Pleasure or Satisfaction Is Not the Standard for the Ethical Being of Man

There are many people who have put forth the standard of living a life for the sake of pleasure or self-satisfaction.  They hold that we have a natural right to enjoyment and thus, seeking that enjoyment in our actions represents virtue and is thus, ethical conduct in their eyes.  There is a deeper truth behind this idea, in that bliss or delight of existence is the secret wellspring of life, as the Taittiriya Upanishad has explained.  “He concentrated himself in thought and by the energy of his brooding He knew Bliss for the Eternal. For from Bliss alone, it appeareth, are these creatures born and being born they live by Bliss and to Bliss they go hence and return. This is the lore of Bhrigu, the lore of Varouna, which hath its firm base in the highest heaven.” (translated by Sri Aurobindo, The Upanishads).  Yet, as we see with other aspects of life when taken up from the limited and focused standpoint of the human perspective, it is only at the level where the highest form of ethical standard can completely manifest that it is united without conflict with the highest form of the bliss of existence.  Indeed, the ethical impulse tends, at the human level, to constantly struggle with the contrary impulse of the seeking after pleasure, enjoyment and satisfaction in life.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “…virtue comes to the natural man by a struggle with his pleasure-seeking nature and is often a deliberate embracing of pain, an edification of strength by suffering.  We do not embrace that pain and struggle for the pleasure of the pain and the pleasure of the struggle; for that higher strenuous delight, though it is felt by the secret spirit in us, is not usually or not at first conscious in the conscient normal part of our being which is the field of the struggle.  The action of the ethical man is not motivated by even an inner pleasure, but by a call of his being, the necessity of an ideal, the figure of an absolute standard, a law of the Divine.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 15,  The Suprarational Good, pp. 150-151


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