"In the foreword to Mahatma Gandhi's Vows and Observances, his grandson Arun writes of how he learned the importance of adhering to the right vow at a very young age. His experience also shows why the taking of precepts is the first step on a very personal journey:

"One day during my early teen years, I got into a playful argument with my sister, Sita. For six months, she said, she would eat just one meal a day. I made light of the vow.

" 'That is easy. Anybody can do that.'" Sita caught the bait and retorted, 'Well, why don't you take a vow and show us what you can do?'

" 'Sure,' I boasted. 'I can live for a whole week on bananas and milk.' It was an idle boast. I had no intention of carrying it out. Our parents, who were watching the repartee, were curious to see where it would end, and the moment I made my remark Mother decided to teach me a lesson.

" 'I take it that is your vow?' she said, 'You will now have to undertake it.' I was trapped.

"In the Hindu tradition of our family, a vow is sacred. Once you utter it, you have to go through with it. There was no escape. So the following week I lived on nothing but bananas and milk, and for several months thereafter, I couldn't stand the sight of bananas and milk.

"The taking of vows is a part of Hindu practice, but it is also a universal form of personal discipline. It prepares one for adversity. So one takes a vow to give up something that is very precious. It also teaches one to value one's word, because once you have taken a vow, there is no one watching to see whether you observe it diligently or not except your own conscience."