The selected works of Mahatma Gandhi

Key To Health


Table of Contents

About This Book

Written by : M. K. Gandhi
Edited by : Bharatan Kumarappa
Foreword by : Morarji Desai
First Edition : 3,000 copies, December 1954
Fifteenth Re-print : 5,000 copies, March 2011
Total : 69,000 copies
ISBN : 81-7229-040-3
Printed and Published by : Jitendra T. Desai
Navajivan Mudranalaya,
© Navajivan Trust, 1954


Chapter 10: Brahmacharya

Brahmacharya literally means that mode of life which lead to the realization of God. That realization is impossible without practicing self-restraint. Self-restraint means restraint of all the senses. But ordinarily brahmacharya is understood to mean control of sexual organs and prevention of seminal discharge through complete control over the sexual instinct and the sexual organs. This becomes natural for the man who exercises self-restraint all round. It is only when observance of brahmacharya becomes natural to one that he or she derives the greatest benefit from it. Such a person should be free from anger and kindhearted passion. The so called brahmacharis, that one generally comes across, behaves as if their one occupation in life was the display of bad temper.
One notices that these people disregard the ordinary rules of brahmacharya and merely aim at and expect to prevent seminal discharges. They fail to achieve their object. Some of them become almost insane while others betray a sickly appearance. They are unable to prevent the discharge and if they succeed in restraining themselves from sexual intercourse, they think that they have attained all that was needed. Now mere abstention from sexual intercourse cannot be termed brahmacharya. So long as the desire for intercourse is there, one cannot be said to have attained brahmacharya. Only he who has burnt away sexual desire in its entirely may be said to have attained control over his sexual organs. The absence of seminal discharges is a straightforward result of brahmacharya, but is not all. There is something very striking about a full-fledged brahmachari. His speech, his thought, and his action, all bespeak possession of vital force.
Such a brahmachari do not flee from the company of women. He may not hanker after it nor may he avoid it even when it means rendering of necessary survive. For him the distinction between men and women almost disappears. No one should distort my words and use them as an argument in favor of licentiousness. What I mean to say is that, a man whose sexual desire has been burnt up ceases to make a distinction between men and women. It must be so. His conception of beauty alters. He will not look at the external form. He or she whose character is beautiful will be beautiful in his eyes. Therefore, the sight of women called beautiful will not ruffle or exited him. Even his sexual organs will begin to look different. In other words, such a man has so controlled his sexual instinct that he never gets erections. He does not become impotent for lack of the necessary secretions of sexual glands. But these secretions in his case are sublimated into a vital force pervading his whole being. It is said that an important man is not free form sexual desire. Some of my correspondents belonging to this group tell me that they desire erection but they fail to get it and yet have seminal discharges. Such men have either become impotent or are on the way to become so for loss of the necessary secretions. This is a pitiable state. But the cultivated impotency of the man, whose sexual desire has been burnt up and whose sexual secretion are are being converted into vital force, is wholly different. It is to be desired by everybody. It is true that such a brahmachari is rare to find.
I took the vow of brahmacharya in 1906. In other words, my efforts to become a perfect brahmachari started 36 years ago. I cannot say I have attained the full brahmacharya of my definition, but in my opinion I have made substantial progress towards it. If God wills it, I might attain even perfection in this life. Anyway, there is no relaxation of efforts nor is there any despondence in me. I do not consider 36 years too long a period for effort. The richer the prize, the richer the effort must be. Meanwhile, my ideas regarding the necessity for brahmacharya have become stronger. Some of my experiments have not reached a stage when they might be placed before the public with advantage. I hope to do so some day if they succeed to my satisfaction. Success might make the attainment of brahmacharya comparatively easier.
But the brahmacharya on which I wish to lay emphasis in this chapter is limited to the conservation of sexual secretions. The glorious fruit of perfect brahmacharya is not to be had from the observance of this limited brahmacharya. But no one can reach perfect brahmacharya without reaching the limited variety.
And maintenance of perfect health should be considered almost an utter impossibility without the brahmacharya leading to the conservation of the sexual secretions. To countenance wastage of a secretion which has the power of creating another human being is, to say the least, an indication of gross ignorance. A firm grasp of the fact that semen is meant to be used only for procreation and not for self-indulgence, leaves no room whatsoever for indulging in animal passion. Assimilation of the knowledge that the vital fluid is never meant for waste should restrain men and women from becoming crazy over sexual intercourse. Marriage will then come to have a different significance and the way it is treated at present will appear disgusting. Marriage ought to signify a union of heart between two partners. A married couple is worthy of being considered dared brahmacharis if they never think of sexual intercourse except for the purposes of procreation. Such an intercourse is not possible unless both parties desire it. It will never be restored to in order to satisfy passion without the desire for a child. after intercourse which has been performer as a matter of duty, the desire to repeat the process should never arise.
What I am saying may not be taken as copy book wisdom. The reader should know that I am writing this after a long personal experience. I know that what I am writing is contrary to the common practice. But in order to make progress we have often to go beyond the limits of common experience. Great discoveries have been possible only as a result of challenging the common experience or commonly held beliefs. The invention of the simple match stick was challenged to the common experience and the discovery of electricity confounded all preconceived notions.
What is true of physical thing is equally true of things spiritual. In the early days there was no such thing as marriage. Men and women, as in the case of animals, mated promiscuously. Self-restraint was unknown. Some advanced men went beyond the rut of common practice and discover the law of self-restraint. It is our duty to investigate the hidden possibilities of the law of self-restraint. Therefore, when I say it the duty of every man and woman to take the marital relations to the state indicated by me it is not to be dismissed as utterly impracticable. If human life is molded as it ought to be, conservation of vital fluid can become a natural thing for everyone.
The sexual glands are all the time secreting the semen. This secretion should be utilized for enhancing one's mental, physical and spiritual energy. He, who would learn to utilize it thus, will find that he requires very little food to keep his body in a fit condition. And yet he will be as capable as any of undertaking physical labour. Mental exertion will not tire him easily nor will he show the ordinary signs of old age. Just as a ripe fruit or an old leaves falls off naturally, so will such a brahmachari when his times comes pass away with all his faculties intact. Although with the passage of time the effects of the natural wear and tear must be manifest in his body, his intellects instead of showing signs of decay should show progressive clarity. If all this is correct, the real key to health lies in the conservancy of vital energy.
I gave here the rules for the conservation of vital force I know them.
1. Sexual desire has its root in one's thought. Therefore, complete control over through is necessary. The way to achieve it is this. Never let your mind remain ideal. Keep it filled with good and useful ideas. In other words keep thinking of whatever duty you have on hand. There need be no worry about it, but think out haw can you become an expert in your department and then put your thoughts into action. There should be no waste of thoughts. Japa (repetition of God's name) is a great support when ideal thoughts haunt you. Contemplate God in the form you have pictured Him unless you know Him as formless. While japa is going on, no other thoughts should be allowed to enter one's mind. This is the ideal state. But if one cannot reach it and all sorts of uninvited thoughts invade one's mind, one should not become disheartened. Namajapa should be continued faithfully and in the confidence that ultimate victory is bound to follow.
2. As with our thoughts, so with our reading and talking. These should be healthy and clean. Erotic literature should be avoided. Idle, incidence talk leads to indecent action. It is obvious that one who do not wish to feed his animal passions will avoid occupations which tend to include them.
3. Like the mind, the body must also be kept well and usefully occupied, so that the fatigue of the day may lead to refreshing dreamless sleep. As far as possible, work should be in open. Those who for some reason or the other, cannot undertake physical labour, should make it a point to take regular exercise. In my opinion, a brisk walk in the open is the best form of exercise. During the walk the mouth should be closed and breathing should be done through the nose. Sitting or walking, the body must be held erect. To sit or stand otherwise is a size of laziness and laziness is the enemy of self-restraint. Yogic exercises-asanas-are also useful. This much I can say from my personal experience that one who keeps his hands and feet, eyes and ears, healthily occupied does not have much difficulty in controlling the animal appetite. Everyone can test this for himself.
4. A Sanskrit text say that a man becomes what he eats. A glutton who exercises no restraint in eating is a salve to his animal passions. One who has not been able to control his palate, will never be able to control the other senses. If this is true, it is clear that one should take just enough food for the requirements of the body and no more. The diet should be healthy and well-balanced. The body was never meant to be treated as a refuse bin holding the foods that the palate demands. Food is meant to sustain the body. His body has been given to man as a means of self-realization. Self-realization means realization of God. A person who has made this realization the object of his or her life, will never become a salve to the animal passion.
5. Man should look upon every woman as his mother, sister or daughter. No one ever entertains impure thoughts with regard to his mother, sister or daughter. Similarly, women should look upon every man as her father, brother or son.
I have given more hints than these in my other writing, but they are all contained in the five given above. Anyone who observes them should find it easy to overcome what has been called the greatest of all passions. A person, who has real desire for brahmacharya, will not give up the effort because he or she regards the observance of these rules as impossible or at least within the reaches of one in a million. The effort is a joy in itself. To put it in another way, the joy of possessing perfect health is not to be compared with any other, and perfect health is unattainable by slaves. Slavery of one's animality is perhaps the worst of all.
A few words about contraceptives will not be out of place here. The practice of preventing progeny, by means of artificial methods, is not a new thing. In the past such methods were practiced secretly and they were crude. Modern society have given them respectable place and made improvements. They have been given a philanthropic grab. The advocates of contraceptives say that sexual desire is a natural instinct-some call it a blessing. They therefore say that it is not suppress the desire even if it were possible. Birth control by means of self-restraint is, in their opinion, difficult to practice. If a substitute for self-restraint is not prescribed, the health of innumerable is bound to suffer through frequent pregnancies. They add that if births are not regulated, over population will ensue; individual families will be pauperized and their children will be ill fed, ill clothed and ill educated. Therefore, they argue, it is the duty of scientists to devise harmless and effective methods of birth control. This argument has failed to convince me. The use of contraceptives is likely to produce evils of which we have no conception. But the worse danger is that the use of contraceptives bids fair to kill the desire for self-restraint. In my opinion it is too heavy a price to pay for any possible immediate gain. But this is not the place to argue my point. Those who would like to pursue this subject further should procure the booklet called Self-Restraint v. Self Indulgence read the digest what I have said therein and then do as their heads and heart may dedicate. Those who have not the desire or the leisure to read booklet will, if they follow my advice, avoid contraceptive as poison. They should try their best to exercise self-restraint. They should take up such activities as would keep their bodies and minds fully occupied and give a suitable outlet to their energy. It is necessary to have some healthy recreation when one is tired by physical labour. There should not be a single moment of idleness for the devil to creep in. In this way, true conjugal love will be established and directed into healthy channels. Both the partners will make a progressive rise in their moral height. The joy of true renunciation, once they come to know it, will prevent them from turning to animal enjoyment. Self-deception is the greatest stabling block. Instead of controlling the mind, the fountain of all animals desire, men and women involve themselves in the vain endeavor to avoid the physical act. If there is a determination to control the thought and the action, victory is sure to follow. Man must understand that woman is his companion and helpmate in life and not the means of satisfying his carnal desire. There must be a clear perception that the purpose of human creation was wholly different from that of the satisfaction of the animal wants.