While Gandhi had many influences in his life, none was greater in his spiritual development than his mother, Putilbai. A very earnest spiritual aspirant, Putilbai upheld in her own life that the greatest form of love meant the willing sacrifice of self for another. In his words, “she was deeply religious”. Gandhi recalls, how, as a child, his mother’s devotion and very strong will would be manifest in various strict vows and religious fasts such as the 4-month period of Chaturmas (a Lent or Karem-like fasting period). He remembers how he and his siblings would watch for the sun so that their mother would have a meal with them, as her fasts would sometimes mean not eating until the sun shone its face on her. Quickly they would run to bring her out to see the sun if it poked through the clouds, and if it went back before she made it out, she would take it as a sign that she must continue her fast; and she did so with gladness in her heart.
Religion was not a separate compartment in her life, nor was it for Gandhi. He recalls that she had a strong vein of common sense in all things political and was sought after in her community for it. Before Gandhi left for his law studies in England, she would ask him to take three vows to express his commitment and love to her, which he did in earnest: no meat, no women and no alcohol or tobacco. When friends in England tried to convince him to remove the necklace that she gave him to remind him of his vows to her, he was not willing, nor would he let them call her superstitious. So close was Gandhi to his mother that when she died while he was away, his family could not bear to give him the news, in fear that it would disrupt his studies, so he only learned of her death at the moment of his return to India. Yet the imprint of her maternal love was there. The seeds of his strength through gentleness had been planted in the young man later to become the “great soul.”
Hold the thought of your mother today as a blessing.
The Metta Center for Nonviolence, PO Box 98, Petaluma, California 94953 707-774-6299 firstname.lastname@example.org