Now we shall examine another point. In a well-functioning social system, there is opportunity for both of the following Samskaras: individual self-restraint and individual growth. In the life of a married couple, the husband’s personality flowers from earning a livelihood, the wife’s personality blossoms through cooking, caring, and maintaining the all-round hygiene and neatness of the home. In the matters of nurturing and bringing up the children and offering hospitality to guests, both husband and wife merge their individual personalities and become one. This is how the education of both union and individual specialties must progress. The temple is the same for all devotees: the method of namaskarams offered to the Deity differs for each individual.
The opportunity for the practice of this sort of distinct, individual Dharma is no longer available in the same abundance as it was in the past. The circumstance in the present time is one of universal, random heterogeneity: “sab ek lunda.” All individual specialties and distinct Rasas are dissolving in the vast sea called society and becoming tasteless. The words of the crowd have assumed sovereign authority even in places where they have no right to be.
Question: “What is the feast that we shall cook today?”
Answer: “Let’s put it to vote.”
Question: “What is the ragam that we shall request the musician to sing or play?”
Answer: “Let’s put it to vote.”
Question: “What is the topic of the lecture that we shall organize?”
Answer: “Let’s put it to vote.”
This is the method of today.
Even in the recent past, the excesses of decision-by-numerical strength was largely absent. This durbar of the crowds has been the consequence of the kind of politics that become the vogue today. To this has been added the “service” rendered through mass production by machines. In the past, food was cooked based on the palatal preference of individuals. Today’s cooking is hotel cooking. In the past, the delicacy was in tune with the palate. Today, it is the regime of savouries and biscuits produced in factories that have business motive in mind.
In the past, the Sacred Thread used to be made from the spindle in the home of the Purohita; today, it is the thread of the mill. In the past, the householder plucked the flowers from his own garden; the lady of the home transformed them into garlands. Today, flowers are bought from shops. In the past, family members would sit together and stitch meal-plates. Today, the meal plates are metallic, produced by a factory.
Our ancestors held that it was best to wash their own clothes with their own hands and cook their food by themselves. This was a natural discipline of sorts. Today, the disciples of Gandhi have taken the vow that they must spin the yarn required for their clothes with their own hands at the Charkha!
In this discipline of cooking one’s own food by hand, there is an inherent soul-purificatory element. Self-hardship and self-service are attempts to reduce the ego. They are signs of humility. Instead of paying wages to get the Deity’s worship performed and getting home delivery of Tirtha and Prasada, the person must put in the effort to bend the body and perform Namaskaram. This inculcates genuine modesty: such was the conviction of our ancients. The old way was to sit by the bedside and personally nurse the ailing father. Today’s devotion to the father involves hiring a paid nurse. What is important for today’s parents is to ensure that the child is fed with milk in some manner, any manner. For our ancients, it was vital, indeed, essential that the milk had to come from the mother’s breast. The fruit of one’s labour is the tribute of Shradda: this notion is fast disappearing among our contemporary people. The constriction of this soul-quality owes not to the mass-system we have adopted of late. It owes to purposeless heterogeneity and the heterogeneity of unsavoury influences.
Finally, we shall consider another point. It relates to the chief aim of life. Our ancestors intuitively held a great Sankalpa in their mind so that God might be pleased and their birth, sanctified. They carried on their lives awaiting the time when this Sankalpa would be fulfilled. A Tirtha-yatra, a seva to their favourite Deity, a Vrata, a Yajna, conducting the festival of Sri Rama, an act of Daana, Annadaana, organizing a Purana discourse—in this manner, they would pine for the fulfilment of one of these sacred acts and disregard the pleasures of the here and now in its pursuit. They would save money and work towards it their entire lives and would feel elated when it was accomplished. Their birth on this earth would finally be sanctified upon this accomplishment. This feeling of submission to the unseen divine is becoming rarer and rarer. It is true that when Gandhi was alive, a few people did display this quality (owing to reverence towards him). However, of late, this has become extremely sparse in the daily life of our people. The Shraddha and convictions of the yore have gone away; no new force that helps uplift our Atman has emerged.
This is the life of our people today: eating the food of the moment; seeing the sights of the moment. They don’t even need the truth that there is indeed, the next moment. Besides, the difficulty of today’s life and livelihood is such. The travails of work and wandering, worries and anxieties from morning till evening, day after day, as a result of which many people are tired of life – they see no meaning in it. This is the great benefit of our new economic system. The sacrifice demanded by our factories is the contentment of the human. “Work like a yoked ox; grab whatever you can; embrace the ground after you are exhausted” – if this defines an entire life, each day’s fate is controlled only by the day (and not the human). This life is a ceaseless, distressed quest behind food and clothing. The mind cannot grasp that which is higher than these.
I am not saying that the people of the present time are not happy. Indeed, it is impossible to live even a single day of our life without the aspiration for or pretence of happiness. However, is there discernment in the enjoyment of happiness? Is there true connoisseurship? Is there a loftier vision? These questions are directly related to culture. Connoisseurship is a quality that must burst forth from the depths of a person’s inner life. It is not the imitation of what others do or say. It is not fashion. It cannot be said that connoisseurship has been attained because a person owns a radio. Radio is a machine. Connoisseurship is the ripening of the heart. Radio demands money. Connoisseurship anticipates the education of the heart and soul. When the nation’s leaders feel that machines are the greater, the human touch disappears in our business transactions and even in the modes of our entertainment. And when these transactions become akin to the fate of the coolie and the lifeless machine, the self-evident consequence is the descent in the standard of our inner culture.
I am uttering these words in the spirit of sounding caution. If someone convinces me on the strength of their knowledge and experience that the cultural life of our people has not become diluted in the manner I have described so far, I will only be happy to listen to such a person and will offer my thanks out of gratitude.