Eleven Vows of Mahatma Gandhi

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This post has been written by Diksha  Dubey , a second year student from Amity Law School, Amity University, Chattisgarh.

 

“I regard myself as a soldier, though a soldier of peace” Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

The Father of Nation, Mahatma Gandhi was the man of simple living and high thinking which has been set as an example to us. He was the pioneer of truth and non-violence who started the satyagraha movement for India’s freedom. We will always remember Bapu as a symbol of peace and truth. The Philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi and his eleven vows give direction for sustaining peaceful, harmonious and integrated life. Mahatma Gandhi was a great person who struggled a lot and played a significant role in the achievement of freedom for India from British rule. His full name is Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, however popularly known as Bapu, Mahatma Gandhi or Father of Nation. He was born on 2nd October, 1869 at Porbunder, Gujrat. 2nd October is celebrated as Gandhi Jayanti in India and as International Day of Non- violence all across the world as he was a preacher of non-violence throughtout his life. He had described his life history full of struggle in his autobiography named ‘My experiments with Truth’. He not only pioneered the unique method of non-violence to get freedom for India against British rule but also proved the world that freedom can be achieved peacefully through the path of non-violence. He is still remembered among us as the symbol of peace and truth. For future generations and us too the whole life of Bapu has been set as an ideal example of peace, patriotism, sacrifice, non-violence, simplicity and firmness.

The Eleven Vows of Mahatma Gandhi

The word ‘vow’ originated from French word ‘vou’; and from Latin word ‘votum’ which means a set of solemn or holy promises committing one to prescribed role, calling or course of action. The eleven vows of Mahatma Gandhi are also known as ‘eleven vratas’ or ‘eleven principles’. The eleven vows of Mahatma Gandhi are the pious and pure resolutions, which guide and direct us to live and celebrate our life differently, but perfectly. Our higher consciousness and duties dictate us to do something good but our human weakness prohibits us from doing that. This obstructs the development of our personality. Hence, a vow is to be taken to strengthen our will power. It prevents us from wavering and irresolution.  When Gandhi was in Yeravda jail in 1930, he wrote weekly letters to the inmates of Sabarmati Ashram. Later on, those letters were compiled in a book form called “Mangal Prabhat”. He described his famous eleven vows in those letters and now they are in the collection of “Mangal Prabhat”. The vows had been prescribed as a part of Ashram discipline. Gandhi wanted the inhabitants of Ashram to fully understand the meaning and importance of the vows.

The eleven vows are as follow:-

  1. Satya (Truth)
  2. Ahimsa (Nonviolence)
  3. Asteya (Non stealing)
  4. Brahmacharya (Self discipline)
  5. Aparigraha or Asangraha (Non-possession)
  6. Sharishrama (Bread labour)
  7. Aswada (Control of the palate)
  8. Sarvatra Bhayavarjana (Fearlessness)
  9. Sarva Dharma Samantva (Equality of all religions)
  10. Swadeshi (Use locally goods)
  11. Sparshbhavana (Remove untouchability)

Satya (Truth)

Truth is the most important vow, being the very basis of all the others. Mahatma Gandhi has defined the truth in these terms: “The word Satya is derived from sat, which means ‘being’. Nothing is or exists in reality except Truth. That is why Sat or Truth is perhaps the most important name of God. In fact, it is more correct to say that Truth is God, than to say the God is truth.”

Gandhiji equated truth with god. For him, truth was indeed God, and truthfulness was his religion. According to Gandhi, truth has no form, therefore everyone will form such an idea or image of truth as appeals to him and there will be as many images of truth as there are men.

In Yervada Mandir, he wrote “Truth should be Truth in thought, Truth in speech, and Truth in action. To the man who has realised this Truth in its fullness, nothing else remains to be known, because all knowledge is necessarily included in it. What is not included in it, is not truth and so not true knowledge; and there can be no inward peace without true knowledge. If we once learn how to apply this never-failing test of Truth, we will at once be able to find out what is worth doing, what is worth seeing, what is worth reading. According to Gandhi, “The pursuit of truth is true bhakti and true devotion”. Truth is the path which leads to god.

Ahimsa (Non-violence)

Ahimsa indicates not to harm anyone physically, emotionally and verbally.

According to Mahatma Gandhi “Ahimsa and Truth are so interwined that it is practically impossible to disentangle and separate them. They are like the two sides of a coin, or rather of a smooth unstamped metallic disc. Who can say which is the obverse, and which is the reverse? Nevertheless Ahimsa is the means; Truth is the end. Means to be means must always be within our reach, and so Ahimsa is our supreme duty. If we take care of the means, we are bound to reach the end sooner or later. Once we have grasped this point, final victory is beyond question. Whatever difficulties we encounter, whatever apparent reverses we sustain, we may not give up the quest for Truth which alone is, being God Himself.” Further Gandhi wrote in “Young India” that Ahimsa is not merely a negative state of harmlessness, but it is positive state of love, of doing good even to the evil-doer. He clearly stated that Ahimsa does not mean submission to the will of evil-doer. Ahimsa is not the indication of timid and cowardly. It is an attitude of brave, a quality of greatness and symbol of love and tolerance.

Asteya (Non stealing)

Asteya motivates us for not to steal, not to collect unnecessary things and not to greed.

Mahatma Gandhi explained Non stealing in Yeravda Mandir, “We are not always aware of our real needs, and most of us improperly multiply our wants, and thus unconsciously make thieves of ourselves. If we devote some thought to the subject, we shall find that we can get rid of quite a number of our wants. One who follows the observance of non-stealing will bring about a progressive reduction of his own wants. Much of the distressing poverty in this world has arisen out of breaches of the principle of Non stealing.”

Therefore, a person who wishes to apply Asteya in his life ought to lead such a simple life that he takes for himself from society only his minimum requirements.

Further Gandhiji said, “Ideas may be stolen no less than material things. One who egoistically claims to have originated some good idea, which really speaking did not originate with him, is guilty of a theft of ideas. Many learned men have committed such theft in the course of world history and plagiarism is by no means uncommon even today. Thus, Non stealing does not mean merely not to steal. To keep or take anything, which one does not need and which relates to others is stealing. Moreover, of course stealing is fraught with violence.

Brahmacharya (Self discipline)

The word Brahmacharya is devided into two parts one is ‘Charya’ means ‘course of conduct’; ‘brahmacharya’ conduct adapted to the search of Brahma, i.e Truth. From this etymological root meaning of Brahmacharya arises the special meaning, viz. control of all senses. We must entirely forget the incomplete definition, which restricts itself to the sexual aspect only. It is obvious that Brahmacharya, like truth and Non violence should be practiced not only at the physical level but also at the level of thought. Thinking about a passion in the mind, while practicing physical control of the senses is not really Brahmacharya.

Mahatma Gandhi firmly believed that mere abstention from sexual intercourse could not be considered as true Brahmacharya. A true Brahmacharya is one from whom the distinction between man and woman almost disappears. Similarly a married couple is worthy of being considered Brahmacharis if they never think of sexual intercourse except for the purpose of procreation. He advised that man and woman should look towards each other as companions and helpmates in life and not as a means of satisfying carnal desires.

Aparigraha (Non possession)

According to Mahatma Gandhi, “Non possession is allied to Non stealing. A thing not originally stolen must nevertheless be classified as stolen property, if we possess it without needing it. Possession implies provision for the future. A seeker after truth, a follower of the law of Love cannot hold anything against tomorrow. For Gandhiji, Non possession was also a proof of one’s faith in God. He used to quote instances of devotees who did not believe in keeping back a little food even for the next meal. Aparigraha helps one in slowly giving up the attachment towards worldly possessions.

Gandhiji said that Non possession is a principle applicable to thoughts as well as to things. A man who fills his brain with useless knowledge violates that inestimable principle. Thoughts, which turn us away from God. Or do not turn us towards Him, constitute obstructions in our way.

Sharirashtrama (Physical Labour or Bread Labour)

Sharirashtrama denotes everyone that we should do our work properly and correctly in such a way that our work will be helpful in the development of society and country. Everyone should become economically strong and self-reliant. So that we can fulfill our basic needs. We should also respect manual labour, and do not hate people involved in manual labour. Because every work is important and has equal value in society. Gandhiji got the idea of bread labour from Tolstoy’s writing on bread labourer and from Ruskin’s ‘Unto This Last’. The idea is that everyone must put some physical labour to earn his daily bread. An intellectual, an artist, or a person with any other ability should utilize that ability for the service of society, while bread should be earned through physical labour alone.

According to Mahatma Gandhi, “In the third chapter of the Gita where we are told, that he who eats without offering sacrifice eats stolen food. Sacrifice here can only mean bread labour. Reason too leads us to an identical conclusion. How can a man who does not do body labour, have the right to eat”?

The Bible says “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread” that is he will have to work for his bread, or living.

Gandhi wrote ‘bread labour’ means that everyone should perform sufficient body labour in order to entitle him to his living. Everyone must perform some useful body labour. If this principle is observed everywhere, all men would be equal, none would be starve and world would be saved from sins. He saw a very hopeful future for humankind if society accepted the principle of Bread Labour.

Gandhiji explained different aspect of Sharirashtrama that a lawyer’s work has the same value as the barber’s work. The highest and the humblest, the ruler and the ruled, the poor and the rich, all are equal. Everybody should earn his living by honest means and sweat of his brow. This is the India of Mahatma Gandhi’s dream.

Asvada (Control of the Palate)

Control of the palate is closely connected with the observance of Brahmacharya. Gandhiji gave it a special place as a separate vow because he believed that control of the palate was inevitable for Brahmacharya that observance of Brahmacharya became easier if taste was conquered. Besides Conquest of taste was helpful in the conquest of other senses too. According to Mahatma Gandhi “Food has to be taken as we take medicine, that is, without thinking whether it is palatable or otherwise, and only in quantities limited to the needs of the body. Just as medicine taken in too small a dose does not take effect or the full effect and as too large a dose does injures the system, so it is with food Parents, our of false affection, give their children a variety of foods, ruin their constitution and create in them artificial tastes. When they grow up, they have diseased bodies and perverted tastes. The evil consequences of this early indulgence dog us at every step we waste much money and fall an easy prey to the medicine man.”

The most important condition of Asvadawas the conviction that food is meant only to sustain the body for service of others.

Sarvatra Bhayavarjana (Fearlessness)

According to Mahatma Gandhi, “Fearlessness connotes freedom from all external fear,- fear of disease, bodily injury and death, of dispossession, of losing one’s nearest and dearest, of losing reputation or giving offence and so on. Perfect fearlessness can be attained only by him who has realised the Supreme, as it implies freedom from delusions. One can always progress towards this goal by determined and constant endeavor, and by cultivating self-confidence.”

To Gandhiji, fearlessness does not mean arrogance. Arrogance itself is a sign of fear. Fearlessness indicates calmness and peace of mind. Fearlessness is the backbone of most other virtues. Gandhiji appreciated the importance of fearlessness partly because he used to be a timid child, full of all kinds of fears. Later on, consciously trained himself into fearlessness.

Sarva Dharma Samanatva (Equality for all Religions)

This is a very important vow in a multi-religious country like India. One has a natural respect for one’s own religion and rightly so. However, that respect need not lead one into disrespect for other religions. All religions have their own principles, ideals and rules. All religions have had devotees who realised God in their own way. Moreover, all religions have positive ideas and values. So, one should never consider one’s own religion to be the only perfect religion.

Mahatma Gandhi explained that as people have different names, personalities, different ideas, cultures, different qualities and weakness; like that religions are also different. However, as all men are human being, different religions have also the same objectives and values. As we are accepting the different forms and perspective of human life, then we should also accept the different religions and give equal respect to them. All religions are equal as well as all human beings are equal. So, this is our duty to give respect to all religions behave equally and gently to the people who believe in other religions and accept the positive changes of own religions, which are beneficial for the whole world.

Swadeshi (Duty towards the neighbors and use locally made goods)

Gandhi focused on our dharma towards our neighbors those around us. He felt that by using foreign goods we were harming Indian artisans, handicraftsman and workers. He began the Swadeshi Movement to encourage Indians to buy local goods, to empower their fellow Indians and to develop pride and respect for their country. People should utilize only locally made goods, equipments and articles. This is the one perspective of Swadeshi. Gandhiji explained that in Swadeshi there is no room for selfishness or if there is selfishness in it, it is of the highest type, which is not different form the highest altruism. Swadeshi in its purest form is the acme of universal service. Gandhiji believed that if the indian people start to follow the Swadeshi principle, then every people of India will become self-reliant, independent, bold, self supporting and economically, politically, socially, individually strong. According to Mahatma Gandhi, in its ultimate and spiritual sense, Swadeshi stands for the final emancipation of the soul from her earthy bondage. A person start to think that this earth is not his or her natural or permanent abode, it is a hindrance in his or her onward journey. He or she seeks to be emancipated from the bondage of the physical body.

Sparshbhavana (Removal of untouchability)

Mahatma Gandhi called Asprishyata a cancer of Hindu Society. He believed that untouchability was not a part of Hinduism, but a plague that has injured Hinduism through the ages. He always resisted the very basis of untouchability.

Gandhiji criticized untouchability as the greatest blot or scar on Hinduism. It is a thing of great shame that we treat a person as an untouchable, unapproachable and unseeable, just because he has born in a specific varna. He had already started practicing the removal of untouchability while in South Africa. When he returned to India he accepted an untouchable family in the Ashram. Several of the inmates, including Kasturba were quite upset at this step. Many other people did not like that action of Gandhiji. Yet he did not flinch from his decision. Later on Gandhiji gave the name ‘Harijan’ to the untouchables and did many efforts for their upliftment. Thus. The eleven vows of Mahatma Gandhi are pure and pious oaths, which will illuminate the whole world by their divine rays and heavenly light.

Conclusion

“There is no route to peace, peace is the route”

-Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi proclaimed, “My life is my message” and “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”. By knowing these eleven vows and looking at the life history and philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi, we come to know about the great impact of his Vratas/Vows on the world humanity. He said that taking vows is not a sign of weakness, but a symbol of strength. It becomes a bulwark of strength. The philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi and his eleven vows direct all the human beings to be free from falsehood; to be free from any type of violence; to be free from stealing and to be free from greediness. The eleven Vratas or principles guide us to be free from any kind of fear; to control our undue desires and wishes; to be free from the attachment towards worldly possessions; to try to become economically strong and self reliant and to develop the feeling of love and respect towards all religions, nation and the humanity at large.

In this way his eleven vows cover such a vast canvas of life that its relevance for peaceful coexistence of humanity is undeniable. The eleven vratas are helpful in the development of an individual personality as well as the whole humane society. These vows provide a firm guideline for entire mankind to live, enjoy and celebrate a humane, divine, peaceful and harmonious life.

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