We now reach the stage
in this story when I began seriously to think of taking the brahmacharya
vow. I had been wedded to a monogamous ideal ever since my marriage, faithfulness
to my wife being part of the love of truth. But it was in South Africa
that I came to realize the importance of observing brahmacharya
even with respect to my wife. I cannot definitely say what circumstance
or what book it was that set my thoughts in that direction, but I have
a recollection that the predominant factor was the influence of Raychandbhai,
of whom I have already written. I can still recall a conversation that
I had with him. On one occasion I spoke to him in high praise of Mrs. Gladstone's
devotion to her husband. I had read somewhere that Mrs. Gladstone insisted
on preparing tea for Mr. Gladstone even in the House of Commons, and that
this had become a rule in the life of this illustrious couple, whose actions
were governed by regularity. I spoke of this to the poet, and incidentally
eulogized conjugal love. 'Which of the two do you prize more,' asked Raychandbhai,
'the love of Mrs. Gladstone for her husband as his wife, or her devoted
service irrespective of her relation to Mr. Gladstone? Supposing she had
been his sister, or his devoted servant, and ministered to him the same
attention, what would you have said? Do we not have instances of such devoted
sisters or servants? Supposing you had found the same loving devotion in
a male servant, would you have been pleased in the same way as in Mrs.
Gladstone's case? Just examine the viewpoint suggested by me.'
Raychandbhai was himself married.
I have an impression that at the moment his words sounded harsh, but they
gripped me irresistibly. The devotion of a servant was, I felt, a thousand
times more praiseworthy than that of a wife to her husband. There was nothing
surprising in the wife's devotion to her husband, as there was an indissoluble
bond between them. The devotion was perfectly natural. But it required
a special effort to cultivate equal devotion between master and servant.
The poet's point of view began gradually to grow upon me.
What then, I asked myself, should
be my relation with my wife? Did my faithfulness consist in making my wife
the instrument of my lust? So long as I was the slave of lust, my faithfulness
was worth noting. To be fair to my wife, I must say that she was never
the temptress. It was therefore the easiest thing for me to take the vow
of brahmacharya, if only I willed it. It was my weak will or lustful attachment
that was the obstacle.
Even after my conscience had
been roused in the matter, I failed twice. I failed because the motive
that actuated the effort was none the highest. My main object was to escape
having more children. Whilst in England I had read something about contraceptives.
I have already referred to Dr. Allinson's birth control propaganda in the
chapter on vegetarianism. If it had some temporary effect on me, Mr. Hills'
opposition to those methods and his advocacy of internal effort as opposed
to outward means, in a word, of self-control, had a far greater effect,
which in due time came to be abiding. Seeing, therefore, that I did not
desire more children, I began to strive after self-control. There was endless
difficulty in the task. We began to sleep in separate beds. I decided to
retire to bed only after the day's work had left me completely exhausted.
All these efforts did not seem to bear much fruit, but when I look back
upon the past I feel that the final resolution was the cumulative effect
of those unsuccessful strivings.
The final resolution could only
be made as late as 1906. Satyagraha had not then been started. I had not
the least notion of its coming. I was practising in Johannesburg at the
time of the Zulu 'Rebellion' in Natal, which came soon after the Boer War.
I felt that I must offer my services to the Natal Government on that occasion.
The offer was accepted, as we shall see in another chapter. But the work
set me furiously thinking in the direction of self-control, and according
to my wont I discussed my thoughts with my co-workers. It became my conviction
that procreation and the consequent care of children were inconsistent
with public service. I had to break up my household at Johannesburg to
be able to serve during the 'Rebellion'. Within one month of offering my
services, I had to give up the house I had so carefully furnished. I took
my wife and children to Phoenix, and led the Indian ambulance corps attached
to the Natal forces. During the difficult marches that had then to be performed,
the idea flashed upon me that if I wanted to devote myself to the service
of the community in this manner, I must relinquish the desire for children
and wealth and live the life of a vanaprastha--of one retired from
The 'Rebellion' did not occupy
me for more than six weeks, but this brief period proved to be a very important
epoch in my life. The importance of vows grew upon me more clearly than
ever before. I realized that a vow, far from closing the door to real freedom,
opened it. Up to this time I had not met with success because the will
had been lacking, because I had had no faith in myself, no faith in the
grace of God, and therefore my mind had been tossed on the boisterous sea
of doubt. I realized that in refusing to take a vow man was drawn into
temptation, and that to be bound by a vow was like a passage from libertinism
to a real monogamous marriage. 'I believe in effort, I do not want to bind
myself with vows' is the mentality of weakness, and betrays a subtle desire
for the thing to be avoided. Or where can be the difficulty in making a
final decision? I vow to flee from the serpent which I know will bite me,
I do not simply make an effort to flee from him. I know that mere effort
may mean certain death. Mere effort means ignorance of the certain fact
that the serpent is bound to kill me. The fact, therefore, that I could
rest content with an effort only means that I have not yet clearly realized
the necessity of definite action. 'But supposing my views are changed in
the future, how can I bind myself by a vow?' Such a doubt often deters
us. But that doubt also betrays a lack of clear perception that a particular
thing must be renounced. That is why Nishkulanand has sung:
'Renunciation without aversion is not
Where therefore the desire is gone,
a vow of renunciation is the natural and inevitable fruit.