The Zulu 'rebellion' was full of new experiences and gave me much food for thought. The Boer War had not brought home to me the horrors of war with anything like the vividness that the 'rebellion' did. This was no war but a man-hunt, not only in my opinion, but also in that of many Englishmen with whom I had occasion to talk. To hear every morning reports of the soldiers' rifles exploding like crackers in innocent hamlets, and to live in the midst of them was a trial. But I swallowed the bitter draught, especially as the work of my Corps consisted only in nursing the wounded Zulus. I could see that but for us the Zulus would have been uncared for. This work, therefore, eased my conscience.
But there was much else to set one thinking. It
was a sparsely populated part of the country. Few and far between in
hills and dales were the scattered Kraals of the simple and
so-called 'uncivilized' Zulus. Marching, with or without the
wounded, through these solemn solitudes, I often fell into deep
I pondered over brahmacharya and its implications, and my convictions took deep root. I discussed
it with my co-workers. I had not realized then how indispensable it
was for self-realization, but I clearly saw that one aspiring to
serve humanity with his whole soul could not do without it. It was
borne in upon me that I should have more and more occasions for
service of the kind I was rendering, and that I should find myself
unequal to my task if I were engaged in the pleasures of family life
and in the propagation and rearing of children.
In a word, I could not live both after the flesh and the spirit. On
the present occasion, for instance, I should not have been able to
throw myself into the fray, had my wife been expecting a baby.
Without the observance of brahmacharya service of the family would be inconsistent with service of the
community. With brahmacharya they would be perfectly consistent.
So thinking, I became somewhat impatient to take a final vow. The
prospect of the vow brought a certain kind of exultation.
Imagination also found free play and opened out limitless vistas of
Whilst I was thus in the midst of strenuous physical and mental
work, a report came to the effect that the work of suppressing the
'rebellion' was nearly over, and that we should soon be discharged.
A day or two after this our discharge came and in a few days we got
back to our homes.
After a short while I got a letter from the Governor specially
thanking the Ambulance Corps for its services.
On my arrival at Phoenix I eagerly broached the subject of brahmacharya
with Chhaganlal, Maganlal, West and others. They liked the idea and
accepted the necessity of taking the vow, but they also represented
the difficulties of the task. Some of them set themselves bravely to
observe it, and some, I know, succeeded also.
I too took the plunge – the vow to observe brahmacharya
for life. I must confess that I had not then fully realized the
magnitude and immensity of the task I undertook. The difficulties
are even today staring me in the face. The importance of the vow is
being more and more borne in upon me. Life without brahmacharya
appears to me to be insipid and animal-like. The brute by nature
knows no self-restraint. Man is man because he is capable of, and
only in so far as he exercises, self-restraint. What formerly
appeared to me to be extravagant praise of brahmacharya
in our religious books seems now, with increasing clearness every
day, to be absolutely proper and founded on experience.
I saw that brahmacharya, which is so full of wonderful potency, is by no means an easy
affair, and certainly not a mere matter of the body. It begins with
bodily restraint, but does not end there. The perfection of it
precludes even an impure thought. A true brahmachari
will not even dream of satisfying the fleshly appetite, and until he
is in that condition, he has a great deal of ground to cover.
For me the observance of even bodily brahmacharya
has been full of difficulties. Today I may say that I feel myself
fairly safe, but I had yet to achieve complete mastery over thought,
which is so essential. Not that the will or effort is lacking, but
it is yet a problem to me wherefrom undesirable thoughts spring
their insidious invasions. I have no doubt that there is a key to
lock out undesirable thoughts, but every one has to find it out for
himself. Saints and seers have left their experiences for us, but
they have given us no infallible and universal prescription. For
perfection or freedom from error comes only from grace, and so
seekers after God have left us mantras, such as Ramanama,
hallowed by their own austerities and charged with their purity.
Without an unreserved surrender to His grace, complete mastery over
thought is impossible. This is the teaching of every great book of
religion, and I am realizing the truth of it every moment of my
striving after that perfect brahmacharya.
But part of the history of that striving and struggle will be told
in chapters to follow. I shall conclude this chapter with an
indication of how I set about the task. In the first flush of
enthusiasm, I found the observance quite easy. The very first change
I made in my mode of life was to stop sharing the same bed with my
wife or seeking privacy with her.
Thus brahmacharya which I had been observing willy-nilly since 1900, was sealed with a
vow in the middle of 1906.