delanceyplace.com 1/25/08 - gandhi and celibacy

In today's excerpt - Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948) legendary political and spiritual leader of the Indian independence movement. In 1906, though married and the father of four, Gandhi took a vow of celibacy or Brachmacharya as part of his spiritual journey, and imposed celibacy on all those who lived in his ashram. Toward the very end of his life, a major controversy developed when it became known that he was sleeping with young female followers. Though he contended there was no sex and it was to test the purity of his vow, the controversy sent shock waves across India, especially given that Gandhi had stated that sex for pleasure was sinful and unnatural, and that husband and wife should live together as brother and sister, having sex only for purposes of procreation. The controversy eventually quieted down, overshadowed by his personal esteem, the Indian independence, victory, his hunger strike and ultimately his assassination, and the matter is little remembered today:

"According to Nirmal Kumar Bose, Gandhi asked women disciples to share his bed and even the cover which he used, and then tried to ascertain if 'even the least trace of sensual feeling had been evoked in himself or his companions.' In Gandhi's view, such experiments were an integral part of his aspiration to become 'God's eunuch', as he put it, the ultimate in his spiritual quest. ... Bose ... noticed that each woman around Gandhi considered herself to have a special relationship with him, and the resulting feeling of possessiveness led some of them to a kind of emotional unbalance. ...

"When confronted by Bose on the subject, Gandhi said that the women had assured him that holding him or sleeping next to him had no ill effect on them. He knew that his experiment had evoked criticism, even among his friends. ... In his effort to seek opinions, he wrote to J.B. Kripilani, then the Congress president:

'This [experiment] has cost me dearest associates ... You as one of the dearest and earliest comrades ... should reconsider your position. ... I have given the deepest thought to the matter. The whole world may forsake me, but I dare not leave what I hold is the truth for me. It may be a delusion and a snare. If so I must realize it for myself.' ...

"While the controversy continued, two of Gandhi's colleagues, who had temporarily taken up editing [his newspaper] Harijan during his mission to Noakhali, resigned. They refused to publish portions of his prayer addresses bearing on the issue of Brachmacharya. ...

"In a letter to Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, Gandhi wrote:

'My meaning of Brachmacharya is this: one who never has any lustful intention, who, by constant attendance upon God has become capable of lying naked with naked women, however beautiful they may be, without being in any manner whatsoever sexually excited. Such a person should be incapable of being untruthful, incapable of intending doing harm to a single man or woman in the whole world, free from anger and malice, and detached in the sense of the Bhagavad Gita.' ...

The [controversy] was generally forgotten in the turmoil of India's political storm."


author:

Yogesh Chadha

title:

Gandhi: A Life

publisher:

John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

date:

Copyright 1997 by Yogesh Chadha

pages:

425-428

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