As usual our seminar began. It was attended by a large number of people. Some of them had been invited while there were others who had come over there to see what it was all about. Among them was a poet who looked old and matured but modernity seemed to have caused an indelible impression on his mind. He had to face tremendous difficulties from the very beginning of his childhood days. He had to suffer greatly in the course of his social interactions as well. His faith had been badly shaken. He believed that the principles of honesty’ and ‘truthfulness’ had lost their practical value and were only theoretical jargon. He considered ‘morality’ as a story of the days gone by. I listened to him patiently and put forth my own views before him. He initiated the discussion with the following question.
“Do you think ‘morality’ to be an eternal truth ,” he asked
“No, I do not think so,” I replied.
“Then, why is there so much talk about morality? Why do people strive in vain to depict the non- eternal as eternal?”
“Though the external aspect of morality is not eternal, it has in it an eternal objective. Hence it is difficult for us to avoid talking about it.”
“Is it possible for a man today to observe morality in the way the people used to do in the olden days?”
“If it is possible for a man to follow evil practices of the olden days, there is no reason why he follow those good practices that were prevalent at that time. Then I asked him a counter question.”
“Can you cite a specific instance of an evil which did not exist in the olden days?”
“The evil of adulteration was not even heard of in the past days.”
“But the scriptures written two thousand years ago do make a mention of the evil of adulteration.
The religious leaders of those days used to preach Against adulteration,”
“What about bribery? The magnitude of the problem was not so much as we face today.”
“I am not talking of the problem in terms of its magnitude but I can say with certainly that the evil of adulteration did flourish even in those days. Have you read Kautilya’s treatise on the principles of economics?”
“No, I haven’t.”
“Our greatest difficulty is that we are not in touch with our past. He who is not aware of the past history of his country finds himself alienated even from the present. The current of our thought is influenced more by what we call unindian than that which is Indian.”
“I am not speaking in the language of an orthodox person who would dub taking anything from outside as wrong. What I say is in the language of a free thinker that it is wrong to assimilate idea from outside by closing your eyes to the mainstream of your culture. Had we been in contact with what is Indian, we would not have been indifferent to the norms of morality because of our frustration and failure to root out immorality. I shall illustrate it with a quotation from the writings of the great diplomat Chanakya. He had said, “Is it possible for a human being to restrain himself from tasting honey or poison lying under his tongue?” No, never. How can, then, it be possible for a Govt. employee to resist the temptation of hush money? The fishes swimming deep inside water do take in some drops put it is not possible for us to detect it, In the same way it is difficult for us to detect a Govt. employee taking bribe. It may be possible for us to measure the speed of a bird flying in the sky but one will find it impossible to detect the activi ties of a Govt. employee who indulges in bribery indirectly.”
“Then, would you suggest that immorality is an eternal evil?”
“If morality itself is not eternal, how can, then, one call immorality an eternal evil?”
“The factors that give rise to morality or immorality are eternal but their names, appearances and forms are not eternal.”
“What are the causes that lead to immorality?”
“They are man’s fundamental tendencies and circumstances. Man has a tendency to hoard. God knows how many acts of immorality are committed by him for the sake of hoarding? He also has a tendency to indulge gratification of his desires. He is likely to commit unimaginable acts of sin for the sake of the fulfilment of his desires.”
“What I infer from your statement is that no one in the world can lead a righteous life.”
“No person can become righteous in real sense of the term unless his heart, mind and thoughts “How can these things be purified?” are pure,”
“Man’s selfish thoughts are purified as soon as the spirit of social cooperation and true religion is manifest in him. The main principle that governs social life is: renounce your interests for the sake of others. A man leading a social life forgoes his own interests in the interest of a large number of people. The chief maxim of religion is-Give up selfishness in order to realize truth. No one can attain to the state of truth or sublime truth unless he gives up selfishness. The fostering of these two feelings results in the purification of one’s selfish thoughts. They transform undesirable selfishness first into the feeling of good of other people and then into ultimate truth of supreme good.”
“Are these orthodox concepts relevant to the present context?”
“Do you not see any change in our social, economical and political values?”
“I do admit that these spheres have undergone a tremendous change.”
“How can moral values remain unchanged in the wake of the changes brought about in social, economic and political spheres?”
“The change is inevitable.”
“In olden days the status of a man depended on his character. So he paid utmost attention to character building and guarded it jealously. This was why ‘Character’ was considered to be the most valuable things in the world in those days. Today the status of a man is determined by the amount of wealth he possesses. Hence he is paying utmost attention to wealth. The result is that wealth has become the most important thing in the world, When character occupied the most important place in society, it might have been obligatory on the part of man to adhere to the norms of morality in their day-to-day dealings. Now when wealth is the most important thing, does the idea of the observance of morality in the means to acquire it not sound unnecessary?”
“There is no denying the fact that money is a powerful weapon. It is also difficult to believe that it was less important in the days gone by. Money has its own value. It was valuable in the past and continues to be so even today. But the social relationship is not governed by money alone. Faith plays an important role in its development. The stream of faith originates in truth and merges into the sea of nonviolence.”
“Do you acknowledge the power of money and the value inherent in it?”
“How can one deny a reality?”
“Is the values of money independent of any thing else?”
“No, it is not. It is only the final stage of truth that may have in it an independent value. As the value of money depends upon the present circumstances, it is relative.”
“Do you think money has no value in itself?”
“Every object has an independent existence. But its value is determined only in its relationship with other objects.
If a rose grows in a dense forest, it has no importance there though it has its own existence. But if a man happens to reach there, it acquires a value?”
“What is the basis of the value of money.”
“The basis of the value of money is the ‘wants’ of an individual. Money helps a man to fulfil his wants. If the number of commodities is the same as that of wants, the value of money will decrease. If commodities are few and wants many, the value of money will increase.”
“Is there any fixed measuring rod of wants?”
“(1) Man’s body acts as a measuring rod of his natural wants.
(2) Some wants depend upon man’s social prestige.
(3) Some wants depend upon man’s ambition.
(4) Some of our wants are governed by the measuring rod of social life.
Of these the first category of measuring rod is natural. The second one is much the same as ‘natural.’ The third and the fourth ones are artificial standards. They have contributed more than anything else to the growth of immorality.”
“Is man not imperfect?”
“When did I say that he is perfect?”
“If he is not perfect, is it possible for him to remain unaffected by artificiality?”
“If he can move forward towards imperfect perfection, why cann’t he keep himself aloof from it?”
“How can one refrain from artificiality?”
“The way that lead to perfection is the way to avoid artificiality.”
“What is the way to attain perfection?
“The way that leads to abstinence from artifciality is the way to attain perfection.”
Your answer suffers from the flaw of reciprocal dependence.”
“Once a traveller asked a rider whom the horse belonged to. He replied that it belonged to him whose servant he was. The traveller inquired of him again who his employer was. The rider replied that he was the same man to whom that horse belonged. Thus the traveller was unable to get the correct answer to his question despite the two answers that he had received from the rider because his language was devoid of the main point.”
“So you want me to express it in a conclusive language.”
“Listen, the way to keep oneself aloof from artificiality lies in self-restraint which leads to perfection.”
“What do you mean by ‘self-restraint?”
“It is man’s capacity to control his emotion and ambitions and beliefs. The man who is devoid of the power of self-control or self-denial cannot become virtuous.”
“Do social circumstances not contribute to man’s becoming corrupt or virtuous?”
“Certainly, they do.”
“Does the subject of their reformation not fall within its scopes?”
Why not? If we do not have a favourable social climate the comprehensive programme of morality is bound to suffer. If there is congenial social climate, it helps us to move forward smoothly,”
“Well, I understand your viewpoint now. You also consider motivating factors equally important.”
“Not so important as the root causes that give malady; however, we cannot undermine the factors that induce a man to commit a sin.”
“What’s the root-cause of immorality?”
“Absence of self-restraint-The lack of the strength of self-denial.”
“What factor do you consider conducive to the growth of morality.”
“Self-restraint-Development of the power of self-denial.”
“What’s that which induces a man to take recourse to immorality?”
“Inequalities in social life.”
The discussion that lasted for a pretty long period enabled us to understand each other better. We had reached a point of truth.