34. TRAINING OF THE SPIRIT
The spiritual training
of the boys was a much more difficult matter than their physical and mental
training. I relied little on religious books for the training of the spirit.
Of course I believed that every student should be acquainted with the elements
of his own religion and have a general knowledge of his own scriptures,
and therefore I provided for such knowledge as best I could. But that,
to my mind, was part of the intellectual training. Long before I undertook
the education of the youngsters of the Tolstoy Farm, I had realized that
the training of the spirit was a thing by itself. To develop the spirit
is to build character and to enable one to work towards a knowledge of
God and self-realization. And I held that this was an essential part of
the training of the young, and that all training without culture of the
spirit was of no use, and might be even harmful.
I am familiar with the superstition
that self-realization is possible only in the fourth stage of life, i.e.,
(renunciation). But it is a matter of common knowledge that those who defer
preparation for this invaluable experience until the last stage of life
attain not self-realization but old age amounting to a second and pitiable
childhood, living as a burden on this earth. I have a full recollection
that I held these views even whilst I was teaching, i.e., in 1911-12, though
I might not then have expressed them in identical language.
How then was this spiritual
training to be given? I made the children memorize and recite hymns, and
read to them books on moral training. But that was far from satisfying
me. As I came into closer contact with them I saw that it was not through
books that one could impart training of the spirit. Just as physical training
was to be imparted through physical exercise, and intellectual through
intellectual exercise, even so the training of the spirit was possible
only through the exercise of the spirit. And the exercise of the spirit
entirely depended on the life and character of the teacher. The teacher
had always to be mindful of his p's and q's, whether he was in the midst
of his boys or not.
It is possible for a teacher
situated miles away to affect the spirit of the pupils by his way of living.
It would be idle for me, if I were a liar, to teach boys to tell the truth.
A cowardly teacher would never succeed in making his boys valiant, and
a stranger to self-restraint could never teach his pupils the value of
self-restraint. I saw, therefore, that I must be an eternal object-lesson
to the boys and girls living with me. They thus became my teachers, and
I learnt I must be good and live straight, if only for their sakes. I may
say that the increasing discipline and restraint I imposed on myself at
Tolstoy Farm was mostly due to those wards of mine.
One of them was wild, unruly,
given to lying, and quarrelsome. On one occasion he broke out most violently.
I was exasperated. I never punished my boys, but this time I was very angry.
I tried to reason with him. But he was adamant and even tried to overreach
me. At last I picked up a ruler lying at hand and delivered a blow on his
arm. I trembled as I struck him. I dare say he noticed it. This was an
entirely novel experience for them all. The boy cried out and begged to
be forgiven. He cried not because the beating was painful to him; he could,
if he had been so minded, have paid me back in the same coin, being a stoutly
built youth of seventeen; but he realized my pain in being driven to this
violent resource. Never again after this incident did he disobey me. But
I still repent that violence. I am afraid I exhibited before him that day
not the spirit, but the brute, in me.
I have always been opposed to
corporal punishment. I remember only one occasion on which I physically
punished one of my sons. I have therefore never until this day been able
to decide whether I was right or wrong in using the ruler. Probably it
was improper, for it was prompted by anger and a desire to punish. Had
it been an expression only of my distress, I should have considered it
justified. But the motive in this case was mixed.
This incident set me thinking,
and taught me a better method of correcting students. I do not know whether
that method would have availed on the occasion in question. The youngster
soon forgot the incident, and I do not think he ever showed great improvement.
But the incident made me understand better the duty of a teacher towards
Cases of misconduct on the part
of the boys often occurred after this, but I never resorted to corporal
punishment. Thus in my endeavour to impart spiritual training to the boys
and girls under me, I came to understand better and better the power of