12th April 2011
Research into Gandhi’s views on suicide #1
I had a few minutes (not really: I had to squeeze them out), and thought I'd pursue Bhagwad Jal's claims that "The very fact that Gandhi was willing to go on a fast unto death meant that he was comfortable with the idea of ending one's own life by one's own free will."
Whatever I know of Gandhi rebels against such a wild claim, and indeed, a very cursory research at: http://www.gandhiserve.org/ (please use google advanced search restricting your search to PDF files; that way you'll quickly be able to scan 98 volumes of ALL of Gandhi's writings) has proven this to be so.
In the less than 30 minutes I've spent in research on this topic I've come to the following view (to be further confirmed):
a) Gandhi detested suicide
b) He thought that his fasts were NOT fasts unto death because no one could control their life or death
c) He saw his fasts a spiritual cleansing of HIMSELF.
Anyway, this more or less confirms my high esteem of Gandhi and I will further explore his precise views in order to distinguish between when someone try to fast – to cleanse the society – and when someone cannot. In my view Hazare's fast has all the trappings of a political tool. It is nowhere in the league of Gandhi.
Yet to finalise my views. Your input/research is invited. Please spare me your opinions. Provide me with SOLID research.
Here are some initial findings:
Gandhi is REPELLED by the thought of suicide
The whole of my own religious upbringing has been such as to make any thought of suicide on my part impossible. vol. 58
There is general agreement between Hinduism and other faiths that suicide is a sin. vol. 58
The Hindus even aspire to escape from the encumbrance of this body, but do not commit suicide for that purpose. Vol 25
His imploring people to NOT commit suicide
We should make up our minds that we ourselves will never commit suicide. The kind of people who commit suicide either worry too much about the world, or try to hide their faults from the world. We should never pretend to be what we are not, or try to do what is clearly beyond us. Vol. 39
He notes that fasting is illegal and suicide prohibited
12. Simple suicide is an offence under the present Law as I have been told.
13. If Gandhi took up his stand at the Viceregal gateway and threatened to fast even for one day unless the British Government withdrew from the country, the Government would be justly entitled to arrest him and imprison him till he came to his senses. Vol 58
One case when suicide is permitted:
Someone reporting his views: “He would think of only one occasion when it would be better to kill oneself. That was when a man cast an evil eye on another woman.” Vol. 25
Yes, if his thoughts become impure and he is tempted to infect another person with his impurity, he may by all means commit suicide. Committing suicide is a thousand times preferable to sleeping with another’s wife. Vol. 25
The power to die everyone has but few desire to use it. When someone wishes to dishonour a woman, when a man is in danger of being overmastered by lust, such a man and woman have a right to commit suicide. It is indeed their duty to do so. Vol.25
But then he adds:
If you wish to go and lay down your life, do so. Dying for India is not suicide. Suicide is bad both for Hindus as well as Mussulmans. Rather than violate a woman’s chastity it is better for one to go and drown oneself. Suicide is bad but this type of suicide is good. Vol. 25
Fasting with a goal of death is repulsive to him
The method of fasting, committing suicide, still instinctively repels me. vol. 58
The mental model of spiritual fasting that Gandhi then employs
My fast was not a fast unto death in its literal sense. The Roman Catholic priest, who is a visitor to this prison, knows me, and when I was on the eve of taking that fast, he came over to me in his kindly manner just to say one word, and he said how he drew the distinction between a suicide and a sacrifice. A suicide carried with it a certainty of destruction. A sacrifice meant risking life, the greater the risk, the greater the sacrifice. But there should be nothing beyond risk. I had no hesitation in agreeing with the distinction, and my fast being conditional was not a fast amounting to suicide, but it was a fast involving the greatest risk, but still a risk and no more. vol. 58
Needless to say I write of spiritual fasts. I know that fasting may come also from despair. Then it is rank suicide. I should defend my fast against such a charge. For me it has always been a process of penance and purification. The fast of 1921 was not born of despair. The basis of all penitential fasts has always been faith in mankind, God and oneself. It gives an inward joy that sustains one. I therefore want you to share with me the joy of it. I hope you have understood my argument. Of course you know that there is no certainty about the 2nd January fast. It may have to be postponed. vol. 58