By Sivanath Sastri
Continued from last issue…
We should earnestly seek, therefore, to establish the pure spiritual worship of the Supreme Being in our domestic and social lives. All theists should make it is a rule in their houses to commence the day with a short ritual of Divine Service and to mark all the important events of their domestic and social lives by the observance of religious rituals representing the worship of the Supreme Being. But do not rituals necessarily mean ceremonials in some form, someone will ask. Certainly, in the place of the present idolatrous and stereotyped ceremonials let us have forms of service and of domestic and social ceremonies which are pure and spiritual in their nature, and admit full liberty of choice on the part of the worshippers. No harm in having them; rather they are necessary for the religious education of men.
Let me amplify a little more the inward meaning of the message of this our theism to our people. What is it we are going to offer. Is it a superior philosophy alone that can stand the test of science-No, – that is not our ambition. True, our fundamental faith is eminently philosophical. The comparative study of religions, the discoveries of science, the modern speculations about sociology, all tend to prove the reasonableness of our fundamental principles. But to prove that reasonableness is not our main work. Our main work lies in proving by actual example that it is at the feet of the Supreme Being alone that the care-worn souls of sinful men can find their true and abiding peace. “The Infinite alone,” so have taught our Rishis of old, “the Infinite alone is a source of eternal peace; there is no rest in things finite “. Have you found your rest, dear brethren, by coming to the feet of the Supreme? Then go and proclaim your message to other sinful men. India sorely needs such a message. Yea, India bending beneath a heavy load absolutely needs that message. However men may be critical with regard to the truth of that message, however wedded they may be to their old notions, let the Theistic Church go on delivering it with persistence, till their ears open to hear. Let us tell them that though we have differed from many old things our mission is not destructive. Indeed our aim is to conserve in newly awakened spiritual aspirations all the old reverences, and the old spiritual heritage of the people. The basis of theism is the universality of Divine revelation, the marking of the Divine hand in everything good or great or spiritually helpful, treasured up in the history of our people. An active love of God should be a new fusing element in our souls, which will gather into a life, all the precious spiritual inheritance left by our great masters whose names grace the pages of religious history in this land. When we have found theism we have found the key to the correct interpretation of their message and the right spirit to assimilate their good things. At the burning alter of love of God, by the crucible of true spiritual worship, let us burn away all the dross of the old cults, till the spiritually good and permanent in them, assume new power for our spiritual edification. I lay considerable emphasis on this conservative and spiritually reconstructive side of our faith. It is no mere eclecticism, but it is the force and fervour of a new life in God that overcomes evil and assimilates everything good.
The second great practical aim of the Theistic Church is party implied in the above; namely to combat the anti-social tendencies of the higher religion of this country and to install in its place this theism as a social religion. It is well-known that our ancient philosophy of religion turns upon the pessimistic conception that life itself is an evil. Life is a bondage and the world is a dungeon; and it is salvation to be freed from the necessity of being born again. It is a question how this sombre philosophy came in to occupy the Hindu mind, in the place of the hearty enjoyment of life, which we find reflected in the Vedas. In those books the Rishis pray to Indra to bless them with plentiful showers, good harvests, abundance of material wealth, beautiful wives and long-lived children. How simple how natural for man! In the place of that sweet simple hearted love of life, how came this grim philosophy which frowns at life and all its enjoyments and bids man to look upon the world as a prison-house. Some ascribe it to the influence of Buddhism. True, Buddha was an arch-pessimist, and taught Nirvana to consist in the extinction of the desire of life; but he was not the originator of that theory of life; he found it already embedded in native Indian thought and gave his own interpretation of it. Certainly Buddhism gave a fresh impetus to it. Still question stares us in the face how this fair and fertile land, where the skies are so blue and beautiful, and nature so lovely, how could such a land be the home of such a melancholy view of life? There is every reason for people of this land to be as cheerful and gay as the Italians amongst the European races. But on the contrary we find the Hindu to be sombre and dull, morose and melancholy, pining away for that day that would bring him a message of deliverance from this life. From this cause perhaps has arisen his political depression. Some ascribe it to the tropical climate; some to the depressing effect of large rivers and stupendous mountains; others to the silent operation of social institutions like caste, that crush the individual man altogether beneath a social machine.
I leave you to form your own opinions about the cause of that pessimistic frame of mind which gave birth to that philosophy, for it is not my function here to enter into such discussions. What you and I all see is that this philosophy of life has produced one sad result. It has made the higher religion of India essentially anti-social. To be truly religious we must turn away from society. “Who is thy wife, who thy son”, cries the Hindu sage and teaches the aspirant for religious life to seek his salvation in asceticism and renunciation of the world. To this we have to oppose a new view of life which says that life is a gift of love and not curse for man’s penance. We have been placed upon this earth by a merciful Being to be educated and perfected for higher spheres of existence. As the physical world is beautifully suited to the maintenance of this physical frame, and contains all the elements necessary for that purpose, so man’s domestic and social lives are also divine ordinance for the moral and spiritual perfection of man. No natural human relationship, that binds man to life, is unspiritual and no human duty, however mean, is outside the sphere of his religious life. The world is neither the dungeon of the Hindu saint, nor the snare of the Christian saint. There is no Satan to rival God and hold in the end greater mastery over the world. The ends of life are good and its agencies are natural and moral. Man gets into the meshes of sin only by disregarding the moral law written in his constitution. Virtue is more natural than vice to man, and that philosophy is false which makes vice more natural and habitual to man. The Rishis cry in the Upanishads Sa seturbidhritiresham lokanamasambhedaya, “It is the Supreme Being, who like an embankment holds together human life and does not allow it to break through”.
Verily the Supreme is not very far but is in us and with us, – in our
social life, as well as in the solitudes of the soul. Thus every concern of
life, every little care and every little duty comes to us as a part of
religious exercise. Nothing is trivial, nothing unimportant as a means of spiritual
edification. In this matter we follow the example of our late venerable leader
Maharshi Devendranath Tagore, who used
to make every little domestic or social duty the subject of earnest prayer and
silent communion. To him nothing was secular; nothing was spiritually
unimportant. Indeed the whole life of man is the field of his religious
To be continued …