(Sri Sankaracharya’s Farewell Message)
Devotees of His Holiness Sri Sankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam gathered in their thousands on the spacious grounds of the Sanskrit College, Mylapore, on the night of March 16, 1959, to pay their respects and homage to His Holiness, on the eve of his departure from the City, after staying in one part of the City or other, or its suburbs for 540 days. Addresses were presented to him in nine languages, expressing the gratitude of the citizens of Madras for the efforts of His Holiness in guiding the people along the path of righteous living and for strengthening in the hearts of thousands of devotees a living faith in God and for spreading the message of bhakti (devotion) among the people.
His Holiness was seated on an elevated dais, well decorated and illuminated, commanding the view of a record gathering of men, women, and children, who had come from different parts of the City and suburbs, to pay their respects to him. His Holiness Sri Jayendra Saraswati Swamigal was also seated on the dais, a little behind the Acharya. The entire gathering witnessed the proceedings which lasted nearly four hours, in pin-drop silence.
The proceedings commenced with the recitation of the Mangala Sloka (benedictory sense), pertaining to the Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt, and the singing of a Thevaram (prayer song) and an invocational song.
Speeches offering homage to His Holiness were made.
Mr. C. Rajagopalachari, the last Governor-General of India, prefaced his speech with the observation, “I am the least qualified among the thousands present here to speak on the occasion”. Being the metropolis, he said, Madras City was an important place in the State and consequently there was more evil here than elsewhere. It is true that God in His mercy incarnated Himself, or an Avatara Purusha is born, where evil is rampant so that righteousness may be re-established and people redeemed of their sins. The citizens of Madras are, in one sense lucky, because they have the good fortune of having in their midst this Yatindrna (greatest of all saints), Sri Sankaracharya. But Sri Acharya does not belong to Madras City alone; other places have also an equal claim on him. Therefore, we must reconcile ourselves to his leaving Madras, in the faith that his grace will continue to protect us wherever he may be.
The beneficent influence exercised by a Jnani like His Holiness is not confined to this country alone. It reaches the far corners of the world. India is rightly called a punya bhoomi (land of righteousness), because this is a land where great Rishis (sages) and great saints have had their being and have given their immortal message to humanity. This land, which had been adhering to the path of Dharma, has of late strayed into the path of Adharma. We are the poorest people in the world. Greed easily enters the mind of a poor man. Greed and the desire for possessing even things we should not possess are not confined to the educated people alone. Even the unsophisticated villagers, who were once free from this evil, are getting spoilt. All of us are responsible for it, including the Government, whose plans and policies only tend to make people more and more greedy. Probably I might have also come forward with such plans and policies were I in charge of the administration.
We must try to escape from the moral deterioration that is fast setting in and arrest the growth of evil. This is a disease for which there is only one doctor and that doctor is God. Bhakti or devotion is the medicine for curing the disease. We may master all the ancient Sastras and also learn new Sastras. All that cannot provide any remedy for the disease from which the country is suffering. Devotion to God alone will be of avail and devotion cannot enter our hearts without His grace. We have even forgotten how to pray; our prayers are confined to appeals to Government to give this help or that help. We are in this predicament because we have forgotten the duties and dharmas enjoined upon us by the Sastras. Let us, therefore, request His Holiness to pray to God to implant in us the seeds of bhakti and to pray for the welfare of the country.
His Holiness then addressed to the gathering. He said: “The addresses read and the speeches made are marked by enthusiasm and fervor. So many good things have been said. But there is one drawback in all the speeches and addresses. Everyone repeated one sentiment and that is ‘you should show your gratitude to me by following my advice’. It would have given me greater satisfaction if this sentiment had not been expressed at all by any of you. But you having expressed it, I cannot now usefully say, ‘do not say so’. I can only say, ‘do not think of it’.
“The logical conclusion of the sentiment expressed by you is that there is something still to be observed and that what you have not done so far, you are going to do hereafter. That is a wrong understanding of the situation. It is not possible for everyone to do everything I might have said. First of all, you must get faith. Even when there is faith, you may find it possible to observe only a few things. One cannot start with the hope of bringing about a complete change in everyone’s life. If one starts with such a presumption, it only shows that one is unable to plan properly. It is not possible to reform the ways of life of people through advice, either spoken or written, or even through propaganda. All these may have a temporary effect; but not lasting benefit. Anything achieved through pressure will disappear the moment the pressure is withdrawn.
Discourses are of no avail when what we desire is to reform a person’s mind and to make him give up the wrong habits that he has come to acquire. It requires a power other than the temporary influence of a discourse, however eloquent it may be. If founders of religions have succeeded in revolutionizing thought, it is because they lived in their own life what they preached. It is this power of personal example that brought about a change in the hearts of others. In our own country, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Sri Ramana Maharshi and Sri Aurobindo exercised a profound influence over the minds of other people, though they themselves did not move out of their respective places. It is the example of the preceptor that engenders faith in you, and when faith gets a firm hold on your heart, you are able to correct yourself. I will be able to bring about a change in you only to the extent to which I am able to develop my inner power. If I desire to reform you more, I must purify myself to the extent necessary.
“It is true I had imposed certain conditions which had to be fulfilled for my coming to Madras. But I felt than the reforms brought about under stress will not be lasting. I did not want to be obstinate and so I came to Madras, for the second time, about 18 months back without waiting for the fulfillment of the conditions I had imposed. I hold certain views and the discourses I have been delivering provided me the opportunity for testing my own views. The discourses themselves, and the exchange of views with scholars I indulged in during the course of the discourses, have helped to clarify my own views on several matters. If you have followed some of my advice, it is because of your faith in me. If you are not able to follow my advice fully, it only shows that I have to develop my own inner strength still more through prayer and meditation so that I can infuse greater faith in you.
“You should not grieve because you are unable to reform yourselves to the extent I desire. But ponder over all that I have said. If you feel unable to put into practice anything you regard good, repent sincerely for your inability to do it, with the determination to practice it when you are in a position to do so. The former Governor-General of India requested me to pray for you all. All of you are part of me. What I must pray to God is to bless me to develop my own internal strength. When I achieve that, you will reform yourself automatically. So, when I pray for myself, I pray for you all.”
The function terminated with the recitation of Thotakaashtakam.