The following constitutes chapter 18, 'An Excursion in Psychology' of Nirmal Kumar Bose's book 'My Days with Gandhi'. It gives an insight into Gandhi's idea of Bramhacharya (Celibacy). Much has been written on the topic quoting Nirmal Kumar Bose and sadly some commentaries misrepresented the actual facts. It is always better to read it from the prime source and if you get are able to get a copy of the book, read chapters 15 and 17 for background information and letter correspondence between Gandhi and Nirmal Kumar Bose. Hopefully this will set the record straight. Other than that, the book has rich accounts of Gandhi's Noakhali peace mission, the miracle of Calcutta ( http://appliedgandhi.blogspot.com/2007/11/noakhali-peace-mission-and-miracle-of.html ) and the last days of Gandhi. Nirmal Kumar Bose lived with Gandhi for five months just before independence when communal fires were raging all over Bengal. It was a crucial phase in Gandhi's life where in he lived up to his words "Do or Die" for the sake of establishing communal peace and harmony.
The separation which thus took place between Gandhiji and myself were, as the reader will have observed, on grounds other than those which had led to his breach with either Parasuram or some of his intimate co-workers in Sevagram. The questions raised by the latter had been two. One was: barring the needs of nursing in illness or other occasions of helplessness, may one needlessly appear in a nude condition before man or woman, if one does not belong to a society in which nakedness is customary? Secondly, should people of opposite sexes share the same bed, assuming that they were not husband and wife, or people openly living as such? After the events of March 1947, although Gandhiji was in the midst of the devastation in Bihar and although threatening clouds were already breaking upon the political horizon of
There are many who were close to Gandhiji and who knew about these happenings, but who, out of fear of misrepresenting him, have thought it wise to leave out this portion of his life from any critical consideration at all. But the present writer has always felt that such an attitude is not justified. Perhaps away at the back of our minds there is a lurking belief that what Gandhiji did was not right; and, in an apparent effort of avoiding injustice to his greatness, we may perhaps decide to draw a veil over certain events of which we have personal knowledge. But this can only be achieved by sacrificing what I believe to be one of the most important keys to an understanding of this unique personality of our age.
Even is we fail to approve of certain things, that is no justification for sitting in judgement over them and deciding, according to the stature of our small minds, what should or should not be said about Gandhiji. We can only bear testimony to what we have witnessed; and, in a spirit of utter truthfulness, describe it with the utmost fidelity possible. Perhaps we may be pardoned if we put our own construction upon events; but then the facts and the opinions must be clearly distinguishable from one another; so that when our age has passed away and many of the values for which we stand have been relegated to the lumber heap of history, men may have the means of knowing all that is possible about a man who once stood towering like a mountain above those who lived beside him.
As I left Gandhiji in
And when I gradually realized the truth of this, I appreciated the need which he felt for his sacred bath in the stream of earth bound human life. I felt also how he was justified in his own way even while violently differing in either thought or action from his most trusted and loving comrades, who were undoubtedly right from their own point of view.
This led me to enquire closely in to the origin of Gandhiji’s character and whatever little I achieved in this respect, is being presented here for what it may be worth. The point which we should never permit ourselves to forget is that even when Gandhiji’s associated failed to approve of certain things connected with him, yet the latter consistently held that his relation with the members of the other sex was something ‘sacred’, and though he did not ‘advertise’ it , there was no secrecy about it either. On 3-2-1947 again, Gandhiji had said ‘What he was doing was not for blind imitation. It was undoubtedly dangerous, but it ceased to be so if the conditions were rigidly observed.’ Why then should we draw a veil over them even when we try to understand the uniqueness of Gandhiji’s personality? A bias never helps one to understand, even when it springs from a feeling of worshipfulness for one’s object of study. I ti s better perhaps to err than not attempt at all, or start be censoring with the hel p of values which have mostly been picked up by us without question from the market price.
One can perhaps make the best attempt to understand Gandhiji’s attitude towards womankind by a consideration of his relation with his mother. It is well known what a deep influence this devoutly religious woman exercised over her son in his boyhood days. The love for saintliness, for hard vows and an unflinching adherence to them even in the midst of severe trials, in other words, a heroic devotion to high ideals, were all apparently imbibed by Gandhiji from the example of his mother’s life. For these very traits in his mother’s character had evoked the deepest admiration withih his soul while he was yet very young.
It is also well known that before he started on a voyage for studies in England, it was at the instance of his mother that Gandhiji took a solemn vow before a Jain monk saying that he would never touch ‘wine, women and meat.’ It was only then that he could secure his blessings of his mother in undertaking a journey which was still considered taboo for members of his caste. Besides this, Gandhiji’s relations with his wife whom he had married even at the age of 13 also exercised a profound influence upon his life and opinions on the question of sex. An event of very great significance had taken place during his illness of his father when he was 16 years of age. A little while before his father breathed his last, Gandhiji had retired to his own room where his wife lay asleep. Within a few minutes, a servant knocked at the door to announce that his father was no more. In profound sorrow he wrote later on how deeply ashamed and miserable he felt. He ran to his father’s room. He saw that if ‘animal passion had not blinded him, he should have been spared torture of separation from his father during his last moment.’ Commenting on the event, he wrote again: ‘The shame of carnal desire even at the critical hour of my father’s death.. is a blot I have never been able to efface or forget, and I have always thought that, although my devotion to my parents knew no bounds and I would have given up anything for it, yet it was weighed and found unpardonably wanting because my mind was at the same moment in the grip of lust. I have therefore always regarded myself as lustful, though a faithful husband. It took me long to get free from the shackles of lust, and I jad to pass through ordeals before I could overcome it.’
It was in the year 1906, when he was 37 years of age,that he took the vow of continence or bramhacharya. Ever since that date, his relation with members of the other sex was progressively ‘purified’ and he felt that he was becoming a fitter instrument for the practice of the highest virtues of n on-violence. We may be permitted to assume that the repression of the sexual instinct was not only means oto a lofty end, but it was also a penance which Gandhiji voluntarily imposed upon himself for having proved untrue to his father during the last moments of his life.
Long afterwards, the question of Gandhiji’s relationship with the other sex came up for some amount of hostile criticism; and, in order to explain his stand, he wrote several articles and also made some public statements , a few of which bear reproduction and analysis. In the Harijan of September 21, 1935, there was an article entitled ‘A Renunciation’, which is reproduced below in full.
“ In 1891 after my return from
The discovery quoted by me has, therefore, prompted me to renounce the practice, however pure it may have been in itself. Every act of mine is scrutinized by thousands of men and women, as I am conducting an experiment requiring ceaseless vigilance. I must avoid doing things which may require a reasoned defence. My example was never meant to be followed by all and sundry. The young man’s case has come upon me as a warning. I have taken it in the hope that my renunciation will set right those who may have erred whether under the influence of my example or without it. Innocent youth is a priceless possession not to be squandered away for the sake of a momentary excitement, miscalled pleasure. And let the weak girls like the one in this picture be strong enough to resist the approaches, though they may be declared to be innocent, of young men who are either knaves or who do not know what they are doing.”
If anybody questioned Gandhiji’s purity in respect of sex, he could fly in to an anger; and an article written almost in an angry mood appeared in the Harijan of November 4, 1939. It was entitled ‘My Life’, and is reproduced below:
The following from its
Startling revelations have come to light regarding what has been going round the House of Commons about Gandhiji. It is reported that Mr. Edward Thompson, the British historian who visited
1. Gandhiji was for unconditional co-operation with the British Government.
2. Gandhiji could still influence the Congress.
3. There were various stories about Gandhiji’s sensual life, it being the impression that Gandhiji had ceased to be a saint.
Impressions about Gandhiji’s ‘sensual life’, it appeared to Mr. Thompson, were based on some Marathi papers. He spoke about them, I understand, to Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, who repudiated them. He spoke about them to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Mr. P. N. Sapru also, who strongly repudiated them. It appears Mr. Thompson, before leaving
Gandhi: “Mr. Thompson was good enough to visit Segaon. He confirmed the report as substantially correct.
The ‘unconditional co-operation’ is dealt with in another note.
The country will presently know the influence I have over the Congress.
The third charge needs clearing. Two days ago I received a letter signed by four or five Gujaratis sending me a newspaper whose one mission seems to be to paint me as black as it is possible for any person to be painted. According to its headline it is a paper devoted to ‘the organization of Hindus’. The charges against me are mostly taken from my confessions and distorted from their setting. Among many other charges, the charge of sensuality is most marked. My brahmacharya is said to be a cloak to hide my sensuality. Poor Dr.Sushila Nayyar has been dragged before the public gaze for the crime of giving me massage and medicated baths, the two things for which she is the best qualified among those who surround me. The curious may be informed that there is no privacy about these operations which take over 11/2 hours and during which I often go off to sleep but during which I also transact business with Mahadev, Pyarelal or other co-workers.
The charges, to my knowledge, began with my active campaign against untouchability. This was when it was included in the Congress programme and I began to address crowds on the subject and insisted on having Harijans at meetings and in the Ashram. It was then that some sanatanists, who used to help me and befriend me, broke with me and began a campaign of vilification. Later, a very high-placed Englishman joined the chorus. He picked out my freedom with women and showed up my ‘saintliness’ as sinfulness. In this chorus there were also one or two well-known Indians. During the Round Table Conference, American Journals indulged in cruel caricatures of me. Mirabai who used to look after me was the target of their attack. As far as I could understand Mr. Thompson, who knows the gentlemen who have been behind these charges, my letters to Premabehn Kantak, who is a member of the Sabarmati Ashram, have also been used to prove my depravity. She is a graduate and worker of proved merit. She used to ask questions relating to brahmacharya and other topics. I sent her full replies. She thought they might be of general use and she published them with my permission. I hold them to be absolutely innocent and pure.
Hitherto I have ignored these charges. But Mr. Thompson’s talks about them and the importunity of the Gujarati correspondents, who say the indictment sent by them is but a sample of what is being said about me, impel me to repudiate them. I have no secrets of my own in this life. I have owned my weaknesses. If I were sensually inclined, I would have the courage to make the confession. It was when I developed detestation of sensual connection even with my own wife and had sufficiently tested myself that I took the vow of brahmacharya in 1906, and that for the sake of better dedication to the service of the country. From that day began my open life. I do not remember having ever slept or remained with my own wife or other women with closed doors except for the occasions referred to in my writings in Young
From that day when I began brahmacharya, our freedom began. My wife became a free woman, free from my authority as her lord and master, and I became free from my slavery to my own appetite which she had to satisfy. No other woman had any attraction for me in the same sense that my wife had. I was too loyal to her as husband and too loyal to the vow I had taken before my mother to be slave to any other woman. But the manner in which my brahmacharya came to me irresistibly drew me to woman as the mother of man. She became too sacred for sexual love. And so every woman at once became sister or daughter to me. I had enough women about me at
As has been my wont, I could not keep the new good thing to myself. So I presented brahmacharya for the acceptance of all the settlers. All approved of it. And some took it up and remained true to the ideal. My brahmacharya knew nothing of the orthodox laws governing its observance. I framed my own rules as occasion necessitated. But I have never believed that all contact with women was to be shunned for the due observance of brahmacharya. That restraint which demands abstention from all contact, no matter how innocent, with the opposite sex is a forced growth, having little or no vital value. Therefore natural contacts for service were never restrained. And I found myself enjoying the confidence of many sisters, European and Indian, in
If I were sexually attracted towards women, I have courage enough, even at this time of life, to become a polygamist. I do not believe in free love—secret or open. Free, open love I have looked upon as dog’s love. Secret love is besides cowardly.
Sanatanist Hindus may abhor my non-viloence. I know many of them think that Hindus will become cowards if they remain under my influence. I know of no man having become a coward under my influence. They may decry my non-violence as much as they like. But they ill serve themselves or Hinduism by indulging in palpable lies.”
It is interesting to observe in this connection how Gandhiji regarded the slightest trace of sexual excitement on his own part as a fall from the vow of bramhacharya, and how he considered public confession as the proper means of punishing himself for the lapse and also of relief from the feeling of sin which oppressed him. During a convalescence in 1936, there was an occasion when, while asleep, he had felt momentarily excited. This forthwith led to a confession entitled “Nothing without grace” in the Harijan of February 29, 1936, a part of which is being quoted below.
“I have been trying to follow brahmacharya consciously and deliberately since 1899. My definition of it is purity not merely of body but of both speech and thought also. With the exception of what must be regarded as one lapse, I can recall no instance, during more than thirty-six years' constant and conscious effort, of mental disturbance such as I experienced during this illness. I was disgusted with myself. The moment the feeling came I acquainted my attendants and the medical friends with my condition. They could give me no help. I expected none. I broke loose after the experience from the rigid rest that was imposed upon me. The confession of the wretched experience brought much relief to me. I felt as if a great load had been raised from over me. It enabled me to pull myself together before any harm could be done. But what of the Gita? Its teaching is clear and precise. A mind that is once hooked to the Star of stars becomes incorruptible. How far I must be from Him, He alone knows. Thank God, my much vaunted Mahatmaship has never fooled me. But this enforced rest has humbled me as never before. It has brought to the surface my limitations and imperfections. But I am not so much ashamed of them, as I should be of hiding them from the public. My faith in the message of the Gita is as bright as ever. Unwearied ceaseless effort is the price that must be paid for turning that faith into rich infallible experience. But the same Gita says without any equivocation that the experience is not to be had without divine grace. We should develop swelled heads if Divinity had not made that ample reservation.”
This violent reaction against any physical manifestation of sex and his psychological effort to become as pure as his mother, led Gandhiji into a profoundly significant attitude in public life.He was the fashioner of the instrument of non-violence in public life. All social evils need remedies; and the remedy can be either violent r non-violent. The essence of violence consists in inflicting punishment upon wrong-doer, which may eventually lead to his destruction if he does not correct himself. The essence of non-violence, on the other hand consists in resisting the evil of the wrong doer so that he is forced to shower punishment upon the non-violent man for his resistance or non-co operation with evil. If the latter does not bend, then his heroic suffering in a just cause is likely to evoke respect for him in the hear to f the wrong-doer, and the process of conversion begins. If it fails, the non-violent man takes more drastic steps, intensifies his non-coperation, invites more suffering; and eventually this may lead to his own destruction in contrast to the destruction of the evil-doer under violence. The way of non-violence thus becomes the way of heroic self-suffering in which the fighter never surrenders his respect for the personality of the opponent, and aims at his conversion rather than destruction. He tries to bring about a cessation of evil even with the co-operation of the erstwhile wrong-doer.
This deep respect for human personality coupled with infinite capacity for self-suffering was regarded by Gandhii as a characteristic specifically associated with the nature of woman.
In 1940, he wrote:
“My contribution to the great problem lies in my presenting for acceptance truth and ahimsa in every walk of life, whether for individuals or nations. I have hugged the hope that in this woman will be the unquestioned leader and, having thus found her place in human evolution, will shed her inferiority complex.
I have suggested in these columns that woman is the incarnation of ahimsa. Ahimsa means infinite love, which again means infinite capacity for suffering. Who but woman, the mother of man, shows this capacity in the largest measure ? She shows it as she carries the infant and feeds it during nine months and derives joy in the suffering involved. What can beat the suffering caused by the pangs of labour ? But she forgets them in the joy of creation. Who again suffers daily so that her babe may wax from day to day ? Let her transfer that love to the whole of humanity, let her forget she ever was or can be the object of man’s lust. And she will occupy her proud position by the side of man as his mother, maker and silent leader. It is given to her to teach the art of peace to the warring world thirsting for that nectar. She can become the leader in satyagraha which does not require the learning that books give but does require the stout heart that comes from suffering and faith.” (*Harijan, 24-2-1940, p.13)
“Woman is more fitted than man to make explorations and take bolder action in Ahimsa. For the courage of self-sacrifice woman is any day superior to man as I believe man is to woman for the courage of the brute.”(*Harijan 5-11-1938)
It follows from all this that, according to Gandhi, progress in civilization consisted in the introduction into human life and social institutions of a larger measure of the law of love or self-suffering which women represented best in her own person. This was a profoundly transformed projection on the broad canvas of social life of an attitude which had come into being in the privacy of his personal life.
In private life, too, Gandhiji’s relationship with individuals was deepened and modified in the same direction in which it moved in public. Thus we read in Manu Gandhi’s Bapu-My Mother, how he said to her:
“Have I not become your mother? I have been a father to many but only to you I am amother. A father does payattention to the bringing up of his children but the real education of a girl comes from mother.” “Ever since then.” writes Manu Gandhi, “Bapu began to bring me up just as a mother would bring up her own daughter of 14 or 15. A girl of that age is generally near her mother and her development requires the company of her mother. Bapu also began taking interests in the minutest details of my life, such as food, attire, my sickness, my visits and companions, my studies, right down to whether I thoroughly washed my hair every week and he continued to do so till his last moment.”
Gandhiji used to sleep under the open sky or in open room if the weather happened to be cold. There was no privacy about him because other men and women also slept near him and some even on the same bed. At an age bordering on 80, his circulation became poor, his feet had to be massaged every day with clarified butter, otherwise it tended to crack. On cold nights, he had occasional tremors which were difficult to control. These fits might continue for several minutes, and then it was the practice of his attendants to hold him tightly clasped to their bodies so as to restore warmth to his shivering fame.
On other occasions, too, Gandhiji’s body might have come in contact with other persons; and it is curious that he tried to ascertain from them if any impure feeling had, even momentarily, assailed their minds. It was his belief that if he was not wholly free from sensualism, it would not fail to evoke a kindred feeling in those who attended him. He held firmly that if his mind was completely free from lust, such an experience would spiritually prove elevating to both parties.
He made a reference to this in his letter to me dated the 17th of March of 1947. Personally, I have had the feeling that the question which he had asked those who shared in his ‘experiment’ was whether they did not feel the same about him as they felt in respect of their mother. In such experiments, sex, which had long acted as a barrier to that complete identification which exists between a mother and child, was laid low and experimenter became free to enter upon a new relationship with men and women which was completely pure’, and therefore spiritually elevating.
Gandhi’s concern about the private, personal life of individuals, whether men or women, sprang from the same attitude of mind. This domestic concern had replied me originally and made me leave him for the time being; but it was a deep, spiritual attitude on his part which was the by-product of his attempt to conquer sex by becoming a woman. The intense concern which he evinced in the lives of men and women, and his ceaseless efforts at manipulating them, whether in the case of individuals or of communities, is therefore comparable to the manipulating technique exercised by LKeonardo da Vinci after the sublimation of his sexual impulse. Only, in the case of Leonardo da Vinci, it was exercised in respect of physical material, while in the case of Gandhi, it was in respect of human lives whether in the private or public sphere.Saints have lived in
But Gandhiji, even within the secret recesses of his heart, never gave himself to such an absolute abandon to an intensity of feeling. He was less of an introvert, more closely bound to the world of sense- experience to develop such total exclusiveness of certain experiences as we observe in the case of Shree Ramakrishna. The bridge which held him on to the world of common men remained unbroken till the end of his days. If he had given way to an abandon as in the case of Shree Ramakrishna, we would have lost a leader of men, and the world would probably have been poorer thereby.
Inspite of that, this mother cult of Gandhi’s boyhood days remained throughout his life a very strong element in his philosophy, and he tried to enlist men and women in private as well as in public life to his cult of purity, love and self-suffering. This mission of civilization, which was Gandhi’s greatest contribution to modern life, was thus in the last analysis , an external projection of the larger canvas of the world’s life of the saintliness which was embodied in that noble woman who shone like a pole star over her son’s great life.
This projection again had become possible only because the son was a genius of action and organization to the end of his days the deep influence he had imbibed from the west during the formative period if his life. A typical Indian, without Gandhi’s history of western contact, would have given way to individual exclusiveness. He would undoubtedly have risen higher in the spiritual plane than Gandhiji, but would have done so by the sacrifice of his beneficial personal influence upon the lowlier lives of his fellow men.
The above analysis does not however mean in any way that Gandhi’ cult of non-violence can be dismissed as the idle fancy of private individual. The world has profited immensely by the physical investigations of Leonardo da Vinci even though they sprang from the humble depths of his personal history. In a similar manner, although the origin of Gandhi’s desire to purify and civilize mankind lay within the depths of his personal relationship with his mother, or to certain events of his boyhood days, yet the objective result does not lose any value thereby. His gift to mankind in the shape of a civilized form of collective action in satyagraha as a substitute for warfare, which is helplessly looked up on as the last instrument for the resolution of conflicts of interest in human society, will have to be experimented upon and judged on its own merits and not dismissed on account of its humble, personal origin.