LACK OF IDEALS.*
[* The inaugural address delivered in Caithness Hall, Madras, on the 17th August 1911, under the presidentship of Prof. P. Lakshminarasu, B.A., F.M.U.]
Pause for a moment. Collect your thoughts. Look around nature. You see the wind blowing. Sometimes a strong gale which topples great steamers and uproots giants of forests. Sometimes, it mellows down to a gentle balmy breeze which soothes and gives pleasure to man and animals and the small plants. The trees grow. They are of various kinds and of different altitudes. Flowers bloom and waft their scent throughout the atmosphere to the delight of those that live upon it. They are of various colors. All the imagination and skill of man cannot make such beautiful combinations of colors as are found among flowers and leaves of the plants and insects and stones and everything found in Nature. Fruits grow on tender twigs and ripen and then give themselves up to be used by all the creatures of the earth. They are of numerous varieties possessing different tastes and properties. Look at the long grassy green meadows and how beautiful and beneficent they are to the tired spirits. Many animals graze upon the meadows and all our cattle will be nowhere but for these emerald plains. The gigantic mountains grown over with impenetrable forests have in their bowels gems of rare purity and minerals of highest importance and utility. The mountains are majestic and awe-inspiring in their appearance, but still see their patience and firmness. They will never swerve from their positions for days to come. See the wide expanse of water known as the ocean. It carries people and things from one part of the globe to the other. It possesses 'full many a gem of purest ray serene.' Look at the birds and beasts and all that are found in Nature. I am not describing these as a dreamer. But I find great many lessons that can be learnt from Nature. The greatest of the lessons that I learn from Nature is the Ideal of Service. The wind does not blow for its good. It is for the good of other things. Winds corrode high rocks and convert them into sand and thus help man to convert a rocky place into a sandy plain. Winds waft seeds and dust to these plains. Rain falls – not for its own good – the seed sprouts out and a beautiful vegetation springs up. Thus everything is intended to be useful to others. Trees and leaves fall down and decay and become the manure and food of other trees and plants. Nature is for the Service of others. Observe that all the things that I have been enumerating possess only the single quality called the instinct. We do not assign any reason or reasoning faculty to these things. When I said these are for the good of others, I did not say to whom they are intended to be useful. It is for the good of man. Man alone possesses the reasoning faculty to the highest degree. And among men there are also beasts like the yahoos and the cannibals. It is this possession of reason that makes man supreme over all the other creations. We are the crown and roof of things. We become the monarch of all we survey. Let us also be monarchs in drawing the sovereign lessons from Nature. See with what pre-thought and consideration the various parts of our body are arranged and made – every limb of it – each muscle, tendon and bone. Each is designed for a purpose – the purpose of becoming serviceable. And why is man endowed with all these facilities? "Not that we are to think that God hath so made all things for man, that He hath not made them at all for Himself, and possibly for many other uses than we can imagine; for we much over-value ourselves, if we think them to be only for us; and we diminish the wisdom of God, in restraining it to one end; but the chief and principal end of many things is the use and service of man, and in reference to this end, you shall find that God hath made abundant and wise provision."
Man is not made for himself. Every human being that comes into this world has a mission to do in his life. This life is only a stage in our progress. This life is an opportunity given to us to fulfill that mission of service to our fellow-beings and to all. Let me impress upon you that the first and foremost of the ideals, is the ideal of service.
Then to live up to this ideal we should also possess many other ideals as there are many other ways of serving humanity.
By watching the progress of Nature and the progress of the world, we see that everything is becoming more and more perfect. Everything aims at the ideal-perfection of things. Man is no doubt imperfect. He is not all perfect. Every experience in this life teaches a lesson and every wrong and mistake that we commit shows our imperfect nature, and the suffering and punishment inflicted on us as a result of our mistakes, make us advance towards perfection. Let us so shape our acts and doings that we are improved every moment. Let there be progress in every walk of life and in every act of ours. Let there be progress even in every thought and word of ours. Let us move ourselves to reach the goal of ideal perfection, when only we become the fittest cup for the use of our Master God, as Browning says in his "Rabbi Ben Erra".
This is the second ideal that I state for your consideration, the ideal of perfecting ourselves and the universe.
Let me now hasten first of all to explain what is meant by an ideal. An ideal is a conception of the mind which is regarded as the perfect, a model of excellence, beauty. Ideals spring from ideas, imagination and thinking. Ideas are also utopian. There are certain ideals which are impracticable – such as the absolute equality of man and the ideal democracy. But ideals are absolutely necessary to guide us in this life. And it is a simple statement and needs support. I shall speak of the different ideals later on. Now let us see if we, the Indians, possess any ideals at all whether, in our lives, we are guided by precepts or maxims.
It is now more than 500 years since Vascode Gama landed in India from which time, the European influence is perceptibly brought to bear upon India as far as historic accounts go. But judging from the great classics of Tamil – Mani-Mekhalai, Silappadikaram &c., and judging from the fact that the Tamil word – தோகை – tokai, denoting the feathers of peacock is found in the original Hebrew Bible in the corrupted form of tukim – டுகீம் – denoting the peacock, that the word அரிசி – rice – is found in Hebrew as arisa, that இஞ்சிவேர் – ginger-root is also found in Hebrew as gingiber, and that Augustus of Rome is mentioned as having had commercial intercourse with the Indian princes of the Tamil land, I can safely say that even from the time of King Solomon there was some kind of mutual influence between Europe and India. Europe is now considered to be the most civilized continent. Whereas in ancient time it was India that influenced Europe and the West. To return from this digression. It is now nearly more than 70 years since Macaulay fought for the introduction of English Education in India. It is more than 50 years since the Government of India passed from the East India Company to the direct control of the Crown and its Parliament. It was at that time that our famous Proclamation of 1858 was granted to us by that most gracious mother Queen Victoria. It is now nearly half a century since we are most intimately brought into contact with the English under the present university system of education. It is for a very very long time, we are imbibing the spirit and wisdom of the West – of England especially. It is a belief common among the educated classes that we are improved and bettered and are becoming more civilized under the Western influence though for my part I must say that that belief has got to be modified to some extent. Still granting so, have we become enriched with great examples and ideals to guide our conduct? I say no! and emphatic No. Many of our ancient ideals are not influencing us as they ought to. At present, I think whether among children, among students or among men big or small, we are not lacking in ideals. This I say after much consideration and after a careful study of the lives of many of the present day educated men who seem to shine like beacon-lights on the social scale. It is this idea of mine – and of how many I am to know only after hearing from the learned chairman – I take this earliest opportunity to make know to you.
A child is born in a family. With what hopes does the parent tend the child? Is it with the hope that the child may become great and useful to the society or to the country to which it belongs? No. it is with the hope that the child may become educated under the present system of education – which is said to be inadequate, irreligious and soulless – and earn money. Mark and earn money. BY WHAT MEANS depends upon the nature of the worldly position the child occupies in future to support the parent in old age. To earn money and support the parent – is that an ideal? In the end these children who are brought up without ideals even escape from the leading strings and forsake their parents. Then among the students, what are the ideals that they possess? Only to pass the examination which is a passport to get Government employment. There are several ways in which one can be useful to his country. Government service is only one of the many. What are called learned professions are now much over-crowded and it is not wisdom nor even economy to oppress them any longer. There are directions other than these in which one can serve his country successfully and usefully. Of course this involves sacrifice. Love of one's own country is a sacred sentiment which inspires men to make sacrifices as great as the country needs. India should be regarded as one country and the several communities inhabiting it should forget their differences in their love for their common mother-land. The country, as it stands at present, requires patriotic young men to work, sometimes at great personal sacrifice for its uplifting in all directions. There is the question of mass education. Millions of our countrymen are steeped in illiteracy. We cannot entirely depend upon the Government for the 'removal of illiteracy and the spread of elementary education among the people. Men and money are wanted. Here is a field for putting the ideal of service into practice. There is the social problem and those burning questions such as the elevation of the depressed classes, widow-remarriage, abolition of sub-castes, inter-marriages, inter-dining, etc., which are closely connected with the social regeneration of the people. This affords another field for service of the purest kind. The industrial problem is intimately connected with the daily life of the large majority of the Indians. India had its day as one of the foremost country in the world of arts and commerce. Owing to the play of certain economic forces her day is gone and she has hardly any position in the modern industrial world. Some of her industries have decayed beyond all recovery. Some require the utmost vigilance to prevent them from dying. India is said to be rich in material of all kinds but she is sadly wanting in earnest workers to develop its resources. Here is another field calling for service of the noblest kind. It is necessary that the opening in this field should be taken advantage of by us. The earlier we do it the sooner we shall be able to meet the question of unemployment and bread-problem which is causing so much anxiety to statesmen in Europe.
Athens rose to that prominence to which no state in the whole of the history of the world has risen. Athens worked for an ideal. Miltiades worked for an ideal. Can any consider a greater ideal than that that actuated the confederacy of Delos? When the people forgot that ideal, and by luxury the other members became dull and idle and gave all the power to Athens the whole power flew away. History repeats itself and we see the same thing everywhere. When the ideals are kept in view in our achievements, we succeed. Once we lose sight of it, success is gone forever. I hope I have endeavored to put before you in as few words as I can that lack of ideals make us mere yahoos, men without reason gloating in filth and eating rotten asses' flesh.
Next let me tell you what ideals we shall have.
Firstly the ideal of service, then the ideal of perfection.
Then there must be justice in every service. Here is an ideal of justice. This is a story from Periapuranam but to me it is history. Tiruvarur is a place in the South. It is a sacred place with a temple dedicated to Siva. There lived a monarch who is called Manu-Niti-Kanda-Cholan. A state-bell was hung before his palace. If there was any grievance, one might go and shake the bell and at once the king enquired into the case and redressed it at once. In his country justice was administered so well and the Government was for the good of the people and there was no grievance at all and hence the bell was never heard. The Lord of the temple, Siva, wanted to test this king and proclaim his praise throughout the country. Once the Prince, son of the king, desired to go to the temple and worship Siva. Attended by ministers and all the paraphernalia, the Prince went to the temple on a chariot. Siva came as a Cow and young calf, and among the crowd the young calf was somehow run over by the chariot. The cow began to lament like a human being. The Prince was awe-struck. He felt very sorry and the ministers consoled him saying that some prayaschittam and presentation of a gold calf to the Brahmins would absolve him of the sin and the matter was hushed. But the Cow went to the bell and shook it with its horns.
The sound of the bell fell like thunder on the ears of the king who then heard everything from the ministers and at once ordered that the Prince should be run over by the very chariot and at the very place of the accident. The king did not yield to the excuses of the cabal and the minister committed suicide unable to execute the command of the king. Then the king himself went to the spot and ran the chariot over his son. Then God gave life to all – a life of praise which remains alive even to this day and will remain so till the end of the world. This is an ideal of justice. At all times endeavors are made by great men to put the ideal of justice into practice. A few months ago when the question of ill-treatment of an Indian gentleman by an European Military Officer had arisen, Mr. Mantagu gave the following reply: "I regret to say that the Government of India report that the account of this incident given in the newspapers is substantially correct. Prompt steps were taken as soon as the matter came to the knowledge of the military authorities and the offending officer, Mr. Stones was at once placed under arrest, pending the consideration of the case and has since been punished. Mr. Stones' commanding officer expressed personal regret to Mr. Allabah Khan and sent him a written apology from Mr. Stones. Mr. Allabah Khan accepted the apology and expressed the hope that Mr. Stones would not receive any very severe punishment."
In Lakshmana, you find an ideal brother. In Sita, Damayanti and Savitri, you find ideal womanhood and chastity and also sisterhood. According to Tamil conception, a chaste woman is one who always worships her husband and no other God or divinity and she can command the clouds to rain.*
தெய்வந் தொழா அள் கொழுநற்றெழு தெழுவாள்
பெய்யெனப் பெய்யுமழை. – (Kural, v.5.)]
Ideal of chastity as taught in Manimekhalai, is that if one is chaste she should not enter into the heart of another man. Her appearance should not create any feelings of lust in the heart of a man. Many Kings and Princes were put to death, because they were not chaste themselves. Chastity is not confined to women only, It is also to men. Rama is the ideal husband. Harischandra is the ideal of Truth. Rukmangadan is an ideal of determination and vow. See Bhishma's Resolve that he will never claim his rights. The saints of south India – 63 saints, are the ideal devotees to God. They sacrificed everything and anything for the sake of God. How can you sacrifice unless you have that ideal love – love for all beings animate and inanimate? Akbar was an ideal of Tolerance. He found unity among the diversity of Philosophies. Asoka was an ideal religious monarch. Buddha was an ideal man of service – service to mankind. He was an ideal evangelist. Saints Appar, Manikkavacagar and Sambanda were ideal evangelists. There was perfect tolerance and love for all. Casabianca is an ideal of obedience. Spartans were the ideal soldiers. Pericles democracy was an ideal democracy. But ideal democracy is impracticable. Ideal equality is also impossible. There will be difference between man and man. There can never be absolute equality. Anthony and Bassanio were ideal friends. I live up to an ideal. I want to achieve certain object – the education of the Indians. To this ideal Hon. Mr. G. K. Gokhle, our countryman, works, and lives to achieve that ideal of lighting the lamp of wisdom in the heart of every Indian without distinction of caste and creed. Mr. Basu is working up an ideal – to unite all the different classed of people of this huge peninsula. When ignorance is driven away to that dark place where the sun sinks and where if we sink our dirty differences such that it can never rise up to light, we will all become gods possessing infinite wisdom. All pride and vanity, selfishness and egoism will vanish as if by magic.
We have glorious men like Ranade and Tyabjee who lived for a purpose and worked out their ideals. Then we have our Svami Vivekananda who has wielded an immense influence and power over the Present India. The Madras National Fun and Industrial Association is working out an ideal of the Industrial Regeneration. How to work out different ideals will each form a separate essay and hence it is not possible to prescribe any methods now. I can only suggest you to read the lives of those idealists who lived and worked for the people. Idealists need not belong to one nation or one country. Christ is an ideal. These are God's heroes.
For all this love is required. St. Tirumular* says God and love are the same.
[* அன்புஞ் சிவமு மிரண்டென்ப ரறிவிலார்
அன்பே சிவமாவ தாரு மறிகிலார்
அன்பே சிவமாவ தாரு மறிந்தபின்
அன்பே சிவமா யமர்ந்திருந்தாரே."]
God is Love. Love all beings, animate and inanimate. Love is the greatest power in the whole world. It can break any obstacle however great and mighty it may be.
Now will you in your life, act in such a way that every act of yours is done for the good of man? You must first preserve yourself – because not for your own sake merely but because you can better serve your community. Will you act up to any one of the ideals set forth here and of those which are to be confirmed as ideals by the learned Chairman? Will you ever think in what way you can help your fellowmen? Suppose you see a good fruit and you buy it and then you must share it among as many as possible. It is enough if one man lives up to one ideal. If he has worked up to one ideal his mission is done. Will you always turn with love to every being of the world? Will you kill away selfishness, pride, vanity, falsehood, perjury and all the vices? Will you become an ideal?
J. N. R.