6. A SACRIFICE TO VEGETARIANISM
As the ideals of sacrifice
and simplicity were becoming more and more realized, and the religious
consciousness was becoming more and more quickened in my daily life, the
passion for vegetarianism as a mission went on increasing. I have known
only one way of carrying on missionary work, viz., by personal example
and discussion with searchers for knowledge.
There was in Johannesburg a
vegetarian restaurant conducted by a German who believed in Kuhne's hydropathic
treatment. I visited the restaurant myself, and helped it by taking English
friends there. But I saw that it could not last, as it was always in financial
difficulties. I assisted it as much as I thought it deserved, and spent
some money on it, but it had ultimately to be closed down.
Most theosophists are vegetarians
more or less, and an enterprising lady belonging to that society now came
upon the scene with a vegetarian restaurant on a grand scale. She was fond
of art, extravagant, and ignorant of accounts. Her circle of friends was
fairly large. She had started in a small way, but later decided to extend
the venture by taking large rooms, and asked me for help. I knew nothing
of her finances when she thus approached me, but I took it that her estimate
must be fairly accurate. And I was in a position to accommodate her. My
clients used to keep large sums as deposits with me. Having received the
consent of one of these clients, I lent about a thousand pounds from the
amount to his credit. This client was most large-hearted and trusting.
He had originally come to South Africa as an indentured labourer. He said:
'Give away the money, if you like. I know nothing in these matters. I only
know you.' His name was Badri. He afterwards took a prominent part in Satyagraha,
and suffered imprisonment as well. So I advanced the loan assuming that
this consent was enough.
In two or three months' time
I came to know that the amount would not be recovered. I could ill afford
to sustain such a loss. There were many other purposes to which I could
have applied this amount. The loan was never repaid. But how could trusting
Badri be allowed to suffer? He had known me only. I made good the loss.
A client friend to whom I spoke
about this transaction sweetly chided me for my folly.
'Bhai,' -- I had fortunately
not yet become 'Mahatma', nor even 'Bapu' (father), friends used to call
me by the loving name of 'Bhai' (brother) -- said he, 'this was not for
you to do. We depend upon you in so many things. You are not going to get
back this amount. I know you will never allow Badri to come to grief, for
you will pay him out of your pocket; but if you go on helping your reform
schemes by operating on your clients' money, the poor fellows will be ruined,
and you will soon become a beggar. But you are our trustee, and must know
if you become a beggar, all our public work will come to a stop.'
The friend, I am thankful to
say, is still alive. I have not yet come across a purer man than he, in
South Africa or anywhere else. I have known him to apologize to people
and to cleanse himself, when having happened to suspect them, he had found
his suspicion to be unfounded.
I saw that he had rightly warned
me. For though I made good Badri's loss, I should not have been able to
meet any similar loss and should have been driven to incur debt--a thing
I have never done in my life and always abhorred. I realized that even
a man's reforming zeal ought not to make him exceed his limits. I also
saw that in thus lending trust-money I had disobeyed the cardinal teaching
of the Gita, viz., the duty of a man of equipoise to act without
desire for the fruit. The error became for me a beacon-light of warning.
The sacrifice offered on the
altar of vegetarianism was neither intentional nor expected. It was a virtue