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Mahatma Gandhi’s Ideas for Work, Career, and


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Mahatma Gandhi’s Ideas for Work and Life:

Implications for Career Development and Career Guidance

V. R. Devika and Gideon Arulmani

This is pre-print manuscript from:

Devika, V. R., & Arulmani, G. (2014). Mahatma Gandhi’s Ideas for Work and Life:
Implications for Career Development and Career Guidance. In G. Arulmani, A. J.
Bakshi, F.T.L. Leong & A. G. Watts (Eds.), Handbook of career development:
International perspectives (pp. 105-121). New York, USA: Springer International.


Gandhi came to be known as Mahatma (great soul) for the courageous, selfless, and

nonviolent methodologies that characterized the way he lived as well as his attempts at

instilling reform for the betterment of his fellow citizens and the world. In this chapter we

seek to understand the path to learning proposed by this man who was a metaphor for

innocence but who was also an exceedingly shrewd tactician and strategist. An attempt is

made to explain Gandhi’s creative vision of swadeshi, swaraj, satyagraha, and sarvodaya:

constructs that he adapted for the building of living economies and democracies. The human

capacity to work and the sanctity of effort were central to his vision of a just and fair society

as well as a prosperous economy. According to him, the means of arriving at an end must be

as honorable as the end and the courage of conviction is what takes a decision forward. We

examine contemporary career development in the light of these ideas about work, effort, and

the dignity of labor to propose Gandhian principles for career counseling in today’s world.

Keywords: career counseling, dignity of labor, effort, exploitation, Gandhi,

globalization, social justice, truth, work, work-based learning


Chapter Outline

 Introduction

 Glimpses into the Life of M.K. Gandhi

 Key Constructs from Indian Spirituality

 Gandhi’s Engagement with Contemporary Indian Philosophers

 Gandhi’s Philosophy of Work and Learning

o To Live, Man must Work

o Work and Skill as Capital

o Spinning as a Philosophy of Work

 Nai Talim: Gandhi’s Philosophy of Education

o Work as Education

o Redefinition of Learning and Teaching

o Productive Work, Education of the Hand, and Self-Reliance

o Handicraft as an Instrument of Education

 Gandhi and Career Development: Relevance for Multiple Cultures

 New Concepts and Viewpoints: A Gandhian Approach to Career Counseling?

 Conclusion


Sa vidya ya vimukthaye: What liberates is education (Vishnu Purana 1.19.41).

Mahatma Gandhi is a name that is recognized not only by every Indian but also by

millions of others in most parts of the world. Gandhi was the face of the Indian struggle for

independence against more than two hundred years of British colonization and he is known as

the Father of the Nation. At another deeper level, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was one of

our civilization’s foremost proponents of active and applied spirituality. At the heart of

Gandhi’s philosophy lies the notion of satyagraha, a term that he coined bringing two

Sanskrit words together: sathya (truth) and agraha (insistence). Satyagraha therefore means

insistence on truth. Behind the legendary freedom movement that he led and won with

nonviolence, was a man who experimented with sathya and that is what he called his

autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth (Gandhi, 1927). It is these

experiments and this practical spirituality that underlie Gandhi’s grappling with the evils of

the caste system and untouchability, his work for the upliftment of women, his definition of

civil rights, and his devising of methods of nonviolent protest such as non-cooperation and

civil disobedience. Indeed, it is this spirituality that won him the title mahatma or great soul.

The purpose of this chapter is to examine the discipline of career guidance through

principles drawn from Gandhi’s educational ideas. It must be stated at the outset that the

Gandhian position rejects the tenets of modern civilization. Indeed so vehement was this

rejection that Gandhi describes modern civilization as the Kingdom of Satan (Gandhi, 1909).

He wrote this 30,000 word book while on a journey on board the ship, Kildonen Castle,

returning to South Africa from London where he had gone to plead for the repeal of certain

draconian acts against Indians and for equality for all British subjects. He had meetings with

many people and decided that India must find an alternative way of development more in

tune with its culture, geography, and vast numbers of poor citizens—an ideology based on

truth and nonviolence. He published these ideas in the Gujarathi language as Sarvodaya.

Industrialization, machine-based production, parliamentary government—the mainstays of

modernization and considered to be vehicles of growth, advancement, and development are

all rejected in the Gandhian position. In its place Gandhi proposed the ways of ancient Indian

civilization as carrying the answers to wellbeing in the contemporary context. It is against

this background that what is presented in the rest of this chapter must be interpreted. While

Gandhi commented on almost all aspects of life, his position with regard to work, economic

development, and education are of pertinence to this chapter.

His deep commitment to the empowerment of the weak and downtrodden yielded an

economic philosophy based on self-reliance that celebrates human effort and skill as capital.

This pedagogy of prosperity blended education and economics with ethics. In his view,

economic activity that hurt or exploited the worker was immoral. Gandhi’s economics places

the worker rather than production at the center. Industry, from the Gandhian view point,

ought to be concerned not only with dividends but also with the creation of an environment

for work that promotes the worker’s physical, mental, social, and spiritual wellbeing. His

ideas of economic growth take a diametrically opposite position to what it is upheld today.

He emphasized the development of small, locally-managed cooperatives at the village level

and was against large-scale industrialization and corporatization. Gandhi emphasized plain

living, which is in contrast to the consumerist and market-driven tendencies of today. He

made a distinction between standard of living and standard of life where the former is related

to material benefits while the latter is related to spiritual, social, cultural, mental, and

economic wellbeing.

Another aspect of the Gandhian position that is of particular relevance is his description

of work and education. Gandhi conceived the idea of Nai Talim (Basic Education) as an

integral part of his vision of society. Here again, there is a blending of spirituality with

pedagogy. This view does not separate knowledge and learning from work and effort.

Gandhi saw education that was introduced by the British into India to be exclusionary in

character and the result of an artificially instituted dichotomy between work and knowledge.

He observed that those who worked with their hands and produced wealth were denied access

to formal education while those who had access to formal education not only denigrated

productive manual work but also lacked the necessary skills for it. The Gandhian approach

calls for a pedagogical linking such that engagement with work becomes the medium of

knowledge acquisition, development of values, and skill formation. This approach identified

productive work as the antidote as it were, to bookish and information-oriented education.

In this chapter we will discuss career development in the modern context from the point

of view of Gandhian spirituality, economics, and pedagogy.

Glimpses into the Life of M. K. Gandhi

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, born in 1869, obtained his education in Gujarat, a state

in the Western part of India, and then studied law in London. When Gandhi left for England

to study, he had promised his pious mother that he would not touch wine, women, and meat.

He did give in to temptations initially, but soon realized that he had to keep his promise to his

mother and understand his own culture. He read the Bhagawad Geeta (an important part of

the Indian scriptures, from an epic called the Mahabharatha) and began to search for answers

to questions he had about his own religion. He also read the writings of other major religions

like Buddhism, Jainism, Christianity, and Islam and concluded that all religions preached the

same thing and that all religions were far from perfect. After he graduated in law, he returned

from London and tried to find employment in India. He subsequently went to South Africa in

pursuit of a career in law. Gandhi’s experience of social discrimination and his confrontation

of it in South Africa is well known. These experiences affected him deeply and transformed

him. He returned to India to lead millions of illiterate Indians into the Indian freedom

movement. He brought in a new element of introspection and self-criticism into the freedom

movement that hitherto had been dominated by the English-educated elite of India. He

quickly became the most important political and ideological leader of India during the Indian

independence movement.

Assuming leadership of the Indian National Congress in 1921, Gandhi led nationwide

campaigns for ending untouchability, promoting religious and ethnic amity, easing poverty,

expanding women's rights, increasing economic self-reliance, but above all for achieving

swaraj—the independence of India from foreign domination through the building of self-

confidence which he felt, could only come about by becoming self-sufficient (Gandhi, 1927).

Gandhi devised many original methods to counter the might of the British Empire. Central to

his philosophy was his emphasis on fearlessness and individual freedom from dogmas and

dependency. He believed that these qualities would make it possible for nonviolence to be a

weapon in the hands of millions of people with astonishing diversity in language, cultural

practices, and economic status. This commitment to sathya (truth) led to the emergence of

satyagraha, a nonviolent movement for persuasion and transformation. He advocated civil

disobedience and resistance to violence as strategies for the freedom movement. Gandhi led

India to freedom and also inspired many freedom movements around the world through

nonviolent means. His birthday, 2nd October, is commemorated in India as Gandhi Jayanthi,

a national holiday. On June 15th 2007, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously

adopted a resolution declaring his birthday to be the International Day of Nonviolence.

Key Constructs from Indian Spirituality

As indicated in the introduction to this chapter, Gandhi’s philosophy was deeply

influenced by Indian spirituality. We begin, therefore, by providing a brief overview of the

important constructs from Indian spirituality that have a bearing on the Gandhian perspective.

Belief in spiritual power is a recurrent theme in Indian tradition. It is believed that one

can acquire a substantial measure of divine power by undertaking the requisite spiritual

training and penance. Indian philosophy may be classified into three schools of thought with

regard to the relationship they describe between the creator and the created. Advaita takes the

monistic position and accordingly the supreme creator is believed to be manifest in all beings.

Dvaita philosophies are dualistic and believe that the creator and the created are separate and

different from each other. Vishishtadvaita is a qualified monism which acknowledges

individuality but at the same time points out that individuality is subsumed under a

fundamental unity. Despite these differences, each of these philosophies point to moksha, the

returning of the individual to godhood as the ultimate aim. While Gandhi’s spirituality was

not otherworldly, he considered every individual to be a child of god, whose life on earth

ought to be reflective of that divinity.

According to the Indian view, in order to attain moksha, an individual has to do the

karma (action or duty) assigned to his or her dharma (placement in the social order) with

complete engagement and sincerity. Karma which represents work and action is a word that

dominates Indian thought, and work and action are considered to be routes to salvation. It is

believed that the discharging of one’s duties to the best of one’s ability ensures salvation.

This intimate connection between work and spirituality portrayed in Indian thought is

strongly reflected in Gandhi’s philosophy as well. For him, work and effort were sacred.

Ashrama is another Indian concept that is closely relevant to the function and purpose

of work. Ashramas are the stages in a life cycle through which the individual moves from

infancy and studentship to worker, householder, and finally to spiritual pursuits. It is

believed that a person who performs all that is expected of him or her at every stage in life

comes closer to attaining moksha.


Varnashrama refers to a person’s placing in society. There are four varnas (colours)

that the ancient scriptures talked about. The brahmin’s duty is to be the teacher and adviser

and to formulate the rules of conduct. This varna is placed above the others since it is this

group that formulates rules and codes of conduct. Then comes the kshatriya varna which is

of the ruling class. Members of this group are the protectors. They wage wars and govern

the people. They are advised by the brahmin on auspicious times to start campaigns or

conduct rituals as per the movement of the stars and the planets in the firmament. The third

varna is that of the trader or vaishya, the merchant class. This group conducts trade and

manages wealth. Then comes the labor class called sudras. The role of this class is to serve

the other classes. Each of the four varnas has several subgroups, each determined by the

work and duties to be performed by that group. The point to be noted here is that the original

idea that lay behind varna was in fact related to the allocation of occupational roles and was

aimed at bringing about order in work (Arulmani & Nag-Arulmani, 2004). Of course, this

later deteriorated into the evil of caste. But the initial purpose was closely related to work

and the duties that surround work. Caste-based discrimination is an aspect of the Indian way

of life to which Gandhi was vehemently opposed. In fact, he renamed the lowest castes who

were placed even lower than the sudras and called them harijan (child of god).

The key point that emerges from these introductory observations is that work and

spirituality are closely intertwined in Indian ways of thinking. Work is portrayed not merely

as an activity through which a livelihood is gleaned. Hard work is considered to be a duty, a

responsibility, and ultimately a means of attaining moksha. Gandhi was a deeply spiritual

person. At the same time, his spirituality was action-oriented. He absorbed and then revived

these constructs and brought them into the mainstream of daily life.

Gandhi’s Engagement with Contemporary Indian Philosophers


Before we begin to trace Gandhi’s conceptions of work and learning, it is important to

note that his views were deeply debated and respected by two other contemporary Indian

philosophers: Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) and Aurobindo Ghoshe (1872-1950). All

three had been educated in the English language and had studied abroad. All three laid stress

on the spiritual yet all three thought beyond religion. All three felt that the spiritual was

embedded in work and work-based learning was basic learning.

Rabindranath Tagore was a Bengali polymath who reshaped the literature and music of

his region. He is the author of the famous Gitanjali which won him the Nobel prize for

literature, making him the first non-European Nobel laureate in 1913 and his poetry was

viewed as spiritual and mercurial. As a champion of the Bengal Renaissance, he created

paintings, texts, and a new music genre now known as Rabindra Sangeet, and founded the

Visva Bharati University. Tagore envisioned an education that was deeply rooted in one’s

immediate surroundings but connected to the cultures of the wider world, predicated upon

joyful learning, and individualized to the personality of the child. Gandhi had already

conducted his experiments on communal living and work as learning in South Africa by the

time he came to India. Tagore and Gandhi were in close communication. It appears that they

vigorously discussed the ideas of work being the basis for learning and that work done with

sincerity was its own reward.

Aurobindo Ghoshe synthesized Eastern and Western philosophy, religion, literature,

and psychology in his writings. Ghoshe formulated a pedagogy which is referred to as

Integral Education. The first principle of education for him was that the teacher is not an

instructor or taskmaster. He or she is a helper and a guide. A principle of Integral Education

is to work from the near to the far, from that which is to that which shall be. These ideas

influenced Gandhi’s philosophy of education. The key debate between Ghoshe and Gandhi

was how to assimilate Western values, science, and knowledge into an Indian educational


Extensive dialog took place between Tagore, Ghoshe, and Gandhi on the interface

between spirituality, work, and learning. While Gandhi stressed the importance of productive

work and skilled work as a basis for learning, Tagore looked at engaging with works of art

and beauty as the foundation of learning. Ghoshe emphasized the integration of mind and

body as necessary to carry work forward. What is clear here is that for all three, work and

spiritual pursuit were one and the same.

Gandhi’s Philosophy of Work and Learning

To Live, Man must Work

Of particular relevance to this writing is Gandhi’s assertion that to live, man must work.

This first came home to him upon reading Tolstoy’s description of bread labour in his book

The Kingdom of God Is Within You (Tolstoy, 1894). The same principle, Gandhi said, has

been set forth in the third chapter of the Bhagawad Geetha where it is explained that he who

eats without offering sacrifice eats stolen food. Gandhi (1908) interpreted sacrifice to mean

bread labor when he said:

The economics of bread labor are the living way of life. It means that every man has to

labor with his body for his food and clothing. If I can convince the people of the value

and the necessity of bread labor, there never will be any want of bread and cloth. (p.


According to Gandhi, if all worked for their bread, distinctions of rank would be

obliterated. The rich would still be there, but they would deem themselves only trustees of

their property, and would use it mainly in the public interest. Gandhi emphasized that the

idea that we work for others is only an illusion, when he pointed out that we always work for

ourselves and that we attain deliverance only if we work exclusively for our higher self

(Gandhi, 1948).

The manner in which Gandhi highlighted the purpose of work in our lives has relevance

to the notion of career development. Work has been human beings’ constant companion. For

some, work maybe associated with getting ahead, reaching the top, a means of gaining social

acceptance and prestige. In Gandhi’s (1933) formulation, work could be a means of self-


If everybody thinks about the work he is doing, and so works intelligently, he would get

the best education, would find his work interesting, develop his intellect, enlarge and

purify his heart, acquire efficiency in his work and make inventions and improvements

which would benefit the world. As the work becomes more interesting, it gives him

joy; he feels no fatigue in doing it and the work becomes artistic, whether it is cleaning

lavatories or roads, writing accounts or something else. (p. 296)

Work and Skill as Capital

Gandhi strongly advocated that work and skill were also powerful, and that work and

skill were not subordinate to capital. “If capital is power, so is work. Either power can be

used destructively or creatively. Immediately, the worker realizes his strength, he is in a

position to become a co-sharer with the capitalist instead of becoming his slave” (Gandhi,

1933, p. 296).

Ruskin’s (1862) writings had a deeply formative influence on Gandhi’s ideas of

economics and education when he first read them in 1903 on a train journey from

Johannesburg to Durban. He summarized his learning from the book into three points

(Gandhi, 1956). First, Ruskin asserts that the good of the individual is contained in the good

of all. This was already a part of Gandhi’s thinking. Secondly, Gandhi’s commitment to the

dignity of labor was also highlighted by Ruskin when he says that a lawyer's work had the

same value as the barber's, as all had the same right to earn a livelihood. The third point was

Ruskin’s assertion that a life of labor, that is, the life of the tiller of the soil and the

handicraftsman is a life worth living. This influenced Gandhi’s view of work profoundly.

For Gandhi, a seeker of truth through action, the worth of an idea could be proven only

by putting it into practice. So he set up farms (Phoenix Settlement in 1904 and the Tolstoy

Farm in 1910, in South Africa) which gave him the opportunity to experiment with the ideas

of work and skill as capital. The settlements consisted of men, women, and children, who

were Hindus, Muslims, Christians, or Parsees, white or Indians, people who spoke one or

more languages from among Gujarati, Hindi, Tamil, and English. As an extension of

Gandhi’s assertion that labor and skills were capital, produce was shared by the inmates and

education was offered during the course of manual labor. This form of education, in

Gandhi’s view, prepared the child and young person for the mother economy wherein

producers themselves became consumers. Gandhi ran these settlements drawing

from the primary idea that self-realization was the individual’s final objective. He believed

that self-realization could come from a self-mediated search for truth during the process of

manual work. Of interest here is the relativity with which Gandhi viewed truth when he

highlighted that an individual must determine what truth meant for him or her and practice it

with single-mindedness.

Gandhi’s interpretation of effort, work, and skills as economic capital therefore had

deeply spiritual overtones. Against this background, he rejected Western (capitalist) notions

of development which, according to him, described wellbeing and happiness to be primarily

related to physical wellbeing and economic prosperity. He asserted that the pursuit of

happiness by a majority does not allow the sacrificing of the happiness of a minority and goes

on to point out that the pursuit of happiness does not sanction the breaking of the laws of

morality. “Our work should be neither exclusively physical nor exclusively mental, nor such

as ministers merely to the pleasure of the moment” (Gandhi, 1921, p. 121). His radically

different position is discussed in the next section.

A principle of career development that emerges here is related to occupational prestige.

It is well known that across most cultures, blue collar professions are usually evaluated as

less prestigious than white collar jobs. When asked, 88% of an Indian sample of more than

8000 adolescents and young adults studied by Arulmani and Nag-Arulmani (2004) described

vocationally-oriented occupations as being dirty and of low value because they were

associated with manual work. The respondents in this study felt that they that would not be

respected if they opted for vocationally-oriented careers. Similar findings have been reported

by studies from other parts of the world (see Agbenyo & Collett, Chapter 14; Zelloth,

Chapter 15, this Handbook). By imbuing work with spiritual meanings, Gandhi highlighted

the economic value of effort and skill irrespective of the occupation that these skills relate to.

Spinning as a Philosophy of Work

The charkha or spinning wheel is closely associated with Gandhi. Invented between

500 and 1,000 AD, the spinning wheel has a simple design with two wheels of unequal sizes

wherein the larger wheel turns a smaller wheel. The spindle at the center of the smaller

wheel is fed a sliver of cotton, which is caught on the spindle, and twisted. Additional bits of

material are fed to the end of the twisted yarn, making it longer, and they in turn are twisted

together. Gradually the mass of fluffy material is spun out into a long thread, suitable for

weaving into cloth. When Gandhi saw the spinning wheel, he sensed that it could be a

powerful symbol to represent his ideas. He used the spinning wheel as an emblem of

liberation and a tool for development. Gandhi's introduction of the spinning wheel and what

it stood for, was one of the most significant unifying elements of the nationalist movement in

India. Spinning was seen as an economic and political activity that could bring together the

diverse population of the country, and allow the formerly elite nationalist movement to

connect to the broader Indian population.

The philosophy of work that underlies spinning is that Gandhi portrayed it to be an

instrument of service. The symbolism of spinning cotton on the spinning wheel demonstrated

the individual’s self-dependence for the most basic of needs, namely, clothing. The charkha

brought focus to bear on work as a way to liberation, both economic and spiritual. Gandhi

believed that if all Indians would spin their own cotton to make khadi (cloth) instead of

buying British-made cloth, they could become self-sufficient. Spinning promoted a respect

for work just as the notion of bread labor highlighted the dignity of labor that Gandhi


The key career development point related to Gandhian economics to be noted is that the

spinning wheel became such an important symbol of freedom, not because it was big and

powerful but because it was small and could come alive as a sign of resistance and creativity

in the smallest of huts and poorest of families. In smallness lay its power. Embedded in

Gandhi’s ideas of bread labor, trusteeship, and spinning is a philosophy of work that

questions the mindless competitiveness of our contemporary market-driven economies. The

charkha was to become the central point in Gandhi’s pedagogy as well, since Gandhi felt that

true learning was only possible when learning emerged from doing. The charkha provided

that connectivity to learning by doing.

Nai Talim: Gandhi’s Philosophy of Education

Contemporary Indian thinkers have pointed out that no one rejected colonial education

as sharply and as completely as Gandhi did, nor did anyone else put forward an alternative as

radical as the one he proposed (e.g., Kumar, 1994). In Gandhi’s view, the prevailing British

educational system had the negative effect of alienating Indian children from the mainstream

of Indian society, it promoted a disdain for manual work, and fostered the development of a

new elite class. He felt that all work must be treated equal. He says, “All useful work ranks

the same. If I could bring people round to my view, the literate and the illiterate, the teacher

and the scavenger, would be paid the same remuneration for their work” (Gandhi, 1931, p.

422). According to him, the more one was educated, the more the person tended to move

away from real life since this form of education was based on developing abstract intellect

that was out of touch with the realities of daily life. It contributed to the increasing problems

of industrialization and urbanization and bore no relation to the actual conditions of life in

India (Gandhi, 1931). Based on these observations of Western models of education, Gandhi

became convinced that India needed an entirely different path, a path that looked inwards into

its own culture for the education of its children. He emphasized that education ought to

shape lives and answer the wants of people and as he said, “It is no education if it fails to

make a farmer’s son a better farmer” (Gandhi, 1931, p. 54). He wanted productive work to

be a tool of education right from childhood. This was pathbreaking and had a direct

reformative impact on a culture in which occupational role allocations were based on a

deeply entrenched caste system. It was through this redefinition of work that Gandhi

attempted to deconstruct caste and remove untouchability.

Work as Education

Gandhi did not separate work and education. His educational philosophy rests on the

central principle that all learning would be located around work. He called this approach Nai

Talim: nai means new and talim in the Urdu language means education. Nai Talim represents

basic education for all. The genesis of the idea for Nai Talim goes back to Gandhi’s

encounter with Ruskin’s essays. The teachings of Ruskin not only reflected Gandhi’s own

deep convictions but in its exaltation of labor and of work with one’s hands, they seemed to

provide a ready answer for self-sufficiency. Gandhi's Nai Talim reflects a spiritual principle

which states that knowledge and work are not separate. This pedagogy rests on three pillars.

The first is that education is a lifelong process. The second is that education has a social

dimension. The third is that education ought to address the holistic development of the

individual. Box 1 presents the key tenets of Nai Talim as summarized by Solanki (1958).

Insert Box 1 about here

A common objective of career guidance is to guide the individual toward educational

pathways that lead to the career that he or she wishes to pursue. Such an approach views

education as a separate activity from work and rests on the understanding that one completes

education and then enters a profession. Over the recent past however, the importance of

lifelong learning has become obvious. This can, in fact, be linked to Gandhian concepts

whereby education and work are deeply intertwined, one drawing upon the other and thereby

infusing deeper meaning into education as well as work. At a practical level, of course, the

individual for whom work is education, would be a better worker.

Redefinition of Learning and Teaching

Nai Talim expanded and redefined the role of the teacher. The Nai Talim teacher was

not merely a person trained in pedagogy and skilled in delivering the content of an academic

curriculum. This teacher was one who would be able to establish rapport with the student

such that teaching and learning could be effected through dialogue. As Gandhi (1942)

pointed out:

A teacher who establishes rapport with the taught, becomes one with them, learns more

from them than he teaches them. He who learns nothing from his disciples is, in my

opinion, worthless. A true teacher regards himself as a student of his students. If you

will teach your pupils with this attitude, you will benefit much from them. (p. 123)

Nai Talim aimed at removing distinctions between the teacher and the taught, and between

knowledge and work. An important point emerges here that has relevance to the process of

career guidance and counseling. The settings in which counseling must be delivered are

becoming more and more multicultural. The beliefs and motivations of counselor and client

might differ considerably. The Nai Talim approach here would be for the counselor to create

an environment wherein the interaction is a teaching-learning experience both for the client

and for the counselor. At the deepest level, this is an attitude: An attitude that allows the

counselor to also be a learner. An attitude that allows the counselor to receive in order to

give (Arulmani, 2011).

Productive Work, Education of the Hand, and Self Reliance

Gandhi’s Nai Talim reflected his vision that the individual’s realization of personal

potential was closely connected with his or her contribution to the rest of society. Gandhi’s

belief was that education was much broader than schooling and comprised development of

attitudes and outlooks that matched with the actual happenings in the community.

Contrasting word-based education with work-based education, he (1935) provocatively said:

It is a superstition to think that the fullest development of man is impossible without a

knowledge of the art of reading and writing. That knowledge undoubtedly adds grace

to life, but it is in no way indispensable for man's moral, physical, or material growth.

(p. 121)

Gandhi believed that teaching children a useful vocation could be a means of

cultivating their mental, physical, and spiritual faculties. He asserted that literary education

should follow the education of the hand and that the outcomes of education should be of

relevance to daily life. He highlighted that education was not derived exclusively from books

and theoretical pursuits and that instead of regarding crafts and industry as different from

education, the crafts and industry must be regarded as the media for achieving education. Nai

Talim places productive work at the center of the teaching-learning process, as a powerful

corrective to the bookish and information-oriented character of academic, school education.

Gandhi’s firm belief was that education should ultimately provide the individual the means to

become self-supporting. It must enable a person to earn a living and cut at the root of

unemployment. Education must also be related to the student’s surroundings and the culture.

Gandhi believed that education meant character building such that the individual developed a

deep knowledge of duty and responsibility to self and to others. Gandhi’s concept of

education included harmonious development of all aspects of the human personality. That a

sound body required physical labor and physical labor sharpened the mind, was a tenet he

espoused. Gandhi held that, since the largest part of everyone’s time is devoted to labor to

earn bread, children must from their infancy be taught the dignity of such labor. For Gandhi,

self-reliance emerged when education inculcated an attitude of dignity toward manual labor

and handicraft. He asserted that self-reliance would be promoted in an educational system

wherein skill of the hands became the basis for the development of the intellect.

It is important for the career counselor to note the emphasis that Gandhi places on

manual labor and work being a vehicle for education. A practical career guidance point that

could be drawn here is the importance of skill literacy (Arulmani, 1998). It is not uncommon

for young people today to experience a career development lag—a delay between qualifying

for a career and actually entering a career. One of the factors that seem to be associated with

this lag is the nature of the career aspirant’s career preparation: the longest lag periods are

associated with career aspirants’ low levels of skill literacy (Arulmani & Nag-Arulmani,

2004). A student who has moved from one degree course to a higher one without the actual

development of skills (education of the hand) is an unattractive prospect in the employment

marketplace. Career counseling could address this by drawing the student’s attention to the

importance of developing skills for the practice and application of the theoretical concepts

that he or she is studying. This would improve skill literacy and make the individual more

attractive to potential employers. In many ways this is what Nai Talim represents.

Handicraft as an Instrument of Education


This section must be prefaced, first of all, with a note about Gandhi’s views regarding

industrialization. In keeping with his rejection of most aspects of modern civilization, he was

vehemently opposed to modern machinery. This was because in his view, automation and the

use of technology stole work from the hands of the worker and thereby cut away the

individual’s sense of self-reliance. Taking the example of the textile industry, he pointed out

that in places such as Bengal, where the production of cloth was not industrialized, the

original occupation of hand-weaving was flourishing. In contrast where cloth mills had been

introduced, he observed that workers had lost their identities and had become slaves.

Gandhi’s (1935) position regarding industrialization is very clear in the following:

What did India do before machine made goods were introduced? As long as we cannot

make pins without machinery, so long will we do without them. The tinsel splendour

of glassware we will have nothing to do with, and we will make wicks, as of old, with

home-grown cotton and use hand-made earthen saucers or lamps. (p. 136)

It is against this background that his positioning of handicraft as an instrument of

education must be understood. In Gandhi’s pedagogy, students ought to be the true

representatives of the culture of their nation. He felt that education could be best imparted

when theory and practice are combined in craft-centered, productive work that connects the

learning of the student to the environment. Gandhi recommended craft-centered education

since India is an agricultural country and over 60% of the population depends on manual

agricultural work (these figures have not changed significantly since Gandhi’s times). It may

appear that such ideas do not fit into economic life as it is today, but behind Gandhi’s

proposal of making handicraft a tool for education lay his vision of radically restructuring the

social organization of the India of his times. The abstract text-based learning of the time had

become elitist and the domain of the upper castes. Gandhi (1935) defined literacy differently:

Literacy is not the end of education or even the beginning. It is only one of the means

by which man and woman can be educated. Literacy in itself is no education. I would

therefore begin the child's education by teaching it a useful handicraft and enabling it to

produce from the moment it begins its training…literacies of the lower castes such as

spinning, weaving, leatherwork, pottery, metal-work, basket-making and book-binding

must be made central. (p. 48)

Gandhi believed in craft-based education because it also inculcated sensitivity to the

environment. Learning a craft was seen as a means for a better understanding of nature and

the environment such that the individual developed love for nature. Much before the world

had sensed and become aware of greenhouse emissions and the impact of environmental

degradation, Gandhi warned about the dangers of unplanned and reckless industrialization.

In Gandhian education, the aim is to learn to practice voluntary simplicity in life; it is

expected that this in turn would lead to a way of living that is less consumerist in its

orientation. The Nai Talim approach teaches children how to recycle materials and be energy

efficient, linking them intimately with nature. Self-reliance, self-help, decentralization,

labor-intensive engagement with work, localized and small-scale work organizations were all

to be included in education.

A further reason for Gandhi’s emphasis on handicraft emerged from his views on the

dialectic between the human being and the machine or technology. As discussed, Gandhi

rejected the machine in favor of manual, effort-based work. In his view, technology and

industrialization contributed to the dehumanization of the worker. In contrast, he believed

that handcraft epitomized swaraj (self-sufficiency) and swadeshi (indigenous production).

Gandhi and Career Development: Relevance for Multiple Cultures

Gandhi’s views point in quite the opposite direction to what education and career

development are understood to be today. At a superficial level, Gandhi’s ideas may seem to

be romantic ideals that are no longer relevant in an industrialized and globalized world. At a

deeper level, there are important values that could inform career guidance and counseling

across cultures and at multiple levels. First of all, Gandhi’s views provoke the career

counselor to consider the meaning of economic development. Should the career counselor

endorse a model of development that is based on increasing consumption and competition

and one where growth is measured by the volumes of production? Then comes the question

of opportunity-based career decision-making. Career choice is often swayed by labor market

cycles, pushing personhood to the background. The Gandhian principle for career guidance

would be to counsel the career chooser to not choose a career path only for the remuneration

it offers but make decisions instead which are based on the realization of personal potential

and personal satisfaction. Another career development principle relates to sensitivity to the

environment. The Gandhian position here would be for the career counselor to counsel the

career chooser to reject or at least question the validity of jobs that harm the environment.

Furthermore, the forces of globalization and economic development are pushing traditional

occupations and livelihoods to the background. As predicted by Gandhi, crafts which were

originally linked to ways of living are today neglected and considered irrelevant in an

industrialized, market economy. Craft represents work-cultures and the Gandhian career

counselor would strive to sensitize career choosers to the value of careers in these fields.

What appear, therefore, to be impractical and romanticized ideas about work are in fact

prophetic and have deep relevance to a philosophy of career guidance in the contemporary


New Concepts and Viewpoints: A Gandhian Approach to Career Counseling?

In this chapter, we have gone over some of the ideas that Gandhi expressed with regard

to prosperity, work, education, and the role of the individual within the larger society. They

are radical no doubt and a question that surfaces is, can the notion of career be reconciled

with the Gandhian description of work. Indeed, his own disdain for the term career comes

starkly through when Tendulkar (1960) described Gandhi as discarding all forms of education

whereby “career-based thinking would become dominant” (p. 56). The answer to this

question would be a straightforward no if career is associated with the promotion of self, with

economic growth that bypasses the wellbeing of the whole of society, and the denigration of

human effort. On the other hand, there is much to be learned from the Gandhian position if

career is understood to be a lifelong process of self-realization, characterized by a deep

respect for the other, undergirded by the firm conviction that all forms of useful work are


The Gandhian concept of swaraj serves well to draw links between career development

and the many points discussed above. From a political point of view, swaraj is interpreted as

self-rule and also as self-reliance. If we were to develop a Gandhian form of career

counseling, swaraj could be interpreted to mean self-mediation and self-assessment. Self-

mediated career development would ensure that it is the individual who is in charge and not

merely the dictates of a labor market. Assessment of aptitudes, interests, and other such

personal attributes by a trained counselor are central to career guidance and counseling. If

career counseling were to take a self-assessment perspective it would immediately shift the

point of focus to the individual and he or she would be encouraged seek the truth about

oneself and one’s capacities and whether they are commensurate with one’s desires.

Decision making is integral to career choice. Gandhi measured all decisions against

truth. Career selection when based on the Gandhian principle of truth would move the

chooser toward careers that are not exploitative and draw him or her into the circle of justice

and equity. Gandhi spoke about means and ends and this has direct relevance to career

choice. A critical message that comes from Gandhi both to the counselor and career chooser

is that the means of arriving at an end must be as honorable as the end. Career counseling

based on the Gandhian principle of truth would help the career chooser define his or her “no

compromise” position. At the same time, maintaining a personal policy of refusal to

compromise does not mean a dogmatic commitment to a single path. Gandhi urged the

individual to be open to different paths and being open is not compromise. This requires a

courage of conviction as preached and practiced by Gandhi. Gandhi believed in following

pragmatic approaches and in maintaining a balance with traditional systems of education,

occupation, and family. Gandhi’s fervent belief was that true freedom lay in the thorough

practice of one’s chosen occupation and in giving equal opportunity to every citizen to

practice, perform, and progress. Young people could look at career as social innovation as

they experiment with new technologies, new services, and new methodologies in career

development. Extending Gandhi to the notion of career implies defining it as a vehicle of

service. The service attitude in the person would imbue career with a sense of responsibility,

moral value, and spiritual insight as contrasted with a mindless and selfish promotion of the

self at the expense of others.

We began this chapter by stating that Gandhi rejected modernization and all that it

stood for. Looking back at his position it seems that many of his predictions have come true.

The manner in which work has been deployed has brought us today to a point where our

world is tottering under environmental, political, economic, and social turmoil. The call for

alternatives from all quarters is strident. This chapter has pointed to various aspects of the

Gandhian position that could offer these alternatives. Of interest here are seven deadly sins

against which he cautioned us (A. Gandhi, n.d.): wealth without work, politics without

principle, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, science without

humanity, worship without sacrifice, and commerce without ethics. Each of these points has

relevance to career guidance and counseling, which is focused on the central Gandhian

principles of responsibility to self and sensitivity to the other. In highlighting these


principles, Gandhi was referring to the age-old human predilection of exploiting others for

personal benefit. Gandhi made a distinction between an honest day's hard work and

extracting profit for self from others’ labor.

Perhaps this writing has piqued your interest and made you wonder about the principles

that undergird your own practice of career guidance and counseling. Box 2 provides a set of

guidelines you could use to assess how Gandhian is your approach to career guidance and


Insert Box 2 about here


The cornerstone on which the edifice of Gandhi’s life stood was a deep and irrevocable

commitment to truth. This was the searchlight he unflinchingly turned upon himself.

Although Gandhi derived his ideas from Indian antiquity, he gave his own interpretation to

tradition and sought to make it compatible with the modern ideas of individual freedom of

choice and economic freedom. So even though we learn from the past, like Gandhi, we can

never be wedded to it. Gandhi sought to question age-old practices in the religion he

practiced and firmly believed in reforming and improving them. Similarly, the career

counselor too could constantly renew his or her practice, examining it for relevance and

striving always to make career development a vehicle for self-realization and service. A final

point that must be highlighted in conclusion is the way Gandhi lived his own life. He carved

an original path for himself and stayed on that path with courage and integrity. He

epitomizes for us the deep career guidance principle that ultimately, the joy of work is its

own reward.


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developing resonant career guidance programmes. International Journal for

Educational and Vocational Guidance, 11(2), 79 - 93.

Arulmani, G., & Nag-Arulmani, S. (2004). Career counselling: A handbook. New Delhi,

India: Tata McGraw-Hill.

Gandhi, A. (n.d.). The seven deadly social sins: Explained by Arun Gandhi, grandson of

Mohandas Gandhi. Retrieved from

Gandhi, M. K. (1908). Indian opinion (p. 171). Phoenix Farm, South Africa: Author.

Gandhi, M. K. (1909). Hind Swaraj. South Africa: Author.

Gandhi, M. K. (1921). A guide to health. Ahmedabad, India: Navajivan.

Gandhi, M. K. (1927). The story of my experiments with truth. Ahmedabad, India: Navajivan.

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Division, Government of India.

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Gandhi, M. K. (1935). The selected works of Gandhi. Ahmedabad, India: Navajivan.

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Box 1

The Key Tenets of Gandhi’s Nai Talim: Basic Education for All

 The first stage of education must be up to the age of 8 in which children are not taught
reading or writing. They are to be taught mainly by manual training under the
supervision of an educationist. At this stage, education ought to seem like playing.

 The second stage is from the age of 9 until the age of 16. This is primary education or
basic education. Gandhi laid great emphasis on this stage. This stage covered all the
subjects up to matriculation, including the teaching of a vocation. During this stage,
education may become self-supporting by marketing the goods made by the students.

 The third stage lasts 9 years after primary education. During this stage every young
person ought to get an opportunity to study according to his/her interests and
Note. Adapted from “The Technique of Correlation in Basic Education,” by A. B. Solanki,
1958. Ahmedabad, India: Navajivan.
Box 2

How Gandhian is My Approach to Career Guidance and Counseling?

1 I make it a point to highlight to my clients that career can be a means of self-

2 I ensure that my clients are aware of the manner in which perceptions of
occupational prestige are affecting their career decisions.

3 I make it a point to highlight to my clients that all careers are equal in their value.

4 I highlight to my clients the manner in which the mindless competitiveness of our

contemporary market-driven economies influences career decisions.

5 I encourage my clients to understand that lifestyles and career paths can be changed
according to the values dear to them.

6 I discuss with my clients that the means of reaching a goal is as important as the
end and that clean practices ensure a clean track record.

7 I use the principles of nonviolence to point out to my clients when the practice of a
career degrades the environment or exploits others, it is a form of violence.

8 I ask my clients to consider how selflessness links with positive career


9 I make it a point to highlight to my clients that approach to work and career would
be rewarding if it is born out of courage.

10 I discuss with my clients that the net payoff of a career ought to be joy of service.

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