The Leader pp 111-132 | Cite as

The Transformations in the Self of Mahatma Gandhi

  • Hyman Muslin
  • Prakash Desai


The mystery of Mohandas K. Gandhi resides in his transformation from a painfully shy boy, saddled with innumerable fears and intensely attached to his mother, to the man who is universally regarded as the great liberator of India. The Mahatma, who effected what could be called a milestone in the history of the human race, always had, as he said, shyness as his shield. Even the title “Mahatma” made him uncomfortable: “Often the title has deeply pained me; and there is not a moment I can recall when it may be said to have tickled me.”1 Mahatma (maha + atma) means the great Soul, a very special human being. The title was bestowed on Gandhi by Rabindranath Tagore, the poet laureate of India. Here, aiming not at a solution to the mystery of Gandhi but only at an enhanced appreciation of the complexity of the man, we will explore his self-development, particularly the content of the ideals which set his psychological compass. To this end, we will focus on the psychological dimension of Gandhi’s unfolding self-experience rather than on the various social, cultural, political, and economic conditions that made Gandhi an ideal leader in the eyes of the Indian masses of South Africa and India at the time of the eclipse of the British Empire. We are concerned, then, with the inner reality of Gandhi’s self-transformation, not with the historical circumstances that challenged him to ascend to leadership.


Indian Mass Idealize Father Young Barrister Small Claim Court Narcissistic Rage 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Mohandas K. Gandhi, An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments With Truth (Boston: Beacon Press, 1957), p. xii.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
  3. 3.
  4. 4.
    Mahatma Gandhi Pyarelal, The Early Phase (Ahmedabad: Navjivan Publishing House, (1965), I.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Prakash N. Desai, “Psychoanalysis and the Hindu Psyche,” Unpublished paper presented at the Institute for Psychoanalysis, Chicago, October, 1980.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Pyarelal, The Early Phase, p. 202.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Ibid., p. 192.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Gandhi, An Autobiography, p. 7.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Pyarelal, The Early Phase, p. 207.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Gandhi, An Autobiography, p. 10.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Ibid., p. 28.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    M. Marriott, “Hindu Transactions: Diversity Without Dualism,” in Transactions and Meaning: Directions in the Anthropology of Exchange and Symbolic Behavior ed. B. Kapferer (Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues, 1976).Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Gandhi, An Autobiography, p. 30.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Ibid., p. 33.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Ibid., p. 31.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Ibid., p. 33.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Ibid., p. 15.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
  19. 19.
    Gandhi, An Autobiography, p. 44.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Ibid., p. 80.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Ibid., p. 90.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Pyarelal, The Early Phase, p. 274.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Gandhi, An Autobiography, p. 89.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    J. S. Neki, “Guru-Chela Relationship: The Possibility of a Therapeutic Paradigm,” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 45 (1973), 273–290.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Gandhi, An Autobiography, p. 89.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Ibid., p. 89.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Ibid., p. 112.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Ibid., p. 125.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Ibid., p. 158.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Erik H. Erikson, Gandhi’s Truth (New York: Norton, 1969).Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Robert Payne, The Life and Death of Mahatma Gandhi (London: The Bondley Head, 1969), p. 59.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Gandhi, An Autobiography, p. 89.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Note especially Heinz Kohut, The Analysis of the Self (New York: International Universities Press, 1971) and The Restoration of the Self (New York: International Universities Press, 1977).Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Gandhi, An Autobiography, p. xii.Google Scholar


  1. G. M. Carstairs, The Twice-Born: a Study of a Community of High-Caste Hindus (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1957).Google Scholar
  2. S. Kakar, The Inner World: A Psychoanalytic Study of Childhood and Society in India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1981), second edition.Google Scholar
  3. Wendy O. O’Flaherty, Asceticism and Eroticism in the Mythology of Shiva (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973).Google Scholar
  4. Wendy O. O’Flaherty, Women, Androgynes, And Other Mythical Beasts, Chapter on Sexual Fluids (Chicago: University Chicago Press, 1980).Google Scholar
  5. The Bhagavadgita, Trans. S. Radhakrishnan (New York: Harper & Row, 1948).Google Scholar
  6. A. Roland, “Psychoanalytic perspectives on personality development in India,” International Review of Psychoanalysis, (1980), VII, 73–88.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1985

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hyman Muslin
  • Prakash Desai

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations