Sitanath Tattvabhushan.

The philosophy of Brahmaism, expounded with reference to its history : lectures delivered before the Theological Society, Calcutta, in 1906-1907 online

. (page 19 of 23)
Online LibrarySitanath TattvabhushanThe philosophy of Brahmaism, expounded with reference to its history : lectures delivered before the Theological Society, Calcutta, in 1906-1907 → online text (page 19 of 23)
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the true God in spirit and in truth. But so long as
one continues to be an Idolator in belief, the Theist
should not call upon him to give up idolatrous
.lit'f'-ivnt is the case with himself.
While idolatrous practice do*es not demean the
:-, it is really dpnie.ming and sinful to the
Tin ist. T vn, therefore, that as long as his

idolatrous neighbour has not seen the error of his

latry, the Theist should remain an Idolator in


practice, is really to say that one shoulu go on sinning
and demeaning himself so long as his neighbour is
not converted to his belief. But if the Tr^eist can thus
go on practicising idolatry with the hope of some day
joining hands with his idolatrous neighbour, it does
not seem that it can ever $e necessary for him to bring
about his contemplated reform. If reform can be
postponed in the 'case of the individual, why not also
in the case of society ? If it is proper for individuals
to practise things they do not believe, why should it
be improper for societies to do so ? If we may practise
and put up with hypocrisy for generations with the
hope that some day we shall be in a position to put
it away, does not the very necessity of putting it
away cease? If hypocrisy may, without harm, con-
tinue indefinitely, what harm can there be in its
perpetuation ? The fallacy of the argument is there-
fore patent, and patent also is its baneful effect on
character in dulling the sense of sin. What, more-
over, it assumes as to the sympathy of society with
reformers keeping themselves within its fold, is not
true. From persons whose consciences are not
awakened, or those who are confirmed in hypocrisy,
the reformer clinging to his old ways indeed gets a
sort of sympathy and exercises on them a certain
degree" of influence, and all this at the cost of his
own moral nature ; but from simple, conscientious,
and straightforward men, such a reformer receives
nothing but contempt. It is easily found out by
such men that he is a coward and hypocrite, showing
himself to be what he is not and shrinking from the


painful consequences of honest, straightforward
action. The influence of such a man on the society
he belongs tp, cannot be grea^, Really honest and
pious people see that his influence actually makes for
dishonesty and impiety, and not for virtue and piety.
Instances may indeed be cited in which such halting
reformers have introduced reforms in the societies to
which they belong. But their success is due, not to
their apostacy, but to the faithfulness of their perse-
. communicated brethren. It is the bold

hing of new truths that draws men's attention to

them ; and it is the bravery with which they are

>ut into practice by intrepid reformers in the

face of opposition and persecution, that breaks the

i of bigotry and intolerance and paves the way
for timid ami half-hearted reformers. Example
teach* s b.-tt'T than precept. The advocates of con-
formity practically forget this common But invalu-
able adage.

s who conform to idolatrous practice
! jok'-d upon by the orthodox with contempt and

6 illustrated by an incident that
happened within my own experience. An excoin-
mui: I once hard pressed by his

go through an expiation ceremofly, or
at:i;. ,i<l gone through some-

thing like it, so v might again be at liberty

to a with him socially. One shift after

another was pi to him in order to make the

burden upon his conscience as light as possible ; but


he stoutly refused to compromise himself in the least,
to encourage even the shadow of a lie. He added
that if he consented to act as his cavemen asked
him to do, they would themselves despise him for
his cowardice and faithlessness to his principles.
His castemen made loud protestations, saying they
would do nothing of the kind. But the very next
day, one of them showed how very right the
Brahma was in gauging their real feeling for him.
One of his castemen who had tempted him in the
manner aforesaid, happened to be his creditor in
respect of a paternal debt of rupees one thousand,
a debt of honour not attested by any legal document.
The creditor had been not without misgivings as to
the realisation of his money. But the Brahma's
firmness in sticking to his principles in the face of
great opposition and persecution, and his declaration
that he would not swerve an inch from the path of
truth, scattered his misgivings and he said to one
who had been present at the conference " What-
ever the other members of his joint-family may do,
I am now assured that as long as this Brahma is
living, my money is safe. But if he had consented
to act as we wanted him to do, I should have lost
my faith in him." Now, a confirmation of this faith
of orthodox people ( in the unswerving integrity of a
Brahma will be found wherever a true Brahma lives
among orthodox people. They abuse and persecute
him, but nevertheless trust and respect him above
all other men, knowing full well that his virtue has
gone through a sure test that of unpopularity and


excommunication, and can, therefore, be rejied on.
On the other hand, those who have sacrificed their
principles tq popularity, comfcrt and convenience,
have, it is seen, failed in the test proposed to them,
and made themselves liable to distrust and suspicion.

,v, by what I have just said, I do not mean
to lay down that one would be justified in leaving
the one belongs to for any and every differ-

ence with his people. There may be differences of
principle and practice in a society which do not affect
individual conduct. Every progressive society con-
s men who see truths and ideals of life not
rev( others. If they are allowed to follow

those truths anil ideals, there is no reason why they
should ' ,-ommun !! rommuir'

however enlightened, have in them customs or
practices which seem objectionable to a wiser
minority of its members. If the latter are not
:ned to follow these evil practices, they should
surely remain in their communities and endeavour
form them. If the fundamental principles of a
society are sound, and tl i >om enough in it for

ve members to breathe and move fr.

the duty of the latter to continue in it
anil help tlu-ir i : . ; > move on.

orthodox Hindu society, Idolatry and

Cast foundation. In n-spoct of these,

in it for individual l;l>rrty. On the

occasion of every important d peremony, such,

for inst jdtakarmn, udma/. 'jnn,


mdydrambha, dikshd, marriage and shrdddha, you
must worship an idol or make offerings to the
sacred fire, and call in a priest of the, Brahmana
caste to conduct the ceremony. Besides, in eating
and drinking you must observe caste rules and not
interdine or intermarry with people though they
may be objects of your deepest love and respect
who do not belong to your own caste. The inev-
itable consequence is that those who have ceased
to believe in Idolatry and Caste come into conflict,
at every step, with the very fundamental principles
of the society and are cast out of it if they venture
to violate those principles. They could not remain
in it without being cowards or hj'pocrites. They
indeed win, by their conduct, the name of revolu-
tionaries rather than reformers ; but in the case of a
society of which the very fundamental principles
are vicious, which make conscientious conduct
impossible for its progressive members, it is revolution,
that is radical change, and not reformation, that is
superficial or partial change, that is necessary.
Whenever Hindu society may give up Idolatry and
Caste, even though it may be very slowly and in the
course of centuries, its giving up these practices will
amount to a revolution, for they lie at its very root.
Its foundations were laid when people believed in
Idolatry, Sacrifices and Caste. These foundations are
unsuitable for the present age, when enlightened men
in thousands are giving up these superstitions. They
must either be pulled down and purer and more
enduring foundations laid in their stead, or a


reformed society must be established on such founda-
tions. As the former course is impossible, the
Brahmas have chosen the latter^. They have found
orthodox society to be unsuitable for them ; for in it
those only are free who are ignorant, thoughtless
and unscientific, whereas those who have imbibed the
highest culture and enlightenment of the age are
under bondage, without the liberty of acting according
to their convictions. The establishment of a free and
reformed society like the Brahma Samaj is therefore
a necessity, however painful this necessity may seem
to some. If you call it an entirely new society, and
the Brahmas daring innovators, they accept the
honour or the censure implied in this judgment,
;gh it may be shewn that the fundamental prin-
ciples of this society, the spiritual worship of God and
the rejection of caste distinctions, are really Hindu
principles, in the sense that they are the teachings
of scriptures universally honoured by the nation. As
the founder of the Brahma Samaj himself thought,
current Hinduism is only a distorted form of the
purer Hinduism of the Upanishads.

Now, one defence of Idolatry offered by half-
ted Theists is that it is so much symbolism and
tin refore should not be roughly handled, butYather
made the best of. The images of the various gods
and goddesses a; , only representations of

the different attributes or aspects of the Divine
nature and are thus helps to our realisation of the
Div; uce. Now, the first thing to be said in


reply, to this argument is that there are many Hindu
gods and goddesses that are not representations of any
Divine attributes or aspects of the Divine nature.
They are really representations of historical or
mythical persons deified by the popular imagination.
Such are Rama, Krishna, Balarama, Chaitanya,
Satyapir, Sita, Savitri, Manasa, Sitala and many
others. They are indeed connected somehow or
other, in the popular imagination, with the Divine
Being, and are supposed, by the more thoughtful of
their worshippers, to possess some Divine power or
other, but their worship did not arise from sym-
bolism, but is the result of hero-worship or nature-
worship. Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, Durga, Kali,
Lakshmi, Sarasvati and such others are indeed more
or less symbolic gods and goddesses ; but the worship
of all of them has a mythological basis, and they are
believed by the great majority of their worshippers
to be embodied persons having histories of their own.
But taking for granted that to the learned and the
thoughtful they are nothing more than symbols, the
next question is, whether they are, in any sense or
degree, adequate symbols of the powers and attri-
butes of the Deity. When one has really known
what the protecting and preserving power of God is,
what his loving providence means, does the image of
Vishnu help him any way in realising God's presence ?
Does not the image rather stand in the way of a true
realisation of God's loving care ? So, when wisdom
has been seen in its true character, the image of
Sarasvati seems to be worse than useless. Supposing


for a moment, however, that such images are of any
use in helping spiritual growth, the utmost that can be
allowed in their favour is that they should form parts

* t ^

of a drawing-room furniture or the furniture of one's

study or room. Why should they be set up

in t- ;.nd worshipped* with offerings of corn,

frui : dmeat? Mere p'ym holism however

. itely the symbols may represent the things

ih'ed is clearly distinguishable from idolatry ;

and to defend idolatry as nothing but so much

brli-m is to confute two very different things.

of the right sort is indeed helpful to

culi it whatever symbolism there may be in

Hindu idolatry is quite unsuitable for us, with our

enl'.i ideas and improved tastes, however

d it may have been to more or less barbarous

ads of our history. The symbolism of modern

Christian art is far more suitable for us than the

barbaric art of our illiterate potters and painters.

ie representations from our national

hist ii political and religious, may prove even

men . to us. But if the image of the naked

and horrid Kali, of the monkey god Hanuman, or the

hall it god Ganesa, really helps the spiritual

vth of a '1 have these images

ly before 1. but to join witfo the

t, the thoughtless and the unspiritual, the

i.sbness and cupidity, in the

ceremonial worship of idols, is either foolish

the rankest kind, or mere sophistry or hypocrisy
admitting of no intellectual or moral support from


thoughtful and conscientious people. As to the igno-
rant and the unlettered themselves, the examples of
Christianity and Islam, of the old monotheistic sects of
India, and lastly of the Brahma Samaj', in which even
little children are successfully taught to offer spiritual
worship to God withouf-the mediation of images and
incarnations, show that idolatry is not necessary as
a stepping storie even to them. Even they should
be taught to break their idols and worship the true
God in spirit and in truth. That idolatry was devised,
not to lead people gradually from lower to higher
stages of spiritual life, but only to serve the selfish
purposes of the priests by keeping the former
for ever ignorant and subservient to the latter, is
evident from the fact that in current Hinduism
there is no provision for leading the worshipper
from the worship of images to more spiritual
forms of worship. It has the tendency to keep
down the intellect to low views of the religious life and
to perpetuate idolatry and ceremonialism. This is the
reason why, even in the presence of lofty ideas about
the Godhead in our higher scriptures, the nation as
a whole has remained idolatrous for centuries. It
can be saved and led on to higher grades of spiritual
life only by the most thorough-going renunciation of
all forms of idolatry, b}' purging its temples of all
vestiges of image-worship and the utter overthrow
of the selfish and impious supremacy of the priests.

Now, I have already mentioned and briefly
answered the plea that by conforming to orthodox


practices for a while, Theists would really serve
gradually to broaden and liberalise the orthodox com-
munity, till a time woul<J come when all that they

^ *"

stand for would be accepted by that community and
a separate organisation like the Brahma Samaj
would be unnecessary. A few words more on the un-
reasonableness of this plea seem to be called for.
Attention is drawn to the tolerant attitude which the
orthodox community is assuming more and more
with the course of time towards reforms and re-
formers. The society which excommunicated Pandit
Madanmohan Tarkulanbir for sending his daughters
to the Bethune School, has now thousands of girls
under instruction in public schools. Priests who
pronounced unmentionable curses upon those who
I their daughters unmarried beyond the age of
ten, have now no scruple to officiate at marriages in
which the brides are in all stages of growing woman-
hood. Caste rules on interdining are often violated
even in public dinners ; and yet no notice is taken of
such heterodoxy by the orthodox. People who have
lied in Europe and other foreign lands, are
sometimes received back into the orthodox pale even
without any expiation ceremony being performed.
The re-marriage of widows and marriages between
different sections of the same cagte do not at present
excite that bitter opposition which they used to do
a few decades back. Do not such instances show,

orthodox society is reforming ;
by its O\YM i! 'i^'th, and that it is in no need

of the revolutionary activity of the Bruhmas and


others who impatiently leave its pale because it does
not move as fast as they wish it to do '? Now, my
replv to this question is, as follows : First, the

( t

tolerant attitude of orthodox society to reforms and
reformers which is made so much of, is entirely con-
fined to big cities like (Calcutta and their vicinity.
It does not exist in lowns and villages remote from
these centres of enlightenment. Secondly, the state
of things pictured is by no means one which should
gladden the heart of a really moral and religious man.
Toleration by the orthodox, in their own community,
of practices which they yet believe to be opposed to
their religion, betrays a state of moral rottenness
and imbecility which no true friend of virtue can
look upon without horror and disgust. Thirdly, the
claim that the orthodox community is reforming
itself by its own inherent power and owes nothing
to the revolutionary activity of the Brahmas reminds
me of two little stories which I feel disposed to tell
you, as they bring out most clearly the fallacy of
this claim. An old Irishwoman once said, " I don't
know why people give the sun so much praise and
the moon so little. The sunrises and begins to give
light when there is already light enough, whereas
the rnoon rises and lights up a dark night." The
poor Trish woman was too simple to see that the
light before sunrise proceeds from the sun itself.
The arguers I have mentioned are guilty of a like
simplicity. They do not see that the reforming
activity of people inside the orthodox pale is the
reflex action of the activity of those who have been


thro\vn out of that pale. It is the fearless coinage of

the revolutionists which gives rise to the timid

attempts of Jhe half-hearted reformer ; and it is the

bitter persecution through which, the pioneers of

reform have passed which has made possible the

reluctant toleration with which partial reforms are

now regarded in some orthodox circles. However,

the other story is this : A very kind-hearted Bengali

lady was once taking a long boat journey in the

company of her husband. At one stage of the

journey it happened to rain rather heavily ; and as

the travellers could not halt, and as the boat had to

be to we ; trong current, the poor boatmen

obliged to do the towing in the midst of that

hea~. :pour. The lady saw their miserable

plight ami was touched. She at once spoke to her

husband and proposed a remedy. She said, " My

dear, why let the boatmen suffer so much ? Why

not trli tin in to take their seats in the boat and tow

.t could the poor husband do but smile at

's extreme simplicity and explain to her

se who would drag the boat against a strong

curr It and ahead of the boat.

<\v many people are there in modern India

i!d pose as reformers and yet do no^ know

h !

F have said enough on Idolatry,

>f the foundations of orthodox Hindu society,

to I- of you now to speak more directly than

ueof its other found -:i on, < 'aste, against


which, ( as well as against Idolatry, the Brahma
Samaj has declared war. I know I shall be told
that the Brahma Samaj has not yet been able to
break through caste altogether, that caste feeling
yet lingers in some Brahmas, who, in marrying their
children, sedulously search for matches of their own
castes for them and thus keep up in a manner the
distinction of casfces. I do not deny this and regret
it witu all my heart. But I must beg our detractors
to mark the very broad difference in having caste-
distinctions in the very foundations of a society and
having it, not in the foundations, but only in creeks
and corners of the structure. There is no caste in
the foundations of the Brahma Samaj. There is free
interdining in it among people of the most varying
castes. The ministry, the priesthood and other
high offices of the church are open to all, and are, in
some cases, filled not only by high caste non-
Brahmanas, but also by worthy people belonging to
what are called the lower castes. If these ' lower
castes ' are scantily represented in the Samaj, this
is due more to their unprogressive nature than to
the disinclination of the ' higher castes ' to mix with
them. Inter-caste marriages have taken place by
hundreds and are joined in and encouraged even by
those 'who are not bold enough to have such
marriages in their own families. This lingering
caste feeling, therefore, is no cause for serious
apprehension. It is passing away^ and will pass
away entirely in the course of three or four genera-
tions more. Those who entertain .this feeling may


be said to be themselves ashamed of i. for they do
not offer any public defence of it.* The disregarding
of caste may therefore, be safely regarded as a
fundamental* principle of the Brahma Sarnaj. As
such, 1 shall reply to some attacks recently made
upon it from people out; ide the Sam tj.

It will be observed even by superficial thinkers
that caste notions have recently received a verv i ude
shock from what has been a real discovery to thou-
; s of Hindus, namely, that caste distinctions did
not exist in Hindu society in the earliest times, and
that the form in which they exist at present is
comparatively of very late origin. Antiquarians
have now placed it beyond doubt that there was
no caste in the early Vedic period of our history, and
that even long after the castes were distinguished,
-marriages were allowed between the four origin-
al castes. One has only to go through a few pages
of the Afahdbhdrat to see the extent to which the
free mixing of the castes was allowed in the days
of which the great epic gives us an account. In
fact, in those days cast!' was nothing but a division
of classes According to professions, and even pr<

i. Kxi-hision as regards

mknown. This lastprinciple of flivi-ion

and is happily the first to be

;>pcaring. It is now known that the system, as

M the country, came into vqgue with

marks on tho M.ih-.irshi's views about caste in my
osent sen


the revival of Hinduism after the decay of Buddhism.
Even now, the system is not uniform in all parts of
India. It is most lax in p Scinde and the Pan jab,
where the first three castes, the Brahma'na, Kshatriya '
and Vaisya, freely interdine. It is more rigid in
North-western India and Bengal, where, however, the
exchange of certain' cooked eatables is allowable
among the higher and middle castes. It is most
rigid in Southern India, where there is no social
intercourse, properly so called, among the various
castes, and where some castes are even unapproach-
able by the others. It is now felt that it is very
difficult, if not quite impossible, to defend such a
heterogeneous system as this. It is difficult even
to define it. Another great factor in loosening caste
notions has been the growing feeling of nationality
in the country. It is now very widely felt that the
distinction of castes and the consequent absence of
close social intercourse among the different classes of
people in the country are effectively checking the
growth of our national unity and perpetuating our
social degradation and political subjection to an alien
race. The preaching of human brotherhood, by
Christianity and Brahmaism has not had any very
tangible effect beyond their respective pales in
diminishing the hatred and where real hatred does
not exist, as in the case of the castes equal in social
rank the feeling of alienness that separate the
castes from one another. But this newly growing
feeling of our being members of a single nation
having a common destiny to fulfil and common


enemies to fight against, seems to have succeeded in

some degree, where religious teaching has failed, in

inspiring a genuine desire for removing differences

and bringing* about unity. This effect has become

more clear than ever during the last few years and is

a reflex action of the re-acfionary policy followed by

the British Indian Government* It has not indeed

pulled down any actual barriers of *caste, but tli

has contributed largely to the growth of amity and

co-operation among classes which have hitherto

kept themselves hr apart from one another, is

unmistakably dear. If the feeling of national unity

goes on deepening and broadening and brings together

people to help one another in the

work of national amelioration, the entire abolition of

stem is only a question of time. Where

id jealousy keep people from one

another, it is not difficult to invent arguments to

at their division and alienation are reason-

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Online LibrarySitanath TattvabhushanThe philosophy of Brahmaism, expounded with reference to its history : lectures delivered before the Theological Society, Calcutta, in 1906-1907 → online text (page 19 of 23)