“What I want to achieve, What I have been striving and pinning to achieve these thirty years, Is self-realization, to see God face to face, to attain liberation.” The Autobiography of Mahatma Gandhi
Without a doubt, Mahatma Gandhi was one of the most extraordinary men of the 20th Century. One of the things that made him so extraordinary was his humanness. In his early life he had a great deal of problems. As a child he was so shy that the moment class was over he would run home so he would not have to talk to anyone.
He was only an average student in school. For a time he tried to study medicine and was completely overwhelmed by the difficulty of the classes and had to drop out. He finally studied law, and upon passing the bar and performing his first case over ten dollars, he was so scared he was unable to speak and had to pass the case over to another lawyer.
Many people don’t realize this, but Gandhi got married at thirteen years old, if you can imagine that. He struggled greatly during his early years.
As he grew older, one of the experiences he had that began to change his life was the reading of the Bhagavad Gita. The Bhagavad Gita, of course, are the teachings of Sri Bhagavan Krishna, the Christ of the Eastern world.
The first time he read it the words went straight to his heart. This book became his spiritual reference book through all the lessons he would face the rest of his life. It was these teachings that guided his conduct, and he referred to it daily.
It was in his experiences in South Africa that you are all familiar with, where he first translated these sublime ideals into action in the world. Gandhi had clearly stepped onto the path of self realization as his supreme goal in life.
It was during these early days that Gandhi began to struggle with the idea of taking the “Vow of the Bramacharya”. The Vow of the Bramacharya has to do with gaining mastery over one’s sexual energies, so one could channel these energies for more spiritual, instead of lustful and carnal pursuits. Gandhi struggled with this for some time, however.
Gandhi tells of how he failed many times in this regard, but in 1906, at the age of 37, he made this vow. He found great freedom and enlightenment coming from this vow. This vow served as a type of shield against the lower self which had been pushing him around a great deal. He did discuss this with his wife and his wife was in full agreement. Many times Gandhi had said that it was his wife who truly taught him the nature of love in its highest form. The Bramacharya vow was really the renunciation of the carnal sexuality aspect of their relationship.
For Gandhi it was also more than that. It was a vow that related to his diet and controlling the other passions of his lower self and negative ego. For Gandhi, the perfect realization of the vow of the Bramacharya, in all areas of his life meant the realization of Brahman (God). Even 20 years later he spoke of the need to maintain eternal vigilance at all times. One could not achieve this self mastery unless they had absolute control over their mind.
He also found the eating of a vegetarian diet and more natural wholesome foods helped to not excite these lower passions and negative emotions. As a part of this vow he also gave himself to fasting, which he saw as an indispensable part of this overall regime. Bramacharya meant control and self mastery over all the senses, for the first time in his life.
As another ingredient in this transformation, he tried to “simplify” his life. The vow of the Bramacharya began to transform his entire nature. He began an intensive process of purification in all aspects of his being. Bramacharya lead him to release all impure thoughts, feelings, foods, passions, and energies. It was this vow that lead him to the development of his political and social philosophy of “Satyagraha”. Satyagraha
Satyagraha was the political and social philosophy of “passive resistance”. The word Satyagraha also meant “holding on to truth”. This idea of living truth was really the keynote of Gandhi’s entire life.
Integral to this philosophy was an overriding belief in non-violence. This non-violence was not just on a physical or political level, but was also on a mental and emotional level. Satyagraha was the path of love integrated with every citizen’s right to practice “civil disobedience”.
This was a revolutionary concept in the field of politics and social action. Saints practiced non-violence, but not politicians. Gandhi defined his theories on civil disobedience in the following way: “Disobedience to be civil, must be sincere, respectful, restrained, never defiant, must be based upon some well understood principle, must not be capricious and, above all, must have no ill will or hatred behind it.”
Gandhi saw violence as though appearing good, only temporary in its success. In the long run it just created permanent damage. His method was much like that of Saint Francis of Assisi (Kuthumi).
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon,
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is darkness, light
Where there is sadness, joy.
This is exactly what Gandhi believed. The only difference is that he was going to apply this theory in a realm of experience in which it had never been applied before. Gandhi tested this theory for seven years in South Africa, against an extremely hostile government and, as we all know, it was a great success.
A noted historian, J.B. Kripalani, once said to Gandhi, “Mr. Gandhi, you may know all about the Bible, or the Bhagavad Gita, but you know nothing at all about history. Never has a nation been able to free itself without violence.” Gandhi replied, “You know nothing about history. The first thing you have to learn about history is that because something has not taken place in the past, that does not mean it cannot take place in the future.”