Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Mahatma Gandhi - Experiments with celibacy

An extract from M.K. Gandhi's autobiography
The knowledge that a perfect observance of brahmacharya (celibacy) means realisation of Brahman, I did not owe to a study of the Shastras. It grew upon me with experience.  Every day of the vows has taken me nearer the knowledge that inbrahmacharya lies the protection of the body, the mind and the soul. Forbrahmacharya was now no process of penance, it was a matter of joy. But, let no one believe that it was easy.  Even when I am past 56 years, I realize how hard a thing it is. Every day I realize 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. So, I now pursued my dietetic experiments not merely from the vegetarian's but also from the brahmachari's point of view. As a result, I saw that the brahmachari's food should be limited, simple, spicless and, if possible, uncooked. 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 great effort ever since I began to take milk. I have not the least doubt that milk makes the brahmacharya vow difficult to observe. Let no one deduce from this that all brahmacharis must give up milk. I have yet to find a fruit substitute for milk which is an equally good muscle-builder and easily digestible. 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. It is common knowledge that they are powerless without food, and so fasting undertaken with a view to control the senses is helpful.  With some, fasting is of no avail, because assuming that fasting alone will make them immune, they keep their bodies without food, but feast their minds upon all sorts of delicacies. Such fasting helps them in controlling neither palate not lust. Fasting is useful when mind co-operates with the starving body. Mind is at the root of all sensuality. But it may be said that extinction of the sexual passion is as a rule impossible without fasting. Many aspirants after brahmacharya fail because in the use of their other senses they want to carry on like those who are not brahmacharis. There should be a clear line between the life of a brahmachari and of one who is not. 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 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. Brahmacharya means control of the senses in thought, word and deed. There is no limit to the possibilities of renunciation. Such brahmacharya is impossible to attain by limited effort.  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. Involuntary thought is an affection of the mind which is even more difficult to curb than the wind. Nevertheless, the existence of God within makes the 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.

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