[Written in 2004.]
Gandhi embodied courageous introspection and daring public expression of himself. His autobiography, though largely dull, is the work of a unusually self-reflective person. Gandhi was celibate for years and never shied away from speaking about its value, and was honest about his relationship with his wife and with his own sexual self.
Gandhi was a pioneer, but like all pioneers made major mistakes in his life. For starters, he had several children. Granted, he had them before he became particularly conscious, but regardless, he was a negligent father – and in his writings he agrees. He was not consistently present for his children, and literally abandoned them for several long stretches of time. And they suffered as a result.
Had he become aware of his lack of presence in their lives while they were still children, he should have radically changed his ways and devoted himself to them. This is true for all parents. No parent has any right to put himself before his child, except insofar as the parent is nurturing himself to become a better parent. Once a person has created a child becoming the ideal parent must become their life’s primary motive. If it is not then they do their child a grave disservice and never should have had them in the first place.
Later in Gandhi’s life he tested his celibacy by sleeping nude in the same bed with nude teenage girls – one of his favorites being his niece – who offered themselves up to him for the honor, and at times cuddled up to his nude self “for warmth.” Although he stated he “passed” the test and never laid a hand on one (despite the copious nocturnal emissions he wrote about having had at other times), this misses the point that he was abusing them anyway. It is abusive to treat teenage girls – or anyone – as sex objects in any form. It denies their value as spiritual human beings.
But the same thing had happened to Gandhi when he was young. He himself was sexually misused by his parents, who married him off at thirteen, throwing him into the disturbing world of adult sexuality. This clearly had a devastating effect on his sexuality, and most certainly led him to his twisted behaviors in later life, despite his rationales. This is true for everyone: people who do not fully acknowledge and resolve their early traumas will act them out in some way. An elderly therapist friend of mine refers to the repetition compulsion as “the most powerful force in the universe,” and from all I have witnessed, I do not doubt him.
Children are not ready for sex. Sex, if had at all, should be had only by enlightened adults. And Gandhi agrees. My paraphrase of his quote: “It may be possible that two adults can have healthy sexual intercourse, it’s just that I am not capable of it.” What he doesn’t see is that having sexual intercourse is not the only form of sex, and that there are many lessers forms of interaction that perpetuate the same dynamics as full-blown sex.
Gandhi never really broke from his parents. He idealized them both to the end, which blocked his anger at their betrayal. Granted, as a mature man he stood against child marriage and knew the reasons why, but he never took the final step of fully implicating his parents. Had he done so who knows what other levels of enlightenment he might have been able to achieve – and what damage it might have prevented him from inflicting on innocent others.
This said, Gandhi remained a man ahead of his times. He was humble, honest, and courageous to the best of his ability – as is everyone, in my experience – but Gandhi’s ability was exceptional. He took a bold stand behind the truth he found, and he pursued decades of inner experimentation to uncover more. He had his weaknesses, but he was a pioneer.
A few references in case you’re curious:
1) William Shirer’s book “Gandhi: A Memoir.” (mentions Gandhi sleeping nude with young women)
2) Article #1 (mentions it further)
3) Article #2 (mentions it again)
How is it even possible?
interesting article about gandhi’s eldest son having raped his under-8-year-old daughter and having cut ties with gandhi when he was a young man: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/mahatma-gandhi-sabarmati-ashram-letter-harilal-gandhi-rape-auction-uk/1/361792.html