The Hon'ble the President, Sisters and Brothers:-
My thanks first to the organisers of this Conference for the privilege, the great privilege, accorded me to address this enlightened assembly of the followers of the sacred Religion of Truth - the Suddha Advaita Siddhanta Saivam.
A religious Conference is indeed indispensable in this age for gathering together the followers of Truth from various lands and climes and keeping up the spirit of revival lest it be drowned in the ocean of worldly concerns, and grandmotherly superstitions. It is a sign of the spirit of brotherly feeling that exists in the hearts of the sons of Truth, not only towards one another but also towards the rest of the world. It is characteristic of the spirit of universal love that is induced by the Divine Grace of the Blissful Lord whose name the Religion bears. And so, it is a grand and promising undertaking which should enlist the sympathy and hearty cooperation of all Sons of Truth and for which one cannot be too thankful to the organisers. It is fortunate for all that this great idea struck the organisers, assumed shape and form and is now before us, year after year, clothed in the spirit and the intellect of its supporters from different countries. A thousand thanks therefore to those who conceived this idea, cherished it, nursed it, and presented it to us in this tangible form. May the Grace of the Blissful Lord be with the movement, to shower its Light and Blessing on all seekers after Truth, and guide their way up to Him.
The Subject I have chosen for this address is a simple one - "The Work Before Us" - , and permit me to draw your attention to only two aspects of the question. Firstly "The Work Before Us" as individuals of the Society or Nation. Secondly, as followers of the Religion of Truth, the Siddhanta. Whether viewed from the philosophic standpoint as a willing, thinking, and acting being or from a worldly stand-point as one requiring to satisfy hunger and thirst and cover his nakedness, man is inextricably tied to work and his relation to it, is fortunate or not, as he makes it. On work depends life, and on life depends his future and it is towards future happiness all effort and energy are directed and it may be safely said what one does or works out is the only foundation upon which his future rest. Work is then a constitutional necessity, a faithful companion, and an indispensable redeemer; in other words eat to live, live to work, and work to eat should be a cyclic truism that should be written in bold characters on the threshold of the palace and the hut alike. When Sir Walter Scott said to his son, following the well-known words of the Bible, "Labour is the condition which God has imposed upon us in every station of life and there is nothing worth having that can be had without it", he spoke from the experience of the useful life and but echoed the distinct command of all scriptures that it is our duty to work. Although it is true that in the case of some there may not be the necessity to work for his daily bread owing to their large inheritance and abundant income, it should not be forgotten that their activity is meant by providence to be directed into other channels of national usefulness. They were relieved from one kind of labour in order that they may engage themselves in another of more responsibility and higher purpose. If one part of the machine of the national mill should stop work, because it has done ample sometime before, it will certainly get rusty and useless, and be a burden handicapping the smooth working of the mill. No man should think of himself alone while he is in the mill-house. Each is a part, part only, but indispensable to make up the national whole; nay more, each man is a debtor to the nation. His form and shape, his powers and faculties, his capacity and capability, his position and all, are not his own making only. They have come down to him from the interminable line of national evolution from the immemorial past. For his possession therefore he is indebted to the nation which expects every man to be at his post to work the debt off. Accordingly no man is free to say "I have enough and need work no more." Of the two lines in which one's activity should run, the first is certainly to work for himself lest he, by his idleness, increase his debt to the nation on whose capital he might be compelled to draw for his maintenance, and the second is to work for the nation, lest he, by his ignorance, fail to square his debt off and leave the national mill-house as a sluggish, shameless, ungrateful workman. This is why it is said that man is not born for himself alone. To work is his duty and the fruits of labour are the common property of the nation. The right use of one's wealth and energy is a matter of great concern to the nation, and those who have enough and more should still work to increase the national wealth or to protect the nation from decay, or to safeguard the national interest or uplift others down below on the lower rungs of light and life. If those blest with culture or fortune do not stop down to lend a helping hand to those down below but with self-satisfied hearts roll in their light and wealth, blind to the hands of the nation raised in agony and sorrow, deaf to the cry of the less favoured many, and indifferent to the calls of the nation, are they not worse and more cruel and detestable than the thieves and burglars arrayed before the criminal courts? Yea! they are the pirates and highway robbers of the nation, for, do they not by their indolence and ignorance live on the national wealth and waste the national asset.
Just as there are the wants of the individuals there are the wants of the nation. There is the individual character and the national character, individual degradation and national degradation, and no one may justly be said to belong to a nation until he possesses the national character, cherishes the national ideals, feels the national pride and keeps up the national dignity. The responsibility therefore on the members forming the nation is very great indeed - a sacred responsibility, as the nation rises if the members rise, and fall, if they fall. A nation is judged from the individuals composing it. One's thoughts , words and deeds go a long way to influence those of the nation, therefore it should be the sacred duty of every one to work for the advancement of himself in every direction in order that he may thereby help the national advancement and not be a canker of the nation; and then comes the united efforts to ameliorate the material, moral, and spiritual condition of one's society or nation. How easy the work is, provided the communal, social, or national interests are kept in view by the workers. If, in a palm-grove, each tree is fresh, and luxuriant, the on-looker thinks of the grove first and not of the trees themselves. How much more will be the effect of the union of sentient individuals into a nation, each one of whom is a typical citizen, growing luxuriantly side by side in the national ideals based on righteous principles of life. How much more should they join hands, with hearts anxiously beating for the growth of one another's neighbours. When there is the clear understanding of the communal interests and the willingness to help forward the common cause, is there anything too difficult to perform, too high to aspire to, or too low to elevate? Instead of one hand, there will be thousands to work together, instead of one head thousands to think together, instead of one heart, thousands to beat together, instead of one purse, thousands to open out. What more assurance is required but that the national work would be a success beyond measure and expectation? What is required is an understanding of each man's responsibility towards bettering himself and his nation. No man is too great or too small for this work; each has his allotted portion, and the failure to take ii up is a serious omission causing a perilous dislocation in the national machinery.
The sages of yore felt it incumbent upon them to lead fellow-men to high spiritual ideals without sundering the national ties, for they knew that it is only the few amongst the multitude who, strong enough to stand on their own legs, will eventually reach the goal, the rest having yet to grow strong for the higher estate and, in the meantime, leaning upon one another. To break the ties would be to cause a great fall of the nation, and crush it out of existence. This they knew and made provision accordingly. The interlacing of social and spiritual laws for the guidance of the people, which many would in their ignorance condemn, has this noble object at bottom, namely, to go with the nation and beyond it and not to allow men to crawl like worms on the slippery path on which giants alone can tread with ease.
The division of national labour into Varnas or Castes and the provision of the ladder-way of Ashramas (estates of life) show the far-sighted philanthropy of the leaders of the past. Character and adherence to duty were demanded as a test of one's caste and not birth alone. Sacrifice of one's comforts, the abandonment of selfish interests and the complete surrender of oneself marked the advancement in the path of Ashramas and not the beads and orange garbs alone. Those who depended upon the birth and the garb found disappointment and shame as their lot. The wise seers did not intend that any one caste was to lord it over another, tyrannize it, and reduce it to the state of helpless brute creation. The intention was no doubt that there should be division of labour, and those most capable of performing a particular kind of labour, were to take it up and follow it as their calling, training in the same profession their progeny who have naturally the most favourable opportunities, circumstances and tendencies for the purpose. The whole scheme was towards the progress of the nation as a whole, and no part of the labour that contributed towards it, was to be despised, while another extolled; work for the nation in any department of life was to be sacred. Who will be so foolish as to look down upon the hand which does all the necessary dirty work for the purification of the body? - a useful limb allotted to do a certain work, but not to be despised by the eye from its seat of eminence. The eye has its eminence by its fine texture and the nature of its work, but can it on this account be reluctant to look at the other parts of the body or work in unison? Yet people have been foolish and the result has been deplorable! Each Caste despises the one below it, attaching importance to honour and privilege rather than to its duty. Instead of helping towards the national solidarity the castes sowed seeds of dissension and jealousy and each one commenced to prey upon the other. Oh, the result of it! It is heart-rending and shameful! None retained the purity and the characteristic virtue of the Caste; they grasped the husk and lost the kernel; degraded, down and down they fell, till at last the majority, the millions of the nation became the sheep and the pigs, not able to know that they have a head over their shoulders. If it is essential that a nation should have its characteristics virtues and ideals to be attained by the co-operation of the individuals, if it is essential that each individual should have the fire of national feeling to work this out and, if is essential that selfish interests should have no place in the national cause and that there should be warmth of affection towards the individuals composing the nation, I ask whether we now live as a nation, united and progressive, or as decaying reeds, left to the tender mercies of every passing gust of wind.
What is the cause of this fall? The moment national pride gave place to caste pride, disintegration began and the caste-walls that were once flexible and portable became rigid and fixed, and each one threw mud on the other's walls, so much so, that the injunctions of the Sastras were forgotten, virtues declined, people began to neglect the caste dharmas and labour lost its dignity. That is the secret. If once again we should rise and stand as a nation with other enlightened nations of the world, heart should extend far out to reach the down-trodden, so called low castes and raise them that they may stand and feel as men. Half the nation is plunged in utter darkness, - the mothers and sisters and daughters at home, the nurses of the nation! Three-fourths of the men are unaware that they have a head over their shoulders! - the bulk of the rest, unable to raise their head and breathe the free air of equality with their neighbours as units in the nation! Others caring naught but for their wealth and possessions! Still others, aware of the perilous situation, but afraid to sound the warning, and weak to oppose the tide! - a few, a handful only in comparison with the nation, enlightened, broadminded, willing to serve, possessed of the national feeling, striving to stem the tide, but they are a few only, too few to leaven the mass of the people. Yet it is they who should work and administer an antidote against the poisons swallowed for ages.
The national ideals of mildness, generosity and benevolence, love of truth and righteousness, devotion to duty and principles, justice and mercy even in the battle field, fair field and no favour in every walk of life, the example for the elders and preceptors, sympathy and help towards the sorrow-stricken and the homeless, endurance and perseverance, tolerance and forgiveness, and above all the pre-eminent love for spiritual life; are they not on the decline? How many Dharmas and Sahadevas, Harischandras and Bhishmas, Vasishthas and Nachiketases, Appars and Sundarars, Sambandhars and Manikkavachakars, Tiruvalluvars and Avvais, has our nation produced in all? Has their example influenced us to the extent it should? Have we in gratitude to these worthies of the past influenced the present so that the future generations may rank us with their benefactors? This is the work before us as individuals of the nation.
We are still under the influence more or less of the heavy layer of ignorance which blinded us to the national ideas and caused the violation of the sacred principles enjoined on us by the forefathers. Revival in every direction and in all its aspects should come to our rescue. Man has his many parts, - the physical, mental and spiritual, has many tendencies - moral, social, political and religious, and no revival is complete and effective unless the whole man in re-generated, in order that one part or tendency may fit in well with the rest. In a Conference with essentially religious objects, the consideration of the other aspects of the question may be thought to be out of place. But my excuse for touching upon them is solely this, that Religion, the crown of life, will neither be appreciated nor adopted by a fallen prostrate race, fighting against many a misfortune. The pinch of hunger and the dark forces of ignorance, must lose their hold on the people before they lift their head to receive the crown. They had the crown once and are now fallen; the crown is by them and will fit them well only if you raise them. Let them be first made to stand up, in order that our work in the field of Religion may result in complete success. Due prominence should be given to religious work (which we shall consider presently), but the fact that the present state of our nation requires material, ethical and social advancement, should not be lost sight of by a religious worker. Religious work will not bear fruit on a dry soil, and accordingly the preparation of the soil forms also a part of the work. If, however, the consideration of the resources of the workers would compel us to restrict the sphere of work, the last two aspects, ethical and social, at least, which are very closely connected with the religious, might deserve prompt attention.
Agricultural, industrial and commercial interests of the land have long been neglected and the altered circumstances of the present day have such a strong grip of the nation that very few can say, without a blush, that they are dependent on no other land for their sustenance or comforts and this dependence means draining of the Country's resources, which in turn degrades the people, mentally and morally and makes them unfit to wear the religious crown. This slow process of degradation should be checked as far as possible by all lovers of the nation. But from a higher stand-point all nations are but brothers working out the plan of Providence, and if it is our lot to be mendicant teachers of Religion, let us willingly submit to it and sound the religious note so that those who have the ears may hear. Let that then become the characteristic virtue of the people, you will then find that we would have realized the fourth stage of the asramas - the religious ideal again attained by a different channel.
But this is impracticable, the moment when all our people take to mendicancy for the purpose of teaching religion to the world would be our millennium; that cannot be and therefore something practical should be done to raise ourselves, in the material ladder of life also.
The ethical side is the basis of Religion. - The duties of men towards one another, love towards all beings, the dread of evil deed, gratitude and self-control, honourable conduct and self-respect, which have been the high ideals of the past are not held up prominently before the people as often as is desirable? All the literature on the subject or at least the important part of which should be made popular, and the masses gathered together as often as possible and made to realize the importance of virtues by means of touching addresses. The present day tendency being to run headlong into foreign literature, those codes of morals intended for the study of the young, seldom receive even a passing notice and the young neither possess the requisite virtue nor the ancient ideals. What then about the illiterate masses? The rules of conduct given them by their illiterate elders is all they know. The importance of moral excellence cannot be too much impressed upon the young minds, both literate and illiterate, for, how can the masses be left to themselves, without devising means to touch their hearts off and on?
Here is an instance which I can hardly forget, of a man who mildly and indirectly rebuked me and my religionists for our indifference. One morning, some years ago, I was taking a bath by a well in the compound next to my house. An Indian cooly, from his appearance a leader of his gang, intelligent and good-looking, happened to go there for the same purpose, as the well was not reserved for private use but resorted to by the neighbours owing to purity of the water and the easy access to it. He waited for some time and started some conversation. After inquiring whether I was living in the house next compound and after some talk about the neighbours and himself, he said that the woman who was just then crossing the compound was sick and he was advised to give her a morning bath daily for some time. By this time I had finished my bath, but it struck me that I should touch upon a different subject before I left as I found him to be much above the average cooly. To my inquiry he replied that he was a Christian, "Why did you forsake the religion in which you were born" was my next question. "Well, sir, people go to worship and offer drink and sacrifice and dance about rather than feel penitent. I am convinced, that that will not correct a sinner, on the other hand it will further harden his heart" was his reply. I understood that he meant the Muniyandi worship and such other accretions of our Religion and stated that there is a higher Religion, ennobling and elevating, revealed by the Gracious Lord Siva and that its teachings are supremely spiritualizing: to which he said, "You, learned men, study and understand, how do we know all that? People go to temples and do all that, sir, but they hate each other, cut one another's throats, tell lies, and do other wicked things -"; "But", I interrupted, "that is the people's fault and not the religion's; why can't you be a good being within the fold of your own religion". - "There is none to tell us all this or to guide up, offering betel and plantains will not save me, how can it when my heart is wicked?" was his rejoinder. Then I offered to preach to his brethren our Religion if he would bring all of them about his place to my house or assemble them in a convenient place. He hesitated to reply, but at last summoned up courage and said, touching his chest, "But, sir, the religion I am now following is appealing to my heart, it touches my heart and nothing else will do me good", and in this the woman above also joined and made very sensible remarks; I left them, convinced of their sincerity and purity of heart.
Need I comment on the words of this illiterate cooly? Does it not show how far are the essentials of our noble Religion from the hearts and minds of the millions of our co-religionists? The moral basis, which is the only preliminary to true spiritual life, and by which the man, like others of his standing, had been attracted to the Christian Religion, is neither sufficiently well insisted upon, nor explained or preached by the guardians of our religion. The sensible word of the man went straight to my heart and confirmed me in my belief that the enlightened section of our religionists is oblivious of its duty, deaf to the calls of the present, and is snoring away under the dose of fatalism.
The 'word of honour' which should play a prominent part in the life of every individual is either totally absent or is such a negligible quantity in a good number of our people as to warrant the conclusion that when a man says "yes" he says so, generally speaking, having no moral courage to say "no." The nation is judged by the average man and not by the few golden exceptions among the cultured. Would that our people, boys, young men, and grown-up men, prize honour more than material possessions, self-respect and national dignity more than personal comforts and conveniences! If cultured men, even one among these, fail to keep up the national dignity, where is the example to the masses? Once a cultured man related with an air of pride, to a few who looked up to him as a religious man, that he had been to see a great man and that the latter interpreted a certain passage and wished to know whether that was not correct. He said to him that the interpretation was excellent but told his hearers that it was all wrong. This want of moral courage in the man to contradict the scholar and the want of self-respect in him with which he came and avowed that when he said 'yes' it meant 'no', are the tests of his national character. How many of us there are who would, when under temptation, stand up and turn away from it saying "I am a Tamilian and it is beneath my dignity as such to do this"? How many of us bear in mind that our bad conduct and character throw discredit on the nation to which we belong? Ask an English boy whether he would join you in a theft or break his word? He is sure to say "I am an Englishman and I wouldn't do that". Wasn't there a time when our ancestors prized truth and righteousness as the national character, and would even be the hosts of their enemies whom they knew they would meet in the battle-field the next day? Why all this degradation and disgrace now?
This reminds me of an incident in my life, which has given me another opportunity of confirming my belief in the present decay of national virtue. Having had a desire to see the hilly districts of this beautiful Isle of Lanka, especially Kandy, the mountain capital, I arranged with a friend who knew the place, to with him for the Christmas holidays, the day and the time being fixed as also the place where he should meet to take the particular train. The day came and I anxiously went to the friend's place at the appointed hour having sent him beforehand my trunk to put his things in with mine. I was told that he had left half an hour earlier with the trunk. I went to the station, he was not there. Yet the train fixed upon came, and I took it hoping to meet him at the junction. I looked for him all round, he was not to be found in the junction premises. The train for up-country from this junction, which it was arranged we should take, would be there in five minutes. What was I to do? - to go alone to Kandy where I would be a stranger, or to return home content with the six miles' ride I had in the train that morning as a holiday excursion. I would not return home, I thought for, it was shameful that my holiday trip should thus end abruptly and I had also sent a post-card to a friend in the Tea Estates that I would be at his place two days after, going there from Kandy. I took courage and entrained to a station, the closest to the Estate I was going to. I was travelling with no provisions for the journey. When the train arrived at my destination I had seven hours' ride. I alighted from it and having made the necessary enquiries started to walk my way up to the Estate, which was, as I was told, five miles away, for, conveyance of any kind was rare in those parts. I did take my five miles' walk, and yet others told me that I had to go another three miles. I did that too, still the Estate was yet farther away. The way was a steep ascent, and zigzag; it was close upon twilight when, I had three miles still to go. None to guide or accompany me, I was doing my lonely journey alongside the hills. Down below, there was the valley resounding with water-falls, clothed in the greenery of tea-bushes, among which a careless step might have precipitated me; my legs unaccustomed to such exertion grew heavy and weary; and with short breath and pace I was still going on the narrow metalled roads unable to linger to admire the natural scenery which under other circumstances might have captivated me. Every turn opened to me views similar to those I had passed and wearied me more and more; I began to feel for the first time the coolness of the mountain air and to see the smoky vapour, almost obstructing my way; I was passing through it, and could not then see much of the landscape, nor my way in front of or behind me, beyond a short distance. Darkness was hovering round me, still I was alone, fatigued, and anxious to find a shelter for the night, for, it struck me that the distance yet remaining, might turn out to be six miles or even more, judged from the experiences of the evening. Just then, I heard voices behind me and I saw two coolies following me. I was doubtful whether they would be friends or foes. By nothing daunted, I endeavoured to keep pace with them, but it was hopeless. I made them know, in reply to their enquiries, where I was bound to; they seemed to know my friend and offered to take me to his bungalow which was half-a-mile away according to their statement. Now the critical moment came, they led me to a foot-path, across the hills, and when questioned where this would lead to, they said that it was a cross-cut joining the same road at the other end of the hill. Was I to follow or to go alone by the road? I have heard of murders and robberies in the Estates even for a few rupees. It was dark then, and I had with me a watch and chain and money, not to mention my clothes and umbrella; and the men were two, each more than a match for me. Prepared even for the worst, I said ambiguously, "don't take me by a path which might lead me away from my destination". The elder of the two looked me straight in the face and said "Sir, don't be afraid, I will be faithful to the last. I am not an Ajnani". It would be long to tell what feelings were aroused in me by these words. I understood that he was a Christian; and I took to heart the words which fell from his lips, but to comment on which I had neither the mind nor the energy. He was true to his word and sent the other man with me to the bungalow which I reached at seven at night. There were other anxious moments of this trip, but none has left such a deep impression upon my mind as this - I thought that my Lord had sent me here, all alone from the pleasant residence in the sea-side village, to this forlorn hill-country, to hear those significant words from an estate-cooly.
My co-religionists, I was resolved to make this known to you and all, who are called ajnanis, and here I have done. What a comment on the moral aspect of our lives! By what name he referred to us, is not the point; the conviction he had of the wickedness of certain members of his race who follow the religion of their forefathers, is what struck me most. Where are virtues gone - Truth and Righteousness? Will our people understand that these form the very basis of Sivajnanam? I often thought to myself that if our leaders would not take active steps to improve the moral tone of our people, it were far better for the people to join Christian organizations and live Christian lives in order to qualify themselves for the spiritual life of the Sivajnanis, for, I have found in my experience, more unity and sympathy, love and righteousness, in Christian Society, than in our own. There are organizations and opportunities and here is none. Truth must be told at any risk, and I say, what I think, fearlessly, to this august assembly that moral culture should form the first item of our programme, so that every man may be true citizen before he can be a true lover of God.
The social side of the question is not receiving its due attention either. The abuse of caste-rules has been ever tending to separate one from the other to such an extent that the people have not benefited by the culture and civilization of the few. Social intercourse, which alone will facilitate mutual improvement and strengthen mutual confidence, has been within only limited circles, not to mention the inhumane rigour with which "non-touchism" has been enforced on the majority of the people, who would have been a strong power in the nation, if only the chord of brotherly feeling was touched. "Non-touchism" is a sound rule for sanitary reasons, but to enforce it on those who deserve sympathy, help and elevation, in the way it has been done for ages is, brutally demoralising; and the effect of it is now seen not only in the absence of the national feeling but also in mutual distrust and contempt and in the domination of selfish interests. The tyranny of caste is present in the higher ranks as well as in the lower. The tyranny must cease and give place to a healthy feeling of fraternal kinship in the nation. Caste prevails in some form or another in other countries, but nowhere to the detriment of national interests. People there are wise enough not to weaken the solidarity of the nation by demoralising the self-respecting though illiterate masses. Ours has been an unenviable lot, the subject of ridicule to the enlightened. No nation or race has left its mark on the sands of time that did not keep prominently before it, the well-being, the elevation and the freedom of all classes of its people. The Romans attempted to draw the invidious line between the high and the low and perished in consequence. The people of England have removed all differences of race and language and they now flourish as the mightiest nation on earth.
Have we at the present day the four main castes of the Smritis or even the many divisions that once prevailed in the south? Can anyone enumerate the sects and sub-sects, and divers groups of each caste? The number tends to increase and not to diminish. Does this not indicate the wrong principles that at present guide the nation? It will be no wonder if one closes his door against his own brother for the fault of crossing the sea or sitting at the same table with his cousin who married in a different sect, though he is himself a hopeless drunkard. His conceit of caste is such that drunkenness and other vices would not degrade him in the eyes of society; but in his view his brother's violation of the caste-law in mixing with others under the ban is greatly reprehensible. The strict adherence to the letter of the law, and that only on the social side of it, has so drawn lines and cross-lines between one another, that we cannot converse or exchange thoughts with one another without one day or other coming into collision. The evils of our society are brought to the light of day by those interested in religious proselytism, and laid at the doors of the Hindu Religion, without pausing for a moment to assess its real responsibility in the matter. The number of child-widows, the degradation of the Pariahs and other members of the nation, the exclusion of certain castes from religious worship at the temples, and the abhorrence with which the high-caste man drives away a fellow member of the nation from his sight, are often referred to from the pulpit and the platform, by the Christian clergy and laymen, as the outcome of the Hindu Religion. The promise of freedom, education and position from the opposite camp, will naturally draw away those who are under the ignominious ban of our society. No doubt the evil is there: it is not due to our ennobling Religion but to the degraded Hindus who have mistaken phantasm for the reality, the poison for the nectar. But is it not now time that we look around and right the wrong and remedy the evil? A re-adjustment in the line is highly desirable, to allow the influence of our religion, the mainspring of which is love, the reign of unqualified Supreme Love in the hearts of its followers, to make itself felt even by the now down-trodden masses, Or shall we sit with folded arms priding over the achievements of our forefathers and leave our neighbours to point out the cobwebs in our homes, and the dirt in our teeth?
It is a relief that reforms have been attempted, organized and carried into effect by the true sons of the soil in the teeth of opposition, obstruction and ridicule. Not to rise even after dearly paying for our past cruelty to our own brothers, is a crime for which each one of us will one day have to account for. It is a vital question no longer to be shelved in if we really mean to plant the banner of our religion in the depths of all hearts.
The craze, now, is for political reform. Millions of reeds rising to true and govern! Each according to our Dharmas, the rulers were those who, being able to exercise control over the rest granted at the same time liberty to their subjects with love of justice and fair play according to their lights. The privileges and rights enjoyed by the people in the past are not denied to the present generation. The British nation built upon principles of equality and justice, will not swerve from its national virtues. The non-interference in religion granted to us, is a gift of a very great order, especially to us to whom religion is a watch-word. The burden of State is very heavy; and our benefactors, the British Nation, have come forward to bear it for us just as our past rulers, the Kshatriyas, had done in times of yore, allowing ample opportunities to work out our social and religious ideals. If one nation rules another, there is of necessity some conflict of interest in a smaller or larger measure; and if there be any such restriction, shall we fare better in the hands of others whose love of justice, mercy and fair play, will not rival that of the British Raj? The latter is a God-send to our nation, to relieve us from the additional burden of ruling ourselves. To my mind, all the energy should be directed towards the ethical, social and religious advancement of our people, under the kind protection of the British flag. There lies our sphere of work, elevating and peach-giving, and not among the thorns of politics. If we succeed in producing noble citizens, able to appreciate the freedom enjoyed under religious neutrality, and at the same time to nurture their religious ideals, our task is done. Else, we cease to profit by the golden opportunity and our energies run to waste.
Now, let us consider "The Work Before Us" in the field of religion which comes directly within the purview of this Conference. Bearing in mind that the other aspects of the question go hand in hand with the religious work, and that the one is a necessary supplement to the others in the evolution of character, let us pause for a moment to take stock of our religious achievements of the present day. Time was when religious education formed the chief curriculum of the youth of our land. The special training the Brahmachari received at the hands of his preceptor, fitted him to understand his duties in every line of activity, and equipped him with sufficient knowledge of the Dharma and the Jnana Sastras, and before he entered the life of a house-holder he was a master of his religion, able to guide the religious work of the household. The youth having had to live with the master who was seldom wanting in the high ideals of life, imbibed the character, the spirit, and the ideals of his master. Religion was lived by the masters who held the prominent position in our society. Kings and chiefs vied with one another in reverencing the masters of religion whose example influenced all the members of the society. People did not hesitate to part with their wealth and become paupers if that helped them to honour a master or to establish a religious ideal. The homes re-echoed the Vedic and other hymns that were chanted there during prayer, nor were the groves and forests without response to the echo of the village. Each one, rich or poor, high or low, knew his religion, lived it, and led others in the same line. The relation between Guru and Sishya left nothing to be desired, to work out the religious end. The Gurus, the priests, and the elders of the land, had a great command or influence over the people and were gods on earth to lead and bless.
Would that we had the old times back again! A knowledge of the Sastras at the present day is the special acquisition of the few, and a religious life, the ideal of the handful. Although there are enough of instinctive inducements to take up the religious ideals, people run after worldly enjoyments and prosperity, and any education that does not tend towards material prosperity is not cared for. Even the priests have degenerated to a very great degree. The Jnana portions of the Scriptures are left alone by the priests themselves who make it their ambition to be masters of Kriya, rites and ceremonies. When the people stay away from the fold in large numbers, the priests are in the inner chambers of the temple, content to sound the bell and the gong and to deck their persons and the idols, and foolishly think that they can transport all to Heaven by the due performance of certain rites. It does not seem to concern them what the people think or do, or whether they are morally and spiritually advancing. Whatever may be the evils that sap the vitals of the society, they would not question the conduct of an individual, for fear of losing the measure of rice and his patronage! The priests have ceased to exert any moral influence over the people; and religion has become synonymous with rites and ceremonies, the true import of which is a hidden secret to a goodly number of even the priests themselves. The spread of education and civilization has not affected the guardians of our Religion; and often it is found that a layman is more enlightened than the priest who is unable to preach his own religion, to explain the doubts, or meet the objections of his opponents.
The Puranas and the Itihasas beyond which there is no Scripture for the masses, are misunderstood and ridiculed, and the demand seems to be for a rational exposition of the principles of religion without parables or figures of speech. On the other hand, the majority of the neglected classes is even without the influence of the Puranic literature, nor are they able to distinguish their religion from that of others.
One day I asked a Tamil peon in my office what his religion was. He said that he professed the same religion as myself. I asked him what he called that religion. He said " It is this, sir, Bauddha-Agama." I told him that I was not a Buddhist. Yet, he was sure that he followed the same religion as myself. He now understands that he is not a follower to the Bauddha-Agama. This ignorance in the man is an index to the pitiable state to which our people have declined, and the scant influence (which is sometimes next to nothing) exercised over them by the priests or other laymen. There are instances where the illiterate masses frequent famous places of worship of the Roman Catholics. It does not matter to them whether it is Mary or Mariyammal, Christ or Krishna, St. Annas or Kannakai, that they go to worship. The worship of Siva and the teachings of the Saiva Religion, are yet within their reach.
Even in Temples, worship, festivals and other paraphernalia, have no charm for the so-called civilised section of the people. And their power for good has been declining from day to day. Piety and devotion do not influence the majority of men who frequent the temples. One word at least indicates the retrogression of the system and the demoralization of the worshippers, namely - Deva-adiyal (தேவ அடியாள்). With what good intentions the service of Deva-adiyal was allowed in temples? Does that word now convey its original significance? What example did they once set for the women of the land? Where is now their honour and prestige, their piety and devotion to God, their pure hearts and clean hands? They now pollute the atmosphere of the temples and corrupt the morals of themselves and the people; but still our enlightened men do not see or at least take steps to remedy this evil which has taken a strong hold on the places of worship. It seems to me to be a problem, whether, in other respects as well, the true intentions of the Sastras have not been violated or degraded, just in the same way as the institution of Deva-adiyal (தேவ அடியாள்) has been corrupted into Devadiyal (தேவடியாள்) - the plague-spot in the sacred temple.
Even in the management of temples, one often finds the predominance of selfish interest rather than the spiritual advancement of the people. The abuse of temple-funds is a crying shame of the community; but still it must be said to be credit of our ancient seers that, if not for the temples and the Puranas, however much their object may be misunderstood, our people would have been much worse and hopelessly behind-hand in religious ideals. What is required in the trustees or custodians of the temples is, holding up their true spirit to the eyes of the masses. Many of the Jnana Sastras are still in old manuscripts which are kept back from public view under pain of religious threat or priestly intimidation, and the enthusiasm of most men among our leaders or our wealthy, is not for bringing them to light and preserving them for future generations, but for building more temples.
A Christian enthusiast once put to me a straight forward question, 'What are the charitable institutions, organized for the good of the people by your religionists"? and added, "It is a noteworthy fact that we Christians alone build hospitals, poor houses, home for the sick and the aged, orphanages, free schools, etc," The question was rather unexpected, and I could not help blushing at our own indifference. The only answer that I could give was that it did not argue the absence of love in our religionists towards mankind, but that the Christian nations commanded more wealth, and possessed organizing power which Hindus, unfortunately, did not. It appears to me that the funds of our temples could very well be devoted to such purposes, as it would then prove the practical application of our religious principles. Our religion would, in such a case, be rivalled by no other religion in its universality, tolerance and spirit of love. Organised endeavours should also be made to publish the Agamas and other Jnana-Sastras, and to popularise them and bring them within the reach of every household. I had occasion to inquire into the working of the Bible Societies, and have found that much good work is being done in spreading the Gospel of Christ without burdening the resource of any particular person or people of the Christian faith. They not only publish popular editions of the Gospels, but employ Bible-women to carry the truths of the Gospel to the hearts of the people. We shall also surely succeed in our own way, if we can enlist the cooperation of the temple-managers and the leading citizens of our faith in the various districts. The preaching-halls in the temples may be used for influencing the character and spiritual life of the people, by delivering sermons during the festivals and special days of worship. The youths of the land who are obliged to deviate from the course of study prescribed for the Brahmacharins of old, should be approached in their present schools and colleges, and given occasional courses of lectures to arouse a spirit of enquiry and enthusiasm towards their religion. The present-day education, being entirely secular, will not develop the religious spirit which was characteristic of the Brahmacharins of the past. Nor should they be left alone to themselves when they leave their colleges. They should be brought under the influence of societies conducted for the study and the practice of religion. As the old order has changed, new institutions should be brought into existence, to supply what is wanting in the religious education of the youth Special preaching tours should be arranged for the benefit of the masses, who neither frequent the temples nor attend colleges.
In order to restore the priestly influence, without which religious work is not of much value, a congregation of clerics, having at its head a synod such as the Tilla-muvayiravar, should be established on the lines of the council of Buddhist priests in Burma or Ceylon. The position that our priests now occupy, is neither very much honoured by the people, nor recognized by Government. The Government pensioner can sign before a pastor of the Christian religion and get his life-certificate attested, but not by a Hindu priest of whatever standing. Marriage registers can be attested to by Christian priests, but not by the Hindu. Does not all this show the insignificance of the position of our priests? Now, the question is, whether we should not elevate the priesthood by the organization of an ecclesiastical body.
These would be the means of reviving the true spirit of Saivism in our land, and spreading its influence elsewhere. The real meaning of the rites in the temples and homes may thus be popularized. Instead of the blind sheep that now follow the priests who are ignorant of the rationale of religious rites, we will have intelligent men following our religion with a fervour and zeal unknown to the ignorant. Instead of the many wicked hearts now uninfluenced by the priests and the temples, we will have pure loving hearts that respond to the symbology of religious worship, possessing the eight spiritual flowers of non-killing, control of the senses, forbearance, grace, wisdom, truth, austerity and love. The truths long-hidden in symbology, should be explained, in order to produce true Saivites free from caste-shackles, bigotry and superstition. It should not be forgotten that the call to the world to partake of the Bliss of Sivajananam, was raised, not very long ago, in the very place you are now assembled, by that devoted Bhakta and Jnani, whose hymns are on the lips of all Tamilians. I meant St. Tayumanavar, the popular exponent of the Saiva-Siddhanta. May not his call fall on deaf ears, or lose its significance for want of supporters! He has indirectly commanded all the followers of his faith to go forth and preach the excellence of the Saiva Religion, so that everyone might realise within himself the goal of the Siddhanta as expressed by him in these words:-
மண்ணொடைந்தும் வழங்குயிர்யாவுமே அண்ணலேஉன் அருள்வடிவாகுமே. "The Earth and Five and all lives known, O Lord, are graceful forms of Your own."
Now to conclude with a summary. It is the bounden duty of every individual member of the nation, rich or poor, high or low, to work for himself and for the nation, that he may fulfil his responsibility, and pay off his debt to the nation. The possession of national character, and the adherence to the national ideals, form a sine qua non in the case of every individual who would faithfully perform his allotted portion of work in the national mill-house. The division of national labour which was the secret of the caste-system, and of the ladder-way of the Asramas, helped the social and the religious advancement of the people, in times of yore. But when labour lost its dignity, and caste-pride sundered the national ties, the nation became degraded and lost its virtues. to bring back the national ideals of truth and righteousness, love and mildness, exemplified in the lives of the great men of the past, and to influence the present generation so that there may be a bright future, constitute the duty and work which lie before each one of us, as members of the nation, Religious work must go hand in hand with ethical and social work, if we are to achieve complete success. It cannot be easily divorced from the latter without rendering the foundation for the stronghold of Religion, shaky and unstable. The neglect of moral and social work is responsible for the corruption and wickedness in the majority of the people. The sense of honour and dignity, rectitude and moral courage, should be revived in order that the slur cast upon the nation and its religion may be wiped off; and this work should form the first item of our programme, in order to produce true citizens, who alone can evolve into true lovers of God. Endeavour should be made to elevate the low castes and the illiterate masses, so that there may be brotherly feeling, mutual confidence and national solidarity. The conceit of caste-feeling, in the absence of caste-virtues and national ideals, has in the main been responsible for the degradation of our brethren, the majority of whom do not enjoy the benefits of real education and civilization.
It is high time that we took steps to re-establish the reign of supreme love, which is the characteristic of our religion, in the hearts of all classes of people, by the promotion of social intercourse and the removal of caste-tyranny. Men regenerated on the above lines, would be a power in the nation, able to appreciate the privileges enjoyed under the British rule, which is a God-send to us that prize Religion most. At the present day, the influence of the Masters of our Religion and the priests, is little or nothing compared with what was exercised over the Brahmacharins and others in ancient India. Rites and ceremonies alone form the order of the day, and the priests neither trouble themselves about the Jnana Sastras, nor preach to, or otherwise influence the worshippers in the temples. Puranas and Itihasas influence only a few, one section demanding more explicit teachings, without figures of speech, allegorical language or abstruse parables, and another section being even below the plane of the exoteric myths of the Puranas, and ignorant of the very idea of Religion. Temple-worship has been losing its influence over the so-called civilized section and allowed to become a dead letter. Temple-funds may better be utilised for the publication of Jnana Sastras and the establishing of charitable institutions. The truths of Religion should be preached from Temple-halls, Schools and Colleges, and public places and institutions should be established in the different districts for the study and practice of Religion. All the above suggestions would, I trust, be the means of disseminating true Saivism, and producing true Saivites living the life of Siva jnanis, in the enjoyment of the Grace of God and the Peace and Bliss of Sayujya, here on earth.