Gandhiji believed that character building on the part of every single individual is the only sure foundation for nation building. Students of his philosophy of life who would like to have an idea of his Rule for self-culture would do well first of all to read Appendices A and B in this book (pages 65-88). They should then pass on to a study of From Yeravda Mandir - Ashram Observances and of the present volume, and at last dip into Appendix C (pages 89-92), which is Gandhiji's last will and testament in so far as Ashram life is concerned.
It is a remarkable coincidence that like From Yeravda Mandir this book shares with The Pilgrim's Progress the rare distinction of having been written in prison.
V. G. D.
St. 2011 Paush krishna 3
Ashram here means a community of men of religion. Looking at the past in the light of the present, I feel that an ashram was a necessary of life for me. As soon as I had a house of my own, my house was an ashram in this sense, for my life as a householder was not one of enjoyment but of duty discharged from day to day. Again besides the members of my family I always had some friends or others living with me, whose relation with me was spiritual from the first or became such later on. This went on unconsciously till 1904 when I read Ruskin's Unto This Last, which made a deep impression on me. I determined to take Indian Opinion into a forest where I should live with the workers as members of my family. I purchased 100 acres of land and founded Phoenix Settlement, which neither we nor anyone else called an ashram. It had a religious basis, but the visible object was purity of body and mind as well as economic equality. I did not then consider brahmacharya (chastity) to be essential; on the other hand it was expected that co-workers would live as family men and have children. A brief account of Phoenix will be found in Satyagraha in South Africa.
This was the first step.
The second step was taken in 1906. I learnt in the school of experience that brahmacharya was a sine qua non for a life devoted to service. From this time onward I looked upon Phoenix deliberately as a religious institution. The same year witnessed the advent of Satyagraha which was based on religion and implied an unshakable faith in the God of Truth. Religion here should not be understood in a narrow sense, but as that which acts as a link between different religions and realizes their essential unity.
This went on till 1911. All these years the Phoenix Settlement was progressing as an ashram though we did not call it by that name.
We took the third step in 1911. So far only those people lived at Phoenix who were working in the press and the paper. But now as a part of the Satyagraha movement we felt the need of an ashram where Satyagrahi families could live and lead a religious life. I had already come in contact with my German friend Kallenbach. Both of us were living a sort of ashram life. I was a barrister and Kallenbach an architect. However we led a comparatively very simple life in the sparsely populated country, and were religiously minded. We might commit mistakes out of ignorance, but we were trying to seek the root of every activity in religion. Kallenbach purchased a farm of 1,100 acres and the Satyagrahi families settled there. Religious problems confronted us now at every step and the whole institution was managed from a religious standpoint. Among the settlers there were Hindus, Musalmans, Christians and Parsis. But I do not remember that they ever quarreled with one another, though each was staunch in his own faith. We respected one another's religion and tried to help everybody to follow his own faith and thus to make spiritual progress.
This institution was not known as Satyagraha Ashram but as Tolstoy Farm. Kallenbach and I were followers of Tolstoy and endeavoured to practise much of his doctrine. Tolstoy Farm was closed in 1912 and the Farmers were sent to Phoenix. The history of Tolstoy Farm will also be found in Satyagraha in South Africa.
Phoenix now was no longer meant for the workers of Indian Opinion only; it was a Satyagraha institution. That was only to be expected, for Indian Opinion owed its very existence to Satyagraha. Still it was a great change. The even tenor of the lives of the settlers at Phoenix was disturbed, and they had now to discern certainty in the midst of uncertainty like the Satyagrahis. But they were equal to the new demands made upon them. As at Tolstoy Farm, so also at Phoenix I established a common kitchen which some joined while others had private kitchens of their own. The congregational prayer in the evening played a large part in our lives. And the final Satyagraha campaign was started by the inmates of Phoenix Settlement in 1913. The struggle ended in 1914. I left South Africa in July that year. It was decided that all settlers who wanted to go to India should be enabled to go there. Before going to India I had to meet Gokhale in England. The idea was to found a new institution in India for those who went there from Phoenix. And the communal life commenced in South Africa was to be continued in India. I reached India early in 1915 with a view to establish an ashram though I was still unaware that I would call it by that name.
I toured all parts of India for a year, and visited some institutions from which I had much to learn. I was invited by several cities to establish the ashram in their neighbourhood with a promise of assistance in various ways. Ahmedabad was selected at last. This was the fourth, and I imagine the last step. Whether or not it will always be the last is something of which no forecast is possible. How was the new institution to be named? What should be its rules and regulations? On these points I had full discussions and correspondence with friends, as a result of which we decided to call the institution Satyagraha Ashram. It is an appropriate name if we take its object into consideration. My life is devoted to the quest of truth. I would live and if need be, die in prosecuting it, and of course I would take with me as many fellow-pilgrims as I could get.
The Ashram was established in a rented house at Kochrab on May 25, 1915. Some citizens of Ahmedabad undertook to finance it. At the beginning there were about 20 inmates, most of them from South Africa. Of these again the large majority spoke Tamil or Telugu. The chief activity in the Ashram at this time was teaching Sanskrit, Hindi and Tamil to the old as well as the young, who also received some general education. Hand-weaving was the principal industry with some carpentry as accessory to it. No servants were engaged; therefore cooking, sanitation, fetching water, - everything was attended to by the Ashramites. Truth and other observances were obligatory on them all. Distinctions of caste were not observed. Untouchability had not only no place in the Ashram, but its eradication from Hindu society was one of our principal objectives. Emancipation of women from some customary bonds was insisted upon from the first. Therefore women in the Ashram enjoy full freedom. Then again it was an Ashram rule that persons following a particular faith should have the same feeling for followers of other faiths as for their co-religionists.
But for one thing 1 was solely responsible, and I am indebted to the West for it. I refer to my dietetic experiments, which commenced in 1888 when I went to England for studies. I always invite members of my family and other co-workers to join in. The experiments were designed to achieve three objects, viz. (1) to acquire control over the palate as a part of self-control in general; (2) to find out which diet was the simplest and the cheapest so that by adopting it we might identify ourselves with the poor; and (3) to discover which diet was necessary for perfect health, as maintenance of health is largely dependent upon correct diet.
If in England I had not been under a vow to be a vegetarian, I might perhaps never have undertaken experiments in diet. But once I began to experiment, these three objectives took me into deeper waters, and I was led to make various kinds of experiments. And the Ashram too joined in, though these experiments were not a part of Ashram discipline.
The reader has perhaps now seen that the Ashram set out to remedy what it thought were defects in our national life from the religious, economic and political standpoints. As we gathered new experiences we undertook fresh activities. Even now I cannot say that the Ashram has embarked on all possible activities that I can think of. There have been two limitations. First, we were sure we must cut our coat according to our cloth, that is, we must manage with what funds were placed at our disposal by friends without any special effort in collection. Secondly we should not go in search of new spheres of activity, but if any activity naturally suggested itself to our minds, we should go in for it without counting the cost.
These two limitations spring from a religious attitude. This implies faith in God, that is doing everything in dependence upon and under the inspiration of God. The man of religion conducts such activities as are sent by God with such resources as God places at his disposal. He never lets us see that He Himself does anything : He achieves His aims through men inspired by Him. When help was received from unexpected quarters or from friends without our asking for it, my faith led me to believe that it was sent by God. Similarly when some activity came to us unsought so that not to take it up would have been sheer cowardice, laziness or the like, I thought it was a Godsend.
The same principle applies to coworkers as to material resources and to activities. We may have the funds and know how they are to be used, but we can do nothing in the absence of co-workers. Co-workers also should come unsought. We did not merely imagine but had a living faith that the Ashram was God's. If therefore He wished to make the Ashram His instrument as regards any activity, it was for Him to place the requisite men and munitions at the Ashram's disposal. Phoenix, Tolstoy Farm and Sabarmati Ashram have all been conducted more or less according to these principles consciously or unconsciously. Ashram rules were observed at first with some laxity, but the observance has become stricter from day to day.
The Ashram population doubled itself in a few months. Again the Kochrab bungalow was a hardly suitable building for an ashram. It would do for one well-to-do family, but not for sixty men, women and children engaged in various activities and observing brahmacharya and other vows. However we had to manage with what building was available. But very soon it became impossible to live in it for a number of reasons. As if God wanted to drive us out of it, we had suddenly to go out in search of a new site and to vacate the bungalow. The curious will look up the Autobiography1 for an account of these events. There was one defect in the Ashram at Kochrab which was remedied after we had removed to Sabarmati. An Ashram without orchard, farm or cattle would not be a complete unit. At Sabarmati we had cultivable land and therefore went in for agriculture at once.
Such is the prehistory and history of the Ashram. I now propose to deal with its observances and activities in so far as I remember them. My diary is not at hand. Even if it is, it takes no note of the personal history of the Ashramites. I therefore depend upon the memory alone. This is nothing new for me, as Satyagraha in South Africa and the Autobiography were written in the same manner. The reader will please bear this limitation in mind, as he goes through these pages.