Mahatma Gandhi's autobiography Sathiya Sodhani is one book which guides you as to what is right and wrong. Most importantly, the author should have experienced all these. The original was in Gujarati, and was later translated into English and other Indian languages. The book is in five parts, beginning with his birth, up until the year 1921. In the last chapter he writes, "My life from this point onward has been so public that there is hardly anything about it that people do not know...."
The introduction reads, "What I want to achieve - what I have been striving and pining to achieve these thirty years - is self-realization, to see God face to face, to attain Moksha. I live and move and have my being in pursuit of this goal." The paper back edition of the book costs Rs. 30 being subsidized by the Navajivan Trust, Ahmedabad.
We now reach the stage in this story when I began seriously to think of
taking the brahmacharya vow. I had been wedded to a monogamous ideal ever since my marriage,
faithfulness to my wife being part of the love of truth. But it was
in South Africa that I came to realize the importance of observing
brahmacharya even with respect to my wife. I cannot definitely say what
circumstance or what book it was, that set my thoughts in that
direction, but I have a recollection that the predominant factor was
the influence of Raychandbhai, of whom I have already written, I can
still recall a conversation that I had with him. On one occasion I
spoke to him in high praise of Mrs. Gladstone's devotion to her
husband. I had read some where that Mrs. Gladstone insisted on
preparing tea for Mr. Gladstone even in the House of Commons, and
that this had become a rule in the life of this illustrious couple,
whose actions were governed by regularity. I spoke of this to the
poet, and incidentally eulogized conjugal love. 'Which of the two do
you prize more,' asked Raychandbhai, 'the love of Mrs. Gladstone for
her husband as his wife, or her devoted service irrespective of her
relation to Mr. Gladstone? Supposing she had been his sister, or his
devoted servant, and ministered to him with the same attention, what
would you have said? Do we not have instances of such devoted
sisters or servants? Supposing you had found the same loving
devotion in a male servant, would you have been pleased in the same
way as in Mrs. Gladstone's case? Just examine the view-point
suggested by me.'
Raychandbhai was himself married. I have an impression that at the moment his words sounded harsh, but they gripped me irresistibly. The devotion of a servant was, I felt, a thousand times more praiseworthy than that of a wife to her husband. There was nothing surprising in the wife's devotion to her husband, as there was an indissoluble bond between them. The devotion was perfectly natural. But it required a special effort to cultivate equal devotion between master and servant. The poet's point of view began gradually to grow upon me.
What then, I asked myself, should be my relation with my wife? Did my faithfulness consist in making my wife the instrument of my lust? So long as I was the slave of lust, my faithfulness was worth nothing. To be fair to my wife, I must say that she was never the temptress. It was therefore the easiest thing for me to take the vow of brahmacharya, if only I willed it. It was my weak will or lustful attachment that was the obstacle.
Even after my conscience had been roused in the matter, I failed twice. I failed because the motive that actuated the effort was none the highest. My main object was to escape having more children. Whilst in England I had read something about contraceptives. I have already referred to Dr. Allinson's birth control propaganda in the chapter on Vegetarianism. If it had some temporary effect on me, Mr. Hill's opposition to those methods and his advocacy of internal efforts as opposed to outward means, in a word, of self-control, had a far greater effect, which in due time came to be abiding. Seeing, therefore, that I did not desire more children I began to strive after self-control. There was endless difficulty in the task. We began to sleep in separate beds. I decided to retire to bed only after the day's work had left me completely exhausted. All these efforts did not seem to bear much fruit, but when I look back upon the past, I feel that the final resolution was the cumulative effect of those unsuccessful strivings.
The final resolution could only be made as late as 1906. Satyagraha had not then been started. I had not the least notion of its coming. I was practising in Johannesburg at the time of the Zulu 'Rebellion' in Natal, which came soon after the Boer War. I felt that I must offer my services to the Natal Government on that occasion. The offer was accepted, as we shall see in another chapter. But the work set me furiously thinking in the direction of self-control, and according to my wont I discussed my thoughts with my co-workers. It became my conviction that procreation and the consequent care of children were inconsistent with public service. I had to break up my household at Johannesburg to be able to serve during the 'Rebellion'. Within one month of offering my services, I had to give up the house I had so carefully furnished. I took my wife and children to Phoenix and led the Indian ambulance corps attached to the Natal forces. During the difficult marches that had then to be performed, the idea flashed upon me that, if I wanted to devote myself to the service of the community in this manner I must relinquish the desire for children and wealth and live the life of a vanaprastha - of one retired from household cares.
The 'Rebellion' did not occupy me for more than six weeks, but this brief period proved to be a very important epoch in my life. The importance of vows grew upon me more clearly than ever before. I realized that a vow, far from closing the door to real freedom, opened it. Up to this time I had not met with success because the will had been lacking, because I had had no faith in myself, no faith in the grace of God, and therefore my mind had been tossed on the boisterous sea of doubt. I realized that in refusing to take a vow man was drawn into temptation, and that to be bound by a vow was like a passage from libertinism to a real monogamous marriage. 'I believe in effort, I do not want to bind myself with vows' is the mentality of weakness and betrays a subtle desire for the thing to be avoided. Or where can be the difficulty in making a final decision? I vow to flee from the serpent which I know will bite me, I do not simply make an effort to flee from him. I know that mere effort may mean certain death. Mere effort means ignorance of the certain fact that the serpent is bound to kill me. The fact, therefore, that I could rest content with an effort only means that I have not yet clearly realized the necessity of definite action. 'But supposing my views are changed in the future, how can I bind myself by a vow?' Such a doubt often deters us. But that doubt also betrays a lack of clear perception that a particular thing must be renounced. That is why Nishkulanand has sung:
'Renunciaton without aversion is not lasting.'
Where therefore the desire is gone, a vow of renunciation is the natural and inevitable fruit.