Category Archives: Gandhi’s Earth Ethics

1: Why Gandhi, Why India

Photo of Victor Hugo, the late 19th Century French author, seated. Taken in 1867 by Etienne C arjat

Victor Hugo, French Author. 1867. by Etienne Carjat.

“In the relations of man with the animals, with the flowers, with the objects of Creation, there is a great ethic scarcely perceived as yet which will at length break forth into light.”

Victor Hugo






100 years later: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 1967.

100 years later: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 1967.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Dr. M.L. King, Jr.







Baba Amte, Indian Social Worker 1914 - 2008. Wikipedia

Baba Amte, Indian Social Worker, influenced by Gandhi, 1914 – 2008. Wikipedia

“I don’t want to be a great leader, I want to be a man who goes around with a little oil can and when he sees a breakdown offers his help.

To me, the man who does that is greater than any holyman in saffron-coloured robes. The mechanic with the oil can, that is my ideal in life.”05 Baba Amte.This was his self-description given to British journalist Graham Turner.

Baba Amte

Evolving to Earth Ethics

Earth ethics are the ideals that we use to light our way into harmony with the Earth and the qualities they inspire in us to nourish that relationship. It is not a new realm, but one that is natural to us all and as old as the hills. Its importance appears new, as we dress it in language that relates to our time and conditions. The hope for unity and planetary healing lies in the admission of our common human dignity and interdependence with the life sustaining systems all around us. It is through responsible personal and community life that Earth ethics demonstrate their social and ecologically transforming power.

Earth ethics are part a budding global recognition of the necessity for a world philosophy. We need to develop a humane human civilisation as we face the climate crisis together—as we face the desecration of our planet, and the systems within her that have commonly sustained humanity for thousands of years. With each breath we touch our common gifts from the Earth: the ocean of air we breathe, the waters that surround us, the soils which bear our activities upon them. As we begin to turn to a universal consensus, we must ask ourselves many questions and seek many answers from one another.

In this process, the spirit and voice of India, through M.K. Gandhi, and others have eternal veracities to teach and tell us. We are evolving to an awareness of our shared life which will ultimately bring about consensus on what the ideals of our ethics and morals are, what we all know and hold to be the Truth. This Truth will include the whole of the Creation here with us. Gaining an understanding of India’s contribution to this philosophical accord of ideals is essential for the establishment of a global consensus on ethics in practical terms.


Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi lived from 1869–1948, yet today there is greater interest world-wide than ever before in his teachings and thinking. His ethical awareness was unconsciously born in India and initially honed in South Africa. Through his ideals he was to develop new economic patterns for social action in India, working through communities and environmental upliftment. He was not alone in his efforts, nor were his ideas new. He took his inspiration wherever he found it. Yet Gandhi pierced through to the ethical core of each ideal, and presented that to himself, his communities, and to the nations, by the means he employed to actualise them.g_81

Gandhi’s effort towards realizing his ideals, towards actualising his Love, has touched millions, regardless of culture, clime and time. In a world abounding with false prophets, teachers and self-acclaimed healers, with the blind leading the blind, he stands as a beacon of hope for many as to the innate sanctity of the human heart, knowable through sincere integrity and effort. Somehow we regard him with reverence and awe; for he demanded of himself and went within that Self where we all know we ought to go, but haven’t yet mustered up the gumption to go to, for whatever reason.

Gandhi was dedicated to the actualisation of ethical ideals on personal and societal levels. A national leader and global figure, his inspiration alone generated numerous other social and environmental uplift projects. In Gandhi’s time, these works were known as the Constructive Programme. As a fellow traveller through the experience of life here, I have found that the effort that one makes to gain awareness of our indissoluble oneness with the Creator and Creation calls to the Earth ethics that Gandhi strove for and thereby elucidated in his own life.

Uniqueness of India to Earth Ethics

Gandhi proclaimed that India has special gifts to offer to the development of human philosophical thought and civilisation that will enhance the beauty of collective life. The original name of India is Bharat. Bharat means to ‘honour, guard, protect’. The ancient seers of India gave this name to inspire her people to protect India’s true wealth, her ethical principles that have infused and pervaded every aspect of life. It is a point to bear in mind when one is overwhelmed by the present day problems India is facing, and confronted with the erosion of ethical thinking and corruption in her present social, municipal, educational, medical, legal and political institutions.

At present, India has only shreds of her former ethical glory, the sanctity of which has been regaled in historical records. Yet still, India is the home of great qualities that we often liken to one who is called `Mother’—qualities of absorption, synthesis and integration. India exalts the principle of motherhood leading to Universal Motherhood. Most of India was invaded time and again by rulers who ruled the roost far from the lives of the `common man’, yet, for the people, India has gone on unchanged in many ways long before the dawn of human memory, centuries of centuries past. Modern archaeological evidence06 Interestingly, a recent archaeological discovery in what is now Pakistan found that skilled dentistry was being practised over 9000 years ago in that area. is finally arriving at the conclusion which the common man is already aware of—that there has been a continuous, unbroken stream of an advanced rural civilisation in India which predates our earliest expectations.

This continuity has produced a honing, a fine tuning in the fabric of human life and interaction, in the consciousness that is distinctly Indian—but not limited to being Indian. The understanding and acceptance of all aspects of human nature, defining and refining it for social intercourse and functioning, produces a degree of public ‘wisdom’ less understood in technically advanced societies. For life is a crucible, which relentlessly grinds us all gradually into a more subtle awareness of ourselves, before our inevitable exit from this stage. In the ancient and withered stacks of human history, one sees India’s indelible imprint on countless civilisations as archaeological records throughout Eurasia, Africa, the Americas demonstrate. These are a people whose massively ancient ancestors devised and practised ways of being on and with the Earth; ways which are inherently harmonious with the rest of the Creation. Lacking harmony with the natural Creation, the civilisation along with other beings in the Creation would have died out, but as yet, they have not. However, the bomb-blast of economic globalisation, intense pollution, and consumer-oriented media is upon it now, successfully divorcing people from awakening to a moral dialogue with the environment around them, snowing ethical ideals under a flurry of short-sighted ones.

Wherever my family has gone in this holy land, we have met people, from those forced to beg in order to live, to Chief Ministers, and the richest of the rich, from all religious backgrounds, who could talk intelligently to us about the highest principles of noble life and who seem to have an awareness of at least some of them. Even in deep poverty, we have seen great human dignity here. We have seen extremely poor children who happily gave away their last bangles to a friend, the joy of their friend being of more value to those children than the bangles. We have seen children, who having begged their food, shared it with hungry puppies around them. There is a great patience here, a great acceptance of being. Yet from the outside, it appears that apathetic and stifling poverty reigns. I believe Gandhi saw the same thing when he said:

“Yes, so long as you look on the surface. But the moment you talk to them and they begin to speak, you will find that wisdom drops from their lips. Behind the crude exterior, you will find a deep reservoir of spirituality. I call this culture. You will not find such a thing in the West. In the case of the Indian villager, an age-old culture is hidden under an encrustment of crudeness. Take away the encrustation, remove his chronic poverty and his illiteracy, and you have the finest specimen of what a cultured, cultivated, free citizen should be.”07 Gandhi, M.K. (1939) Harijan, Jan 28. Age 69.

All countries have their archetypal ideals of noble human aspiration, by which they are known. In this sense, India practises real democracy. The genuine individual freedom to follow—at all cost—one’s internal truth, even it means giving up all physical comforts including your clothing, hearth and home, leaving conventional life is acceptable, so long as you are not harming others. Secular India has an ethos that honours and cherishes those who put the claims of conscience above personal material advancement. Upon those whom she feels have demonstrated that touch, she bestows the title of Mahatma – from Maha – Great, and atma – Soul, meaning a personage of great spiritual realization, whose life is solely for the benefit of others. This was the title also given to Gandhi by his contemporary, Rabindranath Tagore.

Such a social standard of recognition is not part of the social experience in the USA.  Even religious institutions in the West which admit of the phenomenon of extraordinarily noble people, usually have immense distrust of them while they are alive. The toleration and patience for genuine individuality has yet to be developed. Tolerance and individuality are a lot deeper than hairstyles, sexual preferences and outer garb— including skin.

In India, nearly every piece of cultural fabric that one can find, brings the mind up, and up again to an awareness of a Supreme Being. In every aspect of life, one can see and find this message steeped: “Remember, respect, and Love thy Maker!” This lesson is imbibed through even seemingly minor aspects of life. Dance is sacred dance, as well as being highly artistic and skilled. What to eat, when and in which season, even while applying traditional make-up, where to take one’s shoes off, how to treat one’s school books, teachers, pens, pencils, paper, the various objects in a kitchen—the mind is drawn into continual remembrance of a larger existence and intelligence of which we are all a part.

Indian subcontinent, orthographic projection. Wikipedia.

Indian subcontinent, orthographic projection. Wikipedia.

India has a great deal to offer in developing a clearer idea of how we, as individuals, families and societies can begin to rethink ourselves and seek to live in greater harmony with all that is here with us.

Ethics are intrinsically interwoven with the environment of India, and are deeply a part of her. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. noted these qualities on his trip to India in 1959, and said:

“Today, India is a tremendous force for peace and nonviolence at home and abroad. It is a land where the idealist and the intellectual are yet respected. We should want to help India preserve her soul and thus help save our own.”08 King, Jr., M.L. I have a Dream: 48.

Gandhi came to be called the “Father of the Nation.” I have found that it is only in India that such recognition of people on the basis of their spirituality takes place. Outside of isolated pockets of communities dotting the planet, I have seen no other place that exalts the metaphysical over the material and honours Love above all, to the extent that is done in India. Nowhere else does one so feel the acknowledgement of the deeper reality of the human being.

India is the land of dharma or duty, and is quick to love and adore those who cling to the supreme human duty: to know and Love our Maker with all our heart, mind and strength. Hence, Albanian born Catholic Mother Theresa, was acknowledged, loved and cherished by the nation at large, a love and respect that transcended conceptual religious walls. Had her work been in another country, it is unlikely the world would know of her as it does today.

At the same time, India is a vast and clashing mix of a zillion human tendencies and traits facing the tremendous ecological and cultural challenges of industrial globalisation. Despite her obvious failings, the great light of India illumines the path of human dharma or righteousness for all peoples to walk. In my being is an untold fathomless love for what I call the Soul of India. I experience this as Truth. I feel it in Nature and naturalness. It has no political boundary. Although at present there is a widespread decline in the encouragement of ethical life, still behind and deeper than this, is the Soul of India. I will forever be a student of this great land, peoples and truths.

Footnotes & Endnotes   [ + ]

01, 05. Baba Amte.This was his self-description given to British journalist Graham Turner.
02, 06. Interestingly, a recent archaeological discovery in what is now Pakistan found that skilled dentistry was being practised over 9000 years ago in that area.
03, 07. Gandhi, M.K. (1939) Harijan, Jan 28. Age 69.
04, 08. King, Jr., M.L. I have a Dream: 48.

Dedication Page

To My Daughter, and All Our Daughters,

May our children rise

to fearlessly face the coming Dawn,

Knowing they are part of Life, Unending.

Green Grass, Blue Skies, anni-by-the-ocean

In this beautiful World,

One Lord, One Love,

Has Created it So…

Can’t we Love each other?

Fill this place with Harmony?

One Time, Everywhere,

Let’s try! Make it happen today….

Mountains, Valleys

On our sweet planet Earth.

One Love, One God, Has created it So

Everywhere beauty abides,

Singing aloud the Glory of Thee

Flowers, fields and Rivers,

alive with your sweet song of Day….

Strive for

The Wonder of Wonders,

Who has made it so

Love Her, with All your Heart,

And All the People will know…..

– Anni



The song above, Green Grass, Blue Sky” was written and tuned by Anni during the last day she spent in University. The sketch of the lotus was one among many found in her diaries.


To You, dear reader, is our first acknowledgement. Your thoughts upon this work are eagerly sought, and for you, it is done. Please use the ‘comments’ to provide your feedback.

This work has only been possible due to the grace of truth and love in all aspects of our lives and through all people and agencies of support and seeming adversity. Ever present in Nature, this grace asks nothing from us, yet we mention it only as we hope to be of service.

We thank the people at Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram, Mr. Amrut Modhi, and Navajivan Press, Mr. K. Rawal, for their kind assistance, permissions and license (during the time it was necessary) to use the extensive quotations and photographs of Gandhiji included herein. We deeply appreciated the kindness and helpful assistance given to scholars at the Gandhi Sabarmati Ashram.

The National Museum made from Gandhi's 1st Community, Sabarmati Ashram, in Ahmedabad. Gujarat, India Photo by Harthik Jadeja

Sabarmati Ashram, Ahmedabad, India.  Now a national museum,  Gandhi’s 1st community after his return to India from S. Africa, in 1915. Photo by Harthik Jadeja.

We are grateful to Medha Patkar and the Narmada Bachao Andolan for the photographs of her and the N.B.A. herein. We thank also Dr. Vandana Shiva and her organization for the photograph of her.

This book has been a family project. As a mother, it is difficult to speak of the devotion and teamwork of one’s family. Mother’s feel so close to their children that to separate oneself from them in order to give objective acknowledgement even, seems almost unnatural, for we work as one. Nonetheless, without the help of my daughter Anni and son, Linkesh, also known as Lincoln, this work would not have happened. Their unceasing efforts, support, and respect for this project is why it is here today. While she was with us, Anni poured over its pages, making corrections, and gave beautiful suggestions, which have been incorporated. Over the years, both children listened endlessly and critically to innumerable renditions of each chapter, as bedtime reading.


In Ashram, 2004, Anni holding her pet Koel (Cukoo) Bird Photo by G. Pleish.

We lived for 12 years in an ‘ashram’ setting in South India. Drawn to the opportunity to live-out the community ideals that I had researched and studied from Gandhi, it was an eye-opening experience as to not only human nature in all its positives and negatives, but to the role of a vision of ideals in personal and community social life. Indian culture could highlight a ‘Gandhi’ or a ‘Mother Theresa’ and, at the same time, change little in its perceptions of social ordering, position and place. Gandhi’s ideals of human equality perhaps find a more apt home in the Yankee traditions of New England, USA and south eastern Canada, infused with that stellar edict for social life: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’

For their invaluable feedback, moral support and suggestions, I thank my beloved advisors and dear friends, Dr. Joseph Elder of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Dr. Patricia S. Weibust

A photo showing Dr. Patricia S. Weibust facilitating an outdoor class in Educational Leadership on the green grassy grounds of the University of CT's rurally located Storrs Campus.

Dr. Patricia S. Snyder, University of CT, Educational Leadership Course 1996, facilitating an outdoor class in Educational Leadership on the green grassy grounds of the University of  Connecticut’s rurally located Storrs Campus.

from the University of Connecticut.

Joe Elder, professor of sociology, holds a lecture session with students in his Sociology 252: Civilizations of India-Modern Period class in the Sewell Social Sciences Building at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on Sept. 20, 2011. (Photo by Bryce Richter / UW-Madison)

Joe Elder, professor of sociology, holds a lecture session with students in his Sociology 252: Civilizations of India-Modern Period class in the Sewell Social Sciences Building at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on Sept. 20, 2011. (Photo by Bryce Richter / UW-Madison)












Our gratitude also goes to our international panel of unnamed moral supporters, readers and proofreaders, who have been invaluable to us in this project, we will remember you.

There are many whose humble presence in this undertaking goes seemingly unnoticed: librarians, paper-makers (the trees, the birds, the bees! the oceans of air and water), printers, taxi and bus drivers, cooks (not often enough), and you, the reader who makes it all worthwhile. Our reflection upon this endless intricate web of interdependence, shows us that it is incumbent upon us to acknowledge the whole of the Creation, the stream of life, here with us, today, yesterday and tomorrow, we thank you, we are deeply grateful.

We all stand on the shoulders of other minds to broader thinking and richer understanding, whose light from the ideal has lit our path, transcending personality, culture, time, and place. To these we offer our silent and grateful thanks.

Gandhi’s Earth Ethics

Dear Reader,

O what an exquisite fall day in southern New England! Surrounded by deep, quiet woods, the rich autumn delights gently pervade the senses. Moldering Oak, Ash, Birch, Maples, and Hickory leaves and nuts, dropping, decaying, intermingling their saps and juices, with the breath of pines. The flits and calls of the small and large birds we are privileged to live with…significantly dwindled in specie and number in the last two decades. Sun spangling through a golden leafed forest. These must be the ‘delights’ spoken of by Dorothy Day, the over-arching grace spoken of by Thomas Merton! May you notice them in your moments, and feel the all-pervading love of this beautiful planet for us all, her children, her best efforts!

Autumn in New England: A golden sun-spangled Forest

Autumn in New England: A golden sun-spangled Forest

It has been 6 years since we published the Earth Ethics book. The time has come to make this book available to everyone who is interested to understand the means that Gandhi placed himself in harmony with his ideals, that he declared to be the laws of life. The book is exhaustive (over 1000 pages!) with historical contexts, economic outlooks, and details community life.

I am beginning the massive undertaking of editing this book, section by section, and placing it on line at this site. Gandhi is a clear means through which we can understand what our Earth Ethics are.

Perhaps it would have been good to start this project on Gandhi Jayanthi (Gandhi’s birthday) Oct 2, but, he was not one who relished his birthday being celebrated in anyway; he saw his errors and mistakes, and as far as he was aware of them, ‘owned’ them publicly. He claims no ‘God’ or ‘saint’ stature, and openly rejected obsequious efforts to put him on a pedestal. It is this honest humility that made and makes Gandhi the human brother that he is to all of us.

g_01We live in strange times, to say the least. As of this writing, US elections are nearing their climax. I for one, continue to be deeply concerned about not only the physical world our children live in, but, more, about the moral atmosphere and climate they are growing up in. The quality of the future of our civilization as a species – homo sapien – depends upon our expression of an inner philosophical standard and awareness that we can cultivate or not. It is our inner thinking that will dictate how we treat others and this Earth.

May these thoughts and words of Gandhi be of use and inspiration to you, to yours, to us all in the contemplation about what our lives are for and how they can be lived.
In love and prayer,

P. K. Willey

Oct 13, 2016