6. What is the value of values?
In the chapter on desire, we have learnt that a desire should be noble and neither contaminated with selfish interests nor detrimental to the wellbeing of other people. We have also learnt that our thoughts and actions and circumstances influence one another.
If we have proper alignment of all our three faculties – thoughts, words and actions – that alignment becomes a powerful force. Suppose such alignment is missing, we think one thing, say other thing and do another thing. Then we not only fail to achieve our desires, but also undergo anxiety, stress and so on. Hence in this chapter we will learn the importance of adhering to values, starting with a key concept, ‘dharma’. This is the first of four purushardhas that are very important in life. Dharma cannot be translated into a single English word because there is no equivalent concept. Generally people refer to dharma as right way of living (moral duties, obligations and code of conduct) but it has broader meaning. The word dharma is derived from the Sanskrit root dhṛ, which means “to hold, maintain, support’.
- At a micro level, the virtue by which a thing is a thing, and without which it cannot be that thing, is called its dharma.
For instance dharma of honey is its sweetness, dharma of the Sun is giving heat and light, dharma of water is fluidity and so on. Similarly, the dharma of man is his humanity. Usually humanity is expressed in terms of kindness, love and truthfulness. When these are absent and there is a preponderance of hatred, selfishness and falsehood then that man is said to be violating his dharma. That is adharma, sin.
2. At macro level, dharma is a universal law, to maintain the essential order of balance and harmony in the universe. If a bubble is touched lightly in one place, it trembles all over until either balance is restored or it is burst. Similarly if the balance and harmony among beings in the universe is disturbed, there would be chaos. Underlying this idea is the oneness of life; the discovery by sages that all things are interconnected because at its deepest level universe is indivisible.
little boy wondered as to what keeps the kite up and questioned his dad.
Dad replied: “the string, of course”.
Little boy asked: “but if the string is not pulling it down, won’t the kite might fly higher and higher?”
Dad replied: “if we cut the string, the kite falls to the ground!”
Just like in the case of kite, dharma is the string that is holding this universe together
Dharma can also be understood as one’s duty. There can also be different variations of dharmas based on one’s standing such as son‘s dharma (to support old parents), varna dharma (king‘s dharma is to rule justly), grihastha dharma (householder has to support the family and contribute to society), professional dharma (providing the best service) and so on.
According to Gandhiji, dharma should be understood as the ‘quality of soul’. This understanding will assist us to realize below two primary things about life.
- What are our fundamental duties, at individual level?
- How should we deal with others, at collective level?
Adhering to dharma may often seem an obstacle in achieving goals or cause of failures. But it is dharma that helps us reach our final goal of Moksha and indeed the very basis of our existence.
During the Second World War, under the orders of Adolf Hitler and generals, Nazi soldiers had murdered six million un-harmful and unarmed Jews, just because they belonged to a different religion. During Nuremberg trials of captured Nazi soldiers, they defended their actions saying that it was their duty to follow the orders of superiors and hence the murders were not crimes.
The dharma of a soldier is to protect citizens and fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. The Jews were unarmed citizens and not a threat to national security. Hence the soldiers should have refused to kill them and be prepared to die for their sake. Following an unlawful order is not a valid defense against charges of war crimes.
But we should not get entangled in philosophical debates about dharma. In ethical dilemmas or moral choices we simply need to follow the “ethic of reciprocity“, or the ‘Golden Rule’. It states that every person has right to just treatment, and therefore has a reciprocal responsibility to ensure the same treatment for others. In other words, we should treat others the same way we ourselves want to be treated.
A little understanding of dharma will take us next to its twin ‘karma’.
Even a small kid knows that if he kicks another kid, he will get back retaliation but not praises. But if he is kind to another kid, he may be treated kindly in return. Thus nothing happens in the world by chance or without a cause and effect relationship. The universe is based on laws of order, not of chaos.
If we sow wheat, we reap only wheat and not rice or any other crop.
‘Karma’ in Sanskrit has below two meanings
- Result of our past actions
- Our present actions that bear fruits in future
It is the Law of Cause and Effect, Action and Reaction, Sequence and Consequence. We can also call is as ‘law of responsibility’. We are always setting causes in motion, every moment, through our every thought, word and action. For every cause set in motion, there is a corresponding and correlative effect which comes back. This is the way the universe maintains its harmony, balance, and equilibrium.
The purpose of ‘law of cause and effect’ or karma is to keep us live in accordance with dharma – not to pursue selfish interests to the detriment of others, but to live in mutual welfare of ourselves and others, what we may call win-win deal.
Karma and reincarnation or rebirth is inter-linked. We can’t have one without the other. It is obvious that one lifetime may not be long enough to reap the full effects of every cause we have set in motion during that lifetime.
It is also apparent that some of the aspects and circumstances of our current lifetime do not have their origins in the current lifetime but in the seemingly distant past. Physical birth itself is a Karmic effect, since one of the main reasons we are born is in order to deal with our past Karma.
Some people are born with beauty, wealth, health, intelligence and so on or born in rich countries while other people are born with ugliness, poverty, ill health, ignorance and so on or in countries ravaged with famines and civil wars. We cannot say that the God, who has so much inequality in His creation, is a just God. So, it makes sense to deduce that people are born again and again in suitable conditions and surroundings to work out their good and bad karmas.
In this sense life is like a school; one can learn and graduate or one can ignore karmic lessons and stay behind. However, as long as a debt of karma remains, a person has to keep coming back to reap them.
There are below three divisions of Karma:
- Sanchita Karma – It is the karmic balance or accumulation of all our karma from past lives that has not yet been dealt with.
- Prarabdha Karma -it is the specific portion of that Sanchita Karma which has now become ripe. It is the cause of our birth and we are destined to experience the results in the present lifetime.
- Agami (also known as Kriyamana and Vartamana) Karma. Agami means future. It is the fresh karma we are creating for ourselves right now, as we live this present lifetime. It becomes added to our Sanchita Karma and will bear results as our Prarabdha Karma in future lifetimes.
A self-realized person is liberated from the cycle of birth and death. But he will have to live until his prarabdha karma is completely exhausted and he is not creating new agami karma.
Our past karmas determine our present life through Prarabdha. In the same way our present karmas determine our future. If we improve the present, we can improve the future. Thus we can become makers of our own destiny.
We should not live in the past, brooding about the things that happened already. We cannot undo them. We need to learn lessons from past and be prepared to accept the consequences of our past actions, and move on.
We should not live in future either worrying about what may happen in future. If good things are about to happen, they will come as pleasant surprises. If bad things should happen, we will suffer greatly in present, worrying about their future occurrence.
One may wonder “most people know about dharma, karma, what is right and what is wrong. They want to do the right thing, yet they end up doing the wrong thing. What is this hidden force which compels us to do wrong, even when we resolve to do the right thing. Is there is any devil or Satan misleading us really?” Because God is present everywhere, there is no place where devil can exist. The real culprit can be found in your own mind influenced by what we call ‘Rajasic’ nature. We will explain rajasic nature in detail in later chapter on ‘Maya’. Before that we need a basic understanding of human psychology.
Based on Sigmund Freud’s personality theory, human psychology can be explained based on below classification.
- Id: It is the primitive and instinctual part of the mind that contains sexual (procreation) and aggressive (survival) drives, genetic features and hidden memories. It wants to avoid pain. It always wants pleasures, regardless of consequences. It has no morality as to what is wrong and what is right.
- Super ego: It operates as moral conscience based on social structures, rules and norms. The superego’s function is to control the id’s impulses, especially those which society forbids, such as illicit sex and stealing, and those that cause collapse of society. It incorporates the values and morals of society which are learned from one’s parents, teachers and environment. It develops in the early stages of growth, but will also continue throughout life.
The superego consists of below two systems:
- The conscience which can punish the ego through causing feelings of guilt. For example, if the ego gives in to the id’s unreasonable urges, the superego may make the person feel bad through guilt.
- The ideal self is an imaginary picture of how you ought to be, and represents career aspirations, role models, and how to behave as a member of society.
3) Ego: It is the realistic agent that mediates between the urges of the id and the critical super-ego.
Freud made the analogy of the id being a horse while the ego is the rider. The ego is ‘like a man on horseback, who has to hold in check the superior strength of the horse.’ The super ego can be compared to the awareness of social norms on the road, such as on which side (left or right) to ride, speed limits, where to park and so on.
Thus it is not really the work of any devil, but our own ego that decides whether we follow the wisdom of super ego or urges of id.
Now coming back to rajasic nature, this nature is necessary to compel us into action. It has below two aspects.
|Kama (passion and lust) |
The force of attraction and many kinds of likes. Kama can be either noble or selfish desire.
| Krodha (anger and hatred) |
The force of repulsion and many kinds of dislikes.
It is selfish desire and anger, arising from the rajasic nature, that are the appetites that cannot be satisfied. Just as fire is covered by smoke and mirror is obscured by dust and embryo rests deep within the womb, knowledge is covered by selfish desire.
Selfish desires never end. The moment one is satisfied, another one springs. When a selfish desire is unfulfilled, it causes anger. Anger destroys discrimination in a man about what is right and what is wrong. He resorts to evil thoughts and actions.
But one may wonder ‘how to overcome temptations?’
Selfish desire is found in the senses, mind and intellect, misleading them and burying the understanding in delusion.
The senses are higher than the sense objects, the mind is higher than the senses, the intellect is higher than the mind and true self (Atman) is higher than the intellect.
Thus knowing that Atman is supreme, we must let it rule the ego. We must use our mighty arms to slay the fierce enemy that is selfish desire. So it is essential that we do not allow the quantity of smoke, our personal likes and dislikes, to increase and envelop our soul-fire. We need to have desires in our control and do not get carried away by them. Dharma is the core value that we should maintain throughout life.