Gandhiji on Bramhacharya as integral part of health
Many are the keys to health, and they are all quite essential; but the one thing needful, above all others, is Brahmacharya. Of course, pure air, pure water, and wholesome food do contribute to health. But how can we be healthy if we expend all the health that we acquire? How can we help being paupers if we spend all the money that we earn? There can be no doubt that men and women can never be virile or strong unless they observe true Brahmacharya.
What do we mean by Brahmacharya? We mean by it that men and women should refrain from enjoying each other. That is to say, they should not touch each other with a carnal thought, they should not think of it even in their dreams. Their mutual glances should be free from all suggestion of carnality. The hidden strength that God has given us should be conserved by rigid self-discipline, and transmitted into energy and power,—not merely of body, but also of mind and soul.
But what is the spectacle that we actually see around us? Men and women, old and young, without exception, are seen entangled in the coils of sensuality. Blinded by lust, they lose all sense of right and wrong. I have myself seen even boys and girls behaving like mad men under its fatal influence. I too have behaved likewise under similar influences, and it could not well be otherwise. For the sake of a momentary pleasure, we sacrifice in an instant all the stock of vitality that we have accumulated. The infatuation over, we find ourselves in a miserable condition. The next morning, we feel hopelessly weak and tired, and the mind refuses to do its work. Then, we try to remedy the mischief by taking all sorts of ‘nervine tonics’ and put ourselves under the doctor’s mercy for repairing the waste, and for recovering the capacity for enjoyment. So the days pass and the years, until at length old age comes upon us, and finds us utterly emasculated in body and in mind.
But the law of Nature is just the reverse of this. The older we grow, the keener should grow our intellect also; the longer we live, the greater should be our capacity to transmit the fruits of our accumulated experience to our fellowmen. And such is indeed the case with those who have been true Brahmacharies. They know no fear of death, and they do not forget good even in the hour of death; nor do they indulge in vain complaints. They die with a smile on their lips, and boldly face the day of judgment. They are the true men and women; and of them alone can it be said that they have conserved their health.
We hardly realise the fact that incontinence is the root-cause of all the vanity, anger, fear and jealousy in the world. If our mind is not under our control, if we behave once or more every day more foolishly than even little children, what sins may we not commit consciously or unconsciously? How can we pause to think of the consequences of our actions, however vile or sinful they may be?
But you may ask, “Who has ever seen a true Brahmachary in this sense? If all men should turn Brahmacharies, would not humanity be extinct, and the whole world go to rack and ruin?” We will leave aside the religious aspect of this question, and discuss it simply from the secular point of view. To my mind, these questions only bespeak our weakness and our cowardliness. We have not the strength of will to observe Brahmacharya, and, therefore, set about finding pretexts for evading our duty. The race of true Brahmacharies is by no means extinct; but, if they were to be had merely for the asking, of what value would Brahmacharya be? Thousands of hardy labourers have to go and dig deep into the bowels of the earth in search of diamonds, and at length they get perhaps merely a handful of them out of heaps and heaps of rock. How much greater, then, should be the labour involved in the discovery of the infinitely more precious diamond of a Brahmachary? If the observance of Brahmacharya should mean the ruin of the world, why should we regret it? Are we God that we should be so anxious about its future? He who created it will surely see to its preservation. It is none of our business to enquire if other people practise Brahmacharya or not. When we turn merchant or lawyer or doctor, do we ever pause to consider what the fate of the world would be if all men were to do likewise? The true Brahmachary will, in the long run, discover for himself answers to such questions.
But how can men engrossed by the cares of the material world put these ideas into practice? What shall the married people do? What shall they do who have children? And what shall be done by those people who cannot control their lust? The best solution for all such difficulties has already been given. We should keep this ideal constantly before us, and try to approximate to it more and more to the utmost of our capacity. When little children are taught to write the letters of the alphabet, we show them the perfect shapes of the letters, and they try to reproduce them as best they can. Just in the same way, if we steadily work up to the ideal of Brahmacharya, we may ultimately succeed in realising it. What if we have married already? The law of Nature is that Brahmacharya may be broken only when the husband and wife feel a strong desire for a child. Those who, remembering this law, violate Brahmacharya once in four or five years cannot be said to be slaves to lust, nor can they appreciably lose their stock of vitality. But, alas, how rare are those men and women who yield to the sexual craving merely for the sake of an offspring! The vast majority, who may be numbered in thousands, turn to sexual enjoyment merely to satisfy their carnal passion, with the result that children are born to them quite against their will. In the madness of sexual passion, we give no thought to the consequences of our acts. In this respect, men are even more to blame than women. The man is blinded so much by his lust that he never cares to remember that his wife is weak and incapable of rearing a child. In the West indeed, people have trespassed even against the claims of common decency. They indulge in sexual pleasures, and devise measures in order to evade the responsibilities of parenthood. Many books have been written on this subject, and a regular trade is being carried on in providing the means of preventing conception. We are as yet free from this sin, but we do not shrink from imposing the heavy burden of maternity on our women, and we are not concerned even to find that our children are weak, impotent and imbecile. Every time we get children, we bless Providence, and so seek to hide from ourselves the wickedness of our acts. Should we not rather deem it a sign of God’s anger to have children who are weak, sensual, crippled and impotent? Is it a matter for joy that mere boys and girls should have children? Is it not rather a curse of God? We all know that the premature fruit of a too young plant weakens the parent, and so we try all means of delaying the appearance of fruit. But we sing hymns of praise and thanks-giving to God when a child is born of a boy-father and a girl-mother! Could anything be more dreadful? Do we think that the world is going to be saved by the countless swarms of such impotent children endlessly multiplying in India or elsewhere in the world? Verily we are, in this respect, far worse than even the lower animals; for, the bull and the cow are brought together solely with the object of having a calf. Man and woman should regard it as sacred duty to keep apart from the moment of conception up to the time when the child has ceased to suck its mother’s breast. But we go on in our merry fashion blissfully forgetful of this sacred obligation. This incurable disease enfeebles our mind and leads us to an early grave, after making us drag a miserable existence for a short while. Married people should understand the true function of marriage, and should not violate the law of Brahmacharya except with a view to having a child for the continuation of the race.
But this is so difficult under our present conditions of life. Our diet, our ways of life, our common talk, and our environments are all equally calculated to rouse and keep alive our sensual appetite; and sensuality is like a poison, eating into our vitals. Some people may doubt the possibility of our being able to free ourselves from this bondage. This book is written not for those who go about with such doubtings of heart, but only for those who are really in earnest, and who have the courage to take active steps for their improvement. Those who are quite content with their present abject condition may even be offended to read all this; but I hope this will be of some service to those who are heartily disgusted with their own miserable existence.
From all that has been said, it follows that those who are still unmarried should try to remain so; but, if they cannot help marrying, they should do so as late as possible. Young men, for instance, should take a vow to remain unmarried till the age of 25 or 30. We shall not explain here all the benefits other than physical that result from this; but those who want to enjoy them can do so for themselves.
My request to those parents who may read these pages is that they should not tie a mill-stone round the necks of their sons by marrying them in their teens. They should look also to the welfare of their sons, and not only to their own interests. They should throw aside all silly notions of caste-pride or ‘respectability’, and cease to indulge in such heartless practices. Let them, rather, if they are true well-wishers of their children, look to their physical, mental and moral improvements. What greater disservice can they do to their sons than compelling them to enter upon a married life, with all its tremendous responsibilities and cares, even while they are mere boys?
Then again, the true laws of health demand that the man that loses his wife, as well as the woman that loses her husband, should remain single ever after. There is a difference of opinion among doctors as to whether young men and women need ever let their vital fluid escape, some answering the question in the affirmative, others in the negative. But this cannot justify our taking advantage of it for sensual enjoyment. I can affirm, without the slightest hesitation, from my own experience as well as that of others, that sexual enjoyment is not only not necessary for the preservation of health, but is positively detrimental to it. All the strength of body and mind that has taken long to acquire, is lost altogether by the escape of the vital fluid, and it takes a long time to regain this lost strength, and even then there is no saying that it can be thoroughly recovered. A broken vessel may be made to do its work after mending, but it can never be anything but a broken vessel.
As has already been pointed out, the preservation of our vitality is impossible without pure air, pure water, pure and wholesome food, as well as pure thoughts. So vital indeed is the relation between our health and the life that we lead that we can never be perfectly healthy unless we lead a clean life. The earnest man who, forgetting the errors of the past, begins to live a life of purity will be able to reap the fruit of it straightway. Those who have practised true Brahmacharya even for a short period will have seen how their body and mind improve steadily in strength and power, and they will not, at any cost, be willing to part with this treasure. I have myself been guilty of lapses even after having fully understood the value of Brahmacharya, and have, of course, paid dearly for it. I am filled with shame and remorse when I think of the terrible contrast between my condition before and after these lapses. But from the errors of the past I have now learnt to preserve this treasure in tact, and I fully hope, with God’s grace, to continue to preserve it in the future; for I have in my own person, witnessed the inestimable benefits of Brahmacharya. I was married early in life, and had become the father of children as a mere youth. When, at length, I awoke to the reality of my situation, I found myself sunk in the lowest depths of degradation. I shall consider myself amply rewarded for writing these pages if at least a single reader is able to take warning from my failings and experiences, and to profit thereby. Many people have told me (and I also believe it) that I am full of energy and enthusiasm, and that my mind is by so means weak; some even accuse me of rashness. There is disease in my body as well as in my mind; nevertheless, when compared with my friends, I may call myself perfectly healthy and strong. If even after twenty years of sensual enjoyment, I have been able to reach this state, how much better should I have been if only I had kept myself pure during those twenty years as well? It is my full conviction that, if only I had lived a life of Brahmacharya all through, my energy and enthusiasm would have been a thousandfold greater and I should have been able to devote them all to the furtherance of my country’s cause as of my own. If this can be affirmed of an ordinary man like myself, how much more wonderful must be the gain in power,—physical, mental, as well as moral—that unbroken Brahmacharya can bring to us!
When so strict is the law of Brahmacharya, what shall we say of those guilty of the unpardonable sin of illegitimate sexual enjoyment? The evil that arises from adultery and prostitution is a vital question of religion and morality and cannot be fully dealt with in a treatise on health. Here we are only concerned to point out how thousands who are guilty of these sins are afflicted by syphilis and other unmentionable diseases. The inflexible decree of Providence happily condemns these wretches to a life of unmitigated suffering. Their short span of life is spent in abject bondage to quacks in a futile quest after a remedy that will rid them of their suffering. If there were no adultery at all, there would be no work for at least 50% of doctors. So inextricably indeed has venereal disease caught mankind in its clutches that even the best doctors have been forced to admit that, so long as adultery and prostitution continue, there is no hope for the human race. The medicines for these diseases are so poisonous that, although they may appear to have done some good for the time being, they give rise to other and still more terrible diseases which are handed down from generation to generation.
In concluding this chapter, we will briefly point out how married people can preserve their Brahmacharya intact. It is not enough to observe the laws of health as regards air, water and food. The man should altogether cease to sleep in privacy with his wife. Little reflection is needed to show that the only possible motive for privacy between man and wife is the desire for sexual enjoyment. They should sleep apart at night, and be incessantly engaged in good works during the day. They should read such books as fill them with noble thoughts and meditate over the lives of great men, and live in the constant realisation of the fact that sensual enjoyment is the root of all disease. Whenever they feel a prompting for enjoyment, they should bathe in cold water, so that the heat of passion may be cooled down, and be refined into the energy of virtuous activity. This is a hard thing to do, but we have been born into this world that we might wrestle with difficulties and temptations, and conquer them; and he who has not the will to do it can never enjoy the supreme blessing of true health.