After a spate of scams and a strong popular uprising against corruption, we feel the pressing and urgent need for ethics and values. However, the main moral problem for many of us is not knowing what is right, Dharma but actually doing it. We are like Duryodhana in Mahabharata, who says, “I know what dharma is, I have no inclination for it. I know what adharma is, but cannot resist it.” What are the main and deeper causes of this Duryodhana syndrome and what are the remedies? This article examines this question in the light of a deeper spiritual perspective.
Key-Perspectives force of lower nature; vital weakness; pleasure principle; lack of sincerity; environmental and other factors; need for compassionate understanding; remedies.
Force of Lower Nature
Before coming to the theme of our discussion let us examine briefly the central factor which leads to the moral degeneration of the individual or the community. The Duryodhana syndrome is only an aspect or a facet of this more general and central factor.
The Indian spiritual tradition talks about the two natures in us. First is the lower nature which is more or less exclusively driven by ego, desire and self-interest of our physical, sensational and emotional being. The other is the higher self made of our rational, ethical, aesthetic and spiritual being, which seeks to govern life by higher values like truth, knowledge, beauty and goodness. The inner source of moral fall or degeneration is the force of lower nature overwhelming the weak signals or protests of the higher nature. In most of us, while the instincts, impulses, desires and feeling of our lower nature is a force with a lot of obstinate persistence and energy, the ideals of our higher nature are abstractions with not much force in it and a will which is feeble compared to the force of our lower nature. This is the crux of the ethical problem.
There are four dark children of our lower nature which are the major factors behind the moral fall of human beings: Greed, Anger, Jealousy and Attachment.
Much has been said and written about the factor of Greed as the source of ethical lapses. Greed for power, wealth, enjoyment, fame, status is undoubtedly one of the major causes behind the moral degeneration in society. Our modern society would be much more morally healthy if people are not greedy, keep their desires under control and content with what they have. A culture which legitimizes greed, and regards personal ambition, enjoyment and success as the main values of life is one of the major causes of moral degeneration in our community. When greed becomes the driving force of society, the intrinsic moral sense of our higher nature is veiled, ignored or dismissed with perverse rationalization or paid only lip service but ignored in practice.
The other two factors are anger and jealousy. These two dark emotions when they are constantly harboured, strengthen our lower nature, clouds right judgement, and weaken the light and force of our higher nature. They create a strong urge for vengefulness which pushes the individual to go against his moral sense. The fourth factor is intense attachment to our possessions like wealth, power, and status or to our kith and kin. When these possessions or objects of attachment are threatened, we are ready to do anything to protect them. These are the essential or universal factors behind the moral fall of humans Let us now examine the Duryodhana syndrome which is a more restricted or specialized manifestation of the force of lower nature.
The first factor is vital weakness. There is a difference between the vices or moral lapses of the strong and the weak. When people with a strong vital force and will, like for example Alexander or Napoleon, indulge in vices or moral lapses, it is mainly driven by ego, ambition and greed and not by any weakness. They may know what they are doing is morally wrong, but in their value-systems, morality is secondary or subordinate to personal success, ambition and achievement. If they decide firmly to pursue an ambition, they will go after it with a focused concentration, setting aside all other temptations and desires and can follow a self imposed discipline, which may be as difficult as a moral regimen. But such people are not many. Most men or woman succumb to Duryodhana syndrome due to weakness in the vital force and will. The mind may know what they are doing is wrong and the will may be inclined to higher values, but there is not sufficient force and strength in the vital force or will to resist the unethical impulse or temptation and follow the moral inclination. The strength persistence and intensity of the impulses of the lower nature is much stronger that the will and force behind the aspiration or inclinations of the higher nature.
This brings us to the questions what are the causes behind this weakness or inability. The first cause is the pleasure principle. If the indulgence of the lower nature brings much greater pleasure then the pursuit of higher nature, then for most of us, it is very difficult to resist the temptations of the lower nature. One of the Indian Upanishads regards this pleasure principle as the main cause of moral and spiritual fall. As the Katha Upanishad states, “One thing is the good and quite another thing is the pleasant and both seize upon a man with different meanings. Of these who takes the good, it is well with him, he falls from the aim of life who chooses the pleasant.” It is this struggle between the hedonistic impulse of our lower nature and the idealistic, moral or spiritual aspiration which makes the moral and spiritual path so difficult. It is a struggle, because in most of us, attachment to the pleasant is much stronger than the inclination or aspiration to the good, and therefore, ultimately the pleasant tends to overwhelm the good. We may include in the category of the “pleasant” the easy path which leads to short-term success and in the “good” the more difficult path which lead to long-term wellbeing.
Lack of Sincerity
The other, deeper cause which is not recognised in most of the discussions on the subject, is lack of a whole-hearted and whole-minded sincerity in wanting the truth and goodness. Something within us, hidden and subconscious, lying in a little corner of our being, clings to the unethical impulse and creates the inability or helplessness against the lower nature. This problem is normally articulated as “lack of will” or “weak will.” But it is not exactly, “weak will” but a hidden unwillingness. As The Mother of Sri Aurobindo Ashram explains:
“That’s it; always, always, the little worm in the fruit. One tells oneself, ‘Oh! I can’t.’ It is not true, if one wanted, one could. And there are people who tell me, ‘I don’t have the willpower.’ That means you are not sincere. For sincerity is an infinitely more powerful force than all the wills in the world. It can change anything whatever in the twinkling of an eye; it takes hold of it, grips it, pulls it out—and then it’s over. But you close your eyes, you find excuses for yourself.”
If we are wholly sincere, which means want it with our whole being, then the dark spot of unwillingness hidden within us comes to the front, and stands exposed to the light of our awakened consciousness
Environmental and other Factors
The other major factor which influences the behaviour in a positive or negative way is the social, cultural and psychological environment. If this inner and outer environment is unfavourable or hostile to the pursuit of truth, ethics or higher values, then even good people with higher aspirations may succumb to the pressure of the environment. For example, the well-known adage, “Politics is the last resort of the scoundrel” is not just an exaggerated quip but has a truth behind it. The political organs of most nations have an inner and outer environment suffused with a ruthless and unscrupulous pursuit of power. So it happens quite often that even people with character and values when they enter into politics, gets sucked into the dark environment or find themselves helpless to do or achieve anything positive. A well-known modern Indian seer said about a famous political leader that she has something beautiful in her but politics was destroying it! Similarly, as we have discussed earlier, if the economic and business environment of a community is saturated with greed, self-interest and uncaring personal ambition which are regarded as legitimate aims, then again, it is difficult for an individual with an average moral stature to go against the grain and tide of the environment, even if she wants to. A few great individuals with exceptional strength of character can raise beyond the environment but it is difficult for the average person to resist the more powerful forces of the collective consciousness. Such great individuals have to be held before the people as role models of character¾like for example Abraham Lincoln against slavery in America¾but at the same time we have to recognise the hard realities of life.
There are also other factors behind the moral weakness which may be called as “occult” or “cosmic” like for example possession by dark forces or a strong negative karma. There could be a partial possession of the vital being by dark forces of Nature which may create a more or less helpless subjection to the impulse of the lower vital nature, even when the mind knows it to be wrong or wants to get rid of it. Similarly, if the past life and action of the individual in this or previous births are totally contrary or hostile to higher values, it forges a dark and heavy karmic force which may be difficult to overcome.
Need for Compassionate Understanding
Here comes the need for sympathetic and non-judgemental understanding of the individual causes of unethical behaviour. We must try to understand the balance of inner and outer forces needs, compulsions¾material, psychological evolutionary, karmic, environmental, genetic¾which push the individual to undharmic action. We must keep in mind that if we are under the influence of the same type, mix and balance of inner and outer forces we may also behave in the same way or even worse. This doesn’t mean justifying the offense but trying to understand the nature of the forces which lead to the offense. Our aim and attempt has to be to understand, prevent, reform and heal and not to condemn or judge.
Path of Regeneration
We are now brought to the more practical question. What is the solution? The long term remedy lies in a character building education which leads to transformation of character and based on the following principles.
- Self-knowledge: increasing consciousness based on an ever deepening self-observation which gives the ability to discover the root cause of our difficulties and hidden motives behind our actions.
- Self-mastery: control over our thought, feeling and desires without suppression with an emphasis on the joy of overcoming a desire rather than on satisfying it.
- Development of Will power and the qualities of will like courage, endurance, persistence, firmness and not to be discouraged by failures.
- Spiritual Development: higher values like truth, beauty, goodness become concrete intrinsic, experiential and spontaneous only in the consciousness of our spiritual self beyond our body and mind. So every individual has to be taught how to come into some form of inner contact with her spiritual self through a path which is in harmony with her natural temperament.
The other part of the remedy is to create an external environment which encourages, promotes and rewards the pursuit of higher values and provides sufficient opportunities to pursue the self-transforming education which we have described earlier.