, for all but the most devout, Pope Gregory’s list seems less like a means to moral behav­ior than a descrip­tion of cable TV pro­gram­ming.

So instead, let’s look to one of the saints of the 20th Cen­tu­ry — Mahat­ma Gand­hi. On Octo­ber 22, 1925, Gand­hi pub­lished a list he called the Sev­en Social Sins in his week­ly news­pa­per Young India.

  • Pol­i­tics with­out prin­ci­ples.
  • Wealth with­out work.
  • Plea­sure with­out con­science.
  • Knowl­edge with­out char­ac­ter.
  • Com­merce with­out moral­i­ty.
  • Sci­ence with­out human­i­ty.
  • Wor­ship with­out sac­ri­fice.

The list sprung from a cor­re­spon­dence that Gand­hi had with some­one only iden­ti­fied as a “fair friend.” He pub­lished the list with­out com­men­tary save for the fol­low­ing line: “Nat­u­ral­ly, the friend does not want the read­ers to know these things mere­ly through the intel­lect but to know them through the heart so as to avoid them.”

Unlike the Catholic Church’s list, Gandhi’s list is express­ly focused on the con­duct of the indi­vid­ual in soci­ety. Gand­hi preached non-vio­lence and inter­de­pen­dence and every sin­gle one of these sins are exam­ples of self­ish­ness win­ning out over the com­mon good.

It’s also a list that, if ful­ly absorbed, will make the folks over at the US Cham­ber of Com­merce and Ayn Rand Insti­tute itch. After all, “Wealth with­out work,” is a pret­ty accu­rate descrip­tion of America’s 1%. (Invest­ments ain’t work. Ask Thomas Piket­ty.) “Com­merce with­out moral­i­ty” sounds a lot like every sin­gle oil com­pa­ny out there and “knowl­edge with­out char­ac­ter” describes half the hacks on cable news. “Pol­i­tics with­out prin­ci­ples” describes the oth­er half.

In 1947, Gand­hi gave his fifth grand­son, Arun Gand­hi, a slip of paper with this same list on it, say­ing that it con­tained “the sev­en blun­ders that human soci­ety com­mits, and that cause all the vio­lence.” The next day, Arun returned to his home in South Africa. Three months lat­er, Gand­hi was shot to death by a Hin­du extrem­ist.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

Mahat­ma Gand­hi Talks (in First Record­ed Video)

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing lots of pic­tures of vice pres­i­dents with octo­pus­es on their heads.  The Veep­to­pus store is here.

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Comments (14)
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  • LV Agorist says:

    Knowl­edge with­out under­stand­ing is more apt, and com­merce with­out moral­i­ty could be best reworked into trade with­out mutu­al ben­e­fit. Gand­hi penned these words near­ly 90 years ago, and that world has passed. Today’s soci­ety is more inter­con­nect­ed than ever, far more than in Gand­hi’s time.

    It’s a shame the author took the oppor­tu­ni­ty to pro­mote ide­olo­gies that don’t align with Gand­hi, like the oft-refut­ted Marx­ist Piket­ty and his anti-cap­i­tal­ist views that even Gand­hi avoid­ed.

    The eco­nom­ic trou­bles that left­ists like Piket­ty focus on are often the result of state-cap­i­tal­ism, where politi­cians pick indus­try win­ners rather than allow­ing the con­sumers to choose the win­ner through the free mar­ket. Cor­po­ra­tions (a legal fic­tion cre­at­ed by the state) then fun­nel mon­ey back into pol­i­tics and pick politi­cians that are friend­ly to the cor­po­ra­tions.

    Yet no one seems to rec­og­nize the unlike­li­hood that this rela­tion­ship could ever pro­duce any­thing ben­e­fi­cial for the indi­vid­ual that is often being fleeced through tax­a­tion.

    Wealth with­out work? Per­haps, but prof­it at the cost of oth­ers with­out their con­sent would be more like­ly to have been in Gand­hi’s mind if he lived today. And he would­n’t have been so quick to vote for one career politi­cians after anoth­er, he’d have been protest­ing against bad pol­i­cy, not sup­port­ing what­ev­er pol­i­cy a giv­en par­ty pro­mot­ed. That is the lack of con­scious­ness which leads to many of these social sins.

  • Hanoch says:

    “ ‘Wealth with­out work,’ is a pret­ty accu­rate descrip­tion of America’s 1%.”

    I think you are on shaky ground here. To make the top 1% of earn­ers, a house­hold needs to bring in rough­ly $400K/year. I’d bet that for a very large per­cent­age of such house­holds, they are work­ing pret­ty hard for it.

  • DBS says:

    Which one(s) describes you Jonathan?

  • Hetty says:

    Seems all of these sins can be applied to politi­cians, cor­po­ra­tions and the peo­ple run­ning them. The plan­et is being destroyed by many, but the pol­i­cy mak­ers and big com­pa­nies are the biggest prob­lem here. Prin­ci­ples and morals, shar­ing and car­ing are not on the human agen­da, were they ever? Its almost a fight of good against evil and I think we know which is win­ning. Brrrrr.

  • Theresa says:

    Appar­ent­ly Gand­hi bor­rowed these from Fred­er­ick Lewis Don­ald­son who called them the sev­en social sins. This was from a ser­mon giv­en on March 20, 1925 by Fred­er­ick Lewis Don­ald­son in West­min­ster Abbey and pub­lished on April 1.

  • C.S.Sukumar Reddy says:

    my opin­ion is on the soci­ety must be the soci­ety not hav­ing these sins said by Gand­hi­ji. But, now the soci­ety is not so.
    The fea­tures of the soci­ety are .…
    Pol­i­tics with­out prin­ci­ples
    Com­merce with­out moral­i­ty

  • C.S.Sukumar Reddy says:

    my opin­ion is on the soci­ety must be the soci­ety not hav­ing these sins said by Gand­hi­ji. But, now the soci­ety is not so.
    The fea­tures of the present soci­ety are .…
    Pol­i­tics with­out prin­ci­ples
    Com­merce with­out moral­i­ty
    Sci­ence with­out human­i­ty
    Knowl­edge with­out char­ac­ter
    wealth with­out work
    wor­ship with­out sac­ri­fice
    Plea­sure with­out con­science

  • NICODEMUS says:

    Thanks to Mahat­ma. May his lega­cy to con­tin­ue inspir­ing the world. I am a great fol­low­er of his teach­ings. cheers!!!!

  • Alan says:

    Nice work, but it’s sad to me to see a dis­mis­sive char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of Chris­t­ian thought, like some­thing to be set aside for pre­sum­ably more sophis­ti­cat­ed East­ern think­ing. Gre­go­ry actu­al­ly adapt­ed the list from Eva­grius Pon­ti­cus. In Eva­grius, Chris­tian­i­ty looks some­thing like Bud­dhism. The “logis­moi” or “(neg­a­tive) thoughts” are not Sun­day school sins to be avoid­ed or con­fessed, they are akin to the kle­shas or neg­a­tive emo­tions in Bud­dhism; they hin­der one from pro­gress­ing on the path to divine knowl­edge.

    There is a con­tem­po­rary philoso­pher named Akeel Bil­gra­mi who has writ­ten very sym­pa­thet­i­cal­ly and skill­ful­ly about Gand­hi’s think­ing. An excel­lent essay is avail­able for free on his web­site — it’s also in a book that Bil­gra­mi pub­lished. Any­one inter­est­ed in Gand­hi will be excit­ed to see an impor­tant philoso­pher tak­ing Gand­hi seri­ous­ly as a philoso­pher (rather than as a cul­tur­al leader or a polit­i­cal fig­ure, etc.) The essay is called “Gand­hi, the Philoso­pher” and it is here:

    There are also some great Youtube videos of Bil­gra­mi giv­ing talks about Gand­hi.


  • Alan says:

    Thanks, There­sa!

  • Dr.Cajetan Coelho says:

    A just world build­ing is pos­si­ble if indi­vid­u­als, com­mu­ni­ties, and nations avoid com­mit­ting those sev­en dead­ly social sins. Long live the mem­o­ry of MKG.

  • Beach Bowie says:

    ““knowl­edge with­out char­ac­ter” describes half the hacks on cable news. “Pol­i­tics with­out prin­ci­ples” describes the oth­er half.”

    These com­ments are a great insult to many pro­fes­sion­al, hon­est and con­sci­en­tious news peo­ple who get up and go to work every day with the goal of inform­ing and enlight­en­ing often clue­less peo­ple the things, good or bad, that are going on in their world.

  • Regina Cox says:

    Well…I think Ghan­di was on to something…Current soci­ety is show­ing how man is becom­ing more greedy, lust­ful, nar­cis­sis­tic, cold and hate­ful. It is sad because God’s Holy Word tells us of these things com­ing to pass. How­ev­er, we choose to think we are greater than God and choose to turn away from The Word. The only way we will rid the world of these evils is through Christ Jesus. Man can devel­op more laws, or vote in lead­ers to try and change the impend­ing course of this world BUT Only Jesus will Save us!

  • Charles A.Moore says:

    The ten com­mand­ments would, if shared,solve all the worlds problems.god, will allow human­i­ty to do as it pleases,but your soul is his. Do right and you live.i ain’t God but I know that. Do you?

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