The Higher Principles of Truth, Justice, Love and Compassion

We have a few legendary stories of individuals who followed a moral code, not as part of a compromise with the life principle or as a seeking for a higher reward, but for its own sake as an independent standard that needed to be carried out, for its own sake. This is an indication of the higher mental development striving to manifest in the world. When we hear the legends, we may reflect on how far distant and unattached to the values of daily living, the striving for survival, for success, for achievement, for recognition, such an ideal response actually is. Sri Aurobindo reminds us of some of these legendary individuals: “Harischandra sacrificing self and wife and child and kingdom and subjects in an unswerving fidelity to the truth of the spoken word, Shivi giving his flesh to the hawk rather than fall from his kingly duty of protection to the fugitive, the Bodhisattwa laying his body before the famished tiger, images in which sacred or epic legend has consecrated this greater kind of virtue, illuminate an elevation of the ethical will and a law of moral energy that asks for no return from man or living thing or from the gods of Karma, lays down no conditions, makes no calculation of consequence, of less or more or of the greatest good of the greatest number, admits neither hedonistic nor the utilitarian measure, but does simply the act as the thing to be done because it is right and virtue and therefore the very law of being of the ethical man, the categorical imperative of his nature.”

Such an approach, if it is based on an external moral code, can become narrow and judgmental, as we have seen through time in events such as the Holy Inquisition, where the pure ethical sense is turned into an unswerving creed used to dominate and control others, in what then becomes a fanatic and one-sided view of life. Even this approach shows the underlying striving for something pure and true, however.

Sri Aurobindo advises us of the need for a true and living response based on our inner being: “No rule imposed on him from outside, whether in the name of a supposed mechanical or impersonal law or of God or prophet, can be, as such, true or right or binding on man: it becomes that only when it answers to some demand or aids some evolution of his inner being. And when that inner being is revealed, evolved, at each moment naturally active, simply and spontaneously imperative, then we get the true, the inner and intuitive Law in its light of self-knowledge, its beauty of self-fulfilment, its intimate life significance. An act of justice, truth, love, compassion, purity, sacrifice becomes then the faultless expression, the natural outflowering of our soul of justice, our soul of truth, our soul of love and compassion, our soul of purity or sacrifice.”

This connects us to the higher realms of the Infinite.

Sri Aurobindo, Rebirth and Karma, Section III, Chapter 16, The Higher Lines of Karma, pp. 146-147,

Mind Nature and the Moral Principle

It is at the level of mental energy that we can recognize the moral principle in its true and pure sense, not watered-down by the type of compromises that arise under the banner of morality in the world of life action. This moral principle is not based on the seeking for or achievement of rewards in life, or on the avoidance of pain and suffering in life. Rather, it is something that is sought solely on its own behalf, as something that is right and true and which fulfills the “categorical imperative” that the principle holds on the mental plane.

The karmic return achieved by following this principle is not any longer the achievements of wealth, physical well-being, or social status and respect; rather, it is the growth of the soul.

Sri Aurobindo elucidates this further: “Mounting here the ethical mind no longer follows good for a reward now on earth or in another existence, but for the sake of good, and no longer shuns evil for fear of punishment on earth later on in this life or else in another life or in hell, but because to follow evil is a degradation and affliction of its being and a fall from its innate and imperative endeavor. This is to it a necessity of its moral nature, a truly categorical imperative, a call that in the total more complex nature of man may be dulled or suppressed or excluded by the claim of its other parts and their needs, but to the ethical mind is binding and absolute.”

Traditional morality, relying on reward and punishment, is a low-burning flame that is subject to being smothered by the demands of life situations and can even be seen as an obstacle to the establishment of a true morality based on the principle, not on some temporary accommodation. “Whatever its practical utility or service as a step of the transition, the mental habit of confusion and vitalistic compromise it fosters and the more questionable confusions and compromises that habit favours, have made conventional morality one of the chief of the forces that hold back human life from progressing to a true ethical order. If humanity has made any lasting and true advance, it has been not through the virtue created by reward and punishment or any of the sanctions powerful on the little vital ego, but by an insistence from the higher mind on the lower, an insistence on right for its own sake, on imperative moral values, on an absolute law and truth of ethical being and ethical conduct that must be obeyed whatever the recalcitrances of the lower mind, whatever the pains of the vital problem, whatever the external result, the inferior issue.”

Sri Aurobindo, Rebirth and Karma, Section III, Chapter 16, The Higher Lines of Karma, pp. 145-146,

The Jealousy of the Gods

As we exercise our mental powers and will to achieve vital success in the world, we not only have to face the resistances stemming from our physical and vital nature, and the response of others with whom we interact and the social organization within which we move, but we also have to face a universal or cosmic force of evolutionary intention and development. This force essentially maintains the basic principles or laws of the universal manifestation, whether we understand or recognize them or not. While we may experience this in our lives, and talk of it as “luck” or “fate” or “necessity”, we do not often focus on or pay attention to this force and its operation.

Sri Aurobindo points out that the ancient Greeks had a great appreciation for this force and its operation on our lives and our destiny. It is “a Power that is on the watch for man in his effort at enlargement, possession and enjoyments and seems hostile and opposite. The Greeks figured it as the jealousy of the gods or as Doom, Necessity, Ate. The egoistic force in man may proceed far in its victory and triumph, but it has to be wary or it will find this power there on the watch for any flaw in his strength or action, any sufficient opportunity for his defeat and downfall. It dogs his endeavour with obstacle and reverse and takes advantage of his imperfections, often dallying with him, giving him long rope, delaying and abiding its time,–and not only of his moral shortcomings but of his errors of will and intelligence, his excesses and deficiencies of strength and prudence, all defects of his nature.”

This force tends to moderate the extremes. As we become more successful we tend to become arrogant and exercise our power in ever more extreme manifestations–until this force brings us back into balance and forces us to achieve the balance that our own striving and ambition blinded us from seeing. The Greeks held this to be the action of the gods. Today we may recognise a basic law of equilibrium or homeostasis that maintains the order of the universe and only permits change and development if it adheres to the universal principles and meets with the needs of the time spirit. Individual effort and success must be tempered by a sense of the Oneness and a balance in our proceeding. That is why “the Greeks held moderation in all things to be the greatest part of virtue.”

Sri Aurobindo, Rebirth and Karma, Section II, Chapter 15, Mind Nature and Law of Karma, pg. 134,