Mahatma Gandhi Community Forum

I have seen several versions of this quotation from Gandhi - e.g.

“Be the change you desire.”

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

“We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

“For the change you wish to see in the world, you must be the first to change.”

Can anyone tell me the source of this quotation?

E.S. Reddy

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About 5 years ago I saw this "quote" on Arun Gandhi's website, prominently placed, for the first time. As I hadn't come across this quote before I refered to some authentic quote compilations of Gandhi as well as the CWMG but in vain. When I asked Arun about it (by email) his then Office Assistant Betty Jennings replied on 15 April 2004:

"The quote you are seeking is paraphrased from a longer paragraph. We have never been able to find that wording, although we use it also, in M.K.Gandhi's works of 98 VOLs. This is the paragraph and the source:

We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.

VOL 13, Ch 153, General Knowledge About Health; Page 241, Printed in the Indian Opinion on 9/8/1913 From The Collected Works of M.K.Gandhi; published by The Publications Division, New Delhi, India."

So, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” in all its variations was never said or written by Gandhi!!! At best it can be attributed to Arun Gandhi being a summary of what he learned from his grandfather.

To do justice to Gandhi and avoid further distortions of his words we should try to educate the world about this misconception. But it would be an endless battle as by now this has become the most popular "quote" by Gandhi. It was even used in the election campaign of Mr. Obama.

I would like to know your thoughts about it, and whether and how we should react.
I came across this discussion and other such ones very late because i visited this site only to a limited extent.Never explored it in its full dimensions. Some times cofusing the sections which I intended to visit. I have gradually learnt to explore its various aspects.Hope I am not too late to react.
I would say; if Gandhi has not said what he is being credited with, we should say he did not utter such words. This is as simple as that. The idea and the appeal is really great but so what? There were so many people before and after Mahatma Gandhi who gave superb quotable quotes.In fact, the slogan became popular during the Obama campaign.
Arun Gandhi may have summarised it for a dramtic effect. You know, Richard Attenborough's Gandhi also conjectured some events based on facts for dramatic effect. We know events did not take place exectly as presented in the film. But that was a drama based on a great life. The essence was conveyed very effectively as proved by the decision of Akino of Philippines who is said to have returned from his exile influenced by the film.Arun Gandhi has done the same thing. But, certainly, Gandhi meant what is conveyed by the Arun Gandhi's creative product. Let us say that.
Now a wonderful solution for problems like this has been found: the "revised" edition of the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi was distorted by the BJP Government in the 1990's, see

With a tremendous effort Ms. Dina Patel, Ahmedabad, identified all those bugs, created a group "Friends of the CWMG" which succeeded to convince the present Government to ban the "revised" edition, reprint the original one and accept this original version as "Gandhi's bible". Whatever has been published in this version is authentic. Everything else must not be accepted as an authentic quote by Gandhi.

I and all who are sincerely interested to spread Gandhi's life and work, his thoughts and deeds, have now the ultimate medium in our hands for verification as well as for selecting quotations.

Dear Peter

Pl let me know where to source the authentic version / online repository. 



Integralist Gandhian? C'mon what do you care if Gandhi did say, utter, the exact sentence? Truth is that every one can make a difference by changing his/her inner attitude. So what? Why be critical? Let it be, let it be... Gandhi would not get irritated about it. Modern language has short and condensed ways to convey a message. Gandhi used to communicate to people of the last century and he had his own limit to use english words.
Do you disagree on the concept? Do you think Gandhi would get irritated and feel misinterpretated? If the answer is no... be at peace. What is important is that the people of this century gets the idea. I love you.
Gandhi's words and writings are as much important as What the Bible says. 'Cause, in a complicated situations where a group of people work for peace, non-violence, love and other gandhian ideals, there should not arise any mis-iterpretation of what Gandhi said or their own ideas.

Of course, there should be a clear distinction of what Gandhi said and I said, even though the topic is the same. I have experienced some critics saying some times "What you said is Gandhi said" or at some other times, "Oh, this is a different approach from you!"

Dear GandhiServe,


I read this article "Misquotes that Bapu is forced to wear".. Is this true?? what's your take on this?

(Note - Pic from university)




See my above comments dt.February 4, 2009, March 14, 2010 and October 3, 2011.

Regards,  Peter


Peter Ruhe

GandhiServe Foundation

Founder chairperson

This appears to be a convenient makeover of what Gandhiji actually said, or wrote. Here are a few lines reproduced from a article titled "Falser Words Were Never Spoken" written by Brian Morton, on August 29, 2011

"Gandhi’s words have been tweaked a little too in recent years. Perhaps you’ve noticed a bumper sticker that purports to quote him: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” When you first come across it, this does sound like something Gandhi would have said. But when you think about it a little, it starts to sound more like ... a bumper sticker. Displayed brightly on the back of a Prius, it suggests that your responsibilities begin and end with your own behavior. It’s apolitical, and a little smug.

Sure enough, it turns out there is no reliable documentary evidence for the quotation. The closest verifiable remark we have from Gandhi is this: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. ... We need not wait to see what others do.”

Here, Gandhi is telling us that personal and social transformation go hand in hand, but there is no suggestion in his words that personal transformation is enough. In fact, for Gandhi, the struggle to bring about a better world involved not only stringent self-denial and rigorous adherence to the philosophy of nonviolence; it also involved a steady awareness that one person, alone, can’t change anything, an awareness that unjust authority can be overturned only by great numbers of people working together with discipline and persistence."

Further, the author writes, about all such misquotes -

"Thoreau, Gandhi, Mandela — it’s easy to see why their words and ideas have been massaged into gauzy slogans. They were inspirational figures, dreamers of beautiful dreams. But what goes missing in the slogans is that they were also sober, steely men. Each of them knew that thoroughgoing change, whether personal or social, involves humility and sacrifice, and that the effort to change oneself or the world always exacts a price.

But ours is an era in which it’s believed that we can reinvent ourselves whenever we choose. So we recast the wisdom of the great thinkers in the shape of our illusions. Shorn of their complexities, their politics, their grasp of the sheer arduousness of change, they stand before us now. They are shiny from their makeovers, they are fabulous and gorgeous, and they want us to know that we can have it all."

I feel that Gandhi-ism should be imbibed and followed in letter and spirit. Since his ideas apply well to all generations, there is simply no need to tweak what he said. And if tweaked, then desist from attributing the tweaked phrases to MKG.

This particular slogan, whether attributed by Gandhi in any form, I'd like to share an incident from his life: After returning from SA, he toured India, travelling from Madras to Madurai by train. The train stopped halfway near Dindugal, on looking at a farmer wearing just a loin cloth around his waist in the field nearby, he asked why he dressed so. The poor farmer replied, humbly "This is what I can afford." Gandhi didn't say a word.
After a few days, he too was seen dressed in the similar attir

Wonderful, Swarna, thank you for posting the article! I fully agree with your views and the views expressed in the article. I wished Gandhi was alive to react and comment on these false quotes. In fact, he was the only one to authenticate his words. I'm sure he would have had a wise and thoughtful reply on this!

Best,  Peter


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