A quick glance at Mohandas Gandhi’s story and it’s very easy to conclude that he was an exceptional man. A lawyer by trade, Gandhi prided himself on the pursuit of truth to whatever end, but not necessarily through whatever means. This we see in all of his work through Africa and India. Most famous for Satyagraha, or resistance through mass non-violent civil disobedience, Gandhi remains both a political and spiritual icon.
But Gandhi’s pursuit of justice through peaceful means wasn’t his only famous fight. According to his autobiography, and far from publicity, he devoutly pursued Brahmacharya, or: “control of the senses in thought, word and deed.” And, while he experienced relative success in the first two, it was the final piece that would always elude him:
“So long as thought is not under complete control of the will, brahmacharya in its fullness is absent. Involuntary thought is an affection of the mind, and curbing of thought, therefore, means curbing of the mind which is even more difficult to curb than the wind.”
Gandhi theorized that the ability to control the mind might be linked with dietary consumption. He thusly sought to purify his body and went on many long, enduring diets that included only eating nuts and berries for months at a time, the elimination of all spices, long periods of fasting and the outright refusal of all dairy products. Some of the former he maintained fairly well but, as a truth seeker, was always honest about his shortcomings, particularly as they related to the health and well-being of others.
“In a matter, however, where my theory has failed me, I should not only give the information, but issue a grave warning against adopting it. I would therefore urge those who, on the strength of the theory propounded by me, may have given up milk, not to persist in the experiment, unless they find it beneficial in every way, or unless they are advised by experienced physicians.”
His tireless battles with diet were demanding, and often times debilitating, but his pursuit of self-purification acknowledged a greater belief – that a higher power was both real, and accessible. It was this core belief that devoutly drove him.
“. . .the existence of God within makes even control of the mind possible. Let no one think that it is impossible because it is difficult. It is the highest goal, and it is no wonder that the highest effort should be necessary to attain it.”
Gandhi’s murder brought an end to a beautiful person. Always honest, and painfully humble, he fought for humanity, not just his people. He knew what justice meant, and he certainly understood truth. He was his own toughest critic however, and recoiled at the global admiration he received. And although many of Gandhi’s finest and most respectable battles were public, he’d argue that his toughest and most prolific battle was personal. What’s further, he’d admit defeat.
“. . .the path of self-purification is hard and steep. To attain to perfect purity one has to become absolutely passion-free in thought, speech and action; to rise above the opposing currents of love and hatred, attachment and repulsion. I know that I have not in me as yet that triple purity, in spite of constant ceaseless striving for it. That is why the world’s praise fails to move me, indeed it very often stings me. To conquer the subtle passions seems, to me, to be harder by far than the physical conquest of the world by the force of arms.”