V. Mahatma Gandhi

No, I must declare with all the power I can command that sensual attraction even between husband and wife is unnatural. Marriage is meant to cleanse the hearts of sordid passions and take them nearer to God. Lustless Love between husband and wife is not impossible. Man is not a brute. He has risen to a higher state after countless births in brute creation. He is born to stand, not to walk on all fours or crawl. Bestiality is as far removed from manhood as matter from spirit.

I submit that marriage is a fence that protects religion. If the fence were to be destroyed, religion would go to pieces. The foundation of religion is restraint, and marriage is nothing but restraint. The man who knows no restraint has no hope of self-realisation. […] The body may be either a playground of passion or a temple of self-realisation. If it is the latter, there is no room there for libertinism. The spirit needs must curb the flesh every moment.

Human society is a ceaseless growth, an unfoldment in terms of Spirituality. If so, it must be based on ever-increasing restraint upon the demands of the flesh. Thus, marriage must be considered to be a sacrament imposing discipline upon the partners, restricting them to the physical union only between themselves and for the purpose only of procreation when both the partners desire it and are prepared for it.

From: ‘The Gandhi Sutras’ (D.S. Sarma, ed.),
New York: 1949, pp. 78–79


If the married couple can think of each other as brother and sister, they are freed for Universal Service. The very thought that all the women in the world are one’s sisters, mothers or daughters will at once ennoble a man and snap his chains. The husband and wife do not lose anything here, but only add to their resources and even to their family. Their Love becomes free from the impurity of lust and so grows stronger. With the disappearance of this impurity, they can serve each other better, and the occasions for quarrel become fewer. There are more occasions for quarrel, where the love is selfish and bounded.

If the foregoing argument is appreciated, a consideration of the physical benefits of chastity becomes a matter of secondary importance. How foolish it is intentionally to dissipate vital energy in sensual enjoyment! It is a grave misuse to fritter away for physical gratification that which is given to man and woman for the full development of their bodily and mental powers. Such misuse is the root cause of many a disease.

Brahmacharya, like all other observances, must be observed in thought, word and deed. We are told in the Gita, and experience will corroborate the statement, that the foolish man, who appears to control his body but is nursing evil thoughts in his mind, makes a vain effort. It may be harmful to suppress the body, if the mind is at the same time allowed to go astray. Where the mind wanders, the body must follow sooner or later.

It is necessary here to appreciate a distinction. It is one thing to allow the mind to harbour impure thoughts; it is a different thing altogether if it strays among them in spite of ourselves. Victory will be ours in the end, if we non-cooperate with the mind in its evil wanderings.

We experience every moment of our lives that often while the body is subject to our control, the mind is not. This physical control should never be relaxed, and in addition we must put forth a constant endeavour to bring the mind under control. We can do nothing more, nothing less. If we give way to the mind, the body and the mind will pull different ways, and we shall be false to ourselves. Body and mind may be said to go together, so long as we continue to resist the approach of every evil thought.

The observance of Brahmacharya has been believed to very difficult, almost impossible. In trying to find a reason for this belief, we see that the term Brahmacharya has been taken in a narrow sense. Mere control of animal passion has been thought to be tantamount to observing Brahmacharya. I feel that this conception is incomplete and wrong.

Brahmacharya means control of all the organs of sense. He who attempts to control only one organ and allows all the others free play is bound to find his effort futile. To hear suggestive stories with the ears, to see suggestive sights with the eyes, to taste stimulating food with the tongue, to touch exciting things with the hands, and then at the same time expect to control the only remaining organ, is like putting one’s hands in a fire and then expecting to escape being burnt. He, therefore, who is resolved to control the one must be likewise determined to control the rest. I have always felt that much harm has been done by the narrow definition of Brahmacharya. If we practise simultaneous self-control in all directions, the attempt will be scientific and possible of success. Perhaps the palate is the chief sinner. […]

From: M.K. Gandhi, ‘Self Restraint v. Self Indulgence,’
Ahmedabad: 1958, p. 92


Brahmacharya here does not mean mere physical self-control. It means much more. It means complete control over all the senses. Thus an impure thought is a breach of Brahmacharya; so is anger. All power comes from the preservation and sublimation of the vitality that is responsible for creation of life. If the vitality is husbanded instead of being dissipated, it is transmuted into creative energy of the Highest Order. This vitality is continuously and even unconsciously dissipated by evil, or even rambling, disorderly, unwanted thoughts. And since thought is the root of all speech and action, the quality of the latter corresponds to that of the former. Hence perfectly controlled thought is itself power of the Highest Potency and can become self-acting. That seems to me to be the meaning of the silent prayer of the heart. If man is after the image of God, he has but to will a thing in the limited sphere allotted to him and it becomes. Such power is impossible in one who dissipates his energy in any way whatsoever, even as steam kept in a leaky pipe yields no power. The sexual act divorced from the deliberate purpose of generation is a typical and gross form of dissipation and has therefore been specially and rightly chosen for condemnation. But in one who has to organise vast masses of mankind for non-violent action, the full control described by me has to be attempted and virtually achieved.

This control is unattainable save by the Grace of God. There is a verse in the second chapter of the Gita which freely rendered means:

Sense-effects remain in abeyance whilst one is fasting or while the particular sense is starved; but the hankering does not cease except when one sees God face to face.

This control is not mechanical or temporary. Once attained it is never lost. In that state vital energy is stored up without any chance of escaping by the innumerable outlets.

Ibid., pp. 150–151


Today our entire environment – our reading, our thinking, our social behaviour – is generally calculated to subserve and cater for the sex-urge. To break through its coils is no easy task. But it it is a task worthy of our Highest Endeavour. […]

Ibid., p. 143


Thus it is not proved to my satisfaction that sexual union in marriage is in itself good and beneficial to the unionists. To the contrary effect I can bear ample testimony from my own experience and that of many friends. I am not aware of any of us having derived any benefit, mental, spiritual or physical. Momentary excitement and satisfaction there certainly was. But it was invariably followed by exhaustion. And the desire for union returned immediately the effect of exhaustion had worn out. Although I have always been a conscientious worker, I can clearly recall the fact that this indulgence interfered with my work. It was the consciousness of this limitation that put me on the track of self-restraint; and I have no manner of doubt that the self-restraint is responsible for the comparative freedom from illnesses that I have enjoyed for long periods and for my output of energy and work, both physical and mental, which eye-witnesses have described as phenomenal.

Ibid., p. 105