“His vocation to be a medical healer was deeper than his vocation to practice law.  He practiced law for about 20 years and then quit forever (though vigorously engaged in politics); his medical healing of sick individuals continued throughout the rest of his life.”

A recent lecture by Dr Mark Lindley at the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad explored Gandhi’s persona as a healer, and health advisor as well as practitioner. Lindley himself wears many hats! An internationally renowned musicologist, as well as an ecological economist, he is also a Gandhi scholar with particular interest in Gandhi’s views on health.

While I was aware of Gandhi’s strong and passionate views on health, diet and lifestyle, a lot of which can be found in his seminal work Key to Health, Lindley’s talk revealed several new aspects of Gandhi which I felt would be interesting to share.

We all know that Mohandas Gandhi went to England in 1888 when he was 18 years old to study law, under advice from family elders. What is perhaps not as well known is that Gandhi’s own desire was to study medicine there. At that point however, apparently the popular perception that becoming a barrister would be an ‘economically’ more practical choice prevailed.

The idea resurfaced around 1908 after he had already been practising law in South Africa. Gandhi may have felt that he could serve people better by practicing medicine than by practicing law. This time, it was the fact that studying medicine would involve vivisection that led him to reject the idea. During his visit to London in 1909, he wrote to a friend that a certain doctor there “…tells me that in the course of his studies he must have killed about fifty frogs. An examination in physiology without this, he tells me, is not possible. If this is so, I have absolutely no desire to go in for medical studies. I would neither kill a frog, nor use one for dissecting if it has been specially killed [by someone else] for the purpose of dissection.”

Interestingly Gandhi’s writings soon after that visit reflect a radical change of view. In Hind Swaraj which he wrote on board the ship while returning from England in 1909, Gandhi vociferously avers “I was at one time a great lover of medical profession. It was my intention to become a doctor for the sake of my country. I no longer hold that opinion.”

“It is worth considering why we take up the profession of medicine. It is certainly not taken up for the purpose of serving humanity. We become doctors so that we may obtain honours and riches. I have endeavoured to show that there is no real service of humanity in the profession, and that it is injurious to mankind. Doctors make a show of their knowledge, and charge exorbitant fees. …The populace, in its credulity and in the hope of ridding itself of some disease, allows itself to be cheated.”

Reading these lines, 109 years later, I was struck by how much this sounds like some of the concerns about the medical profession today!

As the famous French epigram goes “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”, in other words “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”


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