The Ultimate Limitations of Mental Solutions to Human Problems

Throughout the history of human civilization, humanity has grappled with basic and essential questions of how to apply principles, whether moral or ethical, to the situations that arise both in one’s individual life and in one’s relation to society and social norms and expectations. For the most part, our solutions proceed from the normal human standpoint and represent some accommodation between various conflicting duties or principles as defined by the society within which we live and act.

The Gita goes through the ethical and practical considerations with Arjuna when he declares that what he is about to do is a sin, and concludes with “I will not fight.” Arjuna responds to each of these values with a conflicting value, and thus, reaches a stage of paralysis of action where he feels trapped in a wrong decision regardless of what he decides to do. He is illustrating the ultimate stage of the mental consciousness where it recognizes that both sides of a logical statement may be valid in certain circumstances. He finds it a sin to fight and kill his relatives on the opposing side; and it is also a sin to let the forces of injustice and oppression triumph and kill all those fighting on his side!

Each of the mental arguments reaches this point of balance where there is and can be no solution within that framework. This is the sign of the need to migrate outside the mental framework to a new standpoint and level of consciousness that provides the solution which can reconcile both of the opposing viewpoints in a higher and more comprehensive understanding. It is this toward which the Divine Teacher is pointing, and from Arjuna’s questions it becomes clear that he is ready to make this leap.

Sri Aurobindo points out that there is no final solution in the intellectual approach toward problem solving at this level: “And this is so because it proceeds from the normal mind which is always a tangle of various tendencies of our being and can only arrive at a choice or an accommodation between them, between our reason, our ethical being, our dynamic needs, our life-instincts, our emotional being and those rarer movements which we may perhaps call soul-instincts or psychical preferences. The Gita recognises that from this standpoint there can be no absolute, only an immediate practical solution and, after offering to Arjuna from the highest ideals of his age just such a practical solution, which he is in no mood to accept and indeed is evidently not intended to accept, it proceeds to quite a different standpoint and to quite another answer.”

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 24, The Gist of the Karmayoga, pp. 237-238

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