To be ruled by instinctive preferences and aversions is what the Yogis call bondage

A common view of the ordinary materialistic man of the world today is that life is a competitive game which is to be played in order to win.

There are two versions of this view: the nicer version is that the game is to be played according to certain rules, with decency and sportsmanship. This is perhaps the old British ideal of the sportsman; provided you are skilful enough, of course, even in playing such a game you can break the rules in a minor form and not be detected, and you may actually do better by breaking the rules unnoticed than you would do by sticking to them. But none the less you play according to rules which are conventions accepted by everyone playing the game.

It is often said that all social morality is grounded in nothing more than a set of conventions of just this kind, and, moreover, that since all moral codes vary from place to place and from time to time, they cannot be anything more than conventions.

One can, however, even as a modern empiricist, take a rather different line and look within for the source or moral authority and invoke the conscience of the individual. There are problems to be faced here, to be sure, but we are looking now in a direction which offers a much more promising basis for the discovery of a moral sense.

We have to ask, “What is the meaning of the words ‘ought’ and ‘ought not’, ‘should’ and ‘should not’?” ‘Ought’ and ‘ought not’ signify primarily the emotion of approval or disapproval. ‘Ought’ implies that we are contemplating an act towards which the emotion of approval can be felt; ‘ought not’ implies that it is an act towards which the emotion of disapproval can be felt. But the great question is, “Who or what is it that feels this approval and disapproval?” This is where the real difficulty lies. The simple answer is, “I do”.

And yet this very feeling of approbation or disapprobation is itself often derived from some external authority. For example, we sometimes think, “I ought not to do such-and-such because the police might catch me”, or, “I ought not to walk on the grass in the Park because it is against the bye-laws”. Clearly the content of the feeling is often derived from an external authority. It is felt at the time by the persons themselves, or at least by some part of them, but it may be derived from an outer authority, and it certainly is not necessarily a wholehearted feeling of the person.

In fact, the feeling ‘I ought not to’ can hardly assert itself except in the presence of another conflicting feeling, ‘I would rather like to’ or ‘I want to’, or ‘I desire to’. So that the moral consciousness in a person is always accompanied by some sense of the division of the individual against itself, some sense of conflict in the personality of the person who has it, or at least the threat of such a division or conflict. And this is true also either of moral criticism of others or of a guilt feeling about oneself.

But where do these feelings of approbation and disapprobation themselves come from ? The view of a modem non-religious psychologist would be that they derived in the development of the individual from his recognition of the approval or disapproval of an authority with whom he had identified himself in a loving relationship. Initially, of course, it is the parents of the child. Later, it may be many other authorities, school teachers, society, the government, the State, or even one’s own social group, depending on what the individual does in fact identify himself with.

And the psychologist would say that all these feelings and attitudes became incorporated into the mental life of the individual through his identification with the so-called “super-ego”, to use the terminology of Freud.

According to Freud, the growing or emerging individual, the ego, as he calls it, the ‘I’ of the child, finds itself afloat and at the mercy of a reservoir of raw, anarchic, violent and conflicting feelings, desires and dislikes and so on. And the loving care of the parents in early infancy gives it the feeling of security. Even with its mind in a yet raw condition it feels unsafe and needs the feeling of security supplied through the parental affection. In its own turn, it gives its love to the parents who give it this feeling of security, and identifies itself as theirs, feeling them as an authority, desiring their approval and feeling rejected and a failure if they disapprove of it. Such, in general, is the psychological view. And there is no doubt that there is a great deal of truth in it as far as it goes, but from our point of view it does not go far enough.

For example, if the moral sense consisted in nothing more than the acceptance of an authority, whether of parents or society or teacher or hero or whatever it might be, there would be no sense in asking the question, “Is that authority itself good? Is the State itself virtuous? Are the parents good people?” We all know we can have morally bad governments and yet be patriotic. We can also feel very much identified with certain people, even though we recognise that they are not virtuous. So the psychologists’ view we have outlined does not solve the ultimate problem and explain the moral sense. It only tells us something about the moral sense and how it manifests itself in life.

We can say, then, that the desire and aversion in the mind, the raga and dwesha as it is called in the yogic terminology, is the raw material for the ethical life; that the good and the pleasant, as the Katha Upanishad says, are not the same thing; and that ethical conduct is a denial of the narrow personal pleasure which binds the soul to the earth. We all have in us the animal instincts, which were perfectly natural in the animal. But in their raw form they are unethical, and we recognise that we ought not to give them all free-play. And it is through this very recognition of the ‘ought not’, itself derived from what we have called the raw material of the mind, that we make a break with the unreflective acquiescence in the urge to satisfy those lower desires which we see in animals and in others.

The question what it is that makes us see this is a curious and very interesting one. We can see morality operating even in a person living completely on his own. The instance is given of Robinson Crusoe. Robinson Crusoe experienced a conflict between hunger and fatigue and the thought that in the future he would need to live on the island and would have to have a hut. Denying the hunger and the fatigue, he worked to build the house and to make the fire and to prepare the environment generally.

Any form of civilisation, even the most primitive, as on a desert island of the kind we see in the case of Robinson Crusoe, demands a degree of ethical living, because it demands the denial of the natural impulse in favour of something more lasting, something quasi-permanent. And this does not necessarily need to involve anyone else, as may be seen from the present case, where the individual judged and acted for himself alone. Thus there is an element in the moral vision of seeing things not from the point of view of the moment in time and space where the individual is, but of seeing them longterm and from a more impartial standpoint than that of the purely individual point of view.

One can say that in terms of morality the instinctive preferences and aversions constitute the original sin, so to speak, of the individual. In animals they are a necessity, but in man they are to be moralised. To be ruled by these instinctive preferences and aversions is what the Yogis call bondage (bandha), and there is no civilisation, let alone any spiritual life, unless this is recognised. Still, on the psychological level, we can see that something of the moral consciousness consists in establishing harmony between these conflicting desires.

The desires come and go, and they conflict with one another. Sometimes we have a feeling we would like to do this, sometimes we want to do that; and many of our desires are mutually contradictory. But the moral consciousness enables us to harmonise and to integrate them, and to give our life an overall direction, not by destroying them, but by recanalising them, by using them as raw material for the ethical life, for the life of dharma. In this sense too, the ethical life is a life dominated by quasipermanent desires.

Our teacher used to say that to get wisdom we need to develop a master sentiment; we needed to pick a higher ideal and to use it to rob all the lower urges in the mind of their power. And we can then make creative use of the fund of energy so released in the cause we have chosen. Some desires, we can appreciate, are likely to lead to trouble, whereas some are likely to lead to harmony. The desire for knowledge, for instance, is a desire which does not do harm to anyone else and which gives a great and lasting satisfaction. The desire for pleasure of the drug-addict on the other hand, leads to great trouble, while the satisfaction is transitory and brings on great despair and ultimately ruin. Thus right desires themselves have a very important positive part to play in the organisation of our lives.

Within man there is a good self and a bad self. And in order to do good it is necessary for the individual to realise himself or affirm himself as the good self. This good self has a unity because it is composed of the harmonised, tamed, and redirected energies of raga and dwesha which have been integrated into the personality. But the bad self had no unity; it is an anarchic collection of disruptive and conflicting desires, united only by their shared opposition to the good self.

One can take as an analogy a society; the good self of man is like the government of that society. The bad self is like the criminals in it, who live parasitically on it and are only united (they are all each for themselves, of course, there is no honour among thieves) in their opposition to society.

The bad self divides, as anything which is based on hate must divide. The good self, based on love, unites, because the success of any part of it is the success of the whole, since that whole is harmonised. In this, as in many other ways, the good is not simply the opposite of the bad. The good and the bad are not just two poles.

The good is radically different from the bad because it is a unity and a harmony, and it is based on love, not hate.

But since the individual is identified now with his good self, now with his bad, there must be another less obvious self which identifies itself now with one, now with the other. You recognise in the two selves the lower and the higher self spoken of in the Bhagavad Gita.

And this leads to another reflection. We can see the need, as was said, in morals for a completely impartial authority. In justice, for instance, the individual may recognise that a particular course of action is right even when it goes against all his own interests. In such a case he will say, “Yes, it is right—I do agree with it”. This is not explicable on the view of morality which I have put forward so far, the empirical view.

So, paradoxically, the moral vision does demand of us self-abnegation and a self-transcendence. Self-transcendence to appreciate the values involved, which may go against our own interests, and self-abnegation to acquiesce in the consequences of allowing it to happen. One has to ask how on any empirical basis this is possible. It would not be possible if morality were simply a question of harmonising the desires of the individual.

There is, in fact, a contradiction in morality. A man feels this contradiction because there is a discrepancy between what he is and what he feels he ought to be, or rather between what he thinks he is and what he feels he ought to be.

And there is another paradox. Even if the moral idea were to be achieved, then, strangely, there would be no more need for morality. And there could be, in fact, no moral feeling, because there would not be anything else, once the moral feeling had been achieved, about which the feeling ‘ought’ could arise. And for these reasons, as well as for others not here touched on, it is quite clear that the moral consciousness points beyond itself and beyond empirical considerations to spiritual values and to self-transcendence.

Our teacher Dr. Shastri has written: “The life of every individual is one of ethical aspiration and endeavour. It is by perpetual self-transcendence that the soul actualises its infinite potentiality. Not doing but being is the ideal of ethical conduct; to attain sainthood is the final aim of the perfectionist ethics of the Yoga.”

And he also says that the real ethical end is a supra-moral state of existence in which there is no possibility of evil conduct.

What then, very briefly, is the yogic doctrine stated in essence in these few sentences? It is that the moral vision in man is an intrinsic realisation by him of the real nature of his own being. Man is, so to speak, an amphibious being.

Swami Rama Tirtha says, by way of an illustration, we are like a horse which has lost a rider. We are in the position of a man riding along on a horse who comes to someone and says, “I’m afraid the rider is lost”. Empirically man is what he is, and he feels himself to be imperfect, to be a creature of time, space and causation. Morally, he knows that he ought not to be this, that he ought to be something greater. He has an innate sense that he will die, empirically, and yet, as Swami Rama Tirtha says, no man will accept in practice the feeling that he is going to die. He feels intrinsically, whatever he may say or whatever he may acquiesce to intellectually, “I will always be, I shall never cease to exist”.

Similarly, he feels that he has a right to freedom, although he finds himself bound, psychologically, by desires and aversion. He feels intrinsically that he has a right to freedom, that he should be, and is, intrinsically, by right free.

He knows himself empirically to be anything but virtuous, and yet, although he does not excuse sin in others, he will always find in his heart of hearts an excuse for his own immorality, because intrinsically he feels himself to be lovable and to be good by nature.

This is a paradox. Swami Rama Tirtha says that it is in these ways that the intrinsic nature of man, though it is unrecognised by him, and though he is unconscious of it in ordinary experience, makes itself felt—because he feels these things intuitively.

And the teaching of the Yoga is that by purifying the mind, by transcending it, and by contacting and consciously realising the true Self of his own being, man will find that all these convictions of his are in fact nothing but the bare truth—that he is a spiritual being, that he is intrinsically free, that he is intrinsically perfect, that he is immortal.

And this is the aim and object of the Yoga.

 

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