What is Sarvodaya?

Sarvodaya is a Gujarati term that roughly translates into “well-being for all,” “progress for all,” or “universal uplift.” It was first coined by Mahatma Gandhi, who altered and combined the Sanskrit root words sarva (all) and udaya (uplift), creating a concept that would define his political philosophy and, later on, his movement.

Gandhi developed this idea upon reading a book on political economy, Unto This Last, by English social thinker John Ruskin. The controversial tract discussed topics of social justice and egalitarianism, and was among the first to introduce the notion of a “social economy” – an economic sector distinct from the public and private sectors – government and business – that included charities, non-governmental organizations, non-profits, and cooperatives.

Gandhi was greatly inspired by it, as he noted in his autobiography: “I determined to change my life in accordance with the ideals of the book.” Indeed, the great activist drew from it’s message three central tenets:

  1. That the good of the individual is contained in the good of all.
  2. That a lawyer’s work has the same value as the barber’s in as much as all have the same right of earning their livelihood from their work.
  3. That a life of labour, i.e., the life of the tiller of the soil and the handicraftsman is the life worth living.

Gandhi reflected upon these concepts: “The first of these I knew. The second I had dimly realized. The third had never occurred to me. Unto This Last made it clear as daylight for me that the second and third were contained in the first. I arose with the dawn, ready to reduce these principles to practice.” He paraphrased and translated the main ideas of the book and titled it Sarvodaya.

Despite these origins, he eventually developed the concept into his own distinct ideology and philosophy: Sarvodaya was an attempt to develop India into a just and prosperous society, one defined by the dignity and respect of labor, socioeconomic equality, cooperative self-sufficiency, and individual liberty. It is often forgotten that Gandhi wasn’t only aiming to free India, but to improve it’s society, a project that was perhaps as every bit as ambitious and crucial.

Upon his death and the achievement of Indian independence, his followers continued to carry out this social message and promote it’s principles throughout their vibrant new nation: among the more prominent examples were the Bhoodan and Gramdan movements , voluntary land reform projects that sought to convince richer landowners to give tracts of land to the poor. Though they didn’t achieve the intended higher level of impact, they kept alive the tireless effort to continue improving society. In fact, groups drawing from this tradition continue to exist to this day.

When I first set out to start this blog, I began with searching across the web for a title that was appropriate, idealistic, and – frankly – unique. I was particularly drawn to Sanskrit and other “exotic” terms, due to both my interest in non-Western cultures and my desire to find a more encapsulating term (how else could I communicate “progress for all” in one word?) Given both it’s root meaning, and it’s interesting origins, I figured the term would be appropriate for my blog – though it is by no means comparable in it’s mission to that of Gandhi and his contemporaries.

The term stands for my desire to promote the well-being of humanity as a whole, in keeping with my belief in secular humanism. How we can improve the world is difficult to say, and I frankly don’t have the answer: I don’t think any single person does. Hence my emphasis on discourse, dialectics, freethinking, and open-mindedness. Progress for all is a nice idea, but highly – some would say unrealistically – ambitious. It is not something that can be accomplished, let alone visualized, by a single policy, movement, or belief system. The well-being of all requires the input of all: humanity drawing from it’s collective pool of knowledge, experience, innovation, and revelation.

To that end, I’m aiming to play just one small, but hopefully fruitful, part in this grand exercise. I hope my site could grow and learn from the ample amount of human thinking that now permeates the world, through the advent of new technology and media. I hope I could help connect people to new ideas – often one another’s – and at the very least get them to start thinking about things. I’m not seeking to convert someone to my way of thinking – I know that would be both arrogant and impractical – but to get them exposed to something that might makes them wonder, reflect, and inquiry.

As the world globalizes, and it’s diverse factions engage in more exchanges (many of them far from peaceful), it is imperative that we continue the process of humble dialogue. We must bring together as much knowledge and experience as possible. We must seek to converge on ideals that may hold the key to improving the lives of ourselves and our fellow humans, most of whom live in terrible poverty and misery.

It’s not a guaranteed effort, and I have no delusions about that: I’ve seen more than enough reasons to doubt our ability to progress as a society. But it’s worth a shot, and putting up a little blog in the vast expanse of the web is hardly the most difficult part.

18 comments on “What is Sarvodaya?

  1. Dear Author, this indeed is a great work you have done. Still, I feel that more about ‘Sarvodaya’ ought to be placed over here. We would be happier to see more about it herein.Good Luck!

  2. Dear Author, The truth about being able to apply ‘Sarvodaya’ anywhere one wishes is to simply understand that there is no ‘me’ and ‘him/her’ but simply ‘us’. How can one do any injustice to any one else, if we are all the same – little parts of the same divine? In your quest, it might do you well to listen to simply worded discourses on the Geeta. Good Luck

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