Taste is only one of the senses. The same thing could have happened through any of them. The story could well have been that the man saw a beautiful woman, or a dancing peacock, or a spectacular sunrise, or a rainbow spread across the sky – and in that moment everything was forgotten. Or the man might have suddenly caught the fragrance of an opening flower, forgetting everything as his nostrils filled with the waves of its sweet perfume. The story is only symbolic of how your senses can help you to forget. All the senses are in fact ready to become unconscious – their interest is in unconsciousness. When you are aware, the senses are dead; when the senses are awake, you are unconscious. In your unconsciousness is the awakening of the senses, in the unconsciousness of the senses is your awakening. So one of the senses arose and the taste filled up the mind, and in that moment everything within went unconscious – in such a critical situation, when death was hovering over the man!
Mahatma Gandhi has written the memoirs of his younger days, and in one of them is to be found the traumatic experience that affected his whole life. The trauma, as psychologists call it, influenced the entire shape of his future, weaving into his life a pattern that he was never able to erase. His father was dying, and the doctors had declared that this would be his last night, he could not last any longer; before the sun rose he would be dead. So naturally his son stayed with him through the night, knowing that each one of his father’s breaths might be his last. And he was not staying with his father just out of a sense of duty, but in deep affection and reverence for him.
Midnight came, and one o’clock, and still Gandhi sat at his father’s feet. His father was dozing now, and thoughts began to run through Gandhi’s head: “The doctor is not a fortune-teller – how can he know with absolute certainty that my father will not survive the night? This is just speculation on his part…” and so on. The mind opened its doors. And as his father continued sleeping, Gandhi’s thoughts turned to his wife, who was sleeping in a nearby room. “What harm can there be if I slip out to see my wife, and make love with her, and then return?” So he left his sleeping father and went to his wife. And as he was making love with her, a knock came at the door, and a voice informed him that his father had passed away!
This was the trauma that permanently affected Gandhi. His whole insistence on celibacy is an offshoot of this experience. Gandhi’s celibacy is not the celibacy of Mahavira. There is no bliss and gratitude in it; rather, it is a sick celibacy, full of pain and anguish – a kind of repentance. This is worth understanding, because not all forms of celibacy are the same. It depends on from what it arises, why it arises.
Gandhi’s celibacy is a repentance for not being with his father when he died. After that he could never approach his wife with the same innocent heart. He would be always haunted by the thought of his father’s death, and by his sense of guilt: “What kind of a man am I, that my father was dying yet still I could not be away from my wife for a single night!” Moreover, Gandhi’s wife was nine months pregnant at that time, and delivered a dead child about a week later. To have sex with a woman whose pregnancy is virtually full-term can be dangerous to the baby, and this led Gandhi to the further belief that it was his visit to his wife the night his father was dying that led to the death of his unborn child.