Three occasions when Mahatma Gandhi evaded prostitutes

Youth is a fragile period when boundaries are fluid and ethical values are not yet established, when there is a surfeit of energy but no balance of mind or depth of perception.  During this phase, insecure and ignorant men and women lost in the merry company of debauched friends often succumb to peer pressure and undertake foolhardy actions which can trap them in lifelong vices.  Gaining experience in alcohol, sex and drugs is mistakenly regarded as a sign of maturity.  On three occasions in his youth, Mahatma Gandhi was inadvertently drawn by friends into a tryst with prostitutes but escaped narrowly due to his childlike timidity or his nascent ethical personality.  He related these episodes in response to a question on the power of Ramanama (i.e. the chanting of the name “Rama”).  This article first appeared in the Navjivan (“new life”) newspaper that Gandhi used to publish from Ahmedabad.

Power of Ramanama, Navajivan, 17 May 1925 (Extracts)

…. I shall describe how I was saved in those three occasions by the grace of God.  All the three occasions concern public women (i.e. prostitutes).

I was taken to two of them by friends on different occasions.

On the first occasion, I went to the place out of false regard for the friend and, if God had not saved me, I would certainly have fallen. This time the woman whose house I had entered herself threw me out with contempt. I simply did not know what to say or how to behave in such a situation.  Prior to this incident, I always regarded it as shameful even to sit near a public woman, so that I was trembling even when entering that house. After going in, I could not even look at her face and I do not know what her face was like. What could that smart woman do to such a fool but turn him out? She said a few angry words to me and asked me to go away. At that time, of course, I did not realize that God had saved me. I left feeling miserable. I felt crestfallen and even unhappy about my stupidity! I felt that I lacked manliness. It was later I realised that I had been shielded by my stupidity. God had saved me by making me behave like a fool. Else how could I, who had entered a house of ill-fame with evil intention, have been saved?

The second occasion was more dreadful than the first one. I was not so innocent then as I was at the time of the first incident, though I was of course more vigilant. Moreover, I had the protection of vow administered to me by my revered mother. But this time the place was in England.  I was in the very flush of youth. Two of us friends were lodged in one house. We had gone there only for a few days. The landlady was as good as a prostitute. Two or three of us sat down to play cards with her. In those days I used to play cards on occasion. In England, a mother and a son can, and do, play cards for innocent amusement. On this occasion too, we sat down to play, following the usual custom. The beginning was completely innocent. I, of course, did not know that the landlady lived on her body. But as the play warmed up, the atmosphere changed. The woman started making gestures. I felt tempted. I was flushed in the face, for lust had entered me and I had become impatient.

On my lips was the language of lust. My good friend noticed my behaviour. We knew each other very well. He had seen me in difficult situations in which I had, with an effort of will, kept my purity. But he saw that on this occasion evil had entered my mind and that, if the night progressed while I was in that mood, I too would fall like him.

It was this friend who first made me realize that even immoral men have good instincts. He felt unhappy to see me in that plight. I was younger than he. Rama came to my help through his person. He aimed arrows of love at me: “Moniya!” (This is an affectionate form of “Mohandas.” I remember that I used to be called by that name by my mother, my father and the eldest cousin in our family. The fourth person to call me so was this friend who, through his goodness, proved a brother to me.) “Moniya, be careful. You know that I have fallen. But I shall not let you fall. Recall the promise you have made to your mother. This thing is not for you. Be off from here. Go to bed. Are you gone? Throw off the cards.”

I do not remember whether I replied to him. I put down the cards. For a moment I felt unhappy. I felt ashamed and my heart began to beat fast. I got up and went to bed…. For me, this was an occasion when I first become aware of the existence of God.

The third incident is amusing. During one of my journeys, I came into fairly close contact with the ship’s captain, as also with an English passenger. In every port where the ship weighed anchor, the captain and some passengers would go and search for brothels. The captain once invited me to go with him and see the port.  I did not know what that meant. We went and stood before a prostitute’s house. Then I knew what was meant by going to see a port. Three women were produced before us. I was completely taken aback, but felt too embarrassed to say anything. Nor could I run away.  I had of course no wish to indulge in this immoral pleasure.

Those two went into the rooms. The third woman led me into her own room. While I was still thinking what I should do, the other two came out of the rooms. I do not know what  that woman must have thought about me. She stood smiling before me, but that did not have the slightest effect on me.  Since we spoke different languages, there was no question of my talking to her. Those friends shouted for me and so I went out, I certainly felt a little humiliated. They had seen that I was a fool in these matters.  They even joked between themselves on this point. They pitied me, of course. From that day, I was enrolled among the fools of the world, as far as the captain was concerned. He never invited me again to see a port. If I had remained in the room longer or if I had known that woman’s language, I do not know what would have been my plight. But I certainly realized that day, too, I was not saved by my own power, put that it was God who had protected me by having made me stupid in such matters. I remembered only these three incidents at the time of the speech in question. The reader should not think that I have not been through more of similar experiences. But I certainly wish to state that every time I escaped, thanks to Ramanama[1].

Photo: Bikas Das / Associated Press – Indian children dressed to look like the late Mahatma Gandhi.

References

  1. Girja Kumar.  Mahatma Gandhi’s letters on brahmacharya : sexuality and love, New Delhi : Vitasta Pub, 2011, pp 32-35; Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, vol. 27: pp 108-110.

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15 thoughts on “Three occasions when Mahatma Gandhi evaded prostitutes

  1. nizken

    How can sex be wrong especially when the woman wants you so much and is clear about it?? And sexual activity b/w consenting adults is considered very normal these days in the US.
    Is it because sex desire lowers the consciousness and is a significant obstacle to the Integral Yoga?

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      How can sex be wrong especially when the woman wants you so much and is clear about it?? And sexual activity b/w consenting adults is considered very normal these days in the US.

      America is a young country – a few centuries old. The goal of its culture has been “pursuit of personal happiness” rather than Self-realization. The core values of this culture are respect for individual rights and democracy, and therefore naturally ‘consensual sex’ has been elevated into a gold standard. It is possible that in 500 years America might produce its own homegrown sages who would be better equipped to answer such questions using native cultural idioms.

      nizken: Is it because sex desire lowers the consciousness and is a significant obstacle to the Integral Yoga?

      Fundamentally, yes.

      At some stage in the spiritual path, you begin to sense that all human beings, even those who are outwardly pleasant and attractive and wear perfumes, emit a certain unpleasant and repulsive vital “heat”. When you have sex with another person, you absorb their “heat” and it lowers your consciousness. If you have sexual intercourse (consensual or not) with many different people, it really degrades the consciousness. That is why people who turn to Yoga after having lived an adventurous sex life cannot meditate for more than a few minutes. There is something in their body which makes them restless. There are also sexual images which rise up from the subconscious and destroy their contemplation.

      Not everyone has the strength to be a celibate monk for life, so if you harbour sexual attraction, it is better to restrict it to one person, and it should be preferably done as part of a larger and more fulfilling relationship. That is the reason ‘marriage’ is recommended in Hinduism as part of individual Dharma. Westerners exclaim, “oh, indian society is so conservative”, but if you actually examine the issue carefully, you will see that various social orders were created to allow those who are not fully mature to grow towards the spiritual goal at their own pace over many incarnations. Its the same reason temples also exist – the sages may not need them but the masses require the rituals for spiritual upliftment.

      I have been thinking of writing on this topic…maybe this will be my next blog post!

      Reply
      1. RJ

        Your comment about vital “heat” is very suggestive, and I am able to perceive what you mean by reflecting on some examples. Is this an ad-hoc personal observation, or is it a well known concept/idea? Not to suggest that your ad-hoc observations are less valuable than someone else’s ad-hoc observations written down in some ancient scripture!

      2. Sandeep Post author

        Sometimes I have perceived a vital “heat” emanating from others which puzzled me first until I realized it was a just a reflection of their mode of life (or their predominant Guna – Sattwa, Rajas, Tamas). It is well-known in India that sages who have acquired some inner power tend to emit a natural fragrance like jasmine. Sri Aurobindo spoke of a subtle smell which can be felt by the inner senses.

        Sri Aurobindo: The [subtle] smell [coming from a person] is due to something in the person’s vital-physical. That something may not be prominent at all times. When it is, the smell is there…. the something may be of different kinds in different cases and one cannot give a rule that it is this or it is that. What has the dirtiest smell is sex. (Letters on Yoga, Section on Visions and Symbols)

      3. NAshwin

        Brother Sandeep,
        This is an enlightening reply explaining about the concept of marriage in hinduism.Hats off to your reply.

    2. Sandeep Post author

      Today’s satire from the Onion is wonderfully pertinent to your question

      Area Man On Personal Mission To Explain Why Universally Enjoyed Things Are Bad

      RICHMOND, VA—Describing it as “his life’s calling,” local man Gary Lerner, 31, revealed Thursday that he is on a personal quest to enlighten the world about why things everybody enjoys are actually bad.

      Lerner, whose stated mission is to explain to his fellow human beings why any appreciation of their favorite movies, music, television, and books is entirely misplaced, told reporters that whenever he hears a group of people unanimously praising something, the task of correcting them always falls upon him.

      http://www.theonion.com/articles/area-man-on-personal-mission-to-explain-why-univer,29922/

      Reply
  2. nizken

    It will be a pleasure to read your next blog post then! I can barely remember the India where I grew up as a kid more than 13 years back but it did seem a society completely dominated by religiosity and spirituality with a temple on every corner. So I’m guessing most of the people here on this blog or aspiring yogins are totally celibate?

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      nizken: So I’m guessing most of the people here on this blog or aspiring yogins are totally celibate?

      I can’t speak for others, and I’d prefer to present my insights without divulging personal details 🙂

      Reply
  3. RJ

    Yes, I, for one, would be interested in hearing more thoughts and evidence on this matter. I think there is a need for new and modern “sex-negative” dialogue in the Integral/spiritual community. Kind of as a reaction to the following phenomenon: “American” brands of spirituality are uniformly “sex-positive”, in reaction to the a puritanical and repressive treatment of sexuality by the Christian religion. By “American brands of spirituality” I’m referring to things like Westernized Buddhism, “integralism” in the sense of Ken Wilber, the New Age movement, and so on. These movements lip service to the physical and emotional dangers of sexual activity while maintaining the Western/American notion that “sex life” and “sexual expression” are essential parts of life and ignoring the spiritual effects of sexual activity.

    At the same time, this dialogue can’t, and shouldn’t, go back to these repressive and puritanical notions. I may be projecting my own views or speaking ignorantly here, but in some letters to sadhaks, I’ve noticed that SA and M often appeal, sometimes subtly, to traditional notions of morality and “purity” when advising sadhaks on matters of sexuality and sexual impulses. Of course, Sri Aurobindo and Mother themselves were beyond these considerations, and when dealing with sadhaks they were free to appeal to anything in the sadhak’s consciousness, background, upbringing, etc that would point them in the right direction. My point is that those same appeals will no longer work because these doctrines of “sexual liberation” are entrenched in the mass consciousness.

    I don’t know what the solution is, besides the change of consciousness, of course.

    To digress for a minute – this may be too subjective of an observation, but I remember that on my last trip to India, a year and a half ago, I simply felt fewer sexual impulses. That’s not to suggest that the country is universally purer or more enlightened – there is certainly a lot of unconsciousness and darkness around these matters in India, as evidenced by the content of this article! But there was a difference in vibration. So I wonder how much these notions of “repression” and so forth are relative to a culture – I just felt that there was less to repress when I was in that atmosphere.

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      RJ: “American” brands of spirituality are uniformly “sex-positive”, in reaction to the a puritanical and repressive treatment of sexuality by the Christian religion. By “American brands of spirituality” I’m referring to things like Westernized Buddhism, “integralism” in the sense of Ken Wilber, the New Age movement, and so on. These movements lip service to the physical and emotional dangers of sexual activity while maintaining the Western/American notion that “sex life” and “sexual expression” are essential parts of life and ignoring the spiritual effects of sexual activity.

      That is no surprise. Imagine a culture where people have been raised to be gluttons and then introduced to spiritual ideas later in life. They would naturally justify the need to eat delicious food as part of the spiritual quest.

      About 25 years ago, an American woman devotee wrote an article in the Collaboration magazine on the struggle she had to go through to overcome her free-love sixties upbringing. It took her a few attempts to develop the willpower to give it up and finally surrender to the Mother. In the same issue, an American man wrote of how peer pressure in high school forces them into sexuality which becomes an impediment to following the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.

      RJ: in some letters to sadhaks, I’ve noticed that SA and M often appeal, sometimes subtly, to traditional notions of morality and “purity” when advising sadhaks on matters of sexuality and sexual impulses.

      I have never felt that so I am curious to know which ones.

      RJ: To digress for a minute – this may be too subjective of an observation, but I remember that on my last trip to India, a year and a half ago, I simply felt fewer sexual impulses. That’s not to suggest that the country is universally purer or more enlightened – there is certainly a lot of unconsciousness and darkness around these matters in India, as evidenced by the content of this article! But there was a difference in vibration. So I wonder how much these notions of “repression” and so forth are relative to a culture – I just felt that there was less to repress when I was in that atmosphere.

      What do you mean by “unconsciousness and darkness around these matters.. as evidenced in this article” ?

      In Gandhi’s time, people had child marriages. The British condemned child marriages because they believed it caused Indians to become effeminate. They sought to raise the age of marriage. The British regarded the people of Punjab province as a martial race because they had delayed marriages. Hundred years later, British children now have early sex, suffer teenage pregnancies and that too without marriage. Isn’t it interesting how cultures evolve over time?

      It is difficult to know what you felt on your visit, but some spiritual vibration exists in holy places. There are many communities and sects which have a family deity and even a Guru who initiates you and serves as a guide and mentor. In India until recently, spiritual orientation was emphasized over sexual orientation !

      But it is difficult to pass any general remarks because India is a vast country, there are all kinds of people, and India itself is changing under the onslaught of Western capitalism and consumerism. A hundred years ago, young Indians felt inferior and wanted to emulate the British; now they want to emulate the Americans. Its a silly circle of life.

      Reply
      1. Sandeep Post author

        About 25 years ago, an American woman devotee wrote an article in the Collaboration magazine on the struggle she had to go through to overcome her free-love sixties upbringing. It took her a few attempts to develop the willpower to give it up and finally surrender to the Mother. In the same issue, an American man wrote of how peer pressure in high school forces them into sexuality which becomes an impediment to following the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother.

        This is the editorial from the Collaboration Magazine Summer 1986 issue, that I mentioned above. I have omitted some names which were referenced in the editorial

        Sex: In which the Editors Lay Bare and Throw up their Hidden Impulses

        Now that we have your attention … there is nothing that represents the difficulty of doing Sri Aurobindo and Mother’s Yoga in the USA more than that urge for the merging of cells. Many of us, especially children of the 60s, have struggled to throw off our Puritan clothes and search guiltlessly for delight of the body. A host of magazines, instructional books, films, and novels have aided us in our search. Good old American know-how, self-taught success.

        If we are to believe the media, Americans are investigating sexual relationships with the same curiosity, naivete, and potential for destruction that sent us across the frontiers of the West and outer space. Women’s Liberation, birth control, abortion, pornography, teenage pregnancy, Gay rights, AIDS, sexual harassment – the visible signs of this upheaval confront us wherever we tum. It has been said that the most enduring legacy of the wild winds that swept through the late 1960s is the sexual revolution and all its manifestations. The lid is coming off the bottle, and anyone who tries to keep it on is working against a cultural movement made for a generation that wants it all, from auras to orgasms.

        Those of us trying to do Yoga, or trying to lead an ordinary life under the influence of Mother and Sri Aurobindo, have to be conscious that, to them, sex is a lower formation of the body; that human love is usually ego-dependency; and that single-pointed aspiration for the Divine demands a distancing and ultimate rejection of those movements, a “purification and
        transformation of the forces which these movements pervert and misuse,” as Sri Aurobindo has put it.

        Yet, faced with the atomization of modem American society and its attendent anxiety to couple (i.e. copulate) that is instilled in us from grade school, we search for a partner to share the comforts of our loneliness. Under ordinary circumstances sexual love is the nearest the body comes to ecstatic experience. It can involve a surrender that has been used as a metaphor for love of God by mystics for centuries. The Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (4.2.21) states that “Just as a man fully embraced by his beloved wife does not know anything at all, either external or internal, so does this man, embraced fully by the supremely knowing spiritual self (prajnatman), not know anything at all, either external or internal.”

        The bhakti poets of India have developed an entire tradition comparing the love of woman for man (usually the god Krishna) with the soul’s longing for the lord. According to A.K. Ramanujan, bhaj, the root verb of bhakti , can mean “to share a
        body, to copulate, to unite. ” Here is Ramanujan’s translation of a poem by Nammalvar, a tenth century Tamil saint (Both
        definition and poem are from Hymns For The Drowning, A.K. Ramanujan, Princeton U. Press, 1981.):

        He grabbed me
        lest I go astray.
        Wax before an unspent fire,
        mind melted,
        body trembled.
        I bowed, I wept,
        danced, cried aloud,
        I sang, and I praised him.

        Unyielding, as they say,
        as an elephant’s jaw
        or a woman’s grasp,
        was love’s unrelenting
        seizure.
        Love pierced me
        like a nail
        driven into a green tree.

        Overflowing, I tossed
        like a sea,
        heart growing tender,
        body shivering,
        while the world called me Demon!
        and laughed at me,
        I left shame behind,
        took as an ornament
        the mockery of the local folk.
        Unswerving, I lost my cleverness
        in the bewilderment of ecstasy.

        Tiruvacakam: W. 59-70

        For westerners, possession of this nature is not as acceptable as it is in India, although it can happen….We struggle with our desires, searching in each other for the soul thread that has joined our lives and leads them on. Because Sri Aurobindo and Mother labored together in their Yoga in a complementary way, many devotees have imitated that union on a lesser level. Without an initial and continuing experience of the higher ecstasy, we often settle for the next best thing.

        […]

        It may be a long struggle, for our response to sex is as multifarious as our individual aspiration at anyone time…we try to keep our longing for the Divine of such intensity that we will know with absolute certainty when the time comes for the final rejection, when the taste of the Divine forbids all other hungers.

  4. nizken

    Ken Wilber has made some huge factual mistakes in some of his writings even pertaining to scientific things like plutonium, nuclear waste and so on. I’ve seen other errors in his youtube videos as well. The major reason for the American worldview and notions of spirituality as you have mentioned above is due to the belief in a progressive view of history and America. There is a strong popular belief in the progressiveness of modern ideals and of us progressing constantly in a linear fashion. This is something the US inherited from 20th century European ideals (mostly German) which the US public had faithfully followed. In Europe these were blown up by WW2 and so post-modernism emerged there. We just have a lot of strong beliefs and popular idealism in the US, not much rational thinking.

    Reply
  5. John

    Why is there a sudden emphasis on Ghandi in your blogs. The Mother had said somewhere that she didn’t think much of the man in the sense of spirituality and I myself am of the opinion that he was (knowingly or unknownlgy) a tool of the british and probably even partially posessed by vital beings (which is a common tactic by certain crowds to gain controll over someone and used that someone as a puppet, which I think is the real reason SA didn’t want the Mother to meet him).

    Reply
    1. Sandeep Post author

      John: Why is there a sudden emphasis on Ghandi in your blogs.

      There is no emphasis. This is only the second article on Gandhi. I posted it because it illustrated the problems of sexuality in a prominent personality. The first article was on his meeting with Sri Aurobindo

      People notice patterns even where they don’t exist. When I posted two articles in succession with legal undercurrents, someone asked me “Is it significant, the fact that you’ve chosen “On suicide, euthanasia, and capital punishment” to succeed “…on Lawyers”?”

      I seriously doubt if Gandhi was a tool of the British, and I have no idea if he was possessed by vital beings. He seemed too weak to handle that kind of occult activity. He was just old-fashioned and obstinate, but quite sincere and innocent at the same time.

      Reply
  6. Pingback: What is wrong with promiscuity? | Integral Yoga of Sri Aurobindo & The Mother

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