36. FASTING AS PENANCE
Day by day it became increasingly
clear to me how very difficult it was to bring up and educate boys and
girls in the right way. If I was to be their real teacher and guardian,
I must touch their hearts. I must share their joys and sorrows, I must
help them to solve the problems that faced them, and I must take along
the right channel the surging aspirations of their youth.
On the release of some of the
Satyagrahis from jail, Tolstoy Farm was almost denuded of its inmates.
The few that remained mostly belonged to Phoenix. So I removed them there.
Here I had to pass through a fiery ordeal.
In those days I had to move
between Johannesburg and Phoenix. Once when I was in Johannesburg I received
tidings of the moral fall of two of the inmates of the Ashram. News of
an apparent failure or reverse in the Satyagraha struggle would not have
shocked me, but this news came upon me like a thunderbolt. The same day
I took the train for Phoenix. Mr. Kallenbach insisted on accompanying me.
He had noticed the state I was in. He would not brook the thought of my
going alone, for he happened to be the bearer of the tidings which had
so upset me.
During the journey my duty seemed
clear to me. I felt that the guardian or teacher was responsible, to some
extent at least, for the lapse of his ward or pupil. So my responsibility
regarding the incident in question became clear to me as daylight. My wife
had already warned me in the matter, but being of a trusting nature, I
had ignored her caution. I felt that the only way the guilty parties could
be made to realize my distress, and the depth of their own fall, would
be for me to do some penance. So I imposed upon myself a fast for seven
days, and a vow to have only one meal a day for a period of four months
and a half. Mr. Kallenbach tried to dissuade me, but in vain. He finally
conceded the propriety of the penance, and insisted on joining me. I could
not resist his transparent affection.
I felt greatly relieved, for
the decision meant a heavy load off my mind. The anger against the guilty
parties subsided, and gave place to the purest pity for them. Thus considerably
eased, I reached Phoenix. I made further investigation and acquainted myself
with some more details I needed to know.
My penance pained everybody,
but it cleared the atmosphere. Everyone came to realize what a terrible
thing it was to be sinful, and the bond that bound me to the boys and girls
became stronger and truer.
A circumstance arising out of
this incident compelled me, a little while after, to go into a fast for
fourteen days, the results of which exceeded even my expectations.
It is not my purpose to make
out from these incidents that it is the duty of a teacher to resort to
fasting whenever there is a delinquency on the part of his pupils. I hold,
however, that some occasions do call for this drastic remedy. But it presupposes
clearness of vision and spiritual fitness. Where there is no true love
between the teacher and the pupil, where the pupil's delinquency has not
touched the very being of the teacher, and where the pupil has no respect
for the teacher, fasting is out of place and may even be harmful. Though
there is thus room for doubting the propriety of fasts in such cases, there
is no question about the teacher's responsibility for the error of his
The first penance did not prove
difficult for any of us. I had to suspend or stop none of my normal activities.
It may be recalled that during the whole of this period of penance I was
a strict fruitarian. The latter part of the second fast went fairly hard
with me. I had not then completely understood the wonderful efficacy of
and my capacity for suffering was to that extent less. Besides, I did not
know the technique of fasting, especially the necessity of drinking plenty
of water, however nauseating or distasteful it might be. Then the fact
that the first fast had been an easy affair had made me rather careless
as to the second. Thus during the first I took Kuhne baths every day, but
during the second I gave them up after two or three days, and drank very
little water, as it was distasteful and produced nausea. The throat became
parched and weak and during the last days I could speak only in a very
low voice. In spite of this, however, my work was carried on through dictation
where writing was necessary. I regularly listened to readings from the
Ramayana and other sacred books. I had also sufficient strength
to discuss and advise in all urgent matters.