–by Vinoba Bhave (Sep 2, 2011)
It was in jail that I experienced a real Ashram life. All I had were a few clothes, a tumbler and a bowl. What better place could there be 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; even the Ashram was not a better place for that. There was also plenty of time for thought and reflection, so that even the jail can be made a part of the spiritual exercise of Ashram life.
I was greatly benefited by the chance I got in prison to live alongside all kinds of people. Before that individual Satyagraha I had been in jail twice. I was arrested first in 1923, in connection with the Nagpur Flag Satyagraha. At first I was in the Nagpur jail, and was later sent to Akola. On that occasion I was treated like an ordinary criminal and sentenced to rigorous imprisonment with hard labour (breaking stones). I was even 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 an earthenware piss-pot. There was no work to do, no book to read, no pencil or paper, no chance even to go out. It was enough to drive a man mad.
However, I drew up a daily timetable for myself: ten hours for sleep, two or three hours for meditation, about three hours for eating, bathing etc., and eight hours for walking up and down. I covered at least ten miles each day, reckoning my speed at about one and a half miles an hour. As I walked I sang all the hymns I knew by heart.
Once I was pacing to and fro like this at about one o’clock at night, engrossed in thought. The warder came on his rounds, and puzzled at seeing me walking about, he knocked on the door. As I was completely absorbed I failed to respond, and the poor man became alarmed. He came in and shook me and asked me what was the matter. I tried to explain what I was doing and what the fruits of such contemplation might be, and he was very pleased. The very next day I received a real boon–he arranged for me to walk a short time daily in an open place.
I felt quite at ease in that cell. During the night I would meditate for about three hours, and one of the warders, who noticed this, would come and sit near me. One day he came with a lantern, and found my eyes were closed. After waiting for some time he said: ‘Babuji, may I speak to you!’ I opened my eyes and he said: ‘I am leaving tomorrow. Please give me some teaching to guide me.’ Seeing me sitting every day with closed eyes he thought I must be some Sadhu or Yogi. So I gave him a few suggestions to pacify him, and he went away happily.
–Vinoba Bhave in Moved by Love, Chapter “Prison Ashrams”