In considering the proper form of religious instruction for Hindu youths, let us bear in mind, first, that the practical side of the Vedic religion is of the greatest importance as a preparation for the philosophic side of it. Therefore, it must largely, if not entirely, precede the latter. Secondly, it must be carefully and cautiously adjusted to the present circumstances of India. Renounce the practical side of Hinduism, and you take away all its specialty and its marvellous power to accomplish the spiritual progress of Hindus. The training it gives to body, mind, and spirit by a course of discipline suited to the condition and requirements of each student is truly unmatched.
The greatest utility of this practical side is a step-by-step progress to spiritual peace and freedom.
In India there can never be, and there never has been a divorce between the practice and the theory of religion. That is because practice always precedes or accompanies the learning of the theory, and practice becomes perfect with the knowledge of the philosophic system of the Vedanta. The spiritual system of India is not merely meant to be an intellectual discipline, but a scheme of life to be consistently carried out so as to make the love of Ishwara and man a reality and not the sham it is elsewhere.
So far, we have spoken in general terms. We will now mention a few particulars to illustrate the above remarks. The Shastras lay down the rules as to how the student and the householder are to spend the day.
There are people who believe that these rules are incapable of being carried out in the present circumstances of India. Nothing can be a greater mistake than that. This opinion is chiefly or solely held by those who have been brought up in utter ignorance of the nature of the scheme of spiritual duty and discipline laid down for the student and the householder. They have long learned to look down with contempt and dislike upon the past of India, and naturally cry them down simply to suit their own convenience and to justify their present ideas and modes of living.
Those who have learned what the rules really are, and have undergone the discipline they enjoin, with the necessary amount of patience, self-control and devotion know that they are by no means burdensome, unhealthy, or inconsistent with the requirements of the present times. Those who are incapable of the two essential requirements of self-control and perseverance had better stick on to their present views and modes of life. We have no quarrel with or advice to give them.
Abhyasa (perseverance) and Vairagya (self-control) are laid down in the Hindu sacred books as the essential conditions of progress in the spiritual life. In fact, these two conditions are essential to the successful practical achievement of all kinds in human life. If these two are brought to bear on the spiritual life, success will be easy, and the gain immense. None of the ways and means of getting ahead in modern life in any of the contemporary professions need be sacrificed. For, the Dharma and the discipline it entails, while common to all men in certain respects, vary according to the nature of the professional activities and are subject to qualifications and exceptions according to the exigencies and demands arising from day to day.
The daily baths and prayers must be regularly performed and need not occupy more than half an hour at the most. The Pancha-Yajnas prescribed for the householder are by no means burdensome, and many modern and educated men have faithfully and cheerfully observed the injunctions of the Shastras.
But here, we are concerned only with our students. To them, the performance of the daily baths and prayers and the study of our sacred literature—either in Sanskrit or their mother tongue—are by no means so difficult or require so much time as to interfere with their studies or sports. The prayers must be performed in the spirit and in the form prescribed for them. They must be combined also with the process of mental concentration known as Pranayama or control of the breath. Only those who know nothing of the process, or will not practice it, attack it or sneer at it. It is almost the first step in the process of mental control known as Yoga and even the beginner can see that the control of the mind already commences even in the act of performing Pranayama.
Those who have gone through the process of firmly devoting their mind and heart to the deity in what Mr. Gladstone calls ‘‘the inner work of worship” can alone know that it is “one of the most arduous which the human spirit can possibly set about.” But everyone who makes use of the simple method of Pranayama while engaged in divine worship knows well that that work is no longer an “arduous process” it once was because practice leads rapidly and easily to the mental concentration that is required for offering the full homage of the heart in the act of devotion. But the practice of Pranayama is a real and realizable process. Indeed, it forms a practical science which has been fully formed and matured by great teachers throughout our history.
This entire system does not lie in study or mere intellectual reasoning but in a course of disciplined self-devotion of the human mind, senses, and organs.
The great fact we have to lay to heart is that the religion of the Aryas is primarily a course of training and discipline, and only secondarily a course of exposition and teaching. In western countries, religious instruction in the latter sense is freely resorted to in denominational or other schools. But this has only tended to produce fanaticism, bigotry, contempt for other creeds, false pride in one’s own orthodoxies, and aggressive sectarian feeling and effort of various kinds. Dogmatic Christianity has been one of its dangerous outcomes. This is the result of all the gigantic efforts that have been and are being made to give Biblical and Christian instruction in all schools, Colleges, and Universities by means of lectures, sermons, class teaching, and endowments of various kinds.
To be continued
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