21. 'NIRBAL KE BALA RAMA'/1/
Though I had acquired
a nodding acquaintance with Hinduism and other religions of the world,
I should have known that it would not be enough to save me in my trials.
Of the thing that sustains him through trials man has no inkling, much
less knowledge, at the time. If an unbeliever, he will attribute his safety
to chance. If a believer, he will say God saved him. He will conclude,
as well he may, that his religious study or spiritual discipline was at
the back of the state of grace within him. But in the hour of his deliverance
he does not know whether his spiritual discipline or something else saves
him. Who that has prided himself on his spiritual strength has not seen
it humbled to the dust? A knowledge of religion, as distinguished from
experience, seems but chaff in such moments of trial.
It was in England that I first
discovered the futility of mere religious knowledge. How I was saved on
previous occasions is more than I can say, for I was very young then; but
now I was twenty and had gained some experience as husband and father.
During the last year, as far
as I can remember, of my stay in England, that is in 1890, there was a
Vegetarian Conference at Portsmouth to which an Indian friend and I were
invited. Portsmouth is a sea-port with a large naval population. It has
many houses with women of ill fame, women not actually prostitutes, but
at the same time not very scrupulous about their morals. We were put up
in one of these houses. Needless to say, the Reception Committee did not
know anything about it. It would have been difficult in a town like Portsmouth
to find out which were good lodgings and which were bad for occasional
travellers like us.
We returned from the Conference
in the evening. After dinner we sat down to play a rubber of bridge, in
which our landlady joined, as is customary in England even in respectable
households. Every player indulges in innocent jokes as a matter of course,
but here my companion and our hostess began to make indecent ones as well.
I did not know that my friend was an adept in the art. It captured me and
I also joined in. Just when I was about to go beyond the limit, leaving
the cards and the game to themselves, God through the good companion uttered
the blessed warning: 'Whence this devil in you, my boy? Be off, quick!'
I was ashamed. I took the warning,
and expressed within myself gratefulness to my friend. Remembering the
vow I had taken before my mother, I fled from the scene. To my room I went
quaking, trembling, and with beating heart, like a quarry escaped from
I recall this as the first occasion
on which a woman, other than my wife, moved me to lust. I passed that night
sleeplessly, all kinds of thoughts assailing me. Should I leave this house?
Should I run away from the place? Where was I? What would happen to me
if I had not my wits about me? I decided to act thenceforth with great
caution; not to leave the house, but somehow leave Portsmouth. The Conference
was not to go on for more than two days, and I remember I left Portsmouth
the next evening, my companion staying there some time longer.
I did not then know the essence
of religion or of God, and how He works in us. Only vaguely I understood
that God had saved me on that occasion. On all occasions of trial He has
saved me. I know that the phrase 'God saved me' has a deeper meaning for
me today, and still I feel that I have not yet grasped its entire meaning.
Only richer experience can help me to a fuller understanding. But in all
my trials--of a spiritual nature, as a lawyer, in conducting institutions,
and in politics--I can say that God saved me. When every hope is gone,
'when helpers fail and comforts flee,' I find that help arrives somehow,
from I know not where. Supplication, worship, prayer are no superstition;
they are acts more real than the acts of eating, drinking, sitting, or
walking. It is no exaggeration to say that they alone are real, all else
Such worship or prayer is no
flight of eloquence; it is no lip-homage. It springs from the heart. If,
therefore, we achieve that purity of the heart when it is 'emptied of all
but love,' if we keep all the chords in proper tune, they 'trembling pass
in music out of sight.' Prayer needs no speech. It is in itself independent
of any sensuous [=sensory] effort. I have not the slightest doubt that
prayer is an unfailing means of cleansing the heart of passions. But it
must be combined with the utmost humility.
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'Nirbal ke bala Rama'--Refrain of Surdas' famous hymn, 'He is the
help of the helpless, the strength of the weak.'