Day by day it became increasingly clear to me how very difficult it was to bring up and educate boys and girls in the right way. If I was to be their real teacher and guardian, I must touch their hearts. I must share their joys and sorrows, I must help them to solve the problems that faced them, and I must take along the right channel the surging aspirations of their youth.
On the release of some of the Satyagrahis from jail, Tolstoy Farm
was almost denuded of its inmates. The few that remained mostly
belonged to Phoenix. So I removed them there. Here I had to pass
through a fiery ordeal.
In those days I had to move between Johannesburg and Phoenix. Once
when I was in Johannesburg I received tidings of the moral fall of
two of the inmates of the Ashram. News of an apparent failure or
reverse in the Satyagraha struggle would not have shocked me, but
this news came upon me like a thunderbolt. The same day I took the
train for Phoenix. Mr. Kallenbach insisted on accompanying me. He
had noticed the state I was in. He would not brook the thought of my
going alone, for he happened to be the bearer of the tidings which
had so upset me.
During the journey my duty seemed clear to me. I felt that the
guardian or teacher was responsible, to some extent at least, for
the lapse of his ward or pupil. So my responsibility regarding the
incident in question became clear to me as daylight. My wife had
already warned me in the matter, but being of a trusting nature, I
had ignored her caution. I felt that the only way the guilty parties
could be made to realize my distress and the depth of their own fall
would be for me to do some penance. So I imposed upon myself a fast
for seven days and a vow to have only one meal a day for a period of
four months and a half. Mr. Kallenbach tried to dissuade me, but in
vain. He finally conceded the propriety of the penance, and insisted
on joining me. I could not resist his transparent affection.
I felt greatly relieved, for the decision meant a heavy load off my mind.
The anger against the guilty parties subsided and gave place to the
purest pity for them. Thus considerably eased, I reached Phoenix, I
made further investigation and acquainted myself with some more
details I needed to know.
My penance pained everybody, but it cleared the atmosphere. Everyone
came to realize what a terrible thing it was to be sinful, and the
bond that bound me to the boys and girls became stronger and truer.
A circumstance arising out of this incident compelled me, a little
while after, to go into a fast for fourteen days, the results of
which exceeded even my expectations.
It is not my purpose to make out from these incidents that it is the
duty of a teacher to resort to fasting whenever there is a
delinquency on the part of his pupils. I hold, however, that some
occasions do call for this drastic remedy. But it presupposes
clearness of vision and spiritual fitness. Where there is no true
love between the teacher and the pupil, where the pupil's
delinquency has not touched the very being of the teacher and where
the pupil has no respect for the teacher, fasting is out of place
and may even be harmful. Though there is thus room for doubting the
propriety of fasts in such cases, there is no question about the
teacher's responsibility for the error of his pupil.
The first penance did not prove difficult for any of us. I had to suspend or
stop none of my normal activities. It may be recalled that during
the whole of this period of penance I was a strict fruitarian. The
latter part of the second fast went fairly hard with me. I had not
then completely understood the wonderful efficacy of Ramanama, and
my capacity for suffering was to that extent less. Besides, I did
not know the technique of fasting, especially the necessity of
drinking plenty of water, however nauseating or distasteful it might
be. Then the fact that the first fast had been an easy affair had
made me rather careless as to the second. Thus during the first I
took Kuhne baths every day, but during the second I gave them up
after two or three days, and drank very little water, as it was
distasteful and produced nausea. The throat became parched and weak
and during the last days I could speak only in a very low voice. In
spite of this, however, my work was carried on through dictation
where writing was necessary. I regularly listened to readings from
the Ramayana and other sacred books. I had also sufficient strength
to discuss and advise in all urgent matters.