So I’m reading Gandhi’s autobiography right now…and I was totally surprised to learn that Gandhi himself (secretly) and for just a brief time was meat eater, or should I say, a meat sneaker! It’s a complex story with all the usual components: peer pressure, envy, persuasion…but the bottom line, he ate meat.
Now he had promised his mother that he wouldn’t touch the stuff. But after getting a little taste of it he quickly discovered how good it was and found himself doing battle with the old dog inside hounding him to gobble up some animal flesh.
Sounds like heresy, right? I mean we all know Gandhi was a vegetarian, and besides that, a pre-eminent political and ideological leader. During the Indian independence movement, Gandhi built and taught satyagraha, or resistance to tyranny through mass civil disobedience. It was a philosophy later employed by Dr. Martin Luther King among others, to rebuff the cruelties of segregation in the United States.
Satyagraha is founded in ahimsa, or total nonviolence. This is where the vegetarian thing came into play. No harm to animals through eating, killing, abusing them.
I guess I find it interesting because I still walk into a parking lot and smell steak or chicken cooking and find myself craving meat (I’ve been vegetarian for about 5 months now). I sometimes wonder when or if that feeling will leave me. And I feel guilty for craving it. I remember feeling that way about alcohol. But when I read this part of Gandhi’s autobiography, I realized that even this man, this great soul and spiritual leader of people, had this very human and carnal want inside of him. Even he was susceptible to pressure from others and to the idea of how others might perceive him.
He found it hard to eat while he was in London (by this time he was a devout, and from the sounds of it, kind of neurotic vegetarian.) He hated the blandness of the food and missed the sweetness and the spiciness of the foods he had grown up with in India and in his mother’s home. But he later relates, “As my mind has taken a different turn, the fondness for condiments has worn away and I now relish the boiled spinach” which I used to find so distasteful.
What is most profound to me is that he goes on to say, “Many such experiments taught me that the real seat of taste was not the tongue but the mind.”
And that’s where this whole thing comes back to the condition of my …ism. Many of my experiments, both loaded and sober, have proved that if I don’t recognize how cunning and powerful my mind can be, I will never have any freedom from it. I have to learn to practice silence and stillness. Even though I often resist those things and find them uncomfortable.
From Gandhi’s lips to your ears, “Experience has taught me that silence is part of the spiritual discipline of…truth. Proneness to exaggerate, to suppress or modify the truth, wittingly or unwittingly, is a natural weakness of man, and silence is necessary in order to surmount it.”
These dishonest tendencies are true for me. Whether it’s my head telling me to go on and take a drink or dig into some fried chicken. The power of my mind to convince me to go against my own principles and beliefs is quite strong. In silence I cultivate a different kind of power…an endurance so to speak. And it is this endurance that helps me see all of my life and its situations more clearly.