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02. The Staff of Life
My thoughts of sin are scotched, but not killed. If I had acquired perfect mastery over my thoughts, I should not have suffered from pleurisy, dysentery and appendicitis as I have during the last ten years.1 I believe that when the soul is sinless, the body which she inhabits is healthy too. That is to say, as the soul progresses towards freedom from sin, the body also tends to become immune from disease. But a healthy body, in this case, does not mean a strong body. A powerful soul lives only in a weak body. As the soul advances in strength, the body languishes. A perfectly healthy body might yet be quite emaciated. A strong body is often diseased. Even, if there be no disease, such a body catches infection soon, while a perfectly healthy body enjoys complete immunity from it. Pure blood has the power of expelling all obnoxious germs...
Brahmacharya in the popular or current acceptance of the term means control of animal passion in thought, word and deed. The same stress has not been laid upon the control of the palate, and hence the control of passion has grown more difficult and almost impossible...
My experience is that one who has not mastered taste cannot control animal passion either. It is no easy task to conquer the palate. But conquest of passion is bound up with the conquest of the palate. One of the means of controlling taste is to give up spices and condiments altogether or as far as possible. Another and a more effective means is always to cultivate a feeling that we eat just in order to sustain the body and never for taste. We take in air not for taste, but for life. Just as we take water to quench our thirst, in the same way we should take food only to satisfy hunger. Unfortunately, parents make us contract a contrary habit from very childhood. They corrupt us by giving us all manner of delicacies not for our sustenance, but out of mistaken affection. We have got to fight against this unfavourable home atmosphere.
But our most powerful ally in conquering animal passion is Ramanama or some similar mantra. The Dwadasha Mantra2 will also serve the same purpose. One may repeat any mantra one pleases. I have suggested Ramanama as I have been familiar with it since childhood, and as it is my constant support in my struggles. One must be completely absorbed in whatever mantra one selects. One should not mind if other thoughts disturb one during the jap a (recitation). I am confident that one who still goes on with the japa in faith will conquer in the end. The mantra becomes one's staff of life and carries one through every ordeal.3
One should not seek wordly profit from such sacred mantras. The characteristic power of these mantras lies in their standing guard over personal purity, and every diligent seeker will realize this at once. It should, however, be remembered that the mantra is not to be repeated parrot-like. One should pour one's soul into it. The parrot repeats such mantras mechanically, we must repeat them intelligently in the hope of driving out undesirable thoughts and with full faith in the power of the mantras to assist us to do so.
Navajivan, 5-6-1924

1 I am a humble aspirant for perfection. I know my way to it also. But knowing the way is not reaching its end. If 1 was perfect, if I had acquired full control over all my passions even in thought, I should be perfect in body. I am free to confess that daily I am obliged to expend a great amount of mental energy in acquiring control over my thoughts. When 1 have succeeded, if I ever do. think what a store-house of energy would be set free for service! As 1 hold that appendicitis was a result of infirmity of thought or mind, so do I concede that my submission to the surgical operation was an additional infirmity of mind. If I was absolutely free of egoism. I would have resigned myself to the inevitable; but 1 wanted to live in the present body. Complete detachment is not a mechanical process. One has to grow into it by patient toil and prayer. Young India 3-4-1924
2 ॐ नमो भगवते वासुदेवाय ।
3 Suggesting to a bralimachari the means to the attainment of brahmacharya. Gandhiji wrote:
"The last and not the least is prayer. Let him repeat Ramanama with all his heart regularly everyday, and ask for divine grace." Young India. 19-4-'26.
To a struggling soul, Gandhiji wrote:
"With the help of Rama we have got to overcome the ten-headed Ravana of passions within us. Success is bound to be ours if we have faith in Rama and surrender ourselves to His grace. Above all, do not lose self-confidence. Avoid indulgence of the palate." Young India, 20-12-28
"When your passions threaten to get the better of you, go down on your knees and cry out to God for help. Ramanama is my Infallible Help. As an extraneous aid, take a hip-bath."- From Preface to the Second Edition (1928) of Self-Restraint v. Self-indulgence.