The First Standard of Human Conduct

Every human being acts under one code of conduct or another, whether or not they consciously recognise it to be so. Sri Aurobindo has classified these standards under four distinct groupings: “The first is personal need, preference and desire; the second is the law and good of the collectivity; the third is an ideal ethic; the last is the highest divine law of the nature.”

Each of these corresponds to an evolutionary stage in the development of humanity. “Man starts on the long career of his evolution with only the first two of these four to enlighten and lead him; for they constitute the law of his animal and vital existence, and it is as the vital and physical animal man that he begins his progress.”

In this early stage, the human being has no conscious awareness of any deeper purpose of life–it is survive, and acquire the objects of desire for satisfaction and enjoyment. “…he knows only its needs and its desires and he has necessarily no other guide to what is required of him than his own perception of need and his own stirrings and pointings of desire. To satisfy his physical and vital demands and necessities before all things else and, in the next rank, whatever emotional or mental cravings or imaginations or dynamic notions rise in him must be the first natural rule of his conduct.”

As man lives in social groupings, the needs and demands of that social group, family, tribe, society also impinge upon him and modify the pure working of desire and self-preservation. “The sole balancing or overpowering law that can modify or contradict this pressing natural claim is the demand put on him by the ideas, needs and desires of his family, community or tribe, the herd, the pack of which he is a member.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 7, Standards of Conduct and Spiritual Freedom, pp. 181-182