After full discussion
and mature deliberation, I took the vow in 1906. I had not shared my thoughts
with my wife until then, but only consulted her at the time of taking the
vow. She had no objection. But I had great difficulty in making the final
resolve. I had not the necessary strength. How was I to control my passions?
The elimination of carnal relationship with one's wife seemed then a strange
thing. But I launched forth with faith in the sustaining power of God.
As I look back upon the twenty
years of the vow, I am filled with pleasure and wonderment. The more or
less successful practice of self-control had been going on since 1901.
But the freedom and joy that came to me after taking the vow had never
been experienced before 1906. Before the vow I had been open to being overcome
by temptation at any moment. Now the vow was a sure shield against temptation.
The great potentiality of brahmacharya daily became more and more
patent to me. The vow was taken when I was in Phoenix. As soon as I was
free from ambulance work, I went to Phoenix, whence I had to return to
Johannesburg. In [=within] about a month of my returning there, the foundation
of Satyagraha was laid. As though unknown to me, the brahmacharya
vow had been preparing me for it. Satyagraha had not been a preconceived
plan. It came on spontaneously, without my having willed it. But I could
see that all my previous steps had led up to that goal. I had cut down
my heavy household expenses at Johannesburg and gone to Phoenix to take,
as it were, the brahmacharya vow.
The knowledge that a perfect
observance of brahmacharya means realization of brahman,
I did not owe to a study of the Shastras. It slowly grew upon me with experience.
The shastric texts on the subject I read only later in life. Every day
of the vow has taken me nearer the knowledge that in brahmacharya
lies the protection of the body, the mind and the soul. For brahmachrya
was now no process of hard penance, it was a matter of consolation and
joy. Every day revealed a fresh beauty in it.
But if it was a matter of ever-increasing
joy, let no one believe that it was an easy thing for me. Even when I am
past fifty-six years, I realize how hard a thing it is. Every day I realize
more and more that it is like walking on the sword's edge, and I see every
moment the necessity for eternal vigilance.
Control of the palate is the
first essential in the observance of the vow. I found that complete control
of the palate made the observance very easy, and so I now pursued my dietetic
experiments not merely from the vegetarian's but also from the brahmachari's
point of view. As the result of these experiments I saw that the brahmachari's
food should be limited, simple, spiceless, and, if possible, uncooked.
Six years of experiment have
showed me that the brahmachari's ideal food is fresh fruit and nuts.
The immunity from passion that I enjoyed when I lived on this food was
unknown to me after I changed that diet. Brahmacharya needed no
effort on my part in South Africa when I lived on fruits and nuts alone.
It has been a matter of very great effort ever since I began to take milk.
How I had to go back to milk from a fruit diet will be considered in its
proper place. It is enough to observe here that I have not the least doubt
that milk diet makes the brahmacharya vow difficult to observe.
Let no one deduce from this that all brahmacharis must give up milk.
The effect on brahmacharya of different kinds of food can be determined
only after numerous experiments. I have yet to find a fruit-substitute
for milk which is an equally good muscle-builder and easily digestible.
The doctors, vaidyas, and hakims have alike failed to enlighten
me. Therefore, though I know milk to be partly a stimulant, I cannot, for
the time being, advise anyone to give it up.
As an external aid to brahmacharya,
fasting is as necessary as selection and restriction in diet. So overpowering
are the senses that they can be kept under control only when they are completely
hedged in on all sides, from above, and from beneath. It is common knowledge
that they are powerless without food, and so fasting undertaken with a
view to control of the senses is, I have no doubt, very helpful. With some,
fasting is of no avail, because assuming that mechanical fasting alone
will make them immune, they keep their bodies without food, but feast their
minds upon all sorts of delicacies, thinking all the while what they will
eat and what they will drink after the fast terminates. Such fasting helps
them in controlling neither palate nor lust. Fasting is useful when mind
co-operates with starving body, that is to say, when it cultivates a distaste
for the objects that are denied to the body. Mind is at the root of all
sensuality. Fasting, therefore, has a limited use, for a fasting man may
continue to be swayed by passion. But it may be said that extinction of
the sexual passion is as a rule impossible without fasting, which may be
said to be indispensable for the observance of brahmacharya. Many
aspirants after brahmacharya fail because in the use of their other
senses they want to carry on like those who are not brahmacharis.
Their effort is, therefore, identical with the effort to experience the
bracing cold of winter in the scorching summer months. There should be
a clear line between the life of a brahmachari and of one who is
not. The resemblance that there is between the two is only apparent. The
distinction ought to be clear as daylight. Both use their eyesight, but
whereas the brahmachari uses it to see the glories of God, the other
uses it to see the frivolity around him. Both use their ears, but whereas
the one hears nothing but praises of God, the other feasts his ears upon
ribaldry. Both often keep late hours, but whereas the one devotes them
to prayer, the other fritters them away in wild and wasteful mirth. Both
feed the inner man, but the one only to keep the temple of God in good
repair, while the other gorges himself and makes the sacred vessel a stinking
gutter. Thus both live as the poles apart, and the distance between them
will grow and not diminish with the passage of time.
Brahmacharya means control
of the senses in thought, word, and deed. Every day I have been realizing
more and more the necessity for restraints of the kind I have detailed
above. There is no limit to the possibilities of renunciation, even as
there is none to those of brahmacharya. Such brahmacharya
is impossible of attainment by limited effort. For many it must remain
only as an ideal. An aspirant after brahmacharya will always be
conscious of his shortcomings, will seek out the passions lingering in
the innermost recesses of his heart, and will incessantly strive to get
rid of them. So long as thought is not under complete control of the will,
in its fullness is absent. Involuntary thought is an affection of the mind,
and curbing of thought therefore means curbing of the mind, which is even
more difficult to curb than the wind. Nevertheless the existence of God
within makes even control of the mind possible. Let no one think that it
is impossible because it is difficult. It is the highest goal, and it is
no wonder that the highest effort should be necessary to attain it.
But it was after coming to India
that I realized that such brahmacharya was impossible to attain
by mere human effort. Until then I had been labouring under the delusion
that fruit diet alone would enable me to eradicate all passions, and I
had flattered myself with the belief that I had nothing more to do.
But I must not anticipate the
chapter of my struggles. Meanwhile let me make it clear that those who
desire to observe brahmacharya with a view to realizing God need
not despair, provided their faith in God is equal to their confidence in
their own effort. 'The sense-objects turn away from an abstemious soul,
leaving the relish behind. The relish also disappears with the realization
of the Highest'./1/ Therefore
His name and His grace are the last resources of the aspirant after moksha.
This truth came to me only after my return to India.
= = = = = = = = = = =
The Bhagavadgita, 2-59.