(Life & thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi as told in his own words)

all Men Are Brothers

[Life & thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi as told in his own words]

Table of Contents

About This Book

Compiled & Edited by: Krishna Kripalani
Introduction by : Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan
ISBN : 81-7229-000-43
Printed and Published by : Jitendra T. Desai
Navajivan Mudranalaya,
© Navajivan Trust, 1960


Chapter-05 : Self-discipline

Civilization, in the real sense of the term, consists not in multiplication but in the deliberate and voluntary restriction of wants. This alone promotes real happiness and contentment, and increases the capacity for service.
(SB, 39)
A certain degree of physical harmony and comfort is necessary, but above that level, it becomes a hindrance instead of a help. Therefore the ideal of creating an unlimited number of wants and satisfying them seems to be a delusion and a snare. The satisfaction of one's physical needs, even the intellectual needs of one's narrow self, must meet at a point a dead stop before it degenerates into physical and intellectual voluptuousness. A man must arrange his physical and cultural circumstances so that they may not hinder him in his service of humanity, on which all his energies should be concentrated.
(SB, 39)
The relation between the body and the mind is so intimate that, if either of them got out of order, the whole system would suffer. Hence it follows that a pure character is the foundation of health in the real sense of the term; and we may say that all evil thoughts and evil passions are but different forms of disease.
(SB, 268)
Perfect health can be attained only by living in obedience to the laws of God, and defying the power of Satan. True happiness is impossible without true health and true health is impossible without a rigid control of the palate. All the other senses will automatically come under control when the palate has been brought under control. And he who has conquered his senses has really conquered the whole world, and he becomes a part of God.
(SB, 268)
I have taken up journalism not for its sake but merely as an aid to what I have conceived to be my mission in life. My mission is to teach by example and precept under severe restraint the use of the matchless weapon of Satyagraha which is a direct corollary of non-violence and truth. I am anxious, indeed I am impatient, to demonstrate that there is no remedy for the many ills of life save that of non-violence. It is a solvent strong enough to melt the stoniest heart. To be true to my faith, therefore, I may not write in anger or malice. I may not write idly. I may not write merely to excite passion. The reader can have no idea of the restraint I have to exercise from week to week in the choice of topics and my vocabulary. It is a training for me. It enables me to peep into myself and to make discoveries of my weaknesses. Often my vanity dictates a smart expression or my anger a harsh adjective. It is a terrible ordeal but a fine exercise to remove these weeds. The reader sees the pages of the Young India fairly well-dressed-up and sometimes, with Romain Rolland, he is inclined to say 'what a fine old man this must be!' Well, let the world understand that the fineness is carefully and prayerfully cultivated. And, if it has proved acceptable to some whose opinion I cherish, let the reader understand that when that fineness has become perfectly natural, i.e., when I have become incapable of evil and when nothing harsh or haughty occupies, be it momentarily, my thought-World, then and not till then, my non-violence will move all the hearts of all the world. I have placed before me and the reader no impossible ideal or ordeal. It is man's prerogative and birth-right. We have lost the paradise only to regain it.
(SB, 271-72; see also MM,44)
I have learnt through bitter experience the one supreme lesson to conserve my anger, and as heat conserved is transmuted into energy, even so our anger controlled can be transmuted into a power which can move the world.
(MM, 11)
It is not that I do not get angry. I don't give vent to anger. I cultivate the quality of patience as angerlessness, and generally speaking, I succeed. But I only control my anger when it comes. How I find it possible to control it would be a useless question, or it is a habit that everyone must cultivate and must succeed in forming by constant practice.
(MM, 11)
It is wrong and immoral to seek to escape the consequences of one's acts. It is good for a person who over-eats to have an ache and a fast. It is bad for him to indulge his appetite and then escape the consequences by taking tonics or other medicine. It is still worse for a person to indulge in his animal passions and escape the consequences of his acts. Nature is relentless and will have full revenge for any such violation of her laws. Moral results can only be produced by moral restraints. All other restraints defeat the very purpose for which they are intended.
(MM, 108)
It is not for us to find fault with anyone else and sit in judgment over him. We should be exhausted judging ourselves only, and so long as we notice a single fault in ourselves and wish our relations and friends not to forsake us in spite of such fault, we have no right to poke our nose into other people's conduct. If in spite of ourselves we notice another's fault, we should ask him himself if we have the power and think it proper to do so, but we have no right to ask anybody else.
(DM, 98)
Do not brood over the passions. When you have once come to a decision, do not be reconsidering it. Taking a vow implies that the mind ceases to think on the subject of that vow any longer. When a merchant has sold some goods, he thinks no more about them, but only about other things. The same is the case with the subject-matter of a vow.
(DM, 298)
You will wish to know what the marks of a man are who wants to realize truth which is God. He must be completely free from anger and lust, greed and attachment, pride and fear. He must reduce himself to zero and have perfect control over all his senses ―beginning with the palate or tongue. Tongue is the organ of speech as well as of taste. It is with the tongue that we indulge in exaggeration, untruth and speech that hurts. The craving for taste makes us slaves to the palate so that like animals we live to eat. But with proper discipline, we can make ourselves into beings only a 'little below the angels'. He who has mastered his senses is first and foremost among men. All virtues reside in him. God manifests Himself through him. Such is the power of self-discipline.
(MGP, II, 233)
All universal rules of conduct known as God's commandments are simple and easy to understand and to carry out, if the will is there. They only appear to be difficult because of the inertia which governs mankind. There is nothing at a standstill in nature. Only God is motionless for He was, is and will be the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, and vet is ever moving.... Hence I hold that if mankind is to live, it has to come increasingly under sway of truth and non-violence.
(MGP, II, 442)
Just as for conducting scientific experiments there is an indispensable scientific course of instruction, in the same way, strict preliminary discipline is necessary to qualify a person to make experiments in the spiritual realm.
(MGP, II, 792)
Abstemiousness from intoxicating drinks and drugs, and from all kinds of foods, especially meat, is undoubtedly a great aid to the evolution of the spirit, but it is by no means an end in itself. Many a man eating meat and living in the fear of God is nearer his freedom than a man religiously abstaining from meat and many other things, but blaspheming God in every one of his acts.
(SB, 221)
Experience teaches that animal food is unsuited to those who would curb their passions. But it is wrong to overestimate the importance of food in the formation of character or in subjugating the flesh. Diet is a powerful factor not to be neglected. But to sum up all religion in terms of diet, as is often done in India, is as wrong as it is to disregard all restraint in regard to diet and to give full reins to one's appetite.
(SB, 221)
Experience has taught me that silence is a part of the spiritual discipline of a votary of truth. Proneness to exaggerate, to suppress or modify the truth, wittingly or unwittingly, is a natural weakness of man, and silence is necessary in order to surmount it. A man of few words will rarely be thoughtless in his speech; he will measure every word.
(MM, 32)
It [silence] has now become both a physical and spiritual necessity for me. Originally it was taken to relieve the sense of pressure. Then I wanted time for writing. After however, I had practiced it for some time, I saw the spiritual value of it. It suddenly flashed across my mind that that was the time when I could best hold communion with God. And now I feel as though I was naturally built for silence.
(MM, 33)
Silence of the sewn-up lips is no silence. One may achieve the same result by chopping off one's tongue, but that too would not be silence. He is silent who, having the capacity to speak, utters no idle word.
(MM, 32-33)
All power comes from the preservation of and sublimation of the vitality that is responsible for the creation of life. This vitality is continuously and even unconsciously dissipated by evil or even rambling, disorderly, unwanted thoughts. And since thought is the root of all speech and action, the quality of the latter corresponds to that of the former. Hence perfectly controlled thought is itself power of the highest potency and becomes self-acting.... If man is after the image of God, he has but to will a thing in the limited sphere allotted to him and it becomes. Such power is impossible in one who dissipates his energy in any way whatsoever.
(MGP, I, 573)
It is better to enjoy through the body than to be enjoying the thought of it. It is good to disapprove of sensual desires as soon as they arise in the mind and try to keep them down; but if, for want of physical enjoyment, the mind wallows in thoughts of enjoyment, then it is legitimate to satisfy the hunger of the body. About this I have no doubt.
(SB, 217)
Sex urge is a fine and noble thing. There is nothing to be ashamed of in it. But it is meant only for the act of creation. Any other use of it is a sin against God and humanity.
(SB, 18)
The world seems to be running after things of transitory value. It has no time for the other. And yet, when one thinks a little deeper, it becomes clear that it is the things eternal that count in the end.... One such is brahmacharya.
What is brahmacharya? It is the way of life which leads us to Brahma ―God. It includes full control over the process of reproduction. The control must be in thought, word and deed. If the thought is not under control, the other two have no value.... For one whose thought is under control, the other is mere child's play.
(MGP, I, 599)
It is true that he who has attained perfect brahmacharya does not stand in need of protecting walls. But the aspirant undoubtedly needs them, even as a young mango plant has need of a strong fence round it. A child goes from its mother's lap to the cradle and from cradle to the push-cart ―till he becomes a man who has learnt to walk without aid. To cling to the aid when it is needless is surely harmful.
It appears to me that even the true aspirant does not need the above-mentioned restraints. Brahmacharya is not a virtue that can be cultivated by outward restraints. He who runs away from a necessary contact with a woman does not understand the full meaning of brahmacharya. However attractive a woman may be, her attraction will produce no effect on the man without the urge....
The true brahmachari will shun false restraints. He must create his own fences according to his limitations, breaking them down when he feels that they are unnecessary. The first thing is to know what true brahmacharya is, then to realize its value, and lastly to try to cultivate this priceless virtue. I hold that true service of the country demands this observance.
(MGP, I, 600)
I know from my own experience, that as long as I looked upon my wife carnally, we had no real understanding. Our love did not reach a high plane. There was affection between us always, but we came closer and closer, the more we, or rather I, became restrained. There never was any want of restraint on the part of my wife. Very often she would show restraint, but she rarely resisted me although she showed disinclination very often. All the time I wanted carnal pleasure I could not serve her. The moment I bade goodbye to a life of carnal pleasure, our whole relationship became spiritual. Lust died and love reigned instead.
(MT, IV, 57-58)
As an external aid to brahmacharya, fasting is as necessary as selection and restriction in diet. So overpowering are the senses that they can be kept under control only when they are completely hedged in on all sides, from above and from beneath. It is common knowledge that they are powerless without food, and so fasting undertaken with a view to control of the senses is, I have no doubt, very helpful. With some, fasting is of no avail, because assuming that mechanical fasting alone will make them immune, they keep their bodies without food, but feast their minds upon all sorts of delicacies, thinking all the while what they will eat and what they will drink after the fast terminates. Such fasting helps them in controlling neither palate nor lust. Fasting is useful when mind co-operates with starving body, that is to say, when it cultivates a distaste for the objects that are denied to the body. Mind is at the root of all sensuality. Fasting, therefore, has a limited use, for a fasting man may continue to be swayed by passion.
(AMG, 258)
Brahmacharya is such only if it persists under all conditions and in the face of every possible temptation. If a beautiful woman approaches the marble statue of a man, it will not be affected in the least. A brahmachari is one who reacts in a similar case in the same way as marble does. But just as the marble statue refrains from using its eyes or ears, even so a man should avoid every occasion of sin.
You argue that the sight and the company of woman have been found to be inimical to self-restraint and are therefore to be avoided. This argument is fallacious. Brahmacharya hardly deserves the name if it can be observed only by avoiding the company of women even when such company is kept with a view to serve. It amounts to physical renunciation unbacked by the essential mental detachment, and lets us down in critical times.
(DM, 80)
For 20 years I was in closest touch with the West in South Africa. I have known the writings on sex by eminent writers like Havelock Ellis, Bertrand Russell, and their theories. They are all thinkers of eminence, integrity and experience. They have suffered for their convictions and for giving expression to the same. While totally repudiating institutions like marriage, etc., and the current code of morals ―and there I disagree with them ―they are firm believers in the possibility and desirability of purity in life independently of those institutions and usages. I have come across men and women in the West who lead a pure life although they do not accept or observe the current usages and social conventions. My research runs somewhat in that direction. If you admit the necessity and desirability of reform, of discarding the old, wherever necessary, and building a new system of ethics and morals suited to the present age, then the question of seeking the permission of others or convincing them does not arise. A reformer cannot afford to wait till others are converted; he must take the lead and venture forth alone even in the teeth of universal opposition. I want to test, enlarge and revise the current definition of the light of my observation, study and experience. Therefore, whenever an opportunity presents itself I do not evade it or run away from it. On the contrary, I deem it my duty, dharma, to meet it squarely in the face and find out where it leads to and where I stand. To avoid the contact of a woman, or to run away from it out of fear, I regard as unbecoming of an aspirant after true brahmacharya. I have never tried to cultivate or seek sex contact for carnal satisfaction. I do not claim to have completely eradicated the sex feeling in me. But it is my claim that I can keep it under control.
(MGP, I, 588-89)
The whole train of thought which underlies birth control is erroneous and dangerous. Its supporters claim that a man has not only the right, but it is his duty to satisfy the animal instinct, and that his development would be arrested if he did not discharge this duty. I think this claim is false. It is idle to expect self-restraint from one who takes to artificial methods. In fact birth control is advocated on the ground that restraint of animal passion is an impossibility. To say that such restraint is impossible or unnecessary or harmful is the negation of all religion. For the whole superstructure of religion rests on the foundations of self-control.
(DM, 253)
I want to revert to the subject of birth control by contraceptives. It is dinned into one's ears that the gratification of the sex urge is a solemn obligation like the obligation of discharging debts lawfully incurred, and that not to do so would involve the penalty of intellectual decay. This sex urge has been isolated from the desire for progeny, and it is said by the protagonists of the use of contraceptives that the conception is an accident to be prevented except when the parties desire to have children. I venture to suggest that this is a most dangerous doctrine to preach anywhere; much more so in a country like India, where the middle-class male population has become imbecile through abuse of the creative function. If satisfaction of the sex urge is a duty, the unnatural vice and several other ways of gratification would be commendable. The reader should know that even persons of note have been known to approve of what is commonly known as sexual perversion. He may be shocked at the statement. But if it somehow or other gains the stamp of respectability, it will be the rage amongst boys and girls to satisfy their urge among the members of their own sex. For me, the use of contraceptives is not far removed from the means to which persons have hitherto resorted for the gratification of their sexual desire with the results that very few know. I know what havoc secret vice has played among schoolboys and schoolgirls. The introduction of contraceptives under the name of science and the imprimatur of known leaders of society has intensified the complication and made the task of the reformers who work for purity of social life well nigh impossible for the moment. I betray no confidence when I inform the reader, that there are unmarried girls of impressionable age, studying in schools and colleges, who study birth control literature and magazines with avidity, and even possess contraceptives. It is impossible to confine their use to married women. Marriage loses its sanctity when its purpose and highest use is conceived to be the satisfaction of the animal passion without contemplating the natural result of such satisfaction.
(MT, IV, 73)
It is wrong to call me an ascetic. The ideals that regulate my life are presented for acceptance by mankind in general. I have arrived at them by gradual evolution. Every step was thought out, well-considered, and taken with the greatest deliberation. Both my continence and non-violence were derived from personal experience and became necessary in response to the calls of public duty. The isolated life I had to lead in South Africa whether as a householder, legal practitioner, social reformer or politician, required, for the due fulfillment of these duties, the strictest regulation of sexual life and a rigid practice of non-violence and truth in human relations, whether with my own countrymen or with the Europeans. I claim to be no more than an average man with less than average ability. Nor can I claim any special merit for such non-violence or continence as I have been able to reach with laborious research.
(SB, 215-16)
My mind is made up. On the lonesome way of God on which I have set out, I need no earthly companions. Let those who will, therefore, denounce me, if I am the impostor they imagine me to be, though they may not say so in so many words. It might disillusion millions who persist in regarding me as a Mahatma. I must confess, the prospect of being so debunked greatly pleases me.
(MGP, I, 586)