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Part II, Ascetics as Athletes of the Will

It is rare for me to enjoy a biography. That is one reason why I am bothering to write about Ramachandra Guha's "Gandhi Before India." Last post I credited it with being a non-hagiography.

Over the course of the book I came to the same conclusion as the author at the close of his book (page 546/672):
But let us not win the argument ... through hindsight, but rather try and see Gandhi's own experiments as he saw them, as steps to a purer, more meaningful life. To simplify his diet, to reduce his dependence on medicines and doctors, to embrace brahmacharya, were all for him ways of strengthening his will and his resolve. By conquering the need to be stimulated by sex and rich food -- the 'basal passions' according to his teacher Tolstoy -- Gandhi was preparing himself for a life lived for other people and for higher values.

If he ate little, and that merely fruits and vegetables, without salt, sugar and spices, if he didn't care how often (or if at all) he had sex with his wife; if he dressed simply and didn't own property or jewelry, he could more easily embrace the rigours of prison life...
Gandhi's asceticism was a daily regimen of "muscle building" which could be applied to his overall battle. It takes guts to go to prison. It takes guts to spend your time in a political struggle while neglecting your legal practice and source of income. His worries were intensified by being a husband and father. We have been so warped by the "Mahatma" nickname that we take Gandhi's courage for granted. He didn't just magically become brave, he made himself a little braver each day by gradually becoming independent of the things that enslave a person to the "System." He became an athlete of the will.

I went from a mild dislike of Gandhi to admiration when I abandoned seeing him as a "moral athlete," and starting seeing him as an athlete-of-the-will.

Now then, can I apply this lesson to my own blog about RV camping and independent living? I know that life can be far zestier and more satisfying after abandoning the suburban cocoon of RV parks, and adopting a lifestyle that is closer to nature. This includes:

1. Purely sensual and physiological pleasures. Pretty scenery is a small part of that, of course. Heat and shade, fresh air 24 hours a day, a navy shower after bicycling, sleeping in cold weather, getting the trailer door into the sunrise or the afternoon north, a nap-like sag after lunch or bicycle ride while listening to music, etc.

2. Primal (anthropological) satisfactions: friends around a campfire, an arroyo-hike with a dog, nailing wildlife, building a customized "man cave", hunting for a new campsite on public lands, getting lost on a hike and then "unlost," etc.

3. The philosophical satisfaction of making sense of the world and of your own life.

But instead of that message coming through, the readers may see a moral posturer who is always scolding conventional RVers.  Possibly I need to emphasize the positive more, but not to the point of coming off as one of those pep-talking charlatans of the motivational speaker ilk. The human mind is best when it operates like a pair of scissors: two blades must work in opposition to get positive work done. 

After finishing this biography I want to apply its message by presenting myself more as an "athlete of the X", but I'm not sure what word to use for X.


XXXXX said…
Have you looked into the meaning of embracing "brahmacharya?" I surely agree with you that restraining from indulgence or overindulgence in food, sex, entertainment, etc. is a poison in life. And I am no expert on the concepts of the Teaching but I do think there is a point you have missed.
You seem to be a person who loves the physical adventure every day. That seems to be how most of your energy is spent. You're not appreciative of many aspects of society and city living so you really haven't given anything up there at all. You minimize your living situation because you're not interested in the upkeep. Yes, that took an independent mind and an ability to walk away but you only walked away from what you didn't want anyway. My point is you haven't yet had to walk away from what you really love. You have simply adopted a lifestyle which conserves your energy so that you can spend it on your chosen pleasures.
Look at your list: (1) purely sensual and psychological pleasures, (2) primal satisfactions, (3) philosophical satisfactions. All of these are still self-indulgent.
That is where the difference lies. Ghandi, and others who practice Brahmacharya restrain from sensual gratification in order to conserve their energy, gain will power, increase the purity of their thinking, etc. (like you) but for the reason of doing great works for the world.
And that is a huge difference.
XXXXX said…
I feel the need to tweak my words a bit.
The last one.....philosophical the door to what is greater.
And perhaps that is what the "X" would be.
Humble attempts to define this would be "seeking truth", "honesty", perhaps even "brutal honesty." The ability to break loose from the chains of the past, from the chains of society, family, and religious teachings. Philosophy means "lover of wisdom." Am I close?
My next question would be "Where do these efforts lead?"
What is one looking for when one studies philosophy? Is "satisfaction" the right word? "Satisfaction" is such a self-indulgent word, which is why I was initially distracted from the potential of the statement itself. Perhaps the real result would lead to the opposite as one finally admits a certain disagreeable likelihood about the human nature which we have all inherited.
Yet, ultimately this study of philosophy seems eventually to bring one to the point of Others.
You require the work of other people to make your lifestyle possible. You use grocery stores, roads, etc. You have a car and van produced by industry. We are interdependent, are we not?
How do you reconcile this boundary place where the "I" leaves off and an acknowledgement of Others, their importance, etc. to the Greater Whole becomes crucial in one's attempt to gain "satisfaction" with philosophical pursuit.
I do fully acknowledge my initial shortcoming with your point #3. It truly has great potential and is an exciting question in itself.
"X": Seeker of Wisdom
Joy said…
I like the scissors analogy. "Will" is probably not the right word for X, if only because of the terrible damage done by people in the last century who sought "the triumph of the will." The major problem with doing great works for the world is whose world you're talking about, because the concept of world in human history has never yet been all-inclusive. Anyway, you might want to check out Webb Chiles' blogs or books. Mr. C. may have found X. He's certainly spent a long time looking for it in ways you might appreciate.
John V said…
You already call the blog "Occupation of Independence". Why not consider yourself an althlete of the independent lifestyle. Ghandi had many motivations, but a big reason to live a simple, self-sufficient life is to remove, as much as possible, the influences that large institutions try to exert over us every day (governments, banks, healthcare monopolies, media, energy companies, food companies, and on and on). Being as independent as possible starves these beasts and leads to a level of dignity most people will never know. Then again, by being independent, we are also being different from mainstream society. So I suppose you could also call it being an athlete of the weird. In this case, wear that "weird" badge with honor! When it comes to the necessary level of interdependence, strive for finding and nurturing just the right small group of neighbors and friends.
Indeed, my lifestyle is not ascetic since I have not walked away from much that I loved: houses, furniture, showy cars, big screen TVs, etc. None of that crap means anything to me. Nor do the expensive "cultural" entertainments of a city. It is probably hard for female RVers to see someone in my rig and imagine that he is comfortable.

But my lifestyle is prone to too much frivolous driving, and with a big V8 gas hog tow-vehicle. Frivolous driving leads to more than transportation expenses: soon I am in some coffee shop, over-paying for coffee and goodies. Or some other way to squander money. The quickest path to debauchery is to reach for the car keys!
I had a look at Webb Chile's website. It's a large body of work, and I haven't made it very far.

But I thank you for pointing me towards something I was unfamiliar with. You can't believe what a rut I get into on the internet. Maybe swearing off the internet is the right exercise for a modern Gandhi!
Yes indeed: large institutions (aka "the System", the Matrix) do not control us DIRECTLY so much as they control things that we get sucked into coveting and lusting for. Renounce that Desire, and you break free of them!
During the playoffs I saw a commercial that epitomized what you were saying. In fact, it was so perfect that it was obscene: a man was noticed and admired by several people at work. None of them knew why they were admiring him, only that they sensed some magical aura of power, prestige, self-fulfillment, sex appeal, Success, and happiness. The series of admirers climaxed with a hottie at work noticing him merely getting out of the elevator.

Then the punchline: the Golden Boy drove off in his new Chevy Colorado pickup (or whatever it was.)

Not a single thing was said about the truck itself.
Joy said…
As we're too often housebound here in winter, I've developed the habit of picking one subject to research on-line and via Kindle each winter. That keeps me focused but leaves some serendipitous wiggle room.. The subject in '13-'14 was sailing, inspired by those amazing boats of the last America's Cup. I ended up reading accounts of solo circumnavigations, and of the men who've made those voyages I think Webb Chiles is the most interesting. This winter's subject is the Bronze Age, because I got to wondering about the origins of large-scale warfare.Thank you for pointing me to the Silk Road bicycling blog, which shows a lot of the landscapes where the Bronze Age played out.
Joy said…
A side issue applicable to Gandhi and Tolstoy, and currently Bill Cosby - how do you value the ideas or careers of people whose actions in private are at odds with their public accomplishments? All I can contribute to the discussion is the observation that everyone I've known well over 70 years, including yours truely, has had at least one glaring inconsistency in their personality.
Jim and Gayle said…
A number of dedeconstructivisms concerning the meaninglessness, and hence the dialectic, of capitalist society may be discovered. It could be said that Dahmus suggests that we have to choose between Foucaultist power relations and the postdialectic paradigm of expression.

XXXXX said…
Maybe they aren't at odds with themselves; it's only the onlooker that has a problem. We do learn to be careful with what we show the world. For example, we tend to pass gas, pick our noses, etc. in private.
Gee George, it is easier to hammer one nail at a time, and you are banging away like a pneumatic nail gun in this comment.

I like all your suggestions for X. It is hard to find a single word that does the job. An entire phrase is likely to be more accurate, but it's not as catchy.

You really think that "satisfaction" is too "self" oriented? It doesn't bother me in that regard. Maybe I am still in my Epicurean phase of happily "cultivating my garden," while the Empire goes to hell in a handbasket.

I realize that we are all interdependent, and have no desire to rebel against that. It is dependence on corrupt and hateful institutions that I want to liberate myself from. See RVino's comment below.

Wisdom makes a good X. It might be tainted with associations and stereotypes, but that isn't the fault of the word itself.

The art of writing a useful comment is to emphasize the autochthonous, while refraining from the obfuscation of the exogenous.
XXXXX said…
I usually find myself agreeing with John and this is no exception.

Don't want to bang away again and a conversation on "satisfaction" and the self is a big one. Maybe another day.
Joy said…
Well, that settles it!