The Message and Ministrations of Dewan Bahadur R. Venkata Ratnam, volume 2/Chapter 4

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I may tell you at the outset that there are, indeed, several classes of members In an organisation like this of the Young Men's Social Purity and Temperance Association. To the first class belong those— and they are very few — who, by God's grace, could say, 'I have observed till now, and will continue to observe in future, the principles of this pledge.' That is the first, the superlative, the blessed class. There is a second class of members — and to it belong a great majority amongst us — who could say, 'I am only honestly and persistently trying to realise these ideals in their fulness by God's grace ; I cannot say I have been able to satisfy the standard fully.' And so it is. What we have already been hitherto able to do — that ought not to, and shall not, be considered satisfactory. It is a testing ideal, it is a severe ideal, it is an exacting ideal, for it is an ever-expanding ideal, that stands before us. What is considered to be satisfactory today will prove unsatisfactory tomorrow. You ought not to rest satisfied that today you have not frequently entertained an impure thought. For, there is ever a species of impurity that does not catch our attention ; because it is so nice, so subtle, so insidious that we are not able to detect it easily. Also, the absence of impure thoughts does not necessarily mean the presence of pure thoughts; just as the absence of thorns and weeds does not necessarily mean a wholesome and fertile crop; or as the absence of ill-health need not always denote a state of sound health. 'I have not entertained an evil thought;' 'I have not cast a lustful look;' 'I have not turned my ear to an indecent phrase' — this argues only purity on the negative side. But there is a positive side to it which you must take up. Thoughts and inclinations have a profound effect opon character. The sight of beauty — what is the kind of feeling that it evokes ? Is it the low craving of a carnal nature ; or is it the middling feeling of aesthetic admiration; or is it the high sentiment of chivalrous awe and reverence? Shall I give you an example oftentimes recurring to my mind ? There was a beautiful Mahammedan princess taken captive by the soldiers of Sivaji. The captain of the troops took her as a prize to Sivaji, hoping that the Maharajah would be immensely pleased with the tempting present. But when Sivaji saw her, he said, 'Had my mother been as handsome as this lady is, I should have inherited some of that handsomeness; and then I should have had a right to look at her. Take her away. therefore: let us not tarnish her with our black hearts.' That was worthy of a Maharajah; that showed a true hero; there lay the real might of the great founder of a potent empire I And this is true of every species of greatness, whether it be the prowess of the arm or the keenness of the eye or the firmness of the will. To give you another example. There was an ancient rishi who was performing 'tapas' (penance) in a certain forest. It was said the heat of the 'tapas' disturbed the very Kingdom of Devendra. So the gods above met in conclave and sent down an 'apsarasa' to distract the attention of the rishi. The fair tempter presents herself before the rishi and parades her celestial charms. What does the saint say? 'Blessed is the son born of such a lovely mother!' So, it is not the carnal gaze of a vulgar man, not the sentimental look of the man who admires beauty, but it is the pure sight of the man who reveres beauty that is our goal. No doubt it takes a long time to attain that blessed state. It has been said that Rome was not built in a single day. Likewise, character is not built in a single day. It is, indeed, of slower growth than the so-called 'Eternal City;' and you have to pass through a prolonged, sustained process of growth—of strength, refinement and elevation. Look at the growth of the banyan tree. Almost microscopic is the seed from which it sprouts; it continues to grow through countless years, generation succeeding generation, and century added to century, until it attains those marvellous dimensions that make her one of the wonders of creation.

This pledge of ours does not hinge upon those two words, Purity and Temperance, merely in their ordinary narrow acceptation. Really the terms represent for us, as they ought to, many a noble virtue, such as veracity, sincerity, integrity, fair-mindedness, dutifulness and a good many other traits blended into that homogeneous whole, a sound character. Purity does not imply merely the averting of the eye, the closing of the ear and the bridling ,of the tongue. It is the cementing factor in the whole life. Realise the 'mother' all over the world. Learn to say, 'Every woman is represented in my mother! ' and so live out the ancient sacred dictum, Dhanyo mathru mukhassuthah! 'Blessed is the son that reflects (or visions) the face of the mother': When I think of my mother, I must necessarily think of the whole sex affectionately epitomised into my mother. The mother is the mother, not merely because she has nursed me at her bosom, fed me with her hand and fondled me with her caresses, but also—and more so— because she is the symbol of all that is pure, all that is chaste, all that is tender, all that is affectionate, all that is patient, all that is persevering, all that is forbearing, all that is long-suffering, all that is self-denying and—what not? When you realise this, then features that are plain and commonplace will be enlivened into fresh beauty, and voices that are stale and familiar will acquire a new music and a new harmony. Learn to be the 'son.' You are the son, not merely unto her who is the bodily mother of your corporeal existence, but unto every one in whom is concentrated all that is chaste and noble. Likewise the sister, likewise the daughter. Such soul-relation constitutes a quickening suggestion, a holy call to a well-ordered life. The evil with us all lies in thinking that the ordinary relations are commonplace. But the father and the mother, the uncle and the aunt, the brother and the sister, the husband and the wife—all these relations have a profound significance. Can you really believe that we are all drawn together and knit together only that we may feel a passing physical or domestic pleasure? No. Revering a mother, honouring a father, cherishing a sister, loving a wife—I should think that these are altogether priceless privileges granted unto us by a benevolent God.

Remember, therefore, that this is a pledge not merely of purity and temperance but also of faithfulness and devotion; this is a pledge not of so many lines or of so many days; it is really a pledge of solemn vow*s for so many months, so many years, so many generations, aye, so many centuries; this is a pledge not on the paper on which it is printed; but it is a pledge of the heart on which it must be engraved; this is a pledge not of words but of thoughts, of ideas, of strivings and of resolves; this is a pledge not of passing interest but of permanent life-adherence. Early and clearly realise this. Without invidiousness, I may tell you that you are at a great advantage in being thus reminded of this latent promise in you. When we were young, there was no such encouragement given to us. Remember, at the same time, that, after all, others can only rouse up what is dormant and foster up what is germinating in you. Remind yourselves individually; remind one another as so many brethren forming an organic body the several parts of which cannot possibly be disconnected; remind yourselves thus, individually and conjointly, that the true life of this Association does not consist in so many meetings, so many conversations or so many lectures. The essential factor of your duty as members lies in upholding these high ideals in your lives. Your perception is keener, your sensitiveness is tenderer, and your admiration for the truth and sublimity of these ideals intenser than ever before, even as you learn to perceive how far yet you are behind these ideals. You should feel roused, not only from the time when you have become a member of the Association, but even from the moment when you first hear the word 'purity'. From that moment you should be able to accept life as a solemn and sacred trust from on high; and you should resolve to struggle your way through the tremendous temptations to which your thoughts, your imaginations and your inclinations are exposed, albeit you feel that the strength of the heart is hardly equal to the arduousness of the task before you.

I have mentioned to you two classes of members. There is, yet, a third class, consisting of those who, swimming their way across life's solemn main, feel caught in a whirlpool; and we should all help get them to the shore! Remember that these are the stray ones dearest unto God. A certain text in the Christian Bible says—and it is immaterial for us whether it is the Christian Bible or the Hindu Veda—that it is not the ninety-nine sheep that keep the right path, but it is the one that strays from that right path but is brought back to it, that is dearest unto the shepherd. Similarly, it is not the ninety-nine souls that, by God's grace, are able to keep the right path that we should love; but it is the one that is struggling and calling out that the current is so strong, that the foothold is so weak, that the depth is so alarming, and that the heart is so faint-—it is that one that we should love and succour most. To this class belong a good many, though we suppose that they are not many, because we are not aware of the fact.

This is an Association of comrades, of a fraternity in which there is the elder and the eldest, there is the younger and the youngest, there is the stronger and the strongest, there is the wiser and the wisest, and there are the erring and the struggling of divers grades. These last, let me repeat, it should ever be considered a vital part of our own ideal to uplift and to safeguard. There are only a few select, happy souls—and God's blessings be with them!—that have never felt the throb of temptation. To them we may say, 'We may not be what you are; but we honour you for what you are.' When filled with the feeling of thankfulness, we should learn to be thankful, not merely for what we have actually got, but also for what we have not yet attained which others have already achieved.

Remember that, in the dispensations of God, the sinner of today may be the saint of tomorrow. To the all-seeing eye of God the vision is different from what it is to our narrow view. Unto God, the river Nile, which is a slender silver line at the start, then a narrow channel, next a broad stream and at last a vast flood, is all mapped out in a single glance; and He is able to appraise the narrowest portion as well as the broadest part of it. The struggling and the penitent of 'now' may be the sanctified and cherished devotee of 'hereafter.' With those who stray rest our beckoning sympathies; for those who struggle are our cheering good-wishes; upon those who fall is our tender compassion; and for those who sin—not for those who have not sinned but for those who have sinned and are penitent—are our ardent prayers: that even the life of each one of them may in future cheer us and encourage us all!