The Awakening Of the Moral Sense of Right and Wrong

Sri Aurobindo, having first determined that material events in and of themselves do not imply a moral content of “good” or “evil”, asks where this moral sense arises, and how it is constituted. It is the vital mind of life which first gives rise to the categorization of events and actions as being good or evil, right or wrong. This begins as an evaluation of the individual response to an event: if it appears to be beneficial or positive to me, then i treat it as “good” and if not, then it is “bad” or “wrong”. This may be based on material welfare, or a vital sense of welfare. It can expand to the level of the society and again lead to judgments of good or evil based on the values of the society, and whether it appears to lead to positive or negative results in terms of the needs of that society.

The thinking mind, as it develops, can create more subtle and powerful distinctions of right and wrong, good and evil, and thus, develops the entire viewpoint of the law of karma, or ethical/moral results from various actions or ideas. The thinking mind always attempts to discover some law or rule of order that can be followed to achieve positive results and avoid negative results. This may also take place in any field of endeavor, for instance, artistic or scientific, not just emotional or action oriented. Philosophy and religion attempt to codify laws into codes of conduct and rules of action to bring the entire life of the individual and society within this framework of action for “good” and to avoid ‘evil’.

Each of these standards or methods is limited and framed within a narrow set of parameters; but underlying them all is the deeper sense that Sri Aurobindo calls “a deeper spiritual sense, the soul’s discernment, an inborn light within our nature.” In the end, the moral sense has as its basis this spiritual truth of our existence, and it is to find and act from that standpoint that the moral sense arises and starts us on this journey of discovery.

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 14, The Origin and Remedy of Falsehood, Error, Wrong and Evil

Is Every Event in the Material World a Moral Event?

Many individuals try to interpret a moral judgment of God in any flood or earthquake. Others deny any moral value judgment whatsoever related to events in the material world.

The fact that it is a human value judgment that brings about a moral interpretation of the facts and actions of existence, does not, in Sri Aurobindo’s viewpoint, necessarily imply either that this moral interpretation is purely arbitrary and thus valueless; nor does it overly emphasize this viewpoint in looking at the manifestation of the universe.

Surely the attempt to imply a moral significance to all the events and actions of the material world is bound to fall under its own weight; and it is valuable to us to appreciate this and recognise that certain forces are not acting with moral intentionality. As Sri Aurobindo describes it: “there is an infrarational truth of Life and Matter which is impartial and neutral and admits all things as facts of Nature and serviceable for the creation, preservation or destruction of life, there necessary movements of the universal Energy which are all connectedly indispensable and, each in its own place, of equal value.”

We may take on a philosophical, scientific or spiritual viewpoint that thereby looks at these facts of Nature as inevitable, as impossible of being judged by us…or as facts based on the current state of the evolution, but subject to alteration and change in the future as the development of consciousness occurs.

Sri Aurobindo however still wants us to recognize that the development of the mental capability, and along with it the development of a moral and ethical sense and judgment, is itself part of the evolutionary process of consciousness, and thus, must itself have a significance and value that needs to be understood and appreciated.

Sri Aurobindo advises that “this awakening, whatever may be the sanction or the validity of its particular judgments, is one of the indispensable steps in the process of evolutionary Nature.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Life Divine, Book 2, Part I, Chapter 14, The Origin and Remedy of Falsehood, Error, Wrong and Evil