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
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.