Wednesday, 27 July 2016

The Extraordinary Gift of the Mind:Part-10

Continued from Part-9

26. Ethics

There are certain actions that enhance structure and lower the entropy or help to maintain the structures intact. These actions (internal or external) gain favour over others and are marked by the Mind as Good or Right. Usually such actions are rewarded by the Mind with pleasure, and evoke pleasant feelings and positive emotions. The actions that are destructive and increase the entropy in the Mind are marked as Bad or Wrong. These are punished and evoke unpleasant feelings and negative emotions. We are again in the duality here as usual. The spectrum of actions is coloured entirely, ranging from extremely bad to extremely good.

The parallels of ethics with aesthetics are noteworthy. It is tempting to club them together, as they appear to be largely a same process. Aesthetics applies to incoming perceptions and ethics applies to outgoing actions, everything else is mostly the same. It is possible to simply substitute the good for beauty and bad for ugliness in the last article on aesthetics and we will get an article on ethics without much work, but I will go ahead and comment on the mechanics of ethics briefly and then move on to the juicy stuff.

Ethics or Morals do influence our lives to a great extent and as we have seen in the case of aesthetics, many of our choices are determined by whether an action is perceived as good or bad. The Mind quickly learns to differentiate between good and bad via experience, and I suspect that there are certain processes in the Mind that are meta-processes, they oversee the processes responsible for actions. Whether the actions are internal or external, such meta-processes assign a weight to them before they are executed and appear as a fully formed action. The weights depend on past learning and also derive straightaway from the organizing principles in the Mind. The Mind is capable of a simulating an action and of evaluation of the results, a kind of sand-boxing, and if the simulation predicts an increase in entropy, the meta-processes weigh down the action. It appears as an unpleasant feeling and we are discouraged from performing that action. When someone says that a particular action simply “feels wrong”, he is describing an outcome of simulation. It is of value to pay attention to such feelings/thoughts, as they are often subtle and may appear as intuition. If one is very aware before performing any action, he gets an opportunity to see it and gets a hint of the outcome. Just observe the process, it is that simple.

The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance.
    - Socrates

As with aesthetics, I’d call those actions that are universally recognized as good, the Pure Good. Or one can say such actions are perfectly right, showing perfection – a condition where nothing can be done or undone to improve it further. Perfection is the attribute of Presence, so all actions coming out of it are perfect. An example of purely good action is preservation of life, of oneself and of others, as life-forms are most structured and low entropy things that are there in our universe (ah, someone will debate it I’m sure, there is this non-physical realm, but lets stick to our current experience). Almost no one argues against the goodness of any action that supports life and almost all agree that killing and injuring others is bad. As an extreme, killing oneself (suicide) is an extremely bad action. You are doing a noble deed simply by staying alive, you are contributing to the evolution of the Mind, its journey to the Self. There is no bigger destruction than the destruction of one’s own Mind. I’ll leave it to you to find more examples of pure good, but I suspect there are not many. What are the criteria for pure goodness? As I defined it, it has to be universally agreed, or almost universally, and its no surprise that such agreements are rare. Another criterion is that it can be shown that pure good arises out of the Fundamental Process. However, it is hard to demonstrate that convincingly, so if you think your example of a pure good action is correct, I wish good luck to you proving it to someone who thinks otherwise, and my sympathies are with you.

So what is an impure good? Corresponding to the aesthetics, lets call it Subjective Good. These ethical ideas stem from evolutionary biases, conditioning and beliefs. Sometimes also influenced by substances and emotions. By definition, there is a large variance among population regarding what is ethical, and any debate or discussion on ethics soon turns into quarrels, for some strange reason people cannot tolerate someone else’s ethics. Ideas such as patriotism comes from the survival advantage a particular genetic variant or group of individual gets by protecting its own kind, its family, its tribe and its (limited) resources. Altruism is a finer form of such behaviour which is a conscious action in the service of one’s own kind, but is not a pure good, it is a result of evolutionary machinery [1]. Conditioned good is usually a result of indoctrination by one’s parents, teachers and society. Monogamy and honesty are two such examples of conditioned good. Their opposites are automatically considered as bad. Obviously, different people are subjected to different indoctrinations and the ideas about what is good varies widely.

In my experience, trying to arrive at an agreement on what is a good action results in more heat than light, any debates on ethics are a complete waste of time, as people have no clue about the workings of ethical processes in the Mind. There are 7 billion kinds of good at present, give up all hopes. Add to that the beliefs, dogmas and religious indoctrinations and we have a recipe for riots. For most of the people, the ignorant ones, ethics are borrowed from their social surroundings and their own beliefs. So if an individual describes what is good and bad according to him, is it “real” good and bad? It is a subjective good, as the definition says, and the Mind goes through exactly the same process of evaluation as that of a pure good. So never insult others by insulting their subjective ethics. It is a painful experience for all of us when others do not respect what we consider to be a good action (or a bad one).

If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed.
    - Albert Einstein
Now to the bad part about the good. Some people have discovered that calling an action good and justifying it as good provides them an easy way to execute it effectively, doesn’t matter if it is extremely bad. Similarly, demonizing a person, calling him bad, provides an easy way to great rid of that person (punish or kill him). These cunning people escape the consequences of their actions in this way (even if for a short time), and cause great harm. Really bad part is, people fall for it, it works. A lot of extremely bad deeds were done in the name of doing good. A lot of good was eliminated from this world by naming it bad. History is full of such stories. It is very easy to fool a person in regards to ethics, usually a misinterpretation of words of a highly ethical public figure is enough, as most have no clue what that figure did or said anyway, he is just believed to be a good fellow. We resist all moral policing while tirelessly imposing our own morals on others. What is the reason of such behaviour? It is the ego ensuring its dominance over others, hardly anything to do with good or bad.

The mind of the superior man is conversant with righteousness; the mind of the mean man is conversant with gain.
    - Confucius, The Analects, Book IV, Chapter XVI

What is the cure for all this ethical mess? Be free from ethics. Transcend ethics. If you are on a path of knowledge, you will see that ethical ideas are merely an outcome of mental processes. Good is an illusion and so is bad, things and actions are what they are, the Mind colours them as good and bad. Once this is realized, you are liberated from the burden of ethics and your actions are free from the influence of it, especially from the influence of subjective good. You will automatically perform perfect actions, which you will see are squarely aligned to your own path.

Do not try to live by morals, ethics, slogans. These are all very poor substitutes for awareness. Be conscious and aware, you will see life the way it is.
    - Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev

How to be free of ethical junk? Any action performed with total consciousness of it will lead to a purely good action. Being aware of colouration of the good/bad by the Mind enables one to choose an action consciously. The clues about an action being good or bad are mostly present in the Mind itself. It has meta-processes taking care of it. If an action is leading you towards more freedom, more happiness and more knowledge, call it a good action, it is the right thing to do, it is most natural, it is what must happen. The Mind, being a creator of knowledge will assist you here, provided it is free from afflictions. To be free from afflictions one needs to see them clearly, in other words, be aware of them completely. It comes with practice and cultivation, which as we have seen (refer older articles), can be a lifelong process for some, while others get it very quickly.

What is an ethical action? There is none. Actions are not good or bad fundamentally, they just have consequences. If the consequences are such that they carry you further on your path, you progress as a result, then such actions can be defined as good for you (and only you). It is wise to see actions from a perspective of consequences rather than from the perspective of ethics. Ethics, especially the subjective kind, soon gets solidified into beliefs, which restrict one from accessing the full range of choices one can have. If you always think in the terms of consequences, you have the freedom of dynamically defining good or bad, and so a vast number of choices are present. Obviously, depending on the path and the desired consequences, if something is good for one, the same thing can be bad for the other. Realizing this, one gets rid of the tendency to judge others on the basis of their actions. We are not here to judge others, evaluate their actions and ethics, fix them, teach them or punish them for their so called unethical actions, we are here to walk on our path. It is as simple as that. A wise seeker never worries about what others are doing, only about what he himself is doing. Are your actions perfect? If yes, go ahead, others are far behind you for some reason, you are not responsible for that, you have no obligation to carry them in your arms or to whip them on a correct path. Just take a look, there are as many ahead of you, follow them. The most important actions are those of your own. Others will soon reach up to your post, they are on their own journey.

Having said that, it is recommended to help those who are sincerely seeking answers. One can do that not by preaching ethics, but by setting up an example. Most people will be confused by your actions that you mean to use as examples for purely good actions, because, obviously, these will have no correspondence to commonly held ideas about ethics. You will be seen as a mix of good and bad, whimsically performing actions for no clear reasons. But those who are on the edge will get the hint. They will see that actions are not to be performed merely for satisfying some random criteria of good and bad, which vary widely among individuals, times and places, but for progressing on one’s own path [2].

Now about some practical considerations. If an action results in favourable consequences that are short term, but in long term, that action can become a big hindrance on your path, it is better not to perform it. You want to do good, but you cannot, because the people around you are deeply ignorant and they resist, they get angry, they want to kill you because you are trying to be “different”, what to do in such situations? Should you go with the flow and do the bad stuff everyone else is doing? Remember that you are not responsible for the actions of the others, only yours, so even if you are doing bad just to maintain peace and decorum, it is no good, it will still have consequences for you. I can’t recommend a fix-it-all solution, I’ve tried many things when faced with such situations. All I can do is - share my experience. If possible, get rid of such societies or cultures, go somewhere else, find a more “ethical” job, get out of such relations, friendships and cults. Redefine your priorities to align more with your path. What do you want - to keep others happy or to progress rapidly? Should not be a difficult choice.

He who is too busy doing good finds no time to be good.
    - Rabindranath Tagore

We are here on earth to do good for others. What the others are here for, I don't know.
    - W. H. Auden

All you are trying to do with your morality and values is to simplify life and find some order in a place where you are not able to figure out what is the beginning, what is the end. The life process seems to be so chaotic and unbearable for you that you are trying to bring some silly sense of order by establishing your own principles, your own morality, your own ethics. If you bring your own silly sense of order to life, you will completely miss the magnificent order of the existence. There is no need to be orderly. Existence is in perfect order.
    - Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev

Our actions, whatever they are, always have consequences, doing bad will surely do so, and doing good will also have consequences. Consequences do not end with just one, there is always a long train of them, other consequences follow the first, and so on. Doing good may not necessarily mean that the ultimate consequences will be as desired. There is no “happily ever after” in this world of duality. Fruits of our actions are rarely in our control, only thing that is in our control is our action. Are you responsible for the good or bad, suffering or happiness of others, that may result from your good actions? Ah, a difficult question, one that made me think….and after a coffee break, I guess (yes, only a guess), if you own that action, you are responsible. The burden of responsibility is removed only if you disown the action.

It is easy to disown a bad action, you want to get rid of that responsibility, but it is difficult to disown a good action, because you cling to it, you are so nice, you do good, nothing but good. The possibility for disowning a good action arises only when a good action causes a bad consequence, especially for others. This is a good opportunity to see that we do not do anything, there is no actor. Actions happen, they are not good or bad, consequences happen, they are also not good or bad. At some point the burden of responsibility of all our good and bad actions falls away as disowning happens. When can one disown? Its not possible to do it intellectually, it is an experience. It happens when the time is right. Usually an experienced teacher will be able to tell if you can disown your actions, that is the time to act from the higher will, that is the time to free the Mind from responsibility of our actions. This also means that there will be a shift from the path of knowledge to the path of devotion, as it demands complete surrender of the Mind. Actions that happen in a “mind-free” state are not owned. A teacher can recognize this state. Don’t have a teacher? Too bad.

Lastly, on the topic of practical considerations, we all have encountered a beast called “ethical conundrum” in our lives (lets shorten it to EC, makes it less terrifying). It is a situation when one is simply unable to decide what is good and what is bad and one is petrified, unable to take any action. ECs show us the limitations of our Minds, its not perfect, it cannot be. Sometimes the processes responsible for ethical functions are challenged, and nothing meaningful comes out of them. We experience this situation as total confusion, sometimes we resolve it with a toss of a coin. This trick may not work if lives of others are at stake. Your brother is a terrorist, and is asking for a shelter. Should you save him or call police, who will surely shoot him there and then? Life of your brother matters to you and your ethical training tells you otherwise. Makes a nice plot for a movie. You will call the police and give up your own life trying to save your brother in the gunfire that ensues, he is shot anyway and the whole nation is saved. No one blames you as you tried your best to do good for your brother as well as for national security and your dead body is an evidence that you did exactly that. You are a hero, you killed EC. Really? Not really. This is an EC, it never goes away. What we do is - surrender our Mind and let things happen, just observe. Remember that when you are on a path, there is no terrorist, no police, no duties and you do not have a brother. Period. [3]
Never let your sense of morals get in the way of doing what's right.
- Isaac Asimov
Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life so. Aim above morality. Be not simply good, be good for something.
- Henry David Thoreau
There can be a billion kinds of ethics and a trillion situations where these billion fail. Is it really meaningful or even useful? What is the essence of ethics? In my experience, it all boils down to just one idea – do not cause harm. Harm being a consequence that increases the overall entropy, destroys structure, reduces knowledge, hinders the evolution of the Mind. One will never be able to not cause harm in all cases and situations, this is a world of duality after all, still one needs to strive for it. Not causing harm is more elegantly stated as the path of Nonviolence, where the word “violence” means same as “harm”, I define above [4]. Nonviolence not only means not killing humans, animals and plants, it also involves not causing harm of any kind to the mental structures we see all around us, including physical and non-physical ones. A nonviolent action is always good, one need not worry about it. The structures build up themselves, one need not do much to help them, it is nicely taken care of by the Fundamental Process, whose only job is to build the structure in face of impermanence. When one is violent (in stated broad terms), one delays, hinders, destroys the process. This is a strict no no, if all you want is to complete the process as fast as possible. Simply being nonviolent achieves this, even if you take no proactive actions to hasten the evolution. Nonviolence, taken in its broadest meaning, is a path in itself that leads to liberation. So all ethics boils down to nonviolence. One need not follow any ethical guidelines, need not debate what is good/bad, need not study the mental processes in detail, one just needs to be nonviolent, that’s the only necessary and sufficient condition. This makes it all so easy. It is like traversing your path in a luxury BMW, in the five star comfort of nonviolence.

Beyond right and wrong, there is a field. I will meet you there.
 - Rumi

Here we come to the end of a brief summary of the extraordinary abilities of the Mind. It is by no means a completion, it is just the end of my own knowledge. If I find some more interesting stuff to share, I will post it here. I may keep making some changes here and there, all of this is not written in stone. I expect that I myself shall change a lot, and so all that I am sharing may become either refined or totally outdated.


[1] Some will disagree here, but I urge you to read some of the many psychological studies done on humans and animals, which aim to find an explanation of altruism. Some introspection and logical thinking will also lead you to the same conclusion.
Altruism, compassion, empathy, love, conscience, the sense of justice -- all of these things, the things that hold society together, the things that allow our species to think so highly of itself, can now confidently be said to have a firm genetic basis. That's the good news. The bad news is that, although these things are in some ways blessings for humanity as a whole, they didn't evolve for the 'good of the species' and aren't reliably employed to that end. Quite the contrary: it is now clearer than ever (and precisely why) the moral sentiments are used with brutal flexibility, switched on and off in keeping with self interest; and how naturally oblivious we often are to this switching. In the new view, human beings are a species splendid in their array of moral equipment, tragic in their propensity to misuse it, and pathetic in their constitutional ignorance of the misuse.

    - Robert Wright
[2] If you are wondering, why was the first post of this blog about choosing a path, here is the reason. Everything starts with choosing a path, else your actions are just randomly good or bad, totally on the mercy of situations and other people. Whatever good or bad you do has no significance if there is no path, if there is no end goal, if there is no greater purpose to your life.

    Cheshire Puss, asked Alice. Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here? That depends a good deal on where you want to go, said the Cat. I don’t much care where, said Alice. Then it doesn’t matter which way you go, said the Cat.

    - Charles "Lewis Carroll" Dodgson, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland 1865

[3] I’m sure this matter of ECs is confusing as hell. But as an aside, why can’t a seeker have brothers? Why can’t he have emotions like love and altruism? He can, nobody is denying that. But over and above that, a seeker sees everything, everyone, all states of his Mind as occurrences in the Presence witnessed by the Self (if he is a good seeker that is). There is no one to favour because there is no one. ECs are like a test, a very good opportunity to practice that. Actions will happen anyway, but there will be no actor, it will be as good as not acting. Is no action still an action? No, its no action. There are no actions anyway, nothing really happens and thus all actions are no actions. I think I confused you even more…

[4] Ahimsa paramo dharma (Mahabharata) – nonviolence is the ultimate right action, as the ancient wisdom says. Some traditions like Jainism take this to extreme, where nonviolence is a major and necessary contributor to the process of liberation. See: for more on this vast topic.

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