Control of the palate is very closely connected with the observance of brahmacharya. I have found from experience that the observance of celibacy becomes comparatively easy, if one acquires mastery over the palate. This does not figure among the observances of time-honoured recognition. Could it be because even great sages found it difficult to achieve ? In the Satyagraha Ashram we have elevated it to the rank of an independent observance, and must therefore consider it by itself.
Food has to be taken as we take medicine, that is, without thinking whether it is palatable or otherwise, and only in quantities limited to the needs of the body. Just as medicine taken in too small a dose does not take effect or the full effect, and as too large a does injures the system, so it is with food. It is therefore a breach of this observance to take anything just for its pleasant taste. It is equally a breach to take too much of what one finds to one's taste. From this it follows, that to put salt in one's food, in order to increase or modify its flavour or in order to cure its insipidity, is a breach of the observance. But the addition is not a breach, if it is considered necessary for health to have a certain proportion of salt with food. Of course it would be sheer hypocrisy to add salt or any other thing to our food, deluding ourselves that it is necessary for the system if as a matter of fact it is not.
Developing along these lines we find we have to give up many things that we have been enjoying, as they are not needed for nutrition. And one who thus gives up a multitude of eatables will acquire self-control in the natural course of things. This subject has received such scant attention, that choice of food with this observance in view is a very difficult matter.
Parents, out of false affection, give their children a variety of foods, ruin their constitution, and create in them artificial tastes. When they grow up, they have diseased bodies and perverted tastes. The evil consequences of this early indulgence dog us at every step; we waste much money and fall an easy prey to the medicine man.
Most of us, instead of keeping the organs of sense under control, become their slaves. An experienced physician once observed that he had never seen a healthy man. The body is injured every time that one over-eats, and the injury can be partially repaired only by fasting.
No one need take fright at my observations, or give up the effort in despair. The taking of a vow does not mean, that we are able to observe it completely from the very beginning; it does mean constant and honest effort in thought, word and deed with a view to its fulfilment. We must not practise self-deception by resorting to some makebelieve. To degrade or cheapen an ideal for our convenience is to practise untruth and to lower ourselves. To understand an ideal and then to make a herculean effort to reach it, no matter how difficult it is,—this is purushartha, manly endeavour. One who at all times fulfils the key observances in their perfection has nothing else left for him to do in this world; he is bhagavan, perfect man, he is a yogi. We humble seekers can but put forth a slow but steady effort, which is sure to win divine grace for us in God's good time, and all artificial tastes will then disappear with the realization of the Highest.
We must not be thinking of food all the twenty-four hours of the day. The only thing needful is perpetual vigilance, which will help us to find out very soon when we eat for self-indulgence, and when in order only to sustain the body. This being discovered, we must resolutely set our faces against mere indulgence. A common kitchen where this principle is observed is very helpful, as it relieves us from the necessity of thinking out the menu for each day, and provides us with acceptable food of which we may take only a limited quantity with contented and thankful mind. The authorities of a common kitchen lighten our burden and serve as watchdogs of our observance. They will not pamper us, they will cook only such food as helps us to keep the body a fit instrument for service. In an ideal state the sun should be our only cook. But I know that we are far, far away from that happy state.