In his book Self-Restraint versus Self-Indulgence Gandhi has focused on issues relating to self-control, Brahmacharya, birth control, marriage ideal, sex education, obscenity and so on. The book in addition includes letters written to Gandhi by various correspondents on the subject of self-restraint. Gandhi’s reply to those letters was that, “self-restraint should not be a conscious effort to drive away evil thoughts because that process is in itself a kind of indulgence. The best prescription is non-resistance, i.e. ignoring the existence of evil thoughts and a continuous pre-occupation with duties that lie in front of one”.
According to Gandhi the use of contraceptives is unethical as it loosens moral bonds and increases licentiousness. Moreover Gandhi opines that, by resorting to the use of contraceptives man feeds on the animal passion, which according to him is unnecessary as it has harmful effects on both, the mind and body of men and women. Further, one may claim that abortion will disappear by the use of contraceptives but this argument cannot be sustained. The advocacy of the use of contraceptives is high among widows and young wives. In one case it is illegitimate birth that is avoided and not secret indulgence. In the other, it is again pregnancy which is feared and not rape of a girl of tender age. There are groups of diseased, weak, effeminate young men who would indulge in excesses with their own wives or other’s wives and would avoid the consequences of these acts which they know to be sinful. There may be a wrong belief among young men that when there is no procreation, mere indulgence does not matter, does not weaken. Indeed, the sexual act, with the unnatural safeguard against procreation, has far more ill-effects. According to Gandhi, artificial methods are like putting premium upon vice. They make young men and women reckless. Adoption of such methods results in imbecility and nervous prostration. The remedy will be found to be worse than the disease. Advocates of artificial methods take it for granted that indulgence in animal passion is a necessity of life and in itself a desirable thing. Such type of artificial education has robbed the nation’s youth of physical and mental vigor. Gandhi opines that birth-control through contraceptives is race suicide only self-control is the surest method for it. Gandhi mentions that, “we are off springs in many cases of child marriages. Our disregard of the laws of health and sanitation has undermined our bodies. Our wrong and deficient dietary, composed of corroding spices, has produced a collapse of the digestive apparatus. We need, not lessons in the use of contraceptives, which helps in satisfaction of animal appetite, but continuous lessons to restrain that appetite, in many cases even to the extent of absolute continence and self discipline. We need to be taught that continence is perfectly possible and necessary to remain mentally and physically strong. .” He further opines that young widows should not sin secretly but should boldly and openly demand marriage which is their right as much as that of young widowers and a ban should be put on child marriages. The only best method for birth control is self control.
What is Brahmacharya?
“Brahmacharya properly understood means search for Brahma. As Brahma is present in every one of us, we must seek him within us with the help of meditation and consequent realization. Realization is impossible without complete control of all the senses. Therefore, Brahmacharya signifies control of all the senses at all times and at all places in thought, word and deed”. It does not mean that one may not touch a woman, even one’s sister, in any circumstance whatsoever. But it does mean that one’s state of mind should be as calm during such contact as when one touches, say, a piece of paper. Chastity implies not only continence, but also purity of sentiments. All causes of sexual disturbances increase the intensity of desire. By avoiding these provocations desire gradually diminishes.
The benefits of being chaste are as follows:
- It does not lead to deadly diseases.
- Memory is quiet and tenacious.
- The brain lively and fertile.
- The will energetic.
- The whole character gains strength.
For the sake of momentary pleasure, one sacrifices, in an instant, all the stock of vital energy that one has laboriously accumulated. When the infatuation is over, one finds oneself in a miserable condition, where body feels weak and tired and mind refuses to work. Then, in order to remedy the mischief, one consumes large quantities of milk and so on and places oneself at the doctor’s mercy to repair the waste. One hardly realizes that incontinence is the root cause of vanity, anger, fear, and jealousy in the world. One may ask, “If all men should turn to Brahmacharya would not humanity be extinct?” Gandhi answers that these questions betray one’s timidity. One who does not have the strength of will to observe Brahmacharya finds such pretexts for evading duty. We are not God to be anxious about the future. He who has created the world will look after its preservation. The true Brahmchari will discover the answers for himself in his own course of time. Gandhi mentions that all souls possess equal potentialities. Only some have developed their powers while others have them in a dormant condition, and it would be lack of humility to say that such specimens do not exist because we have not come across them. Thoughts of sin should be scotched and not killed. Also, control should be acquired over the organ of taste. The ideal food for a Brahmchari is fresh fruit and nuts along with fasting, which is as necessary as selection and restriction of diet. Gandhi has proved through his own experience that one who has not mastered taste cannot control animal passion. One of the most powerful tools in conquering animal passion is Ramana or some mantra. There are certain rules laid down in India for the would be brahmchari, like he may not live among women, animals, eunuchs and so on. But according to Gandhi these rules are not necessary to follow. He mentions that each must create his own fences according to his limitations, breaking them down when he feels they are unnecessary. Further, one should look upon a woman never as an object of satisfaction of sexual desire, but always with the veneration due to one’s own mother. According to Gandhi, “Man is the tempter and aggressor. It is not woman whose touch defiles man, but he is often himself too impure to touch her.”
Hence the means to attain Brahmacharya are as follows:
- The first step is the realization of its necessity.
- The next is gradual control of the senses.
- The third step is to have clean companions, clean friends and clean books.
- The last and not the least is prayer on a regular basis to ask for divine grace.
The home environment i.e. upbringing has a great impact on a child. Often parents ignore the education that is to be given at home. One misuses and corrupts the sensory organs which God has given us. For example, mothers pamper their children with all kinds of delicacies and prepare food with a variety of spices which are insipid. Gandhi asserts that mothers should learn Gayatri and teach it to their children os as to inculcate good learning. Further, clothes are meant just to cover the body and protect it against heat and cold, not to beautify it. By pampering the child’s body one only succeeds in destroying it. It is only in India that from childhood one hears of marriage. Parents have no other thought, no other ambition, except to see their children well married and provided for. Hence, such thinking needs to be changed. Marriage should not be sole purpose of life. It should be voluntary. One should enter marriage only when one is physically and mentally ready for it.
Gandhi further mentions the importance of imparting sex education to young pupils, wherein knowledge about the use and function of generative organs is imparted. Youngsters often pick up this knowledge in an incorrect way and as a result they are misled into abusive practices. The type of sex education which Gandhi stands for must have as its object the conquest and sublimation of sexual passion. Further a question may arise, “who should teach this true science of sex?” The answer is, one who has attained mastery over his passions. Teachers who have acquired mastery over self can teach the science of sexual control. Our civilization offers innumerable excitements to young boys and girls several years before normal adult age and hence it is necessary to effectively teach them to resist such immoral acts by a strong and serious will. Sexual abstinence has never yet hurt any man when it has been observed. It is important to mention that the term is sexual desire, not need. In reality it is not a need at all, but many men are persuaded that it is. The importance that the world gives to desire makes it look as absolutely necessary.
Moving towards the issue of obscene advertisements where women are often portrayed as sex objects, Gandhi urges educated women to wage a relentless war against obscene literature, for merely appealing to the publishers would not help. Women need to come out in the open and form groups and agitate against objectionable issues. Another way is for subscribers to write to their respective papers which contain objectionable advertisements, drawing their attention to them and stopping their subscriptions if the offence is not cured. To call a woman a member of ‘the weaker sex’ is a libel. Gandhi describes woman as the embodiment of sacrifice and ahimsa. He mentions that woman has to learn not to rely on man to protect her virtue or her honor. Gandhi gives the instance of the Pandavas who were not capable of protecting the virtue of Draupadi. She protected her own virtue. Gandhi states, “No person loses honor or self-respect but by his consent.”
Thus, Gandhi sums up by saying, that various forms of moral indiscipline have caused serious hurt to the individual, the family and society at large. The licentious conduct of young people, pornography, marriage for money, adultery and divorce, vanity and luxury, prostitution, etc., have debilitated the nation and the individual has been unable to conserve his energies due to which the quality of new growth has diminished.
Needful instructions given by Gandhi are as follows:
- Remember, if you are married, your wife is your friend, companion and co-worker, not an instrument of sexual enjoyment.
- Self-control is the law of your being.
- If you are unmarried you owe it to yourself, to society and to your future partner to keep yourself pure. If you cultivate this sense of loyalty, you will find, it is an infallible protection against temptation.
- Think always of that Unseen Power which we may never see, but which we all feel within us as watching and noting every impure thought, and you will find that Power ever helping you.
- Laws governing a life of self-restraint must be necessarily different from a life of self-indulgence.
- When your passions threaten to get the better of you, go down on your knees and cry out to God for help.
- Exercise and go early to bed and rise early.
- Remember that man is a representative of God to serve all that lives and thus to express God’s dignity and love. Let service be your sole joy and you will need no other enjoyment in life.