Vinoba in Jail
He went to jail many times during the long Satyagraha for India’s freedom. A friend sent me an account of his experience in one of them. It is refreshingly positive and there is lot to learn from it.
It was in jail that he experienced real Ashram life. He entered jail with a few clothes. From the jail he received a tumbler and a bowl. In his 9-foot square room there was bare minimum bedding. He thought, ‘what place could be better for following the vow of non-possession?
Bathing, eating, working were according to rule, going to bed and getting up by the bell; a perfectly regular life! One was not even allowed to fall ill!
The vow of control of the palate was practiced every day in jail even better than in an Ashram. There was also plenty of time for thought and reflection. So even the jail could be made a place of spiritual exercise as Ashram.
He was often given a period of solitary confinement in a cell measuring nine feet by eight. In one corner was a stone hand-mill and in another earthenware piss-pot. There was no book to read, no pencil or paper, no chance to go out. It was enough to drive a man mad.
However, Vinoba drew up a daily timetable: ten hours for sleep, two or three hours for meditation, about three hours for eating, bathing, etc. Eight hour for walking up and down covering at least ten miles each day. As he walked he sang hymns that he knew by heart.
Once about one o'clock in the middle of the night, engrossed in thought, he was pacing to and fro. The warder saw this and was puzzled. He knocked on the door. Vinoba was so absorbed. He failed to respond. The poor man became alarmed. He came in, shook him and asked what was the matter. Vinoba explained what he was doing and the possible fruits of such contemplation. The jailer was pleased. The very next day he arranged permission for Vinoba to walk a short time daily in an open place.
Vinoba felt quite at ease in his cell. During the night he would meditate for about three hours, and one of the warders, who noticed this, would come and sit near him. He thought Vinoba was a Sanyasi. One day after waiting for some time he said: 'Babuji, may I speak to you? I am leaving tomorrow. Please give me some teaching to guide me.' Vinoba gave him a few suggestions to satisfy him, and he went away happy.
Vinoba was kept in that cell for fifteen days. Seeing that solitary confinement was no hardship for him, the jailer sent him back to the general ward. He was just as happy there.
Many of Vinoba’s 300 companions found jail life very dull and were feeling rebellious, because they had not learned the art of acceptance. He saw that it was his job to cheer them up. We would, of course, not seek pardon or release so he set to work to help the
to find some interest in jail life. Otherwise they might have rebelled.
One boiling issue was physical labor. In Vinoba’s view a solider of freedom ought to do some bodily labor every day as part of the discipline of freedom. The jail discipline required every prisoner to grind thirty-five pounds of flour a day on a hand-operated mill. The prisoners were unwilling. Vinoba arranged a compromise. He told the authorities that these political prisoners would refuse to do such work in obedience to an order, even if they were put in irons. He offered to obtain their consent to grinding enough flour for their need and in addition do all the kitchen work. They agreed. With much hard effort Vinoba persuaded the prisoners to give their consent. He, of course, agreed to do the same amount of work as the others. They discussed ideas, shared jokes and sang songs as they worked. The place was no longer a jail; it became an Ashram for all.
29 Nov 2008