The Benefits and Limitations of the Social Moral-Ethical Code

When we are confronted with the raw animal instincts and reactions in our nature, it is easy to determine the benefit of an external code of behavior that begins to modify, regulate and control those impulses. In any social order, the basic framework of an external code of moral or ethical guidelines or laws ameliorates the worst abuses that occur through the workings of greed, desire, and the struggle for power or control of one’s life. Without this murder, rapine, theft, terms which have been defined through the development of codes of conduct, would potentially be prevalent, and we would come down to pure “dog eat dog” “survival of the fittest” behavior where the strong bully, manipulate and control those who are weaker or dependent. Even with all our social and moral laws, there remains a strong element of this kind of behavior residual in humanity. Sri Aurobindo comments on the benefit of this type of moral-ethical code in the society: “It is an advantage at first when man is crude and incapable of self-control and self-finding, because it erects a power other than that of his personal egoism through which that egoism may be induced or compelled to moderate its savage demands, to discipline its irrational and often violent movements and even to lose itself sometimes in a larger and less personal egoism.”

There have been proponents of the concept that certain individuals should be exempt from these rules based on their evolutionary status. Most of these invoked the idea of some kind of Nietzschean “superman” or ruling spirit who could disregard these rules. It is possible that the idea was mis-applied and thus gained substantial notoriety, particularly when it was used to justify mass killing, genocide or other incomprehensible acts of inhumanity.

Sri Aurobindo takes up this possibility as one of the future evolutionary stages that must be realised through transcendence of the mental framework overall in the transition to a truly divine action: “It is a disadvantage to the adult spirit ready to transcend the human formula because it is an external standard which seeks to impose itself on him from outside, and the condition of his perfection is that he shall grow from within and in an increasing freedom, not by the suppression but by the transcendence of his perfected individuality, not any longer by a law imposed on him that trains and disciplines his members but by the soul from within breaking through all previous forms to possess with its light and transmute his members.”

Nothing in this statement justifies thereby the lowering of the standard to justify the going back to the lower animal-human standard; rather it raises the idea of a higher standard that goes beyond the moral-ethical framework based on a much clearer, purer and higher action.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 7, Standards of Conduct and Spiritual Freedom, pp. 183-184