Leo Tolstoy was a great philosopher, writer in his age. He had born in Russia on 9 September 1829. He wrote many famous novels. His famous novel war and peace was read by Mahatma Gandhi. Mahatma Gandhi had accepted it that he had learnt Ahimsa by Leo Tolstoy. He died on 20 November 1910.
Mahatma Gandhi wrote a letter to Leo Tolstoy on dated 1 October 1909 that I take the liberty of inviting your attention to what has been going on in the Transvaal (South Africa) for nearly three years. There is in that Colony a British Indian population of nearly 13,000. These Indians have, for several years, laboured under various legal disabilities. The prejudice against colour and in some respects against Asiatics is intense in that Colony. It is largely due, so far as Asiatics are concerned, to trade jealousy. The climax was reached three years ago, with a law1 which I and many others considered to be degrading and calculated to unman those to whom it was applicable. I felt that submission to a law of this nature was inconsistent with the spirit of true religion. I and some of my friends were and still are firm believers in the doctrine of non-resistance to evil. I had the privilege of studying your writings also, which left a deep impression on my mind. British Indians, before whom the position was fully explained, accepted the advice that we should not submit to the
Legislation, but those we should suffer imprisonment, or whatever other penalties the law may impose for its breach. The result has been that nearly one-half of the Indian population that was unable to stand the heat of the struggle, to suffer the hard-ships of imprisonment, have withdrawn from the Transvaal rather than submit to [the] law which they have considered degrading. Of the other half, nearly 2,500 have for conscience’s sake allowed they to be imprisoned, some as many as five times. The imprisonments have varied from four days to six months, in the majority of cases with hard labour. Many have been financially ruined. At present there are over a hundred passive resisters in the Transvaal goals. Some of these have been very poor men, earning their livelihood from day to day. The result has been that their wives and children have had to be supported out of public contributions, also largely raised from passive resisters.
This has put a severe strain upon British Indians, but, in my opinion, they have risen to the occasion. The struggle still-continues and one does not know when the end will come. This, however, some of us at least has seen most clearly, that passive resistance will and can succeed where brute force must fail. We also notice that, in so far as the struggle has been prolonged, it has been due largely to our weakness and, hence,
to a belief having been engendered in the mind of the Government that we would not be able to stand continued suffering. Together with a friend, I have come here to see the Imperial authorities and to place before them the position, with a view to seeking redress. Passive resisters have recognized that they should have nothing to do with pleading with the Government, but the deputation has come at the instance of the weaker members of the community, and it therefore represents their weakness rather than their strength.
But, in the course of my observation here, I have felt that if a general competition for an easy on the Ethics and Efficacy of Passive Resistance were invited, it would popularize the movement and make people think. A friend has raised the question of morality in connexion with the proposed competition. He thinks that such an invitation would be inconsistent with the true spirit of passive resistance and that it would amount to buying opinion. May I ask you to favour me with your opinion on the subject of morality? And if you consider that there is nothing wrong in inviting contributions, I would ask you also to give me the names of those whom I should specially approach to write upon the subject.
There is one thing more with reference to which I would trespass upon your time. A copy of your letter addressed to a Hindu on the present unrest in India has been placed in my hands by a friend. On the face of it, it appears to represent your views. It is the intention of my friend, at his own expense, to have 20,000 copies printed and distributed and to have it translated also. We have, however, not been able to secure the original, and we do not feel justified in printing it, unless we are sure of the accuracy of the copy and of the fact that it is your letter. I venture to enclose herewith a copy of the copy, and should esteem it a favour if you kindly let me know whether it is your letter, whether it is an accurate copy and whether you approve of its publication in the above manner. If you will add anything further to the letter, please do so. I would also venture to make a suggestion. In the concluding paragraph you seem to dissuade the reader from a belief in re-incarnation. I do not know whether (if it is not impertinent on my part to mention this) you have specially studied the question. Re-incarnation or transmigration is a cherished belief with millions in India, indeed, in China also. With many, one might almost say, it is a matter of experience, no longer a matter of academic acceptance. It explains reasonably the many mysteries of life. With some of the passive resisters who have gone through the gaols of the Transvaal, it has been their solace. My object in writing this is not to convince you of the truth of the doctrine, but to ask you if you will please remove the word “reincarnation” from the other things you have dissuaded your reader from.
Mahatma Gandhi wrote a letter to Leo Tolstoy on dated 10 November 1909 that I beg to tender my thanks for your registered letter in connection with the letter addressed to a Hindu, and with the matters that I dealt with in my letter to you. Having heard about your failing health I refrained, in order to save you the trouble, from sending an acknowledgment, knowing that a written expression of my thanks was a superfluous formality; but Mr. Aylmer Maude, whom I have now been able to meet reassured me that you were keeping very good health indeed and that unfailingly and regularly you attended to your correspondence every morning. It was a very gladsome news to me, and it encourages me to write to you further about matters which are, I know, of the greatest importance according to your teaching.
As I am very anxious to engage your active interest and sympathy, I thought that it would not be considered by you as out of the way for me to send you the book. In my opinion, this struggle of the Indians in the Transvaal is the greatest of modern times, inasmuch as it has been idealized both as to the goal as also the methods adopted to reach the goal. I am not aware of a struggle in which the participators are not to derive any personal advantage at the end of it, and in which 50 per cent. of the persons affected have undergone great suffering and trial for the sake of a principle. It has not been possible for me to advertise the struggle as much as I should like. You command, possibly, the widest public today. If you are satisfied as to the facts you will find set forth in Mr. Doke’s book, and if you consider that the conclusions I have arrived at are justified by the facts, may I ask you to use your influence in any manner you think fit to popularize the movement? If it succeeds, it well be not only a triumph of religion, love and truth over irreligion, hatred and falsehood, but it is highly likely to serve as an example to the millions in India and to people in other parts of the world, who may be down-trodden and will certainly go a great way towards breaking up the party of violence, at least in India.
If we hold out to the end, as I think we would, I entertain not the slightest doubt as to its ultimate success; and your encouragement in the way suggested by you can only strengthen us in our resolve. The negotiations that are going on for a settlement of the question have practically fallen through, and together with my colleague I return to South Africa this week, and invite imprisonment. I may add that my son has happily joined me in the struggle and is now undergoing imprisonment with hard labour for six months. This is his fourth imprisonment in the course of the struggle.
Mahatma Gandhi wrote a letter to Leo Tolstoy on dated 4 April 1910 that you will recollect my having carried on correspondence with you whilst I was temporarily in London.2 As a humble follower of yours, I send you herewith a booklet3 which I have written. It is my own translation of Gujarati writing. Curiously enough, the original writing has been confiscated by the Government of India. I, therefore, hastened the above publication of the translation. I am most anxious not to worry you, but, if your health permits it and if you can find the time to go through the booklet, needless to say I shall value very highly your criticism of the writing.
Mahatma Gandhi wrote a letter to Leo Tolstoy on dated 15 August 1910 that I am much obliged to you for your encouraging and cordial letter of the 8th May last. I very much value your general approval of my booklet, Indian Home Rule. And, if you have the time, I shall look forward to your detailed criticism of the work which you have been so good as to promise in your letter.
Mr. Kallenbach has written to you about Tolstoy Farm. Mr. Kallenbach and I have been friends for many years. I may state that he has gone through most of the experiences that you have so graphically described in your work, My Confessions. No writings have so deeply touched Mr. Kallenbach as yours; and, as a spur to further effort in living up to the ideals held before the world by you, he has taken the liberty, after consultation with me, of naming his farm after you.
Of his generous action in giving the use of the farm for passive resisters, the number of Indian Opinion. I am sending herewith will give you full information. I should not have burdened you with these details but for the fact of your taking a personal interest in the passive resistance struggle that is going on in the Transvaal.
Mahatma Gandhi wrote an article in Indian Opinion on dated 26 November 1910 that The great Tolstoy has quit this corporeal frame at the ripe old age of 83.1 It is truer to say that “he has quit this corporeal frame” than that “he has died”. There can be no death for Tolstoy’s soul.
His name will ever remain immortal. Only his body, which was of dust,
Has returned to dust.
Tolstoy is known to the entire world; but not as a soldier, though once he was reputed to be an expert soldier; not as a great writer, though indeed he enjoys a great reputation as a writer; nor as a nobleman, though he owned immense wealth. It was as a good man that the world knew him. In India, we would have described him as a maharishi or fakir. He renounced his wealth, gave up a life of comfort to embrace that of a simple peasant. It was Tolstoy’s great virtue that he himself put into practice what he preached. Hence thousands of men clung loyally to his words—his teaching.
We believe Tolstoy’s teaching will win increasing appreciation with the passage of time. Its foundation was religion. Being a Christian, he believed that Christianity was the best religion. He did not, however, denounce any [other] religion. He said, on the contrary, that truth was undoubtedly present in all the religions. At the same time, he also pointed out that selfish priests, Brahmins and Mullas had distorted the teaching of Christianity and other religions and misled the people.
What Tolstoy believed with especial conviction was that in essence all religions held soul-force to be superior to brute force and taught that evil should be requited with good, not evil. Evil is the negation of religion. Irreligion cannot be cured by irreligion, but only by religion. There is no room in religion for anything other than compassion. A man of religion will not wish ill even to his enemy. Therefore, if people always want to follow the path of religion, they must do nothing but good.
Mahatma Gandhi wrote in Young India on dated 5 November 1925 that what is your view on what Tolstoy calls ‘bread labour’? Do you really earn your living by your bodily labour? Strictly speaking, bread labour is not a word of Tolstoy’s coining. He took it from another Russian writer Bondarif, and it means that everyone is expected to perform sufficient body labour in order to entitle him to it. It is not, therefore, necessary to earn one’s living by bread labour, taking the word living in its broader sense. But everyone must perform some useful body labour. For me, at the present moment, spinning is the only body labour I give. It is a mere symbol. I do not give enough body labour. That is also one of the reasons why I consider myself as living upon charity. But I also believe that such men will have to be found in every nation who will give themselves body, soul and mind to it and for their sustenance throw themselves on the mercy of their fellowmen, that is, on God.