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.