Part 2 of “Mahatma Gandhi on Brahmacharya (Celibacy)“
“As I look back upon the twenty years of the vow, I am filled with pleasure and wonderment. The more or less successful practice of self-control had been going on since 1901. But the freedom and joy that came to me after taking the vow had never been experienced before 1906.
Before the vow I had been open to being overcome by temptation at any moment. Now the vow was a sure shield against temptation. The great potentiality of brahmacharya daily became more and more patent to me.
Satyagraha and Brahmacharya
The vow was taken when I was in Phoenix. As soon as I was free from ambulance work, I went to Phoenix, whence I had to return to Johannesburg. In [within] about a month of my returning there, the foundation of Satyagraha was laid. As though unknown to me, the brahmacharya vow had been preparing me for it. Satyagraha had not been a preconceived plan. It came on spontaneously, without my having willed it. But I could see that all my previous steps had led up to that goal. I had cut down my heavy household expenses at Johannesburg and gone to Phoenix to take, as it were, the brahmacharya vow.
The knowledge that a perfect observance of brahmacharya means realization of brahman, I did not owe to a study of the Shastras. It slowly grew upon me with experience. The shastric texts on the subject I read only later in life. Every day of the vow has taken me nearer the knowledge that in brahmacharya lies the protection of the body, the mind and the soul. For brahmacharya was now no process of hard penance, it was a matter of consolation and joy. Every day revealed a fresh beauty in it.
But if it was a matter of ever-increasing joy, let no one believe that it was an easy thing for me. Even when I am past fifty-six years, I realize how hard a thing it is. Every day I realize more and more 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. I found that complete control of the palate made the observance very easy, and so I now pursued my dietetic experiments not merely from the vegetarian’s but also from the brahmachari’s point of view. As the result of these experiments I saw that the brahmachari’s food should be limited, simple, spiceless, and, if possible, uncooked.
Six years of experiment have showed me that 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 very great effort ever since I began to take milk. How I had to go back to milk from a fruit diet will be considered in its proper place. It is enough to observe here that I have not the least doubt that milk diet makes the brahmacharya vow difficult to observe. Let no one deduce from this that all brahmacharis must give up milk. The effect on brahmacharya of different kinds of food can be determined only after numerous experiments. I have yet to find a fruit-substitute for milk which is an equally good muscle-builder and easily digestible. The doctors, vaidyas, and hakims have alike failed to enlighten me. Therefore, though I know milk to be partly a stimulant, I cannot, for the time being, advise anyone to give it up.
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, from above, and from beneath. It is common knowledge that they are powerless without food, and so fasting undertaken with a view to control of the senses is, I have no doubt, very helpful.
“Mind is at the root of all sensuality.”With some, fasting is of no avail, because assuming that mechanical fasting alone will make them immune, they keep their bodies without food, but feast their minds upon all sorts of delicacies, thinking all the while what they will eat and what they will drink after the fast terminates. Such fasting helps them in controlling neither palate nor lust. Fasting is useful when mind co-operates with starving body, that is to say, when it cultivates a distaste for the objects that are denied to the body. Mind is at the root of all sensuality.
Fasting, therefore, has a limited use, for a fasting man may continue to be swayed by passion. But it may be said that extinction of the sexual passion is as a rule impossible without fasting, which may be said to be indispensable for the observance of brahmacharya.
Why some aspirants fail
Many aspirants after brahmacharya fail because in the use of their other senses they want to carry on like those who are not brahmacharis. Their effort is, therefore, identical with the effort to experience the bracing cold of winter in the scorching summer months. There should be a clear line between the life of a brahmachari and of one who is not.
The resemblance that there is between the two is only apparent. The distinction ought to be clear as daylight. 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 wild and 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. Thus both live as the poles apart, and the distance between them will grow and not diminish with the passage of time.
What Brahmacharya really entails
“There is no limit to the possibilities of renunciation, even as there is none to those of brahmacharya.”Brahmacharya means control of the senses in thought, word, and deed. Every day I have been realizing more and more the necessity for restraints of the kind I have detailed above. There is no limit to the possibilities of renunciation, even as there is none to those of brahmacharya. Such brahmacharya is impossible of attainment by limited effort. For many it must remain only as an ideal. 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.
So long as thought is not under complete control of the will, brahmacharya in its fullness is absent. Involuntary thought is an affection of the mind, and curbing of thought therefore means curbing of the mind, which is even more difficult to curb than the wind. Nevertheless the existence of God within makes even 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.
Faith in God and spiritual discipline
But it was after coming to India that I realized that such brahmacharya was impossible to attain by mere human effort. Until then I had been labouring under the delusion that fruit diet alone would enable me to eradicate all passions, and I had flattered myself with the belief that I had nothing more to do.
But I must not anticipate the chapter of my struggles. Meanwhile let me make it clear that those who desire to observe brahmacharya with a view to realizing God need not despair, provided their faith in God is equal to their confidence in their own effort. ‘The sense-objects turn away from an abstemious soul, leaving the relish behind. The relish also disappears with the realization of the Highest’ (Bhagavad Gita 2:59). Therefore His name and His grace are the last resources of the aspirant after moksha. This truth came to me only after my return to India.
- Practice of Brahmacharya, by Swami Sivananda
- How to Become a Friend of God, and How to Gain the Vision of God, Monastic Life Podcasts by Abbot George Burke