Back | Next

PHILOSOPHY > THE MIND OF MAHATMA GANDHI > The Ashram Vows

 

The Ashram Vows

This is the maxim of life which I have accepted, namely, that no work done by any man, no matter how great he is, will really prosper unless he has religious backing. But what is religion?…. I for one would answer; not the religion which you will get after reading all the scriptures of the world; it is not really a grasp by the brain, but it is a heart grasp. It is a thing which is not alien to us but it is a thing which has to be evolved out of us. It is always within us; with some consciously so; with the other quite unconsciously. But it is [always] there; and whether we wake up this religious instinct in us through outside assistance or by inward growth, no matter how it is done, it has got to be done if we want to do any thing in the right manner and anything that is going to persist.

Our scriptures have laid down certain rules as maxims of life and as axioms which we have to take for granted as self-demonstrated truths… believing in these implicitly for all these ling years and having actually endeavoured to reduce to practice these injunctions…, I have deemed it necessary to seek the association of those who think with me in founding this institution… the rules that have been drawn up and that have to be observed by every one who seeks to be a member of that Ashram [are as follows]:

The Vow Of Truth
Not truth simply as we ordinarily understand it, not truth which merely answers the saying, ‘Honesty is the best policy,’ implying that, if it is not the best policy, we may depart from it. But here Truth as it is conceived means that we have to rule our life buy this flaw of Truth at any cost; and in order to satisfy the definition, I have drawn upon the celebrated illustration of the life of Prahlad. For the sake to Truth as he knew it , he was prepared to die without caring to return the blows that he had received from his father, or from those who were charged with his father’s instructions. Not only that, he would not in any way even parry the blows; on the contrary, width a smile on his lips, he underwent the innumerable tortures to which he was subjected, with the result that at last Truth. That fact was there; but if he had died in the midst of tortures, he would still have adhered to Truth. that is the truth which I would like to follow … in our Ashram we make it a rule that we must say ‘No’ when we mean ‘No’ regardless of consequences.


The Doctrine Of Ahimsa

Literally speaking, ahimsa means ‘non-killing’. But to me it has a world of meaning, and takes me into the realms much higher, infinitely higher…. Ahimsa really means that you may not offend anybody; you may not harbour an uncharitable thought, even in connection with one who may consider himself to be your enemy. For one who follows this doctrine there is no room for an enemy…. But there are people who consider themselves to be his enemies…. So it is held that we may not harbour an evil thought even in connection with such persons. If we return blow for blow, we depart from the doctrine of ahimsa. But when I say that we should not resent, I do not say that we should acquiesce; but by ‘resenting’ I mean wishing that some harm should be done to the enemy; or that he should be put out of the way, not even by any action of ours, but by the action of somebody else, or, say, buy divine agency. If we harbour even this thought, we depart from this doctrine of I ahimsa. Those who join the Ashram have literally to accept that meaning.

That does not mean that we practise that doctrine in its entirety. Far from it. It is an ideal which we have to reach, and it is an ideal to be reached even at this very moment, if we are capable of doing so. But is not a proposition in geometry; it is not even like solving difficult problems in higher mathematics-it is infinitely more difficult than solving those problems. Many of you have burnt the midnight oil in solving those problems. If you want to follow out this doctrine, you will have to do much more than burn the midnight oil . you will have to pass many a sleepless night, and go through many a mental torture and agony, before you can even be within measurable distance of this goal. It is the goal, it is the goal, and no-thing less than that, which you and I have to reach if we want to understand what a religious life means.

…. A man who believed in the efficacy of this doctrine find s in the ultimate stage, when he is about to reach the goal, the whole world at his feet… if you express your love – ahimsa- in such a manner that it impresses it self indelibly upon your so-called enemy, he must return that love…… under this rule there is no room for organized assassinations, or for murders openly committed, or…. For any violence for the sake of your country or even for guarding the honour of precious ones that may be under your charge. After all, that would be a poor defence of their honour. This doctrine tells us that we may guard the honour of those under our charge by delivering ourselves into the hand s of the man who would commit he sacrilege. And that requires far greater physical and mental courage than the delivering of blows. …. If you do not retaliate, but stand your ground between your charge and the opponent, simply receiving the blows without retaliating, what happens? I give you my promise that the whole of his violence will be expended on you, and your friend will not left unscathed. Under this plan of life there is no conception of patriotism which justifies such wars as you witness today in Europe.


The Vow Of Celibacy
Those who want to perform national service, or to have a gleam of the real religious life, must lead a celibate life, whether married or unmarried. Marriage only brings a woman closer to man, and they become friends in a special sense, never to be parted either in this life or in the lives to come. But I do not think that, in our conception of marriage, our lusts should enter. Be that as it may, this is what is placed before those who come to the Ashram. I do not deal with that at any length.


The Vow Of The Control Of The Palate
A man who wants to control his animal passions easily does so if he controls his palate. I fear this is one of the most difficult vows to follow …. Unless we are prepared to rid ourselves of stimulating, heating, able to control the over-abundant, unnecessary, and exciting stimulation of the animal passions…. If we do not do that …., we are likely to abuse the sacred trust of our bodies that has been given us , and to become less than animals and brutes, eating, drinking and indulging in passions which we share in common with the animals. But have you ever seen a horse or cow indulging in the abuse of the palate as we do? Do you suppose that it is a sign of civilization, a sign of real life, that we should multiply our eatables so far that we do not even know where we are; and seek dishes until, at last, we have become absolutely mad and run after the newspaper sheets which give us advertisements about these dishes?


The Vow Of Non-Thieving
I suggest that we are thieves in a way. If I take anything that I do not need for my own immediate use and deep it, I thieve it from somebody else. It is the fundamental law of Nature , without exception, that Nature produces enough for our wants from day to day; and if only everybody took enough for himself and nothing more, there would be no pauperism in this world, there would be no man dying of starvation. I am no Socialist, and I do not want to dispossess those who have got possessions; but I do say that personally those of us who want to see light out of darkness have to follow this rule. I do not want to dispossess anybody; I should then be departing from the rule of non-violence. If somebody else possesses more than I do , let him. But so far as my own life has to be regulated, I dare not possess anything which I do not want. In India, we have got many millions of people who have to be satisfied with one meal a day, and that meal consisting of a chapatti containing no fat in it and a pinch of salt. You and I have no right to anything that we really have until these many million are clothed and fed. You and I, who ought to know better, must adjust our wants, and even undergo voluntary privation in order that they may be nursed, fed and clothed.


The Vow Of Non-Possession

This follows as a matter of course.


The Vow Of Swadeshi
The vow of swadeshi is a necessary vow. We are departing from one of the sacred laws of our being when we leave our neighbourhood and go out somewhere else in order to satisfy our wants. If a man comes from Bombay and offers you wares, you are not justified in supporting the Bombay merchant so long as you have got a merchant at your very door, born and bred in Madras.

This is my view of swadeshi. In your village you are bound to support your village barber to the exclusion of the finished barber who may come to you from Madras. If you find it necessary that your village barber should reach the attainments of the barber from Madras, you may train him to that. Send him to Madras by all means, if you wish, in order that he may learn his calling. Until you do that you are not justified in going to another barber. That is Swadeshi. So when we find that there are many things that we cannot get in India , we must try to do without them. We may have to do without many things ; but believe me, when you have that frame of mind, you will find a great burden taken off your shoulders, even as the Pilgrim was a carrying unconsciously dropped from him and he get a freer man than he was when he started on the journey. So will you feel freer men than you are now, if immediately you adopt this Swadeshi life.


The Vow Of Fearlessness
I found through my wanderings in India that my country is seized with a paralyzing rear. We may not open our lips in public ; we may only talk about our opinions secretly. We may do anything we like within the four walls of our house; but those things are not for public consumption.

If we had taken a vow of silence, I would have nothing to say. I suggest to you that there is only one whom we have to fear, that is God. When we fear God, then we shall fear no man, however high –placed he may be; and if you want to follows the vow of Truth, then fearless-ness is absolutely necessary. Before we can aspire to guide the destinies of India , we shall have to adopt this habit of fearlessness.


The Vow Regarding The ‘Untouchables’
There is an ineffaceable blot that Hinduism today carries with it. I have declined to believe that it has been handed down to us from immemorial times. I think that this miserable, wretched, enslaving spirit of ‘untouchableness’ must have come to us when we were at our lowest ebb. this evil has stuck to us and still remains with us. It is, to my mind, a curse that has come to us; and as long as the curse remains with us, so long I think we are bound to consider that every affliction in this sacred land is a proper punishment for the indelible crime that we are committing. That any person should be considered untouchable because of his calling passes my comprehension; and you, the student world, who receive all this modern education, if you become a party to this crime, it were better that you received no education whatsoever.


Education Through The Vernaculars
In Europe, every cultured man learns not only his own language but also other language in India.

In order to solve the problem of language in India, we in this Ashram must make it a point to learn as many Indian vernaculars as possible. The trouble of learning these languages is nothing compared to that of mastering English. How dare we rub off from our memory all the years of our infancy? But that is precisely what we do when we commence our higher life through the medium of a foreign tongue. This creates a breach for which we shall have to pay dearly. And you will see now the connection between this education and untouchability- this persistence of the latter in spite of the spread of knowledge and education. Education enables us to se the horrible crime, but we are seized with fear, and, therefore, we cannot take this doctrine to our homes.


The Vow Of Khaddar
You may ask, ‘Why should we use our hand?’ You may say, ‘Manual work has got to be done by those who are illiterate. I can only occupy myself with reading literature and political essays.’ We have to realize the dignity of labour. If a barber or shoe-maker attends a college, he ought not to abandon his profession. I consider that such professions are just as good as the profession of medicine.

Last of all, when you have conformed to these rules, you may come to ;

The Religious Use Of Politics
Politics, divorced from religion, have absolutely no meaning. If the student world crowd the political platforms of this country, that is not necessarily a healthy sign of national growth ; but this does not mean that you, in your student life, ought not to study politics. Politics are a part of our being; we ought to understand our national institutions. We may do this from our infancy. So, in our Ashram every child is taught to understand the political institutions of our country and to know how the country is vibrating with new emotions, with new aspirations, with new life. But we want also the steady light, the infallible light of religious faith; not a faith which merely appeals to the intelligence, but a faith which is indelibly inscribed on the heart. First we want to realize our religious consciousness, and immediately we have done that, the whole department of life is open to us; and it should then be a sacred privilege of all, so that, when young men grow to manhood, they may do so properly equipped to battle with life. Today what happens is this ; much of the political life is confined to the students, but immediately they cease to be students, they sink into oblivion, seeking miserable employments, knowing nothing about God, nothing of fresh air or bright light, or of real vigorous independence, such as comes out of obedience to those laws that I have placed before you …….. (Address at YMCA Auditorium, Madras, February 16, 1916; SW, pp. 377-90)