I see in front of me, in the pandal, a number of placards containing the wise sayings of poets, saints and sages. There is also one unnecessary notice, at the entrance of the pandal, the first to meet anyone on arrival. This asks people to remove their shirts before entering. Most people are aware that they should not come to this place of worship with their shirts on, and they willingly submit themselves to this restriction and discipline. But there may be others, coming here straight from their place of work, anxious to watch the pooja at least from a distance. They may not have had the time or facility to change their attire. The placard I refer to may discourage such persons from coming here. Such people should also be given an opportunity to participate in the worship, even if they have to remain a little removed from the actual place of worship. In any case, there is no need for that placard or notice.
People may be told to observe certain rules; but it should be left to their good sense to observe them. Matters like removing the shirt, while entering a place of worship, should remain in the realm of “unwritten law”, a law observed by convention rather than by compulsion. When a rule like this is put in writing, all sorts of difficulties may crop up in the matter of enforcement and interpretation. That is why it has been wisely said sahasram vada, ekam maa likha (सहस्रं वद एकं मा लिख) say a thousand things, but do not commit even one to writing. I am mentioning this not so much to find fault with you, as to prevent the commission of the mistake in future.
In making this criticism, I have allowed myself to violate the wholesome principle that one should not ordinarily speak about the defects of others. There are bound to be defects everywhere, because perfection is almost impossible in this imperfect world. A truly learned man has the capacity to see both the good and the bad side of a thing. That is why the term, doshajna (दोषज्ञ:)one who is capable of spotting defect, is made synonymous with the term, vidyaan (विद्वान्) , learned man. The virtues one finds in another should be proclaimed; but the defects should not be mentioned. By proclaiming the virtues, we encourage the growth of goodness in this world. It does nobody any good to dwell upon the defects of a person. This is effectively brought out in the following invocatory verse in Dandi’s work on Alankaara:
गुणदोषो बुधो गृह्णन्
इन्दुक्ष्वेलाविव ईश्वर: ।
शिरसा श्लागते पूर्वं
परम् कण्ठे नियच्छति॥
Guna doshau budho grihnan
Sirasaa slaaghate poorvam
Param kanthe niyacchati,
(Learned men should treat virtue and fault in the same way as Isvara treated the crescent moon and poison. The former, He bore on His head, and the latter, He retained within His throat.)
In appreciation of the soothing qualities of the crescent moon, Isvara raised it to His head and danced. When poison emerged on churning the milky ocean, He realized its dangers, and kept it confined to His throat. That should also be our attitude towards virtue and defect.
This general attitude to be taken in regard to faults does not imply that we should always be blind to the fault of others. There are occasions when it is our duty to point out to a person his defects, in order to correct him. Such corrections should be done by persons whose authority is accepted, and who know that their advice will be accepted. The effects of pointing out the defects of those who have no respect for the person tendering the advice will be harmful. They may become defiant and persist in their wrong ways. Therefore, one has to be careful in such a delicate matter. If we mention to another the defects of a third person, it will amount to scandalizing.
In praising others also, certain principles have to be observed. A relevant verse runs as follows:
प्रयक्षो गुरव: स्तुत्या:
परेक्षे मित्रबान्धवा: ।
न स्वपुत्रा: कदाचन ॥
Prathyakshe guravah stutyaah
Karyaante daasa bhrityaascha,
Na svaputraah kadaachana.
The guru (God is also signified by this term) should be praised in his presence. Friends and relatives should be praised in their absence. Servants should be complimented when they have completed the work assigned to them. But a son (which term includes a sishya, student) should not be praised at any time, either in his presence or in his absence.
God has created many things known and unknown in the universe. The stars created by Him are reckoned as being thousands of light years away from the earth. We are incompetent to express in words the wonders of God. So the praise of God will never become an exaggeration. A guru (preceptor) also stands in the same position. Praising a friend or a relative in his presence will become flattery. We may praise his good qualities behind his back. Though he may come to know of it through others, we should not praise him with the motive that our praise should reach his ears. That will take away the sincerity from the praise. When a person does a work for money or reward, we should express appreciation of the work only after the work is completed, in the same way as we pat a horse at the end of a journey. But a son or a sishya (disciple) should not be praised either directly or indirectly. But his faults can be pointed out so that he may correct himself.
June 17, 1958.