The literal meaning of the term ‘Satyagraha’ is “holding on to truth” and as truth for Gandhiji was God. Satyagraha in the general sense of the word means the way of life of on that holds steadfastly to God and dedicates his life to him.
Jesus and the Buddha drew their inspiration and confidence from this knowledge. The true Satyagrahi is accordingly a man of God. Satyagraha means resistance through non-violence. Such an individual in this world finds himself up against evil, which he cannot but resist. He comes across injustice, cruelty, exploitation and oppression. These he has to oppose with all the resources at his command.
In this crusade, his reliance is on truth or God, and since the greatest truth is the unity of all life, truth can be attained only through the loving service of all, i.e. by nonviolence.
The weapon of the Satyagrahi is therefore nonviolence. Satyagraha, in the narrower sense in which it is ordinarily understood, accordingly means resisting evil through soul-force or non-violence. For the required soul-force the individual has to discipline himself in self-control, simplicity of life, suffering without fear or hatred, recognition of the unity of all living beings and whole-hearted and disinterested service of one’s neighbors.
The vows which Gandhi elaborated for members of his Satyagraha Ashram at Sabarmati are of interest from this point of view. They were truth, nonviolence, brahmacharya, fearlessness, control of the palate, non-possession, and non-stealing, breadlabour equality of religions, anti-untouchability and Swadeshi. According to Gandhiji Satyagraha means an appeal to morality and reason.
Satyagraha, in the narrower sense, takes many forms. Primarily it is the case of appealing to the reason and conscience of the opponent by insisting suffering on oneself. The motive is to convert the opponent and make him one’s willing ally and friend.
Satyagraha is based on the idea that the moral appeal to the heart and conscience is, in the ease of human beings, more effective than an appeal based on the threat of bodily pain or violence. Indeed violence, according to Gandhiji does not even overcome evil: it suppresses it for the lime being for the evil to rise later with redoubled vigor.
Non-violence, on the other hand, puts an end to evil, for it converts the evil-doer. For Gandhiji Satyagraha is not negative but a positive concept.
Satyagraha means the combination of truth and non-violence which are so intertwined that it is practically impossible to disentangle them. They are like two sides of a coin, or rather of a smooth, unstamped metallic dice; who can say which is observe and which the inverse?
Sometimes he is tempted to distinguish truth from non-violence in the terms of difference between the end and the means. But even this distinction does not satisfy since the ends and means are inseparable. Gandhiji derived his doctrine of Satyagraha from many sources. It can be traced essentially to the Gita ideal of the karmayogi and also to Jesus Sermon on the Mount and recently to the writings of Thoreau, Ruskin and more especially to Tolstoy. But his practical application of it in the social and political spheres was entirely his own.