Eleven Vows of Gandhi

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Any of us who has attended a prayer meeting at a Gandhian institute is likely to remember a chant beginning:-"Ahimsa Satya Asteya --." The two verses beginning with these words enumerate the eleven vows that Gandhiji considered almost mandatory for the inmates of his Ashram, in Sabarmati as well as in Sevagram.

The eleven vows are:

(1) Satya-Truth, (2) Ahimsa-Nonviolence, (3) Brahmacharya-Celibacy (4) Asteya-Non-stealing, (5) Aparigraha or Asangraha-Non-possession (6) Sharira-Shrama; Physicallabour or Bread Labour. (7) Asvada-Control of Palate, (8) Abhaya-Fearlessness, (9) Sarva-Dharma-Samanatva- Equal respect for all Religions, (10) Swadeshi-Duty towards Neighbour and (11) Asprishyatanivarana - Removal of Untouchability.

Of these eleven, the first five are found in most of the religions of the world and are called 'Pancha Mahavratas' - the Five great Vows. The remaining six are somewhat new ideas that have been given the importance of vows to fulfill the need of the time.

The image of Gandhiji in the minds of his contemporary Indians was that of a political leader - of one who brought Swarajya. Essentially, however, Gandhi was a Sadhaka, one who was in search of God. His ultimate goal was Moksha or the realization of God. Since he believed that service of man was the best way to realize God, he lived and died in the service of India, which in a mircrocosm, was the service of Mankind. That was his pilgrimage towards realization. In this context, the eleven were very important to him. They were a part of 'Tapa' Austerity and Self - denial for Purification. Tapa is considered necessary in all religions for elevating oneself spiritually, for control over desires, as a check upon an unruly mind and for paving the way to sacrifice for others - all these leading to Moksha. But Gandhiji was a 'Sadhaka' with a difference; his 'Sadhana' did not end with himself. He wanted to include society in his spiritual efforts and so he gave a new dimension to the Five Great Vows and extended them into the remaining six.

Let us have a closer look at these vows and their observance:

1. Satya -Truth
Truth is the most important vow, being the very basis of all the others. The word 'Satya' is from 'Sat', which means 'Being'. On 'Sat' depends true knowledge, known in Sanskrit as 'Chit' and Bliss that is 'Ananda'. The three together form the word 'Sachhidananda' which is one of the epithets of the Supreme Being. According to Gandhiji, Truth is God. Satya, therefore, was the pivot of the life of an Ashramite. Observance of Truth was expected not only in speech but also in thought and in action.

One may wonder what one should do if what appears to be truth to one person does not appear to be truth to another. Gandhiji suggests that after due deliberation and humble consideration of the opinion of the other person, if one still feels his own truth to be truth for himself, he should follow it according to his own light. In order to be convinced about one's ability to understand truth, one should use as the measuring rod those who have suffered for Truth and should himself be ready to suffer similarly.

2. Ahimsa - Non-Violence
Truth and Non-Violence are like the two sides of a coin - one cannot exist without the other. Using another imagery, Ahimsa is the path along which one reaches truth. Violence leads to more violence and hampers the clear vision which is essential for the pursuit of Truth.

At a personal level; Ahimsa consists in not only forbearing from physical violence; in order to achieve non-violence it is necessary to remove from the mind all hatred, all jealousy and all desire to harm even those who harm us. The next step would be to extend our love to all living beings, including living beings like snakes, tigers, etc.

At a social level, the goal of Ahimsa is to create a society where there would be no need to act in an anti-social manner and hence no need for any punishment. This can happen only when the...
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