Importance of Character – Personal and National

In the backdrop of the recent news of an IAF officer being honey-trapped by an ISI agent posing as a British journalist, it is important to once again bring our focus back on the core qualities that go into building individuals who form the foundation stones of the nation. When the focus slips from character building activities to only achievement orientation, individuals tend to slip and the loss on the nation is tremendous.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevaks Sangh lays enormous importance on a combination of sterling personal character plus national character. This excerpt from “Bunch Of Thoughts” by Guruji Golwalkar, ( the 2nd Sarsanghchalak of the Sangh ) , throws  a lot of light on the importance of this combination.

Guruji Golwalkar

In our national tradition character has always occupied the place of foremost importance. Character has two facets: the one, which is personal, and the other, which manifests itself in our relationship with society. Both these aspects of our character should be pure and unsullied. But these days we often hear people saying that if a man is working well in the public field, why should we look at his personal conduct? Maybe he is addicted to a number of vices, but when he is doing good to the people why should we pry into his private life?

Our Concept

However, our culture has always held high the purity of personal character. We have never called a person a philosopher who is selfish or given to various vices like wine, woman and gold. For us, the philosopher is, more than everything else, a man of absolute purity and austerity of character. Right from the ancient seers down to the great personalities of modern times, all those whom we consider as standard-bearers of our philosophy and culture have been wholly pure – their thought, word and deed all in tune with the highest truths. Such men alone have been the real glowing symbols of our national heritage. But such is not the example set up by workers in the public field these days. There is a general feeling that if a person is generous in giving donations or he delivers fine speeches or has gone to jail a number of times for a public cause then his private conduct, howsoever abhorrent, may be condoned.

The idea of ‘greatness’ prevalent in the outside world is also similar. There are ever so many men who are eulogised as nation-builders and national heroes who, however, were degenerate in their personal character.

The “means” is like the vessel – if it is dirty and contaminated, then, the water that we drink from it will carry infection into our body. It is necessary, therefore, that the vessel too is as clean as the water.

Purity of ‘Means’

However, our culture says the ‘means’ – the individual – for achieving the ‘ideal – the social good – must also be chaste and holy. Many times we hear people saying that the end justifies the means. Most of the modern ideas and ideologies, which seem to be catching the imagination of the people today, belong to this category. It means that the individual – the ‘means’ for bringing about any social change – is relegated to the background. Therefore we see the degeneration of man going on at a terrific pace all over the world, having thrown to winds all considerations of the human element in pursuit of an end ordained mostly by politicians. But, the command of our culture is different. We revere Rama and Shivaji as much for their glorious national achievements as for their pure, unimpeachable personal character. The view that some little failing in personal character needs to be ignored or even justified, provided he works all right in the public field, is against our grain.

It is, however, true that when choice became inevitable between two evils, we have tolerated – but not justified – some failings in personal character when it did not come in the way of social interest.

Bad means can never yield good results in the long run. If for some time bad means appears to give good results, it is only temporary. It is like trying to warm ourselves by sitting amidst fire when caught in a hailstorm. The warmth will soon result in our total reduction to ashes. We are no doubt aware of how electioneering is carried on by various persons and parties in our country today. There is an instance of the 1937 elections. I asked a certain Congress candidate why he was stooping to low tactics. He replied, “Well, evil has to be met with evil”. I asked him, “Can you make coal-tar white by adding charcoal?” and added, “If this logic is pursued, a time will come when there will not be a single individual who will choose to be good and honest. Even supposing we are to suffer for some time, should we not fight our way through all those evils?” Today, things have come to such a pass that it is only those who have mastered more and more of those evil tactics who rise higher in power and positions. As such the importance of the character of the individual – the purity of the means – can never be over-emphasised.

A Potential Danger

If a person is loose in character and given to vices, he can be a source of danger to the nation as well. Our nation is surrounded by various other nations and it is a matter of history that no two nations are either permanently friendly or permanently hostile to each other. The relationships go on changing. Each country is guided by its own self-interest and does not hesitate to stoop to any tactics to achieve its ends. So they are all in a way ‘potential enemies’ to our country. It is all right that, while speaking and moving among others, we cherish sentiments of friendship, world peace and world fraternity and even strive for them. But the statesman, who guide the destinies of the country, must always keep in view this hard reality of the world which can be ignored only at our peril.

These ‘potential’ enemies or even the open enemies who surround our nation will certainly try to exploit our weaknesses to their advantage. There is the well-known incident of the First World War. At one stage it was found that Germans used to get the clue to the plans which the commanders of the ‘Allies’ used to discuss and decide upon. Before they were put into action, the enemy forestalled them and made a mockery of all their plans. For a long time it went on like this. Only when special officers were deputed to trace the leakage was it discovered that in the camp of the important generals there was a woman spy, Mata Hari by name. To those lustful persons she appeared charming. She was also well-versed in singing, dancing and all such enticing arts. She allured those generals and wormed herself in their hearts. She stayed with them in their tents. They had such implicit faith in her that they freely discussed their plans in her presence. But she, on her part, was regularly giving out those plans to the other side. It was only after she was traced and caught that victory could be achieved. If those generals had been persons of upright character and considered the whole of womanhood as manifestation of the Divine Mother, as every Hindu is expected to consider, they could have avoided so much of disservice and disaster to their countries.

Story with a Moral

Some have weakness for flattery. If anyone showers praise upon them, they become elated and inflated and will be prepared to do anything that is desired of them. One can resist many things but not flattery. It is easier to digest the deadliest of poisons than to digest praise and honour. As the story goes, Bhagawan Shankara drank the deadly poison for the protection of all creation but remained unaffected. However even he fell a prey to the praises of Bhasmasura and invited troubles to himself! Praise puffs up a man like an inflated football, always being kicked about from one side to the other. Anybody may come, just praise him in superlatives, get his own self-interest fulfilled and go away leaving the man disillusioned or probably not!

There is an old story carrying this moral. Once a crow with a piece of meat in its beak was sitting on a tree. Seeing the crow, a fox sat down under the tree and looking up at the crow, began praising, “What a charming colour you have, sister! It is the same Shyama varna as lord Krishna. And the last time I heard you sing, oh, even the Gandharvas would have envied you! How fortunate I would be to get another chance of listening to your divine music!” The crow began to rock to and fro in great elation and thought, “All right, let me oblige this fellow”. And as it opened its beak the piece of meat fell down. The fox snatched it readily and went its way saying, “I have no love for your music any more!”

Weakness for flattery is there in many of our great personalities today. And there are many cunning men in the world, who make use of this subtle instrument of praise. When thy say, “What a peace-loving, non-violent and generous man you are! You are one of the greatest international figures in the world” and so on, our leaders are swept off their feet and they grant whatever is asked for, whether it be canal-water, money, material or our army men as cannon-fodder in conflicts all over the world.

Alert at Every Step

If therefore we are to be of service to the nation under all circumstances, we have to set our face sternly against these failings and develop a pure personal character. Especially when a worker in the public field moves about among the people the public eye becomes rivetted upon him. Even if he slips a bit, it is marked out and the people will ejaculate, “Oh! What a fall!” they nevertheless overlook far more serious lapses on the part of other common men. When we wear a coloured shirt it makes very little difference in appearance whether we wear if for a day or for a fortnight. But, on a clean white cloth even a drop of water leaves its mark for a time. So the purer we aspire to become, the more the vigilance we have to exercise over every moment of our life. We have to be alert at every step as though the whole of society is keenly eyeing us only to peck at and expose our failings.

Enough of ‘Gentlemanliness’

Then we come to the national aspect.

We see around us a number of persons with good personal character. Maybe they have remained good and harmless merely because they have had no chance or daring to take to evil ways! It is no use having such negative, inactive, so-called goodness and gentlemanliness. Doctorji used to say humorously of such persons, “See, what a thorough gentleman Sriman……… is! He goes to the office punctually, returns home in the evening, chats with his wife and children, eats and sleeps. He has never once tried to interfere in others’ matters. Although he has been residing here for over twenty-five years, he does not even know how his neighbours are nor do they know much about him. Rarely do we come across such a good, harmless, unassuming gentleman!” Doctorji would then chastise the ‘gentlemanliness’ that made the individual impervious to the joys and sorrows of his neighbours, and submit meekly to the insults and humiliations heaped on his society. It was this cursed mentality, he used to say, that lay at the root of all our national ills.

Even in the past there had been quite a number of pious and well-meaning persons in our land. In spite of that, we have had to face disasters continuously over the last thousand years. Some have even gone to the length of asserting that it was this too much of personal goodness that landed our nation in troubles. But it is not a correct reading of history. The real reason was that we lacked in national character – the essential counterpart of personal character. We are not mere solitary individuals but are indivisible parts of the whole society. In that relationship also we should express and uphold purity of character. If this aspect is ignored, mere piety and goodness of the individual will be of little avail in the cause of the nation. Not merely that; if society does not survive, the individual goodness and character also will be trampled under the feet of barbaric aggressors. And that is what has happened in the past.

Lurid Examples

To give a glaring example: the Raja Karna of Gujarat had a Prime Minister who was a great scholar of Vedas and also well-versed in various arts and sciences. Once the King, in a moment of weakness, abducted the wife of one of his sardars. At this the Prime Minister was beside himself with rage and took a vow to punish the King for that sin. He felt that all his powers of piety and religious learning were challenged. What was the course he adopted to fulfil his vow? He knew that the Muslim armies were poised on the northern border of Gujarat. Prior to that, they had made several abortive attempts to over-run and subjugate Gujarat. The Prime Minister directly went to the Muslim Sultan at Delhi and sought his help to punish his King for the sin he had committed. The enemy was only too glad to snatch that golden opportunity. Equipped with the valuable information revealed by the Prime Minister, who knew all the secrets of the defences of his kingdom, the enemy marched on Gujarat. And the powerful Hindu outpost of Karnavati, which had so far effectively checked the Muslim expansion into the South, fell. Thereafter, not only Gujarat, but, the whole of South lay prostrate at the feet of Muslim marauders. What did Prime Minister gain after all? Doubtless, the King was killed, but along with him thousands of the Prime Minister’s own kith and kin were put to sword. Countless women were molested before his eyes, temples razed to the ground and his own residence where he used to recite Vedas and worship God turned into a slaughter-house of cows; in addition, a vast portion of our motherland was reduced to slavery for centuries to come!

We can see, that, on the one hand, the King was loose in his personal character, but, strong in the national aspect, and, on the other hand, the Prime Minister was personally full of piety, of God-fearing nature and all that, but devoid of national character which enables a man to judge the ultimate well-being of the nation as a whole and urges him to sacrifice his all including his personal notions of righteousness at the altar of his nation’s well-being. Thus both the King and Prime Minister became responsible for bringing about such a great disaster to a cause which both of them cherished.

In fact, the perverted notion of personal character and dharma exhibited by that Prime Minister is not a solitary instance in our history. It was sufficiently deep-rooted to produce a whole race of traitors down the centuries. It was the ‘devout’ worshippers of Ishwara who guided and aided the Mohammed of Ghazni, who had, set out with the declared objective of desecrating Somnath. Jayasingh, the famous sardar of Aurangzeb, who came to destroy Shivaji, too, was a man of learning, an ardent worshipper of God and endowed with many a remarkable quality of head and heart. But in vain did Shivaji appeal to him in the name of swadesh and swadharma and call upon him to lead the patriotic forces against the cruel foreigner instead of remaining his slave. But Jayasingh was quite contented with his ‘devotion to God’ along with his oath of ‘loyalty to Emperor’. What a dangerous perversion of the concept of devotion to God and of one’s sense of personal integrity and loyalty! It is clear that only when the twin aspects of character are manifest that both the individual and the society can progress and prosper. They are like the two faces of a coin – one having the imprint of national insignia and the other carrying its value. Erasure of any one face will render it useless.

The National Aspect

It is essential, therefore, that personal goodness and purity of character be made active and dynamic in the national cause. It must express itself in the form of complete dedication to the nation which does not expect anything in return, be it name or fame or any gain whatsoever. We should not worry whether the people whom we serve praise us or not. In fact, it would be better for us if they do not. Because we are then free from the bondage of public praise which may tie us down to an undesirable course. We look upon our nation as our Chosen Deity. Our dedication, our offering of all that we have, should be made in a spirit of worshipping the Nation-God. Then how can we ask for anything in return?

Today, this spirit of unreserved sacrifice and dedication has all but disappeared. If persons go to serve in the public field they want something in return; if not money, a name, a jaikar or at least a photograph in some paper. Once an eminent leader of our country, always accustomed to receiving big ovations, went to a place. He was shocked to see no one present there to receive him. There were no slogans, no garlands and no photographs. He felt insulted and actually went back at once! This is a polished way of selfish behaviour. Other practical and paying ways are also being practised. If in the name of the nation a person serves himself, then it is not rashtra-bhakti but swartha-bhakti. For such a person service of the people is only a mask to further his own personal glory.

These days even worship of God is carried on by many in the same fashion. They pray putran dehi dhanam dehi¬ – ‘Oh, God! Give me sons, give me wealth’ – and so on. If there is a demand for something, then it is not worship, it is carrying on mere business. All our scriptures and holy men have derided this ignoble attitude. Worship is for the sake of worship, for the very joy of it. If at all we pray for anything, it is for greater capacity and greater worthiness to worship, greater strength to pursue the path of service and sacrifice.

There is an instance of Yudhishthira in Mahahbahrata. When the Pandavas along with Draupadi were roaming about in the forests, Draupadi observed Yudhishthira constantly repeating the name of God. Being keenly aware of their woeful conditions she asked bitterly, “Why do you always take the name of God? Even from your childhood you have been devoted to Him. You have performed so many yajnas and all the duties enjoined by the shastras. But till now, how has God responded to you? You have been even deprived of your rightful throne and are now made to wander about from place to place, always under the shadow of danger. Are you not tired of repeating His name even now?” Yudhishthira gently replied. “Look at those Himalayas! How peaceful and majestic! Do we not love it! Is it because we expect anything from it? We love it because of its solemn grandeur, its serenity and purity. So is God, but infinitely more grand. In the presence of such sublime grandeur I have nothing to ask, except to enjoy its bliss and love it all the more”. In the Narada Bhakti Sutra, God is described as the very embodiment of love – Sa Paramapremaroopa.

Power of Devotion

Devotion is not business. It is sheer self-surrender. It is all one-way traffic; we only give. It is only persons of such absolute dedication who can raise the nation to glorious heights from amidst a heap of ruins.

The inspiring example of Khando Ballal is before us. After Sambhaji ascended the throne he, because of some past prejudices, put to death Khando Ballal’s father who was one of the Ashta Pradhans of Shivaji. Khando Ballal was at that time a proud, heroic young man. But he silently gulped down that agony and insult. And again when Sambhaji, who was addicted to women and wine, cast his evil eyes on his sister, Khando Ballal allowed her to end her life to save her chastity, but he himself never forsook his loyalty to Sambhaji. For he knew that Sambhaji, with all his personal vices, was then the unifying symbol of the resurgent Hindu Swaraj around which all Hindu forces were trying to rally. Later, when Sambhaji was captured by Aurangzeb, it was Khando Ballal who risked his life in a hazardous attempt to free him. True to his spirit of dedication to a cause, Rajaram became his point of loyalty after the end of Sambhaji. Once again we see him casting the life of his own son in mortal peril and giving away all his property in a successful bid to free Rajaram, who lay besieged in Jinji fort. Ultimately he sacrificed his life as the final offering in the cause of swaraj. What a glorious and unreserved self-immolation!

It is as a result of such sacrifices, not merely of one’s life but all that one holds near and dear including one’s ego, that the entire course of history changes. Aurangzeb who had come down to the South with an army of nearly five lakhs after Shivaji’s passing away to put out the smouldering embers of the spirit of swaraj, was himself enveloped in the flames that blazed forth form the sacrificial pyres of such heroic souls as Khando Ballal and had to enter his grave in South itself.

When Character Blooms

Such is real national character. Let us develop it in our lives by constant endeavour. With our hearts overflowing with pure love for the whole of society, with no trace of selfishness or expectation for our self, let us serve the nation. And may the lotus of our character blossom in the bright rays of pure sacred national devotion.

Let us aspire and strive for such an unwavering and unreserved spirit of devotion-a devotion, which rises above the ordinary plane of intellect and ego and enters into the very marrows of our being. Let that deep, serene and perennial flow of pure devotion permeate the whole of our being. All great lives beckon us to this one direction- the direction of single-minded dedication. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was a scholar of unchallenged eminence. He had defeated all his great contemporaries in discussions on all the varied spiritual subjects. But with all that brilliance of intellect and vastness of learning, he later on gave up all discussions and arguments, and to those who came to discuss he would only say in words soaked with devotion – Hari bol, Hari bol. The thrill of devotion in those words would carry away the listener in its current and make him realise the vanity of dry discussions and the grandeur of devotion.

Such a person of intense devotion develops extraordinary powers for achieving his goal. Even in our daily life do we not see that an ordinary workman works best when he loves and adores his work and an artist is at his best when he forgets himself in drawing the picture after his heart? Let us try to develop such a state of perfect concentration on the path of national devotion and make our lives living examples of sterling character in all its aspects


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