The Message and Ministrations of Dewan Bahadur R. Venkata Ratnam, volume 2/Chapter 6
IDEALS, SELF-CULTURE AND CHARACTER:
Brahmotsav public meeting,
It would be plain to every one of us here that these three addresses merge into one whole — self-culture the effective method, ideals the r uplifting force, and character the resultant blessing. Through arduous self-culture, inspired and impelled by lofty ideals, we are enabled to build up that solid moral character which is the end and fulfilment of life. Man has been vouchsafed life, neither for narrow physical enjoyment nor for limitless, now-complaining, now-hurrying ambition, but for the slow, steady development of concretised, realised principles to which we give the name of character.
The key-note of character is the quickening, passionate sense of the ought — of the rights of the proper, of the obligatory, of the truly benevolent. The man of character is he who, in the dark day of doubt or in the troublous day of trial, acts, neither from the calculations of policy nor from the promptings of future profit, but entirely from an instinctive adherence to the sense of the right, firmly clings to, and faithfully follows, what he knows and believes to be the rights the due, the proper, the ought. Be it the payment of a time-barred debt or the recognition of a voiceless rival ; be it the surrender of per- sonal gain in obedience to the supreme call of unpopular truth or a loyal adherence to the post of danger while destructive fixes devouringly gather around— whichever be the situation— the man of character is the votary of the ought, of the right, of the due; of the proper. And this sense of the ought does not argue, does not calculate. It its purely and entirely instinctive. It feels and resolves. It does not act and! watch. It acts and pases on. Consequently, it requires something more than the* mere sense of principle,, the mere feeling of duty, both to acquire and to exemplify character. It is the formation of that habit which becomes a second nature — a prime force of life. Hence, character is something sub-conscious, if I may us© the expression—something that is formed in the unseen foundations of human life. It is the construction, not in the glare of broad day-light, but in the seclusion of reflective meditation, of a strong marble bed-rock on which are fixed the bases of practical life. And this, in its turn, ope- rates as one of those mysterious forces which guarantee the enduring stability of the life of the whole world. Now it takes the form of insight, then of disinterestedness, next of inspiring vigour, again of uncompromising self-assertion, and once again of unreserved self-surrender. But whatever be the particular expression it wears, in its essence it is the sense, the strong, abiding, quickening sense, of the ought, of the right. Like the unfailing attraction between the magnet and the needle, the sense of the ought, the sense of the right, is verily the ceaseless current of union between God and man. For, when the sense of the right, not stopping with merely its own imperativeness, addresses itself to, and receives its sanction and warrant from God, then morality is sublimed into piety and right conduct transmuted into love. Thus character becomes only the ethical name for prayerful trust and practised piety.
Self-culture is the earliest as well as the latest of all methods of culture. Every system of culture first means preparation ; it next becomes fostering care ; and then it results in harvesting and storing for future cultivation. In all culture, therefore* are implied these three factors of breaking the glebe, sowing the seed and growing the harvest, and reaping it for future use. All culture, therefore, of the mind and the heart must begin with self-culture— with that rudimentary self-culture to which we give the name of self-recognition— not merely self-consciousness but self-recognition—' self-reverence," as Tennyson has it; that appreciation of the real value of the rich possibilities of the individual. And there it is that self-culture begins; and it goes through the various processes of study, of meditation, of devotion, of company, of service, and so on, till it again culminates in what we call self-realisation— not self-sufficiency but self-realisation ; realising, if not in the full actual, at least, in the pregnant potential, the incalculable, the inestimable powers which are the God-given heritage of every soul.
Thus we may observe how man, endowed as he is with faculties that reach out in all directions, may become the equal comrade and brother of the diverse varieties and types, not only of human beings but of all beings. He is in humble, trustful fellowship with those above him. He is in hearty, sympathetic fellowship with those around him. He is in serviceable, loving fellowship with all objects that, according to the common gradation, are held to stand underneath him. Thus we i come again, through self-culture, to that self-realisation which expresses itself in what the great German poet, Goethe, called the three Reverences.
Man is alike the wearied subject of adverse and opposing forces and the lucky favourite of helpful, propitious surroundings to which we give the name of environment. ,And of all the elements in man's surroundings, those select factors which most further his growth are what we call his ideals. Thereby man is not merely cheered on, because the best in his environment does not simply tolerate; but man is really helped on, his capacities drawn out by the potency of his ideals. Thus it is that ideals are a living, vital agency in unfolding the latent virtues of man and so shaping his character.
Hence we may perceive that in these three addresses we have, if I may use the ambitious expression, a full chart of our life — its right methods, its favourable circumstances and its ultimate realisation. Cultivate your self, sparing no pains. Seek and imbibe lofty ideals, drawing no invidious distinction between one and another. And realise that character in which alone lies the justification of human life and the gurantee of human continuity.