Married With Children

In our readings for tomorrow’s class I was really interested in the excerpts we read from Mohandas Gandhi’s An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth and Self-Restraint and Self-Indulgence.

Throughout the chapters we read, Gandhi frequently suggests that a wife and children tie a man to the material world, which he says is essentially the opposite of what one should be doing when undertaking Brahmacharya. In his first chapter, “Brahmacharya – I”, Gandhi writes, “It became my conviction that procreation and the consequent care of children were inconsistent with public service,” he continues later, “I must relinquish the desire for children and wealth and live the life of a vanaprastha—of one retired from household cares” (pp 206). Finally, in Self-Restraint and Self Indulgence he writes of the “tremendous responsibilities and cares” involved in married life (pp 55).

I think it’s quite easy to see the connection Gandhi views between the material world and a family. He boils down having a family to responsibility and concern for a home. Additionally, these lines also reveal Gandhi equating the desire for wealth with the desire to have children. In “Brahmacharya – II” Gandhi begins to explain that to help control sexual urges and the Brahmacharyi life easier one should also control their palate. He suggests eating food that is “limited, simple, spiceless, and if possible, uncooked” (pp 209). In the same way Gandhi is suggesting that a young person should fight their desire for wealth, decadent food, and sex, he is also suggesting one should avoid the urge to procreate and have a family. A particularly telling line appears in “Purity” of Self-Restraint and Self Indulgence . Gandhi writes, “But how can men engrossed in the cares of the material world put these ideas into practice? What about those who are married? What shall they do who have children? And what shall be done by those people who cannot control themselves?” (pp 53)

I want to avoid suggesting that Gandhi is attempting to purposefully marginalize his children or wife to simple objects. However, I do think he is acknowledging the very practical economic and materialistic needs of a family. Whether it is true or not, Gandhi believes that the needs of a family would keep a man constantly concerned and intertwined with the material world. This connection to the material is inconsistent with the life of a Brahmacharyi and thus so is a family.


6 thoughts on “Married With Children

  1. I agree with your connection between family and being entwined in the material world. I also think that for Ghandi, having a family represents vanity and a lack of self control. It is a spiritual problem, not just a link to material objects that are their own spiritual issues – it’s not just the practical economic and materialistic needs of a family, but what the creation of a family does to an individual’s purity, vitality and health, since “so vital indeed is the relation between health and morals that we can never be perfectly healthy unless we lead a clean life,” which does not include the senseless, carnal procreation Ghandi sees occurring in his country (55).

    • Your points all ring true to me, but I’m still unclear on something. At least in the beginning, Ghandi was more concerned with sexual passions themselves, rather than families (for example page 106 of the packet). I completely agree that the argument becomes about the connection of families to the material world, an individual’s purity or health, etc. However, I am still confused about the role of sexual passions in all this.

      • I’m also confused about the role of sexual desire, as well. It seems at first like (like Dido says) that Gandhi is making an argument about the relationship between himself and his wife–that he is somehow tarnishing his relationship with his wife through sex. He later talks about sex as impure in and of itself and that individuals must control their desires. However, in the very last chapter he later states that desires between a man and woman are unnatural in and of themselves and that a wife and husband should have a relationship just as a father and daughter do.

    • I think you’re totally right that family represents a lack of self control and a self-indulgence. (I obviously wasn’t very clear about that in my post. Oops!) I think it’s interesting that families are lumped in together with food, wealth, and sex because we can connect the other three to a much more tangible impurity–eating simpler food is healthier and thus more pure, not hording money is resisting greed and morally more pure, abstaining from sex is remaining pure from carnal desires and lust. I guess I wonder why families are thrown in here, as well? Is it simply because they are the result of sex? Is it because it’s a selfish thought to want to procreate and have your legacy continue?

  2. It is worth noting though, that what first got Gandhi thinking about Brahmacharya was the fact that he was considering that maybe he could not have a pure platonic bond with his wife while in a consummated relationship.
    He also advises married brahmacharis to have separate bedrooms and to be constantly employed and he seems to think that with determination, married people could achieve Brahmacharya.

  3. When you say this, “Additionally, these lines also reveal Gandhi equating the desire for wealth with the desire to have children.” it reminded me of the Abu-Lughod when the Haj had so many children and wives because he desired more wealth and power within his tribe because the more people he had in his network the more people he had to back him up.

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