The Message and Ministrations of Dewan Bahadur R. Venkata Ratnam, volume 2/Chapter 3

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III

SOCIAL PURITY: AN EXHORTATION.

(1910)


A prince was once imprisoned in a high tower; whence he could not escape. He would go up the winding stair-case to the top, where there was a window, and look about. Beneath the window there would come and stand and weep the young woman who loved, and was loved by, the prince. The two were thus separated from each other by the cruel, impregnable tower. After a time it occurred to the girl that she should make an effort to rescue her lover, if she could. So she caught hold of a beetle, approximately took the measurements of the tower, applied some rancid butter to the head, between the eyes, of the beetle, attached a slender thread to one of its legs and set it at the bottom of the tower. The beetle, by instinct, moves to wherever there is a rancid smell, Thus, fancying something savoury ahead, the insect went up the tower, dragging the line of thread along. To the other end of the thread was attached a string, to the string a rope, and to the rope a cord. The beetle crept up until it reached the top of the tower. There the prince took it, unfastened the thread* which he pulled up. After it came the string, next came the rope, and, last of all, the thick cord, which he fastened to some firm point in the window; and with its help he slipped down. Thus he made good his escape and happily joined the girl whose love had prompted the ingenious means of escape.

We are all imprisoned by our appetites, by our coarse tastes. We are taken captives in the great battle of a moral life and imprisoned by our own base desires. But every one has the means of escape, if only he will seek it. It would have been impossible for the young man to escape but for the young woman who made the effort and was prepared to take all the risk. In the great struggle of life, it is to an object of love that we owe much of life's strength, wisdom and inspiration. He who would lead a pure life will best achieve his aim by cherishing wholehearted love for something good, pure, noble, something worthy in itself. It may be the inspiring example of a companion; it may be the moving appeal to chivalry from a helpless sister; it may be a good cause or a noble institution, that requires all the time and all the energy you can devote to it. It may be you so love your neighbourhood or town or country that there is no time, no energy left to admit of your mind being diverted from this 'master bias.' It is this occupation of the mind, it is this engagement of the heart, it is this active application of the energies to a good end—something which leaves no chance for dirty, unholy thoughts and feelings to find harbour in the soul—and not mere passive austerity, not ascetic silence and aloofness, that helps you to realise the great object of life. For, corresponding to the laziness of the body, there is the indolence, the listless, do-nothing temper of the mind and the heart that affords room for low thoughts and base feelings. As in the physical world it is said that, where one atom exists, another atom cannot exist in the same place and at the same time, so it is the preoccupation with a noble ideal that keeps out the baser thoughts and the coarser feelings. It is, therefore, not the duty of merely weeding out unworthy sentiments; rather, it is the duty of the active cultivation of purity, the steady pursuit of an ennobling ideal, that you have to address yourselves to. You are all young men with a long, long vista, a far-stretching avenue, of life before you. None of you can say, what may be said in the case of one like me, 'Time is short' and I cannot apply myself to this pro- longed, arduous task, You have the whole future before you. Employ yourselves in some worthy task, some sacred trust, and to that goal direct your whole attention and the entire force of your energies. Ask yourselves every one of you, what you would seek as the end of life as the highest aspiration of your existence. Are you merely to sip some passing pleasure and sink down through surfeit? Is life with you like a boat that is tossed about because it has no definite destination? Or is it that though there is a definite destination, yet it demands, for a successful voyage, that you should sully the heart, stain the mind and pollute the tongue with things you are ashamed to mention before others? Is it that you are a helpless creature, the slave of circumstance, and must take in or take up merely what the passing day presents? Or have you set your eye and fixed your heart on something without which life to you would be a burden and an infliction — some high ideal which you strive to realise strenuously, continuously, sparing neither time nor pains? We are all liable to temptation, to impurity, because something befitting and sufficient unto the cravings of the heart has not yet taken possession of us. It is the one dear object which you will love and hold to through good report and evil report, "midst shine or shower," that you have to prescribe to yourselves even at this*, time of life. There is a humorous but yet suggestive anecdote. A young man and an old man met once; and the old man asked the young man, 'What do you hold as the object of life?' The young man answered, 'Study'.'What then?' 'A Degree.' 'What then?' 'Making money' 'What then?' and thus the queries multiplied, till, feeling utterly teased, the youth exclaimed, "And then I will die." And the old man still coolly asks, 'What then?' There is the final question: 'What then?' We fancy that death is the curtain that at last drops on the stage, and there is an end of the chapter. We fancy that life has to be lived out according to the present pleasure, the immediate entertainment; and there is nothing more to trouble about. I am not here to force upon you any dogmatic theology and say man will be this or man will be that in the Hereafter. I only want you to note that the faculties, capacities and powers given to us are like so many seeds and, as each seed has in it the pregnancy, the innate potentiality, to grow and develope from year to year and from decade to decade, so we have in these faculties, capacities and powers the potentialities of inexhaustible promise, of illimitable resource; and these cannot be fully unfolded, they cannot be completely realised, unless we have as the ideal of our life some lofty, noble, inspiring, up-lifting aim and purpose. That is what we should all fall in ardent love with. Some fall in love with money, others with family, others with name and fame, and others with various other vanities. Most of us are as mere children, mostly occupied with the bodily requirements; but even when we are thus diverted, we ought not to be oblivious of the main object of life. If the heart has been set upon some noble purpose, we shall keep up a struggle, we shall render unsparing, unflinching service to the last moment of our days on behalf of the cause dear to us as the very life-blood in our hearts.

Remember the relation between the sexes is so intimate,so potent,on account of the strong,natural instinct the very hand of Providence has implanted in us, that into every concern of life, into every little act that you do, this relationship will enter, as a determining factor. It has been said of a shrewd judge that the first question he would ask of the lawyer at the beginning of a trial was,'Who is she?' He believed that a woman had a distinct part somewhere in every case. So in the leading concerns of life — in the one great 'cause' of existence, if I may use the phrase-— vast, incalculably vast, as an uplifting lever or as a depressing load, is the influence of woman. And, therefore, we have to train and habituate ourselves by systematic discipline to look upon this momentous relationship as a sacred and holy trust committed to us. One way in which this obligation brings itself home to a heart that has a single spark of manliness in it is this. If you would be serviceable where your service is most needed, if you would be helpful when your help is most required — namely, by the weaker sex— then, first learn to look upon them with a pure eye. The service or help falls flat upon all, it fails of its purpose, unless you receive the appeal for it in the pure spirit. There is a constant appeal coming up from countless hearts —the cry of misery, the sigh of sorrow, the groan of bereavement, the tear of distress. Take two young men, each asking himself, 'Why do I owe this service?' One answers, 'Because the person that appeals is of my mother's sex'; but the other, who also responds, does it in the spirit of the gallant eager to appear fine and attractive. Again, there are those who look out for the opportunity for neighbourly service ; there are some to whom the appeal comes, but who feel, out of false modesty, that they should not respond to it; there are some others who think that, if they responded, it would bring them the credit of a chivalrous spirit ; there are yet some others who hold that the unworthy nature of the person appealing forbids the help otherwise due ; but there are a few noble spirits who could, out of a pure heart, say, "With a pure heart I shall strive to help, and through my purity I shall succeed.' If I may talk in somewhat abstract terms, in this world there is a perpetual struggle maintained between the pure and the impure, and the pure conquers the impure even through invincibility, even because its force is irresistible. The best way to illustrate the truth is this. A woman comes and, as a winning suggestion, utters or hints alluring things. But you turn round and say, 'Mother' or 'Sister'; and you instantly find the talismanic change in, the magic influence upon, the person. May I mention one or two instances? There was a cross road in Madras in some unfortunate locality; and some young men were standing there. A young female, one of those unfortunate sisters, came up and began to talk insinuatingly. A young man there said, 'Are you not abashed? Have you no modesty? Do you not stand convicted before God? Do you not believe in Jesus?' And that was worth a hundred formal sermons for her ; that was for her both a rebuke and a promise — a rebuke that she ought to behave better, a promise that, if only she had the willingness, there was the uplifting power to redeem her. I went to see a house which a relation of mine wanted to purchase. As I stepped in, I found that the house was occupied by a number of fashionable-looking young women. I did not know at first who they were ; though I doubt not that I would have used the same respectful language even if I had known it. I addressed them as 'Amma' (mother). They saw that it was the natural language ; only, unfortunately, the world made it foreign in many cases. Afterwards I learnt they were 'dancing-girls.' And when I left, did I not leave behind the impression that there could be a man here and a man there in the world who would be a brother unto them? In Masulipatam, as a Municipal Councillor, I had to go and inspect some houses to fix the tax; and there was a small house inhabited by some Mahammedans. At the time I went, there was no male at home; and the woman inside said, 'Males are not at home. You cannot enter.' I asked in Hindustani, 'Amma, may I not come in and inspect?' And the answer came forthwith, 'Bava (father), is it you? Then come in and see.' Thus there is bound to be a prompt response, if only you go about in the right spirit. Cultivate that love which says that all are sisters and brothers. To the protection of the father, to the affection of the son, to the help of the brother, the response always comes. Heart meets heart in such response ; for God has prescribed, pre-ordained, that our hearts should thus unite. If only we cultivate that love, we shall be thrice blessed. In the name of our Purity Association, cultivate that habit of looking upon, of regarding, of respecting every woman as mother or sister. How shocking, blasting, killing it is that we should deny to, we should withhold from, another darling child of our Divine Mother the birthright, the Heaven-granted prerogative, to be considered a sister, If we refuse her that, we rob her of her noblest privilege in this world. You are all acquainted with that anecdote in the life of Sivaji, who, when a young princess was captured and brought before him, said, "Restore her, restore her. I only wish my mother had been as beautiful, then I might have been fairer than now." That is the lofty ideal of the Purity Association. A noble ideal alone can uplift man. We read of Sarangadhara that, when his hands and feet had been lopped off, by some supernatural process those limbs were again evolved out of his body; and this was done by a golden sphere being placed before him which he was asked constantly to look at. Such a golden globe is the lofty ideal set before us. We that have the limbs of our moral being lopped off by our own iniquities have got constantly to look up to that golden ideal. Hence I repeat, have something, some lofty ideal, to believe in, to cling to, to be guided by. And nothing is more lofty than the pure love of a young man for her whom the elders have agreed, the community has consented, and God has designed, to call his 'better half.' Many of you are married; the rest will by and by be married. Then, let each one of you be attracted and wholly, attached, to his spouse. That means that you have, and shall have nothing more left of your heart to give to another. In this world hearts are gained where hearts are given ; chastity is secured where chastity is guaranteed; and love is won where love is rendered. Let me repeat, nothing is sweeter, more charming, more enduring, more transforming in life than the love which a young man feels towards her whom he makes his helpmeet and co-pilgrim through life. Let her be like the young woman in the story we started with — the agency to rescue you from the imprisonment of sense and appetite. The "maiden passion for a maid" — that is the ideal the poet commends unto you all ; and when you have acquired that, it is no longer a struggle, no longer an effort, no longer even a desire, to be able to keep yourself pure. Why, then you will naturally and necessarily be pure. Have you not known instances where a man comes into, and settles down with, a family, till by and by he becomes a member of the family and has a recognised place in the household and he says with a smile, "Cut off from you, where can I go even inspite of occasional differences and superficial disturbances?" So, too, whatever the passing agitations on the surface, the human heart attached to the settled object of its love says, "Where can this heart go? It cannot go. It is fixed there."

Every life is a life of slow but steady and sustained endeavour : as in our starting story, first, the thread ; then, the string ; then, the rope ; then, the cord. You build up your life little by little. It is not by means of comprehensive, abstract principles that you can build it up. We all have—including my own unworthy, sinful self, we all have—each his own weaknesses, frailties, temptations; and God surely knows what they are; and we can gain our end, we can secure ultimate triumph, by adopting and practising certain definite self-chastening, self-ennobling disciplines, one after another. Upon the tablet of the heart and with the style of conscience, engrave the 'confession' of your weaknesses and look up and say, "By God's grace, under God's guidence, through God's help, I shall address myself to the wrestle with each of them." Am I really able to withdraw my interest from something that is very entertaining but at the same time subtly seductive? Then I am struggling successfully.

There was an old man, now no more, who said, 'I agree with Mr. Naidu in all this Social Purity Movement, except for this one reservation that I cannot discard the dancing girls; from whom I have received so much of the benefit of soul-enchanting music!' As if I ever disowned the claims of the finest of fine arts! No; I only deplore the unfortunate association, the injurious relationship, that has been permanently created between musicand 'a fast life.' This alliance must be broken, this union must be dissolved, if the cause of Purity is to prevail. Such is our frailty that we are unable to give up some little indulgence. One friend is prepared to go with you the whole length of your principles and your programme, if only you excuse the old 'uncensurable' habit of 'snuffing.' Another friend would be glad to be at one with you, except that in his youthful days he so eagerly studied, and has thus imbibed the manner and phraseology of, light literature. These and such as these are not mere trifles ; they are tests, however small, applied to us when we undertake anything serious in this world. God prescribes certain tests, not that He may know what man is. but that he may perceive and judge ourselves. There are innumerable such tests which we have to stand; and nothing is more unfortunate than to fancy and to say, 'We have signed the pledge, and we shall be sound.' It is not the pledge that saves life. It is the life that saves the pledge-— saves it from dishonour or disrepute. See to it, then, that the pledge you take and the life you live are not in disharmony with each other. It is the life that must be the guarantee for the pledge, not the pledge that can stand security for the life. Therefore, take the pledge, read every word in it, lookup to God and say, 'Father, grant me the strength to keep this.' In this world, we must be either striving up- ward after some high ideal or sliding downward towards some weakness, be it only gradually. There is no such thing permissible as conquering the field and then resting. We must either go forward or go backward. If the imprisoned prince in our story — after taking out the thread — had said, 'I have done,' he would not have succeeded in his attempt. So also a man has to discipline himself. First, give up the impure act. Then, go deeper and give up the vicious inclination. Then, descend deeper still, and let the discipline consist in the cultivating of the opposite kind of desire and, next, the opposite kind of act. Say unto yourself, 'Here I am, impure in thought and act. First I shall give up the impure acts and thoughts, then set my foot in the opposite direction and develop the opposite kinds "of desires and inclinations, so that this eye, which hitherto cast lustful looks on a sister, should then be able to throw a halo of chaste love around the same sister." First, it is the little habit that has to be curbed. Next, it is the powerful inclination that has to be obliterated ; and then, the opposite kind of inclination and action has to be sedulously cultivated. Never fancy a little thing does not matter. In this world there is an inseparable and, therefore, natural connection between cause and consequence. A soldier was once posted by the side of a moat, and asked to watch and report, should ought extraordinary happen during the night. He watched, and reported nothing in the morning. However, the news was otherwise received by the authorities that a man had fallen into the ditch and broken his neck. When asked why he did not report the occurrence, the soldier replied, 'Where is anything extraordinary in it? The man was drunk; hence, he fell into the ditch and broke his neck.' Similarly we indulge some of our weak tendencies; thereby we steadily slip down; and when we are gone into the pit, there is nothing extraordinary. The inclination is in a certain direction; hence, the struggle must be in the opposite direction.

And for this great fight there are three things requisite. The first requisite is Prayer. Here again, I do not press any dogmatic theology on you. We may have our own religious beliefs and observances. But whatever these may be, pray we must, under all systems; for 'more things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.' Pray ardently when there is art evil tendency in you. It is impossible that we should succeed in this fight single- handed, without God's help and inspiration. Prayer has a double effect : it helps you to ward off the temptations; and : as if by a mysterious law, it brings you an illumining response from on high; so that you are enabled to see the purer and finer aspects of the same old thing. The second requisite is Self-examination. Sit you down, alone with the Alone, as witness, in your closet at the day's end and honestly review what you have done and been all the day long. Many a sad tale our con-science tells against us. For your part, however, avoid these two opposite mistakes. On the one hand, condemn not yourself to an undue degree; never despair; never throw up your cap and say, 'It is not possible for man to win!' God never assigns to us any duty that we cannot cope with. He always squares our strength to our task. Hence alone it has been possible for our weak race to be striving and crawling upwards all along. If not, the race would have been given up long, long ago as a hopeless affair. On the other hand, steer clear of complacence. You can never be. too good, you can never do too much good. in this world. The very fact that so much has been done itself denotes that such a great deal more is yet possible. The third requisite is Fellow-ship. Attach yourself to somebody whom you know to be pure, that so the current of pure thought and aspiration may set into your heart from a higher being. Here again, it is the same discipline that all great religions have prescribed as a rich spring of inspiration and moral energy— sadhusangam, as it is called. It is the self-same satsangatvam which the deep-sighted Sankaracharya has, in his marvellous survey of the soul's progress, named as the starting stage. There is a notion common amongst us that heroes are few and far between and the bulk of the people form but the nondescript crowd, the motley mob. It is not really so in the moral government of the world. There is the heroism of a striking, glorious moment; there is also the heroism of sustained daily life. It is this latter heroism, connected with the routine-round of duties, that is open to you all and is expected of you all. Among the Jains, there is a restriction that no man should kill a living being or see life killed. So that one may observe some Jains constantly waving their uttareeyams (upper cloths) before their mouths and noses, that little insects in the air might not get in and be killed. Others actually sweep the path before them so that they might not trample down any ants or other small creatures while walking. Others, again, actually lie down on a bed full of bugs so that those little things may receive their share of nourishment. Some of these acts and attitudes are, no doubt, excesses. But is there not a touch—a mark—of heroism in them? Likewise, there is a silent heroism that we are all capable of and that we are expect- ed to disclose in what apparently are mere trifles. In systematic self-control in the thousand and one claims and demands of life there is genuine heroism. Cultivate that virtue of self-control, not only in physical irregularities, but also in mental excesses and moral aberrations; that thus your growth might be all-round. Let each of you tell himself, 'I shall endeavour to subdue this excess or that exuberance, even because any excess and any exuberance in one direction tells against, retards, the growth in some other direction.' Be balanced; be all-round, in your growth and expansion; for then you will own and enjoy what most people in and of the world do not at present possess-peace that passes understanding; love that overleaps all limitations; and life that surpasses time and circumstance. God's best blessings be with you all!