WAS GANDHI A TANTRIC?
By Nicholas Gier
Professor Emeritus of Philosophy
University of Idaho (email@example.com)
For a complete version, which will appear in Gandhi Marg (2007) click here.
For a 900-word version click here.
My meaning of brahmacharya is this: "One who never has any lustful intention, who . . . has become capable of lying naked with naked women . . . without being in any manner whatsoever sexually excited."
--M. K. Gandhi
The greater the temptation, the greater the renunciation.
--M. K. Gandhi
I threw you in the sacrificial fire and you emerged safe and sound.
--Gandhi to his grandniece Manu Gandhi
I can hurt colleagues and the entire world for the sake of truth.
--M. K. Gandhi (letter to Sushila Nayar)
[Gandhi] can think only in extremes—either extreme eroticism or asceticism.
The professional Don Juan destroys his spirit as fatally as does the professional ascetic, whose [mirror] image he is.
--Aldous Huxley, Do What You Will
Some scholars believe that it is unseemly to write about the sex lives of great thinkers. William Bartley, for example, has been criticized for documenting, quite successfully in my opinion, Ludwig Wittgenstein's homosexual encounters, information that helps us better understand his life and work. If we use this information in an ad hominem attack against these thinkers' worldviews, then we have indeed erred and done them an injustice.
Full and accurate biographies, however, are essential for those of us who wish to capture the full measure of a person's life and character. It is therefore unfortunate that D. K. Bose, Gandhi's faithful secretary and interpreter in Bengal, was forced to self publish his book My Days with Gandhi. He only thought that he was being truthful, but many considered him an apostate, and Sushila Nayar, one of Gandhi's female intimates, thought he had "a dirty mind."
Most people would rather not hear about Martin Luther King's extramarital liaisons, but they remain embarrassing facts, along with the plagiarized passages in his doctoral dissertation, that must be integrated into our understanding of this great saint of nonviolence. King confessed that what he did was wrong and he sought forgiveness from his wife and sought repentance. Sadly, I do not think that we can say that same thing about Gandhi's response to those who criticized his intimate relations with young women. Furthermore, King did not defend his actions by saying that they were part of his spiritual development, something that Gandhi of course did.
It is now widely known that Gandhi shared his bed with young women as part of his experiments in brahmacharya, a Sanskrit word usually translated as "celibacy," but generally understood as the ultimate state of yogic self-control. Gandhi believed that Indian ascetics who sought refuge in forests and mountains were cowards, and he was convinced that the only way to conquer desire was to face the temptation head-on with a naked female in his bed.
I take Gandhi at his word that he did not have carnal relations with these women—his sleeping quarters were open to all to observe—so he was not among the left-handed Tantrics who engaged in ritual sex with their yoginis. At the same time, Gandhi's Tantricism cannot be right-handed kind because this school proscribes intimate contact with women.
As would be expected, we will find that Gandhi was a very distinctive Tantric. Perhaps it can be said that Gandhi was somehow simultaneously a left-handed and right-handed Tantric. Raihana Tyabji, a close associate with a Tantric past, thought that Gandhi's position straddling right-handed and left-hand Tantra was untenable, and that the only way to free himself and his women from sexual desire was "to give free rein to it—to indulge it and satiate it. But he wouldn't listen."
It is not widely known that Gandhi subscribed to Shakta theology, one that puts skakti, the power of the Hindu Goddess, at the center of existence. Shakta theology is the foundation of Hindu Tantricism. Scholars have warned us that not all Shaktas are Tantrics, but Gandhi’s sexual experiments with young women definitely suggest some association with Tantra. It is also possible that that Gandhi’s sexual experiments may have been an abuse of personal power rather than a practice of Hindu spirituality.
One defense that could be made for Gandhi's actions is that he experienced intimate relations with men as well. Hermann Kallenbach, a South Africa associate, was very close to the Mahatma. Kallenbach promised that he would travel to the "ends of the earth in search of [Gandhian] Truth," and he also promised Gandhi that he would never marry. Gandhi reciprocated by declaring unconditional love and a declaration that they would always be "one soul in two bodies."
Gandhi was also very close to Pyarelal Nayar, Sushila Nayar's brother, and boasted that Pyarelal slept closer to him than his sister did. For Gandhi, however, sleeping with men was different from sharing a bed with women. Abha Gandhi's husband Kanu once objected to his wife sleeping with the Mahatma and offered himself as a "bed warmer." Gandhi rejected his proposal by making it clear that brahmacharya tests required young women as bedmates. Finally, if someone makes an appeal to the Indian custom and necessity of intimate Indian family sleeping arrangements, Girja Kumar is not convinced: "Not even in India do grown-up daughters sleep with their fathers."
In his book My Days with Gandhi Bose does mention in passing that Gandhi’s techniques are “reminiscent of the Tantras,” and Gandhi himself said that he read the books on Tantra written by Sir John Woodroofe, but, as far as I know, only Gopi Krishna has argued at any length about Gandhi’s Tantricism.
In his on-line essay “Mahatma Gandhi and the Kundalini Process,” Krishna argues that the only way that we can explain Gandhi’s actions with these young women is to assume he was a kundalini yogi. Krishna speculates that “upward flow of reproductive energy [shakti]” started as soon as he committed himself to brahmacharya in 1906. Gandhi was 37, “the usual time,” from Krishna’s own experience, “for the spontaneous arousal of the Serpent Power.”
As evidence that Gandhi had perfected this state, Krishna cites this passage from Gandhi’s Key to Health: “[the brahmachari’s] sexual organs will begin to look different. . . . He does not become impotent for lack of the necessary secretions of sexual glands. But these secretions in his case are sublimated into a vital force pervading his whole being.” Krishna claims that this passage makes it “patently clear” that Gandhi had attained the state of brahmacharya, but it is not clear that Gandhi is writing about himself, and that, except during the crisis with Manu, he rarely ever claimed spiritual perfection.
As the kundalini yogi matures, Krishna states that he “needs constant stimulation to increase the supply of reproductive juices. . . . The Tantras and other works on kundalini clearly acknowledge the need of an attractive female partner in the practices undertaken to awaken shakti.” Gandhi does in fact say that “my brahmacharya . . . irresistibly drew me to woman as the mother of man. She became too sacred for sexual love.”
Krishna admits that Gandhi himself most likely “had no inkling of the transformative process at work in him,” even though he claims that Gandhi noticed that his male organ had shrunk. Krishna brushes aside criticism of Gandhi’s actions and also concern for the young women’s mental health, because “nature accomplishes her great tasks in her own way and leaves short-sighted mortals wondering how it could happen.” Apart from the speculative nature of Krishna’s theory, we should be most concerned about his disregard for the women’s well being, as well has the implication that Gandhi was driven by forces over which he had no control.
For Gandhi the virtues of patience, self-control, and courage were absolutely essential to defeat the temptation to retaliate and respond with violence. Gandhi made it clear that each of these virtues were found most often in women. Gandhi once said that he wanted to convert the woman=s capacity for "self-sacrifice and suffering into shakti-power." Gandhi describes womankind as follows: "Has she not great intuition, is she not more self-sacrificing, has she not greater powers of endurance, has she not greater courage?" He also claimed that nonviolence is embodied in the woman: she is "weak in striking. . . strong in suffering."
The women around Gandhi were amazed how comfortable they felt in his presence and how much of a woman he had become to them. Millie Polak observed that "most women love men for [masculine] attributes. Yet, Mohandas Gandhi has been given the love of many women for his womanliness." His orphaned grandniece Manu considered Gandhi as her new mother, and she simply could not understand all the controversy surrounding their sleeping together.
The fact that women felt no unease in his presence was proof to Gandhi that he was approaching perfection as a brahmachari. Indeed, Bose contends that Gandhi attempted to “conquer sex” was “by becoming a woman.” Gandhi told Pyarelal Nayar that he once tore the burning sari off a woman in his ashram, but "she felt no embarrassment, because she knew I was a brahmachari and so almost like a sister to her." Alternatively, Gandhi says that his goal was the state of "complete sexlessness" recommended by Jesus and that this condition could be achieved by becoming a eunuch by prayer not by an operation.
Gandhi is no doubt referring to shakti when he states that "all power comes from the preservation and sublimation of the vitality that is responsible for the creation of life." Gandhi may very well be indicating a Tantric process of empowerment that involves the preservation and sublimation of a male vitality that has its source in shakti. When Gandhi did his first radio broadcast on November 12, 1947, he declared that the phenomenon of broadcasting demonstrated “shakti, the miraculous power of God."
When Gandhi once described himself as "half a woman,” an alternative view of masculine and feminine power suggests itself. The Chinese/Jungian view of complementary yin (anima) and yang (animus) energies is found in this passage: "A man should remain man and yet should learn to become woman; similarly, a woman should remain woman and yet learn to become man." Hsi Lai uses the yin/yang model to explain Gandhi’s sexual experiments: “He didn’t do this for the purpose of actual sexual contact, but as an ancient practice of rejuvenating his male energy. . . . Taoists called this method ‘using the yin to replenish the yang.”
The source of Gandhi’s dipolar views of male and female may have been Christian rather than Asian. While a young man in England, Gandhi came into contact with the Esoteric Christian Union, whose interpretation of the image of God meant that the individual "must comprise within himself the qualitiesBmasculine and feminineBof existence and be spiritually both man and woman." When he confessed to Kedar Nathji and Swami Anand that his sexual experiments were “unorthodox,” Gandhi says that his views on this subject had been influenced by “Western writers on this subject.”
It is the male who is active in Tantric rites. Only males undergo initiation, and the only instruction females receive, if they get any, is that they "should not even mentally touch another male." Gandhi's Tantricism definitely follows this androcentric approach. Gandhi also takes the defiant stance of the Tantric who says that he cares nothing for what others thinks of his practice: "The whole world may forsake me but I dare not leave what I hold is the truth for me.” Gandhi once admonished a critic that he would sleep with a thousand women if that is what it took to reach spiritual purity. Gandhi's experiments in truth took on the value free aspects of the scientific method, and left-handed Tantrics believe that their actions are above conventional law and morality.
Normally Tantric practices are tightly structured, highly ritualized, and the initiation procedures, guided by a guru, are esoteric. The only bona fide guru in Gandhi’s spiritual development was Raichandcharya, a Jain saint, not a Tantric, with whom Gandhi corresponded during his formative South Africa period. Gandhi officiated at daily worship and hymn singing, encouraged the chanting of the Ramanama (the god Rama's name), and followed an unconventional diet, but these practices are not Tantric in any way. The chanting of the Ramanama is said to have magical properties, but its use is so widespread in India it may not indicate any special Tantric associations. Nevertheless, Gandhi does connect the chanting of Rama's name with "an alchemy [that] can transform the body" that leads to "the conservation of vital energy."
Gandhi’s experiments with truth were highly personalized but not spiritually esoteric as are Tantric practices. Only after the sexual experiments came under public scrutiny did Gandhi started telling his female associates to keep their activities secret. Not until his last days, when his sleeping with Manu became public, did Gandhi confess that this secrecy was actually a sign of untruthfulness. Gandhi's secrecy was simply expedient and not spiritually required.
Before Gandhi started his brahmacharya experiments in 1938, he had a string of intimate relationships with European and Indian women. While he was in South Africa, Gandhi fell in love with Millie Polak, the wife of Henry Polak, both of whom lived with Gandhi at Phoenix Farm. Kumar describes their first contact as follows: "Gandhiji and Millie started conversing through their eyes. They made a pact between them immediately. Poor Henry was left stranded." As with all of his female friends, Gandhi insisted that he and Millie be sisters or alternatively that he be her father, but after they were together in London in 1909 without Henry, Gandhi dared to suggest that he was a substitute husband.
Even though Millie was smitten by him, she stood up to Gandi's controlling nature and argued against his absurd dietary ideas and his goal to force chastity on all his coworkers. This independent spirit that defines most of his female intimates of this early period stands in instructive contrast to the passive participants in the later brahmacharya experiments. For example, Kumar describes Manu as a devotee who "was prepared to sacrifice her life at the altar of her personal God." Gandhi controlled every aspect of Manu's life, and when she once forgot his favorite soap at their last stay, he made her walk back through a dark jungle to retrieve it.
When Millie finally broke off their 3-year affair, Gandhi's attentions turned to Maud Polak, Henry's sister. Maud worked with Gandhi at Phoenix Farm as his personal secretary until 1913. In a letter to Henry, Gandhi described Maud seeing him off at a railway station: "She cannot tear herself from me. . . . She would not shake hands with me. She wanted a kiss. [This incident] has transformed her and with her me."
Esther Faering, a young Danish missionary, was the next major love in Gandhi's life. From her very first visit at the Satyagraha Ashram in 1917, Kumar describes Faering as "completely hooked on" Gandhi, and as with Millie Polak, "an instant chemistry developed" between them. Gandhi "experienced an intensely personal passion for Esther," and she praised him as the "Incarnation of God in man."
The other ashramites were alarmed at Gandhi's obsession with Faering, and Kasturba Gandhi was particularly cool to her husband's new love interest. Gandhi made matters worse by siding with Faering against his wife. While he was away from the ashram, he wrote daily letters to Faering, which Kumar describes as having the passionate intensity of the poets of Hinduism and Sufi Islam. He hazards a guess that "Esther must have stirred," as young beautiful women are supposed to do in the Tantric yogi, "the serpent resting uncoiled in [Gandhi's] kundalini."
One would expect Gandhi to have at least been serially monogamous in his relationships, but that was not the case. While Faering was struggling against Kasturba and other ashramites, and receiving Gandhi's constant support from afar, he was conducting what Kumar calls a "whirlwind romance" with Saraladevi Chowdharani, a Bengali revolutionary married to a Punjabi musician. Her father was a secretary of Indian National Congress in Calcutta, and by virtue of her singing and activism, Saraladevi was celebrated as Bengal's Joan of Arc and as an incarnation of the Goddess Durga. She rose to the challenge and wrote that "my pen reverberated with the power of Shiva's trumpet and invited Bengalis to cultivate death."
After the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1919, Gandhi stayed at Saraladevi's home in Lahore and then toured India together during 1920. Her husband, R. D. Chowdhary, was in jail for the first eight months this period, but he was content, as was Henry Polak, to share his wife with the Mahatma. Gandhi agreed with Chowdhary that Saraladevi was the "greatest shakti of India."
Gandhi called Saraladevi his "spiritual wife" after "an intellectual wedding," and he reported that he bathed “in her deep affection” as she showered "her love on [him] in every possible way." Kasturba Gandhi had refused to wear khadi—the homespun and hand woven garments that Gandhi made famous—but Saraladevi became the Mahatma's most elegant khadi model. Kumar describes them as "lovelorn teenagers with stars in their eyes," and depicts Saraladevi as "aristocratic, gorgeously dressed, sensuously beautiful, and imperious. In short, she had everything that [Kasturba] lacked."
In contrast to his later brahmacharya mistresses, Saraladevi, just as Millie Polak before her, did not bow to Gandhi's authority in any way. For example, as the quotation above implies, she agreed with fellow Bengalis, such as the young Aurobindo, that independence required violent revolution. Following her Goddess, Durga's shakti was always accompanied by violence, and Saraladevi eventually broke with Gandhi over this very issue.
Kumar concludes that just as his relation to Faering, while "full of sensuality," was asexual, Gandhi's romance with Saraladevi was "probably . . . entirely platonic." There was, however, a "large component of eroticism" and the "line of demarcation between sexual, sensuous, erotic and platonic was only of degree and not of kind."
Kumar's phrasing is unfortunate and logically incoherent, because "degree" means a slippery slope and not a strict line between the intellectual/spiritual and the physical. In letters to Saraladevi in July, 1920, Gandhi insists that being "spiritually" married means that the "physical must be wholly absent," but he then admits that he is "too physically attached to" her for there to be a true "sacred association."
In his conversations with Margaret Sanger, Gandhi refers to a "woman with whom I almost fell," and "the thought of my wife kept me from going to perdition." Writing to Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, a later bedmate, he admitted the he, "with one solitary exception," had never "looked upon a woman with lustful eyes." These two references must have been to Saraladevi Chowdharani.
Madeleine Slade, who became Gandhi's beloved Mirabehn, was the daughter of a British naval officer who was once stationed in Bombay. Mirabehn first learned of Gandhi through Romain Rolland, who was then writing a Gandhi biography. She wrote to Gandhi requesting that she become a member of the Sabarmati Ashram, but he required that she live as an ascetic for one year before coming to India. More than any of his disciples, Mirabehn eagerly took to the austerities that Gandhi demanded. As opposed to Kasturba, who disliked latrine duties, Mirabehn eagerly took charge of the toilets, even those for all the delegates to a meeting of the Indian National Congress.
At their first meeting in November, 1925, Mirabehn found Gandhi "divine," and she was able to confirm Rolland's claim that he was indeed the second Christ. They fell in love with one another and Kumar says that "Mira was Saraladevi . . . all over again." Once again, because of Gandhi's fascination for her, Mirabehn was shunned by the ashramites. Gandhi soon discovered that Mirabehn's emotional instability caused his blood pressure to rise, so he frequently sent her away on other tasks. They did, however, keep in contact with weekly self-described "love letters," and Gandhi wrote that she haunted his dreams.
Mirabehn agreed with Gandhi's depiction that their passion was like a "bed of hot ashes," a veritable ascetic-erotic rhapsody of yogic tapas. Gandhi also shared with Mirabehn agonies about his spontaneous erections, daytime ejaculations, and wet dreams, for which he castigated himself unmercifully, and they even discussed the causes and cures of constipation.
Of the women closely associated with Gandhi, at least ten were said to have slept in his bed. They can be identified as follows:
· Sushila Nayar was only 15 when she came to the Sabarmati Ashram and then became Gandhi's intimate companion, with some periods of alienation and remove, for the rest of his life. Gandhi claimed that Nayar was a natural brahmachari, having observed it from childhood. They bathed together and even used the same bath water, but Gandhi assured everyone that he kept his "eyes tightly shut."
· Lilavati Asar, associated with Gandhi from 1926-1948, slept in his bed and gave him "service," which meant bathing and massaging.
· Sharada Parnerkar slept "close" to Gandhi and rendered "service." She was very ill in October, 1940, and Gandhi gave her regular enemas.
· Amtul Salaam, whom Gandhi called his "crazy daughter," was a Punjabi from Patiala. She was also a bedmate and masseuse. Gandhi once wrote about the joy he gave Salaam when she received a massage from him.
· Prabhavati Narayan, a Kashmiri, lived in an unconsummated marriage with Jayaprakash Narayan, Indira Gandhi's most famous political foe. Because of her lack of sexual interest or desire, Gandhi thought that Prabhavati would be a perfect married brahmachari. In addition to sleeping with Gandhi, she also gave him "service."
· Raj Kumari Amrit Kaur, married to a Rajasthani prince, was India’s first health minister and was a Gandhi associate for 30 years. Although older, she slept right along with the younger women in Gandhi's quarters. She also helped with baths and massages.
· Sucheta Kriplani, a member of Parliament and professor at Benares Hindu University, was a member of Gandhi’s Peace Brigade in East Bengal in 1947. She maintained a brahmachari marriage with J. B. Kriplani, a famous socialist and saint. Gandhi fought their union tooth and nail. Although Gandhi invited Mrs. Kriplani to his bed on a regular basis, he insisted that married couples in his ashrams always sleep in different quarters.
· Abha Gandhi was a Bengali who accompanied the Mahatma in East Bengal. She started sleeping with Gandhi when she was 16; she also bathed him and washed his clothes.
· Kanchan Shah, also a married woman, had a "one night stand" with Gandhi and was banned from brahmacharya experiments because she reputedly wanted to have sex with him. Gandhi gave the following instructions on brahmachari marriage to Shah and her husband: "You should not touch each other. You shall not talk to each other. You shall not work together. You should not take service from each other." But Gandhi of course received "service" from his women on a daily basis. On the hypocrisy of taking what he denied to others, Kumar has this to say: "The vow of brahmacharya was a revenge he took upon everyone else."
· Manu Gandhi was his brother’s granddaughter and she was his constant companion for the last eight years of his life. Interestingly enough, there is a temple to Manu, a powerful rain goddess, in Gandhi’s home city of Porbandar.
Most accounts of Gandhi’s spiritual experiments focus on those with Manu in 1946-47 in East Bengal. Although he conceded at the time that it “may be a delusion and a snare,” and although he seemed to be recalling his earlier experiments at Sevagram—“I have risked perdition before now”—he was still confident that he had “launched on a sacrifice [that] consists of the full practice of truth” and the development of a “non-violence of the brave.” He said that these tests were no longer an experiment, which could be seen as optional, but a compulsory sacred duty (yajna). His hut where he slept with Manu was called "holy ground," and Manu's father had to sleep elsewhere when he visited.
There is some confusion about whether the women simply slept next to him or shared the same cover, or whether they slept clothed or unclothed. The scenario appeared to be that they first slept next to him, then slept under the same cover without clothes. Significantly, Gandhi admitted that "all of them would strip reluctantly. . . and they did so at my prompting." As to the reason for complete nakeness, Sushila Nayar recalls Gandhi's explanation to Manu: "We both may be killed by the Muslims at any time. We must both put our purity to the ultimate test. . . and we should now both start sleeping naked."
Gandhi described his sleeping with Manu as a “bold and original experiment,” one that required a “practiced brahmachari” such as he was, and a woman such as Manu who was free from passion. Confessing as she even might have done with her own mother, Manu told Gandhi that she had not ever experienced sexual desire. Presumably because of these ideal conditions, Gandhi predicted that the “heat would be great.” It is not clear whether Gandhi was speaking of the yogi heat of tapas, or the heat of the negative reactions that he anticipated.
One has to admire Manu because it was she, not Gandhi, who suggested that they not sleep together any longer. It is harder to credit Gandhi, particularly when he said that the experiments ceased because of Manu’s “inexperience,” not because of any failing on his part. As Kumar states: "Just five days before Gandhiji was assassinated, he charged her with failing to realize the potential of mahayajna." So it was Manu's fault, not his.
Controversy about the practice continued during the summer of 1947, but Gandhi was pleased when two editors of his journal Harijan, who had resigned in protest about the experiments, confessed that they had misjudged Gandhi. It is not clear that the experiments stopped because Pyarelal notes that "the practice was for the time being discontinued"; indeed, after returning to Delhi, Manu and Gandhi resumed sleeping together and "continued right till the end."
Gandhi’s "sacred associations" actually began at his Sevagram ashram as early as 1938, when his wife Kasturba was still alive. Sushila Nayar not only slept with him there, but also gave him regular massages, sometimes in front of visitors, and they, as I have noted, bathed together. About his relations to Nayar, Gandhi states: "She has experienced everything I have in me. . . . She is more absorbed in me. Hence I would even make her sleep by my side without fear." Nayar told Ved Mehta that “long before Manu came into the picture, I used to sleep with him just as I would with my mother. . . . In the early days there was no question of calling this a brahmacharya experiment. It was just part of a nature cure. Later on, when people started asking questions about his physical contact with women, the idea of brahmacharya experiments was developed.” The fact that Gandhi changed the justification for these experiments after closer public scrutiny suggests that his motivation for these actions may not have been as pure as he wanted people to assume.
In an extremely candid confession, Gandhi admits that at Sevagram he had made a grave mistake:
I feel my action was impelled by vanity and jealousy. If my experiment was dangerous, I should not have undertaken it. And if it was worth trying, I should have encouraged my co-workers to undertake it on my conditions. My experiment was a violation of the establishment norms of brahmacharya. Such a right can be enjoyed only by a saint like Shukadevji who can remain pure in thought, word and deed at all times of day.
Gandhi, however, could not maintain his resolve, because shortly thereafter (as soon as 12 hours!) intimate contact with women of the ashram resumed. According to Mark Thomson, “Gandhi explained that he could not bear the pain and anguish suffered by women devotees denied the opportunity to serve him in this fashion.” Gandhi confessed that he "could not bear the tears of Sushila and fainting away of Prabhavati." In February, 1939, there was another crisis. Gandhi admitted that four women at Sevagram did not like "giving service" and they were ordered to sleep "out of reach" of his arms.
When Gandhi spoke of the dangers of his sexual experiments in 1938, he must have realized that he was not ready for the test. While he did claim that he “can keep [sexual desire] under control,” he admitted he had not “completely eradicated the sex feeling,” a criterion that he had honored from the traditional rules of brahmacharya. Gandhi openly admitted that there were some “black nights,” presumably sleeping with his women, in which God “saved me in spite of myself.”
One of these dark nights must have been May 9, 1938. In a letter to Nayar's brother, Gandhi admitted that he may have had "a dirty mind" and may have played "the role of Satan." His "diseased mind" might have "aroused him" and thereby compromised Nayar, causing her "untold misery." Gandhi was obviously wrong when he claimed previously that Nayar's natural purity could "forestall any mistake I may make," and that "contact with her has brought greater purity to me." Although he took all the blame upon himself, Gandhi appears incredibly obtuse in assuming that Nayar had no reason to feel disturbed or unhappy about the psychological effects of her intimate relations with him.
Sushila Nayar was away from the ashram for long periods for her medical education. When she finished, Gandhi begged her to return as the ashram's doctor. He was upset that she now refused to be called his daughter, and he urged her, without her preconditions, to "rush to me and become one with me." Reading the dozens of letters exchanged during this time, it is clear that Nayar was still very troubled about what happened at Sevagram. She wrote that she would return only on "conditions," which were that she would not have to give Gandhi "service." Nayar reluctantly submitted to Gandhi's indomitable will in September, 1940. While he was in Delhi, she did give him a massage, but she came to him "with great difficulty." She also sent him a letter beforehand, which he described as "hurtful." While describing himself as unhappy, he acknowledged that Nayar was suffering "deep misery."It looked as if Nayar could have succeeded in tearing herself away from Gandhi's possessive domination, just as his earlier intimates had, but she did eventually return to him and was with him and Manu in East Bengal.
Although Gandhi declared that he, compared to other men, could take greater liberty" with women, and that no woman "has been harmed by contact with me or been prey to lustful thoughts," there is sufficient evidence to prove that Gandhi's experiments had a deleterious effect on his female intimates' mental health. There was intense competition among the women for Gandhi’s attention. For example, Lilavati Asar and Amtul Salaam were very jealous of Sushila Nayar, and Gandhi promised Asar that he would stop sleeping with Nayar because of her anger.
Gandhi was always inclined to blame others for not understanding the unique nature of his experiments. In 1940 Gandhi admitted that the "atmosphere here [Sevagram] cannot be said to be natural for anyone," but nevertheless the conflict was caused by those who were not properly "absorbed" in it. Those who had learned "master the atmosphere" could live at Sevagram "comfortably and grow." Several visitors attested to definite signs of psychological turmoil among Gandhi's women companions. In 1947 Swami Ananda and Kedar Nath, two visitors with substantial spiritual credentials, queried Gandhi as follows: “Why do we find so much disquiet and unhappiness around you. Why are your companions emotionally unhinged?” The former Tantric Raihana Tyabji observed that the more Gandhi's young women "tried to restrain themselves and repress their sexual impulses . . . the more oversexed and sex-conscious they became."
After learning of the experiments, Bose wrote that he would “never tempt [himself] like that; nor would my respect for a woman’s personality permit me to treat her as an instrument of an experiment undertaken only for my own sake.” He was also concerned about the women’s emotional health: “Whatever may be the value of the [experiment] on Gandhiji’s own case, it does leave mark of injury on the personality of others who are not of the same moral stature as he himself is, and for whom sharing in Gandhiji’s experiment is no spiritual necessity.”
Bose was also concerned about Gandhi’s own emotional state, observing that Sushila Nayar’s presence brought him out of his normal “unruffled” composure. On December 17, 1946 at 3:20 AM, Bose heard two loud slaps and “deeply anguished cry” from Gandhi’s sleeping quarters. He went in to find both Nayar and Gandhi in tears. Bose had assumed that Gandhi had slapped Nayar, but she insisted that Gandhi had hit himself on the forehead twice, a physical form of Gandhi’s “self-suffering” that Manu had witnessed as well. Bose also mentions an unnamed woman “Z,” who “was not always disinterested in her relations with” with Gandhi, and who also upset him and distracted him from his political work.
In conclusion, if we can call Gandhi a Tantric, then it is a very unique nonritualistic, nonesoteric practice combining aspects of both left- and right-handed Tantric schools. It also must be said, no matter how much we want to hold Gandhi in the highest esteem, that there is sufficient evidence to conclude that Gandhi was inconsistent in his justifications for his sexual experiments and not completely sincere in carrying them out. This would then lead one to question whether these experiments were a spiritual necessity or simply a personal indulgence and abuse of power.
If the goal of the true Tantric is to transform desire into something sacred, then personally I am less and less certain that Gandhi achieved this goal. As Aldous Huxley once said: "The professional Don Juan destroys his spirit as fatally as does the professional ascetic, whose [mirror] image he is."