Gandhi received a copy of Ruskin's Unto This Last from a British friend while working as a lawyer in South Africa. In his Autobiography, Gandhi remembers the twenty-four hour train ride when he first read the book, being so in the grip of Ruskin's ideas that he could not sleep at all: "I determined to change my life in accordance with the ideals of the book." As Gandhi construed it, Ruskin's outlook on political-economic life extended from 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.
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."
Four years later, in 1908, Gandhi rendered a paraphased translation of Ruskin's book into his native tongue of Gujarati. He entitled the book Sarvodaya, a compound (sandhi) he invented from two Sanskrit roots: sarva (all) and udaya (uplift) -- "the uplift of all" (or as Gandhi glossed it in his autobiography, "the welfare of all").
Although inspired by Ruskin, the term would for Gandhi come to stand for a political ideal of his own stamp. (Indeed Gandhi was keen to distance himself from Ruskin's more conservative ideas.) The ideal which Gandhi strove to put into practice in his ashrams was, he hoped, one that he could persuade the whole of India to embrace, becoming a light to the other nations of the world. The Gandhian social ideal encompassed the dignity of labor, an equitable distribution of wealth, communal self-sufficiency and individual freedom.