Mirror, mirror on the wall ….

Here is some interesting food for thought. Do give it some thought and let me know what your thoughts on this are?

One can do service to humanity in many ways. Is there some particular path that is most meritorious?

Everybody has a view of the world. People take to different paths based on their own value system. What would your opinion be, on the best way to perform service to humanity? What is the best way to give back to society?

In this regard let us look at 5 different pursuits of people

The philanthropist and the altruist: These people usually are the benevolent rich. These people serve the society through the millions that they have rightly earned. A large portion of the ills of society like hunger, malnutrition, diseases, clean drinking water, and sanitation needs large funds. The philanthropists create foundations to address the key issues of the society. Some of the notable philanthropists’ are Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Azim Premji to name a few. Coming from the corporate side they bring a wealth of management techniques besides their large funds

The spiritual leader: Spiritual leaders typically provide wisdom to people. Spiritual leaders provide comfort and advice to people suffering mentally. The words of these leaders provide solace to a large number of people during their darkest hours. The words and advice is like a soothing balm to these tortured souls. They provide ways and techniques to lead a proper life. The Dalai Lama, the Pope, the Shankaracharyas   are example of this class of people.

The Social Worker: This is another class of people. They people put their heart and soul in addressing the evils of society. Whether it is the caste problem, child labor or fighting for the rights of the underprivileged the social worker works relentlessly to bring the injustices of society to light. They toil with their sweat and are tireless in their efforts. Some ardent social workers have also lost their lives in trying to fight the evils forces of society.

The Techno-Scientist: The Techno-scientist are another class of people. They do not work directly for the people. But their creations can impact a large class of people. Imagine a scientist who is able to genetically create varieties of cheap rice or wheat which can reduce hunger or a technologist who invents a technique for cleaner and cheaper sanitation. A cure for cancer or AIDS would save millions of lives. Technologists and scientists whose inventions and discoveries impact a large section of people are another class of people.

Artists,musicians,actors,sportsman: This class provide entertainment and are a major source of inspiration. The musicians through their music, sportsmen through their excellent achievements, the painter with an inspired piece relieve us from the drudgery of human existence. They are a very important class of people.

Which profession is the noblest? Which is the best pursuit in life?

I personally think all pursuits are fine. To some it may appear that a spiritual leader is the highest and noblest of all pursuits because they provide relief to the tortured spirit of humanity, I would like to say that a philanthropist who attacks issues like starvation and diseases is also doing yeoman service. Spiritual solace or wisdom are meaningless to the millions of starving or poverty stricken people in India or Africa. Similarly a social worker who fights for the rights of the downtrodden is as great as the techno-scientist who makes our lives better, more convenient or discovers drugs that solve virulent diseases.

I would prefer to look at this through the lens of utilitarianism which proposes that the best pursuit is one which provides maximum benefit to the maximum number.

What are your thoughts?

Uncovering morality through the Mahabharata – Part 1

The Mahabharata, the ancient Indian epic, has endured for more than 5000 years. The Mahabharata is truly a classic which embodies eternal truths that will live on forever. The Mahabharata differs from Greek Mythology which are tales of adventure and exploits of Greek Gods and heroes in many ways. The Mahabharata besides including in it rich tales of adventure also weaves in its account eternal and timeless moral concepts.

The Mahabharata tries to handle the delicate issue of karma and dharma in the lives of its characters. There are so many lessons that are captured vividly in those tales that the Mahabharata leaves the reader trying to tussle with these difficult concepts in his own mind.

The central theme of the Mahabharata is the war for justice in Kurukshetra between the virtuous Pandavas (with the divine presence of Lord Krishna) and the Kauravas led by Duryodhana. The war is rightly termed as dharmayuddha or the battle of justice by Lord Krishna. Duryodhana is a scheming, cunning king who is jealous of the valor of the Pandavas and cheats the Pandavas of their kingdom through deceit and trickery. He invites Yudhistra to a game of dice and cheats him of his kingdom.

The Pandavas spend 13 years in exile after which they are supposed to get back their kingdom but Duryodhana stoutly denies giving their half back. The Pandavas are unwilling to fight and are willing to settle for just 5 mere villages. However, Duryodhana is stubborn and is unwilling to concede anything. Finally the Pandavas reluctantly go to war against the Kauravas as a last resort. The Pandavas are aware of horror of the war but are forced into it in order to reclaim what is rightly theirs. The Mahabharata does dwell on Yudhistra’s unwillingness to fight.
Similarly in the battlefield when the two armies are arrayed against each other with their conch shells blaring, Arjuna another valiant hero of the Pandavas has a moral crisis. He is unable to understand how the killing of his teachers and sages, among the enemy ranks, whom he so venerates, can be considered as a winning. He wants to put down his arms. The Mahabharata highlights the human issues that are involved with utter clarity and brings this despondency of Arjuna at a critical juncture.

It is then that Lord Krishna clarifies the situation where he states that the process of dharma or the need to uphold justice sometimes requires that evil be stamped out with authority. It is here that Lord Krishna’s celestial song Gita to Arjuna is rendered.

The dharmayuddha does raise the question as to what is the right course of action. One could argue that war, though violent, is required in order to eradicate evil. It leaves the reader with questions as whether virtuous ends justify violent means. Would it be right to say that dharma is upheld when the greatest good is done to greatest number?

The Mahabharata through the many tales tries to weave an intricate pattern of moral issues involved in day to day life. The interesting aspect to the Mahabharata is that the epic provokes the reader to deep thinking on moral issues.

Uncovering morality in the Mahabharata – Part 2

Arjuna’s despondency
When the Pandavas return after their exile from the forest after 13 years and try to reclaim what is rightly theirs they are only met with stout denial by Duryodhana. Lord Krishna tries to negotiate a settlement where the Kuaravas would only need to part with 5 villages to Pandavas. But even this meager request results in a refusal by Duryodhana. Finally after much deliberation Yudhisthra as the eldest amongst the Pandavas declares war.

On the day of the war with both armies standing impressively facing each other Arjuna whose chariot is driven by none other Lord Krishna himself suddenly is overcome with mental anguish. Arjuna the great and courageous warrior goes through intense emotional turmoil. He is not able to come to terms with the violence of war where he would have to kill the Kauravas who are his own cousins. Besides the Kaurava army also has in its ranks the venerable Bhishma and Drona who have taught him all the necessary lessons of life along with the skills of warfare. This is an important juncture in the Mahabharata where the epic balances human emotions of compassion against the needs of justice. It is as this point Lord Krishna sings the inimitable and ineffable song of the Gita. Lord Krishna reiterates that man must perform his duty without attachment to the results of his work. He should look at joy and suffering with equanimity. The Gita also expounds that behind the material body is the indestructible soul or the Atman which is eternal in nature.

Arjuna is finally convinced when he witnesses Lord Krishna’s divine form and starts to fight for dharma or justice. The war results in victory for the Pandavas. However, the Pandavas are able to overcome Bhishma, Drona and Karna only through devious means. The Mahabharata brings into its narrative a human element of frailty. It clearly shows that even the virtuous Pandavas are not superhuman. Besides it brings into question again the issues of ends versus means. What is dharma? Does it represent something that should be beyond individual interests? Should one subordinate individual interests to the larger interest of the people?
The war ends with victory for the Pandavas. However, even the Pandavas army is destroyed by the wrath of Aswatthama leaving only the five Pandavas with widows and an empty kingdom.

Yudhisthra rather than rejoicing in his victory is tormented by the Pyrrhic victory which resulted in a lot of bloodshed. Again the Mahabharata does not glorify the victors nor belittles the vanquished. The Mahabharata does make one to reflect deeply on what is right and what is wrong. Given the virtues of truthfulness, compassion, ahimsa, charity what should be the most appropriate course for an individual be?

The Rationale of Values

Ayn Rand in “Objectivist Ethics” discusses her reasoning behind ethics. Ethics are nothing but a code of values. Values represent a choice among a set of possible alternatives. How are values defined? Who has defined them and against what have they been defined. Ayn Rand argues that life is the standard against which any code of ethics should be measured. Anything that prolongs life is to be pursued against anything that results in death.

While life is the basis for measurement of ethics how does one decide what is “good” and what is “evil”? Is the concept of “good” and “evil”  based on the whim of a person, or on whims of society or does it just come from some mystical books.  How does one define what is “good” and what is “evil?” To this Ayn Rand suggests that anything that results in pleasure to mankind must necessarily be good and anything that induces pain must be evil. So all things that promote pleasure or happiness can be assumed as being good and those that cause suffering can be assumed to be evil. Also man has to use his reason to determine what causes happiness and what causes suffering and not base these on what has been said or told to him. He has to use his reason and make rational choices in life.

Based on these premises Ayn Rand shows that there is virtue in selfishness where the primary purpose of man is the pursuit of happiness based rational choices in life. She explains that a selfish pursuit of pleasure does not imply the harm or the hurting of others. She advocates a policy where each individual works towards his own happiness and collaborates with others in society through a policy of give and take akin to trade.

Based on the premise that life is the standard of measure for a code of ethics and definition of “good” as anything that promotes happiness and “evil” to be anything that causes suffering I would like to investigate whether the commonly known values stand up to this test. The only additional condition that I would like to add is that “good” is anything that promotes happiness for the individual and the larger happiness of the society and “evil” is anything that causes pain to individual or the larger part of the society.

Integrity: Integrity is the virtue where one follows one’s convictions based on what is right and what is wrong. Assuming that the individual has exercised his reason he is bound to have a sound system of convictions. When somebody goes against his/her own conviction then he/she is bound to feel unsettled resulting in suffering. Hence integrity can be shown as maintaining inner peace and is definitely a value to be adhered to.

Honesty: Honesty denotes that we deal with reality as it is and we done misrepresent reality to ourselves or to others. Imagine a world where this value is not adhered to. Then we will never know what reality is there will be utter confusion resulting in chaos or in other words suffering. So logically honesty is a value that promotes peace and contentment in the individual and the society

Kindness: What is the reasoning behind kindness? Clearly when somebody is kind to us our happiness increases. So it makes perfect sense that we can increase the happiness quotient of others and consequently our own by being kind to others.  This is simply based on doing unto others those acts that would have made us happy if we were on the receiving end of the act.

Trust: Trust is the axis around which society revolves. Being trustworthy is necessary and basing our actions on trust is extremely important for the smooth progress of society. This value also clearly stands to reasoning and promotes the well being of the individual and society.

Humility: The virtue of humility signifies that one has a balanced view of one’s own achievements and capabilities. It implies an absence of arrogance while at the same time denotes strong self-esteem. The value of humility is clearly a virtue that promotes contentment as opposed to excessive which can cause untold suffering if the ego is hurt.

So it clearly can be seen that the values of integrity, kindness, humility, trust and others truly stand to the test of reason and logic and promotes peace and contentment which should be basis for all actions. Hence a life that is based on sound north values is surely a life worth living.

The Tao of Human Behavior

Are there fundamental principles or laws that govern human behavior? If there are what would they be? In my opinion right human behavior should be based on sound values of character which I state as “The Tao of Human Behavior”.

Tao originated in Chinese philosophy and can be loosely defined as “the way”, ‘doctrine” or principle. Clearly there are certain ways that enable one to lead a more full life.

The essence of right behavior can be captured in the following 3 laws

The Law of Immutable Values: This law requires that human action be based on sound principles of integrity, kindness, compassion, tolerance and humility.  This law requires that all human action be based on above values. Action based on values will ensure good providence or karma and will ensure enduring happiness.

The Law of Greatest Good: This law ensures that in any given situation when there is conflict among the immutable values as specified in Law 1, the value that provides the greatest good will be chosen among others. This law implies that, in real life, there will be delicate situations where there will be conflict of principles for e.g. there could be a situation where there is a conflict of honesty versus kindness or another where there is a conflict of tolerance versus correctness. In these situations when there is conflict among several values, the course of action taken should be based on ensuring that the act provides the greatest good for the longest time.

The Law of Greatest Good to Greatest Number (dharma): Implicit in this law is  that society takes precedence over the self in deciding action. Also this law requires that action taken must be such that it provides the greatest good to the greatest number. This law clearly places the world at large above the individual. Action based on this law will be selfless. However, sometimes the path taken can never make everybody happy. So this law requires that action should be based on providing the greatest benefit to the largest number by choosing an appropriate action based the second law.

These laws are based on good human behavior and sound conduct and have proven value and are the essence of right action passed to us through the ages.

If all human action is based on the above 3 laws, human society at large can be peaceful.