The sound of a sob In the darkness, A child crieth after its Father— “My spirit within me is burning, Consumed with a passionate yearning— Oh, unknown, far away Father!”— No voice answers out of the darkness. Thayumanavar,
A thousand years ago.
THE people of India think. We talk about ” the poor ignorant heathen,” and we sing that ” the heathen in his blindness bows down to wood and stone,” and this is true. There are here, as in every land, the Masses to whom “What shall we eat ? and what shall we drink ? and wherewithal shall we be clothed ?” are matters of infinite moment, and they rarely go beyond them. But there are the Classes. Those who think, and think keenly, who dig deep down into the depths of their marvellous metaphysics— men and women, and children, too, who seem to be born philosophers.
Although it is true that for the most part anything like a ripe knowledge of the Shastras is confined to the men, the more cultured among the women are conversant with them, and almost all of the higher castes are thoroughly imbued with the spirit of Hindu mythology as it is set forth in their ancient literature. Their common talk is full of the Sayings of the Wise, in prose and verse. Their thoughts run on lines quite unfamiliar to Westerns, and the missionar}’, if she would be equipped for her work, must know something at least of the world of thought expressed in poem and proverb and proverbial allusion, which to the women she wants to win is a very part of themselves. If this is all a closed land to her, she will be so much the further from them, so much the further outside. But this knowledge is not acquired in a year, or in five. One writes humbly, Not as though I had already attained !
“Whom do you worship?” we asked a Brahmin widow once. ” Sarvantheridmi,” she answered— The One who pervades all space, and fills all being. It is a Sanskrit name for the Eternal God, and is rarely used by the women. It showed in a moment the trend of her thought, and opened the way for a long talk with her upon spiritual things, following along the avenue of ideas already familiar to her.
She held, if I remember right, what is known as the Vedanthic Philosophy, a system of pure Pantheism. To the votaries of this school there is only one great Essence or Entity existent— a sort of vague, misty, impersonal Substance—? all else is Maya, —delusion.
Their creed is summed up in. one phrase, which means ” Brahm is all, and all is Brahm.” Everything which we see, everything of which our sense takes cognisance, even our own existence and individuality, is a mere mirage, “as though one saw a coil or rope, and fancied it a snake, or seeing nickel silver imagined it pure metal.”
Said one who was seeking to discomfit me before his women-folk—” There is only one true Sun, though you may see its virtual image reflected in millions of pools of water. And so those unrealities, which we call souls of men, all illusionary reflections of the one eternal Soul. Is not the atmosphere entire and all pervasive, though men in their puerile folly regard it as divided and confined by material walls and doors ? And so the Supreme Soul is one and all pervasive, and it is wisdom’s part to regard it as it is, and not as it appears.” According to this, in plain language, there is no human Ego. “/ am not. I do not exist, for the thing that I call ‘ I’ is only an infinitesimal drop in the sea of Infinitude.”
” When by austerity and meditation I arrive at this conviction I shall disappear from view, absorbed into the one Original.”
This argument leads to the conclusion that since all apparent action is unreal there is no such thing as sin, and therefore Salvation is an empt3′ phrase. No power of argument, nothing but the mighty power of the Holy Ghost can convince a man who holds such a creed, that he is a sinner and needs a Saviour.
The intelligence of the people is shown not only by the subtlety of their system of philosophy, but by the beauty of their poetry, and by their appreciation of it.
Man}’ a rough “Open Air” has been held by an apt word from one of their classics. “As certain also of your own poets have said ” has not lost its persuasive power.
I remember one incident well. We were preaching in a large Hindu town, where, as it was market day, some hundreds of people had gathered round us. They had listened awhile and were restless. We prayed that the Spirit would still them. Then one of our number—a woman—in a clear voice began to sing. Few of them saw who she was, she was hidden by those standing nearest, but they all could hear her song. It ended with an admission of failure to find true rest, for the poet tells how he gathered and scattered the sacred flowers before the idols he thought were gods—all in vain ; how he sprinkled libations upon them, but it was all in vain ; how he prayed and worshipped in temples —all in vain. Long before she had finished, the crowd was perfectly still, and we had a splendid chance to declare Him unto them.
” Nothing has taken such a lasting hold of the mind of the Tamil people as the terse writings of their Moral Poets. And it is impossible to understand their thought and character without some knowledge of their stanzas.” So says a comrade in this South Indian fight.
These stanzas are written in the most nervous and condensed style possible, each word chosen being exactly fitting, and the whole, governed by Eastern laws as to rhyme and rhythm, view it from any point you will, is perfect. Such poems laugh at any attempt to translate them. English sounds very clumsy after Tamil.
But I should like to give you an idea of the sort of thing that appeals to the Indian mind. “Would you know if the rice is properly cooked? then taste a grain from the cooking pot.” The Poetry Pot (to be prosaic) is out of your reach ; but a grain or two may suffice to show something of its contents.
One day, some months ago, we got a group of women round us on the verandah of one of their houses. It was not in the caste quarter of the town, and there was no very vigorous resistance till one of them started the common objection that we brought them a foreign religion, and after that they were not inclined to listen. One of our number tried to go on in the orthodox way, but they fidgetted under it. Then another took a different tack—” Don’t you remember our Avvayar’s words ?
” ‘Twas born with you — that fell disease,
‘Twill kill you I From the far foreign mountain the medicine comes,
‘Twill cure you ! ”
and she repeated the whole verse. They saw the point in a moment, and for fully ten minutes that group of women—all of them poor and illiterate — listened while she told them about the Heavenly Medicine which will cure the disease of sin.
So much for the influence Avvayar wields. She was a poetess, who lived a thousand years ago. They constantly quote her lines. For example, they are in trouble :
” Boil it, the milk will lose none of its sweetness ; Burn it, the shell will grow whiter and whiter ; So will the Good shine brighter and brighter, The fiercer the fire of their sufferings here.”
The other da)’ a Tamil girl was describing a friend who was loyal, as compared with one who was not. This is how the thing struck her:—
” The water has dried up ; where are the water fowl ?
Watch them ! Away they soar! The water has dried tip ; where are the water plants P
See them ! They cling to the shore ! So there are friends tt>ho are fickle and faithless,
But some who are true to the core.”
Within a few hundred years, more or less (Tamil dates are rather vague), another poet flourished, whose stanzas are household words all over South India to-day. To quote Dr. Pope again : ” Tiruvalluvar’s poem is one of the select number of great works which have entered into the very soul of a whole people, and which can never die.”‘
We met these lines of his in conversation with a Hindu, who tried to maintain that freedom from all earth-ties, the bond of love included, is the summum bonum of true religion.
Read one way they read Truth.
” Lay hold on the hold of Him
Who is free from all hold of sin.
I say, lay hold on Him ; So shall the hold of Sin
Lose hold. The hold of Him Holds from the hold of Sin.”
The Tamil (which expresses all this in a couple of lines) plays on the word ” hold,” which really signifies all that holds the soul in the body, all bonds of earthly relationships, all natural ties of affection. We have translated it ” hold of sin,” because the main idea is that all ” hold ” is sin.
Think back, if you can, for a thousand years, and see, if you can, that old Tamil poet writing. He is bound by the rules of his art to follow along four lines — Virtue, Wealth, Pleasures, Release—a release which means to him emancipation from births, home, heavenly felicity. He stops when he touches that thought. What does he know of it ? Nothing. And so he does not write. His book has come down through the ages unfinished, the last long chapter one long blank, the last bar of music—a silence.
Think of him, you to whom the beyond is summed up in one word— Christ. Think of the old Tamil poet thinking alone in the dark.
We all know Tennyson’s picture of the infant crying in the night, and we all know the plaint of Job : “Oh that I knew where I might find Him, that I might come even to His seat ! ”
We rarely meet this longing in our work among the Hindus. So far as our experience goes, pictures of “hungry heathen” are absolutely false ; but who may say that there never have been such, while this last poem stands. It is infinitely pathetic in the original. There is something in the metre which reminds one of the sound of the moan of the sea. ” Lord in the darkness I wander,
Where is the light ? Is there no light ? Nothing know I, but I wonder,
Is there no light ? Where is the light ? Lord, in the vastness I wander,
Where is the way ? Is there no way ? How may I reach Thee, I wonder,
Is there no way? Where is the way ? ”
We do not want to make too much of this, because it is not God’s call; but is there not something in it to make us stop and think ? ” I have but one candle of life to burn, and I would rather burn it out where men are dying in darkness than in a land flooded with light.”
For a people of such calibre, for all people everywhere, what is wanted ? More workers ? Yes ; but what kind of workers ? Will anybody do?
Soul-winning is no child’s play even in the homeland, where we speak our mother tongue, and have to deal with those whose frame of mind we fully understand. In these Eastern lands the battle is the same, but the foe has entrenched himself behind far stronger bulwarks. The power of Satan is felt to be far more real by all engaged in direct attack. Our message must be given in a strange and difficult language, and that to a people whose cast of mind is as far removed from ours as the East is from the West. Do not believe the fallacy that anyone will do.
What, then, do the women of Heathendom want ?
They want women who will love.
But human love is not enough. It will not stand the strain. Only Divine love lasts. For it is well to face the fact that life out here is just pure plod. There is nothing romantic about it. Only, indeed, it is all lighted up with the light of the joy of our Lord.
They want women who will work.
First comes the language grind. Then the steady doing and grind combined. There is nothing exciting in this. A girl who comes out with a vision of picking up the language within her first year, and preaching to interested crowds in her second, is apt to be disappointed.
True Mission Work is not play. It is tremendous earnest. It is not a thing which can be lightly taken up, and laid as lightly down again. “The Vows of God are on me,” and for life.
But when we think of the needs of China and India, and Africa, all lands of all dark continents, all islands of the sea—oh, we long for a thousand lives for each need, to be ” poured forth upon the sacrifice and service ! ”
Have you thought much of these needs ? Have you thought them over one by one in view of the Coming of the King? It is incredible that He wants all these lands to remain as they are in the very depths of the darkness of death, and the question now to be faced is this— Am I where He means me to be ? If not I am missing my life-work. And I may be keeping back blessing from those for whose sake I am staying, by staying with them.
But we dare not press anyone to come unless she is sure she is called of God, unless she believes in Acts i. verse 8, and unless she means to live only for souls. Once out, the devil’s favourite device is to get us engrossed in other things. Anything but soul-winning, he says. Anything but aggressive fight. And unless the Hand of the Lord is strong upon us we shall give in, and swim with the stream. Compare the thought with ”Good Soldiers of Jesus Christ.”
Comrades who fight from the home side! will you not pray for us ? Oh will you not pray the fervent prayer that availeth much in its working ?
We are not all we would be. As we sketch the woman wanted we feel we fall far short— ‘ Unto me who am less than the least of all saints is this Grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.”
And so, because He takes the very least, the less than the least, there is nothing to be afraid about. “All God’s biddings are enablings.” If He calls, fear not, obey.
Here is a verse for the mothers and fathers, and all who give for Jesus’ sake. It is also a verse for the sons and the daughters who ask them to give for Jesus’ sake—It is from Isa. lviii., 10, ii, R.V., margin, “IF thou bestow on the hungry that which thy soul desireth, THEN the Lord shall satisfy thy soul in dry places. 1 ”