Be Kind and Serve Vaishnavas II


AS a concrete instance of the difficulties that beset the path of the humanitarian in relieving human misery let us consider the cases of two typical charitable activities.

The operation of famine relief has to be frequently undertaken by the Government of India. There is no duty which that Government regards with greater dread and misgiving than this humanitarian task. Indiscriminate charity is out of the question in meeting a calamity on any scale. The policy which has been ultimately adopted attempts to create reproductive employment in the affected areas that may guarantee specific improvement in the economic outlook of the locality liable to be visited by famine. This is the adoption of the undiluted economic ideal of conduct towards an unfortunate affair. But as loss of revenue in various ways is unavoidable and as the Government of India is not a purely charitable institution it is officially recognised that the best insurance against the recurrence of actual distress during a famine lies ultimately in the hands of the people themselves. Railways and canals that are built as a means of fighting the calamity have in view the improvement of production and means of transport enabling the people themselves to undertake to obtain food and other necessaries out of their own improved resources. It is on the industry, foresight and thrift of the people that the state has to rely in the long run for the prevention of the calamity and for fighting it successfully when it actually makes its appearance. No one will seriously question the wisdom of these measures. But can they be described as an example of conduct inspired by the principles of charity and humanity for their own sake? Or are they not rather an effort to get rid of all such obligation?

The case of leper-asylums appeals to our humane instincts probably more powerfully than any other institution for the alleviation of human misery. Let us consider the cases of those kind and selfless persons who volunteer to devote their lives to the ‘service’ of the lepers. Leprosy is the effect of bad living and is supposed to be contagious and also transmissible to descendants. It is also considered practicable to prevent its spread and even of bringing about its total suppression by segregational methods. This is no doubt an optimistic view but does not appear to be wholly unwarranted by actual results. Those persons who devote themselves to the duty of attending to the lepers are supposed to run the risk of catching the disease themselves. It is nothing but selfless love for the poor lepers that could induce really worthy persons to accept such almost sure fate for themselves of their own accord. It is not merely an exhibition of sterile sentimentality but those important practical consequences on the lepers and on the community and involves real and heavy sacrifices on the part of the workers. The lepers themselves, however, are never grateful to their keepers nor can the latter ever be the liking lovers of their charges. The keepers are at best rewarded by the satisfaction of the conscience resulting from a sense of duty done towards the patients and towards the community. The lepers are seldom reformed in their morals. The community considers itself relieved of a terrible menace to its safety. For the community it is not a question of charity or humanity but of its own existence. For the keepers also the exercise or existence of the ‘sentiment’ of humanity is not provable as they can have neither sympathetic liking for their charges nor much success or hope of reforming them. The sacrifice of the keepers enables the people at large, who are not necessarily loved or deserving of love on their own account to live a securer life for good or for evil. Is this also humanity? There is no doubt courage; but is there any charity? The keepers may feel satisfied that they are outwardly more courageous than their brethren. Such example has the effect of encouraging other people to follow it. So the safety of the community seems to have a chance of being better secured thereby so far as it is at all possible to be secured by such external help. But the biologist can never wholly agree to such a view as it is opposed to his doctrines of self-help and survival of the fittest. He would probably be disposed to regard the lepers as a small but significant symptom of a state of wide spread social degeneracy and view any tenderness shown to lepers as a concession to vice that is likely to confirm the undeserving corrupt individual and society in their bad way of living. Biology does not also praise even any really courageous disposition on the part of individuals which is not exercised for the safety of the individuals themselves. Biology is emphatically unphilanthropic. It should hardly believe in reform itself. The above instances point to the truth of my contention that the interest of the individual is not always regarded as being compatible with the interest of the community. Therefore those who are not really thoughtless should find it impossible to subscribe to the opinion that any genuine or unmixed philanthropic policy is possible under these unfavourable circumstances. The reason of man, if it is impartially and fully exercised, must admit its own utter incapacity of devising any measure of relieving the distress of suffering humanity. It finds itself between Scylla and Charibdys of the kind described above when it makes any serious attempt for the purpose.

I have purposely omitted all reference to the fact of the actual internal working of these charitable institutions which would furnish further material for reflection to both sides.

I have been considering the matter all along from the point of view of a person who is not content to be merely courageous, charitable or humane for his own personal sentimental satisfaction, but is mainly anxious to understand clearly that it is also beneficial. The ethical philosopher is ready with his reply that one should be courageous for virtue’s own sake. The biologist says, “No”. The average honest man hesitates between the two views and wants to understand what is really “good” qualities of courage, charity and humanity. The ethical philosopher neither of the older nor of the newer type can furnish any really satisfactory answer to these legitimate doubts of every honest man who is charitably disposed.

Sri Chaitanya furnished the following reply which appears to me to be deeidedly more to the point. He says that the disease cannot be treated properly unless its nsture is really understood. He wants us to consider the nature of the misery itself. All the misery of humanity is the natural and inevitable result of the very constitution of the body and mind of man. The mind wants to enjoy the things of this world by means of the senses. It finds itself thwarted and punished at every step for making the attempt. But man does not, in fact cannot, desist from their pursuit without ceasing to be what he is. He, therefore, tries to find a method that will enable him to enjoy the good things of this world without undesirable consequences to himself. This is the problem of the empiric sciences. Man wants to find out the answer from the experience of the race. It is assumed that there is a method of enjoyment which does not involve suffering and which produces unalloyed happiness. It is assumed that Nature is a wise and kind mother and only wants her children to find out this grand secret which out of mere playfulness and excess of affection she always tries to keep back from them for a time only. But the discovery of the secret by her children will make them her master. She must, therefore, intend to be their servant in the long run. It is the lure of this loyal prospect that makes it their sublime duty to always try to peer into her secrets. In other words the empiricists recognize that they are after all completely at the mercy of Nature. Without her help it is not possible for man to do any thing. She must teach man how to conquer herself. But what will happen to him even after the conquest? The eternal sphinx keeps faithfully mute and makes no reply. The reason of man finds that the master is left as much without standing ground after his promised victory as before it. If Nature has no function to perform after her conquest by him will she cease to exist? Or will she still continue to be ‘subordinate’ but indispensable? Oh, what a mockery ! It is she who is bound to be the master always? And man? Is he bound to be her eternal slave? This does not offer a very pleasant prospect to the ascending reason which wants to be master in its own right.

So long as the symptoms of his disease monopolize all the attention of man he has no leisure to think of the nature and origin of the malady. He tries to get rid of the symptoms. But the symptoms refused to be cured so long as the disease itself is allowed to flourish unchecked. If one of the symptoms appears to be cured independently of the disease such apparent cure itself is sure to give rise to a graver symptom and that simultaneously. The mind of man desires to enjoy; the senses are lacking in the power of yielding unlimited enjoyment. Reason opposes sensuous enjoyment on the ground of its grossness and transitoriness and points out that abstinence is necessary if mastery is desired. But the mind laughs at the counsel of reason as it does not want a victory which will baulk it of the gratification of its desire. So the empiricists divide on this point into the two camps of elevationists and salvationists. The former promise free sensuous enjoyment of an infinite variety both gross and refined. The latter promise freedom from the lure of sensuous enjoyment and its correlative misery. The sciences favour the former view. The practices of most of the older religions seem to embody the latter ideal. The exponents of both sides appeal to experience to justify the wisdom of their respective courses. But as a matter of fact experience really does not bear out fully the contentions of either side. It nods to both of them and remains silent.

Sri Chaitanya says that experience itself does not know the truth. It is necessary to look to some other quarter for a really satisfactory reply. He tells us that experience need not be supposed to be the only possible source of our knowledge. There is a higher source of knowledge than the sensuous experience of the race. No knowledge of the real Truth can be obtained from experience. Neither salvationism nor elevationism has been able to cure the ills that flesh is heir to. They have not been able even to diminish them. This is also part of our experience. If we are to be true to experience we should not ignore this fact. May it not be the fact that both the ideal and method of both schools are a blunder? It is at any rate reasonable, nay necessary, to consider seriously the claims of any alternative ideals and methods if any such are available. Sri Chaitanya says that the resources of the human reason cannot supply any other alternative. But there is an alternative which is above the human reason. It is open to the reason to consider the claims of the transcendental method and ideal if it likes. As this last is wholly beyond our sensuous experience we need not oppose it if it seems at first sight to be inconsistent with such experience. It is also necessary to consider the position, which is new to us, as a whole. The position is briefly as follows. Man cannot know the Truth by his assertive effort. He has, however, the capacity know It by the method of submissive effort. The definite nature of the effort that has to be made by each individual for this purpose is capable of being communicated to him by transcendental teachers of the Truth who are sent into this world by Godhead on this mission of causeless mercy. Those who are really disposed to receive the Truth obtain the same by the grace of the transcendental teacher. The truth can be learnt by no other way. Its nature can be described by means of the ordinary vocabulary at our disposal but cannot be really understood except by the grace of the spiritual preceptor. It is possible to describe the Truth as It has a resemblance to our experience, the two being related to one another as substance and its distorted reflected image. The following account of the nature of Truth is to be understood with these reservations.

The Truth is Godhead Himself. He is a Person. He is served by an infinite number of counterpart persons, atomic spiritual essences, in various ways. He dwells with His servitors in the happy realm of spirit. Our souls belong to the spiritual realm by their nature. The spiritual realm is the direct manifestation of the spiritual or plenary power of God. It is eternally distinct from this phenomenal world. The spiritual realm is the ‘real’ world. This phenomenal world is a manifestation of the ‘delusive’ energy of Godhead which is the unwholesome aspect of the plenary power; and has no independent existence of its own as the real world has. It is dependent on and, therefore, inferior to the spiritual realm. Those souls who are disinclined to serve Godhead fall under the power of the deluding energy and are compelled by her to lead this anomalous existence.

In the realm of the spirit the soul functions naturally and perfectly. In this world the soul finds himself under severe restraint. This restraint is due to his physical bodies. These are two in number, viz., the external or gross body and the internal or subtle body. Both are made of the same stuff of which this world is made. The soul is joined to these bodies in such a way that he is compelled to suppose them to be identical with his own spiritual nature. This is the delusion that makes him eager to function on the physico-mental plane. But the soul is always made to feel the inconveniences of this un-natural personality. He strives desperately to get rid of limitations. But the delusive power of God is stronger than the soul as soon as he renounces the guidance of His spiritual power. The rebellious soul strives to conquer the delusive power by his own spiritual strength. But this only serves to entangle him more and more in the meshes of the delusive energy. But no manner in this single-handed struggle with the delusive energy can restore to him the lost consciousness of his real nature and its function.

For that it is necessary for him to receive the aid of the plenary spiritual power which is rendered only on unconditional submission to itself. But the rebellious soul is never disposed to submit. This is his disease. This perversity which is really an abuse of his free will is curable only by the causeless mercy of Godhead. The mercy of God comes down into this world in the shape of His apostles. These spiritual agents reveal to us the truth. Godhead Himself also comes down into this world for the same purpose. The activities of God and His servants are eternal and spiritual even when they manifest themselves in this world. They are instinct with life, as everything else in the realm of sprit. The account of them is recorded for our benefit in the spiritual scriptures. The descent of God and His servitors into this world makes it possible for the fallen souls to obtain the tidings of the other world, as their activities are actually exposed to the senses of the fallen souls although they are really transcendental. The spiritual records also possess the peculiar quality of being available to fallen souls, although they really belong to the other world. For this reason their true import cannot be understood unless they are explained by those who are themselves transcendental and can, therefore, explain their true meaning.

But it is also never possible for the fallen soul to recognise the transcendental teacher except by his grace. The spiritual scriptures instruct us to how this grace may be obtained. It amounts to this that we must not confound the spiritual with the phenomenal and must be sincerely prepared to serve the truth unconditionally. This is not also wholly inconsistent with the empiric position. The great difficulty is that the empiricist is not prepared to serve at all. His idea of truth is that it should be to his liking. The real state of things as should sufficiently appear from the considerations set forth above is, however, that it is the soul that has to adjust himself to the truth and not the truth which has to be dwarfed to suit the capacity of the tiny soul. The truth never pleases the soul. The soul should try to please the truth which is not a dead thing but the living Godhead Himself. The idea of lifeless, material, abstract or non-existent truth that is the idol of the assertive reason of man must be thoroughly got rid of before we are in a position to grasp the nature of the real truth and the method of His attainment.

(To be continued)