Once I had an opportunity of addressing an assembly of intellectuals. Some of them had unflinching faith in religion while there were others in the audience who held that it was unnecessary. The question before me was which group I should choose to side with? In order to win the hearts of the people who considered religion to be a must for every human being. I was required to eulogize religion and I could endear myself to the opposing group only by speaking disparagingly of it.
As I am not inclined towards the type of religion that we see today on account of its being dominated by rituals, I found it difficult to say anything in praise of it. On the other hand I have profound faith in religion, hence I could not belittle its importance as well. Thus I had lost the opportunity to endear myself to either of them.
Leaving apart the topic of religion. I began to talk about morality. As far as I think there can be no such person in the world who is religious but not righteous. Religion and righteousness go hand in hand. In my view talking about morality means talking about the outcome of religion. He whose inner spirit is imbued with religion cannot but be righteous in his dealings. Even those who are deadly opposed to religion believe in fraternity and patriotism. I come to the conclusion that talking about morality would mean talking about the outcome of our devotion to the principles of nationalism and brotherhood. He who adheres to the principles of nationalism and brotherhood is bound to be righteous in his dealings. Thus I succeeded in choosing a course which brought me close to both the groups.
Even those who are not convinced of the usefullness of religion think that morality is a must for the survival of a nation. And the people who believe that religion is indispensable can never think of morality as unnecessary. Thus both the groups whether they opposed or favoured religion considered morality equally important. In the course of the discussion I realised that I did not receive as much support from the so-called religious people as from those who were opposed to religion. They found the discussion regarding morality quite monotonous and morbid for it did not appear to them as interesting as scriptural stories. I went on speaking even at the risk of incurring their displeasure. I concluded my speech in half an hour. The convener informed the audience that half an hour was set apart for discussions.
A supporter of religion stood up. He had apparently been vexed at the talk of morality. He raised his voice and said, “Muniji: it is easy for you to talk about morality as you have not to face the problems of a house-holder. You are neither burdened with the responsibility of feeding children nor confronted with the problem of arranging their marriages. We know the problems we are faced with. We have to spend about 30 to 40 thousand rupees on a single marriage. Is it possible for one to earn such huge amount of money by sticking to hones means? If we fail to earn this much, will it be possible for us to marry our daughters at all Muniji, you have no idea of the magnitude of our difficulties.”
I could discern from the expression of his face that what he had uttered was sincere echo of his heart and his words were free from artificiality. It was the spontaneous outburst of his emotions. He looked highly exasperated.
“Friend,” said I in an amiable tone, “neither you are a muni (monk) nor am I a house-holder still we have one thing in common i.e. we are both human beings. Can a human being not understand a human being? It is true I have nothing to do with household affairs and have no children. I am also not faced with the problem of getting children married, Nevertheless have heart which is full of compassion. I am of the opinion that difficulties do not drive a man to the course of immorality. He chooses the path of immorality only when the stream of compassion that flows through his heart has dried up.”
That man had hardly grasped my words. when I heard someone say, “Do poverty and the problems arising from social circumstances not drive a man to the path of immorality?”
“No, not necessarily,” I replied in a firm and emphatic manner.
The person who had asked this question left his seat and came close to me. He then occupied the seat right in front of me. This had given rise to considerable excitement among the listeners. He looked very eager to press his point further and even went to the extent of quoting an old saying in support of his argument which says that a hungry man is liable to commit any crime and asked me if I had read it.
“Yes, I have read it.” I replied.
“Then, how do you say that poverty does not prompt a man to be immoral?”
“Friend;” said I, “as I know the meaning of this proverb in the real sense of the term, I will say that poverty does not lead a man to be dishonest”.
“Do you believe that a poor man is not dishonest?” he asked.
“Do you believe that a rich man is not dishonest?” I asked in language of a counter question.
“When did I say that rich persons are not dishonest?” he inquired.
“When did I also say that poor persons are not dishonest,” I asked.
“According to my viewpoint the number of poor persons who are tempted into wrong ways is proportionately greater than those of rich persons,” he elaborated his view further.
“As the number of poor people is greater, it may be true to some extent but I am not prepared to subscribe to the view that the proportion of the poor people taking to dishonest means is greater than that of rich people”, I insisted.
“Do you mean to say that it is wealth that tempts a man to do a wrong thing?” he asked,
“No,” said I.
“You say that it is neither wealth which prompts a man to resort nor poverty to dishonest means. Then, what is that which causes corruption?” he asked.
“Should I express my opinion?” I inquired.
“Yes Sir” replied the questioner.
“Even if I take it from you that poverty breeds immorality, one cannot dispute the fact that all the poor persons are not immoral. Hence I believe that poverty does not have direct connection with dishonesty. It is also true that all the rich persons are not immoral so I do not see any direct connection between wealth and immorality as well.
It is cruelty with which it has direct relationship. He who is cruel by nature is undoubtedly a dishonest person irrespective of his being rich or poor. He who is kind and compassionate by nature is undoubtedly a man of morality. It does not matter whether he is rich or poor,” I elaborated.
“Do you mean to say that immorality stems cruelty and morality from compassion?” he inquired.
“Yes,” I replied.
“You have ultimately veered round to my view,” he remarked.
“How?” I asked him to clarify it.”
“Poverty eggs a man on to adopt cruel ways. This was exactly what I meant,” he explained.
I said, “Even now I find it difficult to concur with you wholly. I do admit that poverty too adds to cruelty but not so much as the temptation to get wealth.”
As the second questioner was trying to understand me, another person intervened and said, “A Government employee accepts a bribe of Rs. 5 and helps the man in lieu of the amount. What sort of cruelty is there?”
A friend of his who was sitting by him corroborated his point of view. He said, “He does not harm the interest of the briber, there is nothing cruel in it.”
Now the eyes of the people were riveted upon me. They were eagar to know whether I was going to reject or subscribe to their view. But I rejected their contention. I said, “I do not agree with you on the point that there is nothing cruel on the part of the employee who takes bribe. I asked the questioner whether the employee would exhibit the same promptness and sincerity to solve the problem of a man who has come to seek his help and is not in a position to grease his palm.”
The questioner replied hesitatingly, “Perhaps not.”
“The work of a person who is unable to oblige the employee with hush money is more urgent than that of a man who gets it done by wrong means. Maybe he is a poor man. If he is not able to get his work done, it is likely to affect his family adversely. Nevertheless the employee is not expected to give prompt attention towards his work without getting bribe from him. What does it mean? It is obvious devoid of any feelings of compassion that the man toward who is i him. If he is humane by nature he will first priority to the case of a man dire need of help. But as the person who gives bribe gets priority over others, the action of the employee lacks basically in humanitarian considerations. Where selfish desires are fulfilled the act of cruelty is concealed under the veil of compassion,
There was silence in the assembly for a while, The people were lost in deep thoughts. I felt as if whatever I had said was undisputable. But I had forgotton the fact that there is nothing like undisputable, in the sphere of thinking. The silence was broken by another questioner once again.
“Has a man no right to fulfil his desires?” asked a questioner. “Why not? No power on earth can put an end to this right of his.” said I
“Then why do you call it an act of cruelty?” he asked.
“I also do not call the fulfilment of self- interests of an individual an act of cruelty. Fulfilling one’s own interests at the cost of suppressing the interests of other people is an act of cruelty according to my point of view. He whose heart is full of compassion and sympathy does not shrink back in renouncing his own interests when he finds it injurious to the interests of other people.
Shrimadrajchandra, a noted jain thinker of the 19th century, used to deal in jewels. He had entered into a deal with a merchant. The prices of jewels had shot up suddenly before the arrival of goods. The business man who had entered into a dealwith Shrimadrajchandra was on the verge of being ruined as the loss supposed to be caused to him was estimated at about Rs. 50,000. The poor fellow grew extremely nervous. Shrimadrajchandra went to him and asked him to give him terms and conditions of the deal. The merchant said to him meekly, “What will you do with it? I shall try to pay off the debt I owe you.” But Shrimadrajchandra insisted on getting it. The merchant handed over the document to him. Tearing the agreement to pieces, Shrimadraj- chandra said “Raj Chandra can drink milk, he had not learnt to suck the blood of a man. This was the stream of compassion that flowed between the banks of the two-fulfilment of interests and renunciation of interests,” I concluded. The act of compassion displayed by Shrimadrajchandra had evidently moved the listeners deeply. Now all the members present in the seminar had endorsed my view that he alone whose heart is full of pity can be called a man of morality in the real sense of the term.