25. HEART SEARCHINGS
The Zulu 'rebellion' was
full of new experiences, and gave me much food for thought. The Boer War
had not brought home to me the horrors of war with anything like the vividness
that the 'rebellion' did. This was no war but a man-hunt, not only in my
opinion, but also in that of many Englishmen with whom I had occasion to
talk. To hear every morning reports [=loud cracking noises] of the soldiers'
rifles exploding like [fire]crackers in innocent hamlets, and to live in
the midst of them, was a trial. But I swallowed the bitter draught, especially
as the work of my Corps consisted only in nursing the wounded Zulus. I
could see that but for us, the Zulus would have been uncared for. This
work, therefore, eased my conscience.
But there was much else to set
one thinking. It was a sparsely populated part of the country. Few and
far between in hills and dales were the scattered Kraals of the simple
and so-called 'uncivilized' Zulus. Marching, with or without the wounded,
through these solemn solitudes, I often fell into deep thought.
I pondered over brahmacharya
and its implications, and my convictions took deep root. I discussed it
with my co-workers. I had not realized then how indispensable it was for
self-realization, but I clearly saw that one aspiring to serve humanity
with his whole soul could not do without it. It was borne in upon me that
I should have more and more occasions for service of the kind I was rendering,
and that I should find myself unequal to my task if I were engaged in the
pleasures of family life and in the propagation and rearing of children.
In a word, I could not live
both after the flesh and the spirit. On the present occasion, for instance,
I should not have been able to throw myself into the fray, had my wife
been expecting a baby. Without the observance of brahmacharya, service
of the family would be inconsistent with service of the community. With
they would be perfectly consistent.
So thinking, I became somewhat
impatient to take a final vow. The prospect of the vow brought a certain
kind of exultation. Imagination also found free play, and opened out limitless
vistas of service.
Whilst I was thus in the midst
of strenuous physical and mental work, a report came to the effect that
the work of suppressing the 'rebellion' was nearly over, and that we should
soon be discharged. A day or two after this our discharge came, and in
a few days we got back to our homes.
After a short while I got a
letter from the Governor, specially thanking the Ambulance Corps for its
On my arrival at Phoenix I eagerly
broached the subject of brahmacharya with Chhaganlal, Maganlal,
West, and others. They liked the idea and accepted the necessity of taking
the vow, but they also represented the difficulties of the task. Some of
them set themselves bravely to observe it, and some, I know, succeeded
I also took the plunge--the
vow to observe brahmacharya for life. I must confess that I had
not then fully realized the magnitude and immensity of the task I undertook.
The difficulties are even today staring me in the face. The importance
of the vow is being more and more borne in upon me. Life without brahmacharya
appears to me to be insipid and animal-like. The brute by nature knows
no self-restraint. Man is man because he is capable of, and only in so
far as he exercises, self-restraint. What formerly appeared to me to be
extravagant praise of brahmacharya in our religious books seems
now, with increasing clearness every day, to be absolutely proper and founded
I saw that brahmacharya,
which is so full of wonderful potency, is by no means an easy affair, and
certainly not a mere matter of the body. It begins with bodily restraint,
but does not end there. The perfection of it precludes even an impure thought.
A true brahmachari will not even dream of satisfying the fleshly
appetite, and until he is in that condition, he has a great deal of ground
For me the observance of even
bodily brahmacharya has been full of difficulties. Today I may say
that I feel myself fairly safe, but I have yet to achieve complete mastery
over thought, which is so essential. Not that the will or effort is lacking,
but it is yet a problem to me wherefrom undesirable thoughts spring their
insidious invasions. I have no doubt that there is a key to lock out undesirable
thoughts, but every one has to find it out for himself. Saints and seers
have left their experiences for us, but they have given us no infallible
and universal prescription. For perfection or freedom from error comes
only from grace, and so seekers after God have left us mantras,
such as Ramanama, hallowed by their own austerities and charged
with their purity. Without an unreserved surrender to His grace, complete
mastery over thought is impossible. This is the teaching of every great
book of religion, and I am realizing the truth of it every moment of my
striving after that perfect brahmacharya.
But part of the history of that
striving and struggle will be told in chapters to follow. I shall conclude
this chapter with an indication of how I set about the task. In the first
flush of enthusiasm, I found the observance quite easy. The very first
change I made in my mode of life was to stop sharing the same bed with
my wife or seeking privacy with her.
Thus brahmacharya, which
I had been observing willy-nilly since 1900, was sealed with a vow in the
middle of 1906.