Mahatma Gandhi fondly known as the ‘Father of the Nation’ in India was not just a political leader. He was a thought leader as well, his non-violent ways of protesting against British rule are still noteworthy. Apart from this wherever he travelled during his pursuit to make India a free country he also educated the locals about cleanliness, proper sanitation facilities & ways of living a sustainable healthy life.
This account from the life of Mahatama Gandhi happened around 1919 which sparked the debate. Was Mahatma Gandhi vegan or not? Read on..
M.K. Gandhi was a vegetarian who adopted veganism, later on in his life. His ability to observe & question the finer processes of life at the grass-root level was commendable. After being in Calcutta (now Kolkatta) and seeing the atrocities cow had to face for milk extraction he had said, “I had before me a picture of the wicked processes like Phooka, the govals in Calcutta adopted to extract the last drop of milk from their cows and buffaloes. I also had the feeling that, just as meat was not man’s food, even animal’s milk could not be man’s food.”
When G.K. Gokhale himself urged on having milk citing his deteriorating health, Gandhi had said, “I am willing to yield on all points except the one about which I beg you not to press me. I will not take milk, milk products or meat. If not taking these things should mean my death, I feel I’d rather face it.” Thereafter the doctor was sought and his diet was modified accordingly.
At another instance in 1919 related to his health condition, the then doctor, Dr. Dalal, again requested him to consume milk but he had declined it saying that he had vowed against consuming it. The doctor then asked him what the vow exactly was and the reason behind it. Gandhiji narrated his experience in Kolkata. Hearing this, the doctor suggested to him that since he had thought about ‘she’ buffalo and cow then he could probably consume goat’s milk. This is when Mahatma Gandhi started consuming goat’s milk. Leaving veganism.
However, at the conscience level, he was aware that he had gone back on a vow done to him. As mentioned in his autobiography book, ‘My Experiments with Truth’, he had written,
I succumbed. My intense eagerness to take up the Satyagraha fight had created in me a strong desire to live, and so I contented myself with adhering to the letter of my vow only and sacrificed its spirit. For although I had only the milk of the cow and she buffalo in mind when I took the vow, by natural implication it covered the milk of all animals. Nor could it be right for me to use milk at all, so long as I held that milk is not the natural diet of man. Yet knowing all this I agreed to take goat’s milk.
The will to live proved stronger than the devotion to truth, and for once the votary of truth compromised his sacred ideal by his eagerness to take up the Satyagraha fight. The memory of this action even now rankles in my breast and fills me with remorse, and I am constantly thinking how to give up goat’s milk. But I cannot yet free myself from that subtlest of temptations, the desire to serve, which still holds me.
My experience in dietetics are dear to me as a part of my researches in Ahimsa. They give me recreation and joy. But my use of goat’s milk today troubles me not from the view-point of dietetic Ahimsa so much as from that of truth, being no less than a breach of pledge. It seems to me that I understand the ideal of truth better than that of Ahimsa, and my experience tells me that, if I let go my hold of truth, I shall never be able to solve the riddle of Ahimsa.
The ideal of truth requires that vows taken should be fulfilled in the spirit as well as in the letter. In the present case I killed the spirit – the soul of my vow – by adhering to its outer form only, and that is what galls me. But in spite of this clear knowledge I cannot see my way straight before me. In other words, perhaps, I have not the courage to follow the straight course. Both at bottom mean one and the same thing, for doubt is invariably the result of want or weakness of faith. ‘Lord, give me faith’ is, therefore, my prayer day and night. – (Excerpt from M.K. Gandhi’s autobiography)
Moreover, the acknowledgement that his desire to live and serve the country overpowered his vow speaks volume. In his mind at the conscious & conscience level, thee repentance and guilt always stayed with him till he was alive. One can say in his practice of non-violence he found some solace and the zeal for a sustainable living continued.
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