As the ideals of sacrifice and simplicity were becoming more and more realized, and the religious consciousness was becoming more and more quickened in my daily life, the passion for vegetarianism as a mission went on increasing. I have known only one way of carrying on missionary work, viz., by personal example and discussion with searchers for knowledge.
There was in Johannesburg a vegetarian restaurant conducted by a
German who believed in Kuhne's hydropathic treatment. I visited the
restaurant myself and helped it by taking English friends there. But
I saw that it could not last as it was always in financial
difficulties. I assisted it as much as I thought it deserved, and
spent some money on it, but it had ultimately to be closed down.
Most theosophists are vegetarians more or less, and an enterprising
lady belonging to that society now came upon the scene with a
vegetarian restaurant on a grand scale. She was fond of art,
extravagant and ignorant of accounts. Her circle of friends was
fairly large. She had started in a small way, but later decided to
extend the venture by taking large rooms, and asked me for help. I
knew nothing of her finances when she thus approached me, but I took
it that her estimate must be fairly accurate. And I was in a
position to accommodate her. My clients used to keep large sums as
deposits with me. Having received the consent of one of these
clients, I lent about a thousand pounds from the amount to his
credit. This client was most large-hearted and trusting. He had
originally come to South Africa as an indentured labourer. He said:
'Give away the money, if you like. I know nothing in these matters.
I only know you.' His name was Badri. He afterwards took a prominent
part in Satyagraha, and suffered imprisonment as well. So I advanced
the loan assuming that this consent was enough.
In two or three months' time I came to know that the amount would
not be recovered. I could ill afford to sustain such a loss. There
were many other purposes to which I could have applied this amount.
The loan was never repaid. But how could trusting Badri be allowed
to suffer? He had known me only. I made good the loss.
A client friend to whom I spoke about this transaction sweetly chided
me for my folly.
'Bhai,' - I had fortunately not yet become 'Mahatma', nor even 'Bapu'
(father); friends used to call me by the loving name of 'Bhai'
(brother) - said he, 'this was not for you to do. We depend upon you
in so many things. You are not going to get back this amount. I know
you will never allow Badri to come to grief, for you will pay him
out of your pocket, but if you go on helping your reform schemes by
operating on your clients' money, the poor fellows will be ruined,
and you will soon become a beggar. But you are our trustee and must
know that, if you become a beggar, all our public work will come to
The friend, I am thankful to say, is still alive. I have not yet come
across a purer man than he, in South Africa or anywhere else. I have
known him to apologize to people and to cleanse himself, when,
having happened to suspect them, he had found his suspicion to be
I saw that he had rightly warned me. For though I made good Badri's
loss, I should not have been able to meet any similar loss and
should have been driven to incur debt - a thing I have never done in
my life and always abhorred. I realized that even a man's reforming
zeal ought not to make him exceed his limits. I also saw that in
thus lending trust-money I had disobeyed the cardinal teaching of
the Gita, viz., the duty of a man of equipoise to act without
desire for the fruit. The error became for me a beacon-light of
The sacrifice offered on the altar of vegetarianism was neither
intentional nor expected. It was a virtue of necessity.