Essays on the Gita - Track 807

So that is how the question of the society came into the picture. This is not "Egoistic Ethical Hedonism", but it is called "Universal Ethical Hedonism"; not `egoistic' but `universal'. You can see how Vyasa knew this doctrine earlier, when Arjuna himself says: "what is this pleasure which is only for me? Those people for whose sake I would like to enjoy, and with whom I would like to share, if they are to be killed, what is my pleasure?" So he is arguing `Ethical Universal Hedonism'; and this is the argument which came in Europe much latter in the 18th century; and Vyasa has declared this doctrine long, long ago. And Arjuna is aware of this doctrine, therefore he puts forward this doctrine.

So against purely Ethical Egoistic Hedonism, he puts the argument of Universal Ethical Hedonism. He says, "What is this, I am only trying to seek my own pleasure, no! A greater pleasure is when I share it with others, so in my calculus the survival of my enemies is necessary; because only when I am victorious I can enjoy with their company, then my pleasure will be much greater!"

This is the doctrine in the west as it is called "Utilitarianism". Utilitarianism is a doctrine according to which you ought to seek the maximum pleasure of the maximum number of people. So, when you want to do any action, then you find out whether it is right or wrong by asking whether it will benefit the largest number of people and will give the largest amount of pleasure, with the greatest intensity for the longest duration: this is what is called "Hedonistic Calculus". You make a calculus which is hedonistic. He even applied this to political action. If you want to pass a law; how will you decide whether a law is a right law? You find out what will be the effect of the passage of a law by the parliament; if that law is going to promote maximum of pleasure to a maximum number of people, then that law is right; if not then you should not pass that law.

Now, there is a third doctrine in the west which has been defined, and which has been refined, and forwarded powerfully by a philosopher called Emanuel Kant. Now, he examined the human nature once again; and he said, "it is not true that human beings seek their own pleasure, psychologically it is not true'". What is it that human being seek, if not the pleasure? The answer was that human beings even seek `pain'. It is not true that human being seeks pleasure only; people also seek pain. They do not come out of the path of pain simply because their path will lead them to pain. Why, because there is a greater demand in human beings. What is the demand? The demand to do the right action for the sake of being right, even though it may produce unhappiness, great trouble, difficulties, austerity. Human beings according to him have a motive to act only from the motive of doing the right action, and right action is not to be defined in terms of that which produces pleasure, because people do right action even when pleasure is not obtained. Therefore it followed that there is something other than pleasure. Rightness of action is something other than pleasure.

In what then consists the rightness? If not in pleasure, in what consists the right action? His answer was: a right action is that which you can will at the same time to be `universal'; personal pleasure you can never make universal. Even maximum pleasure you can never make universal; that which you can make universal, that is the right action; and action which you can at the same time will to be universal. For example: "I should tell a lie", supposing this is the doctrine, I should tell a lie". He says, this is a proposition, if it was a real ethical law, then you should be able to make it universal. Now try to make it universal: "I should tell a lie". If everybody knows that he is going to tell a lie, he said, what is the profit of telling a lie? If it was a law, everybody knows that it is a universal law, then, is there any profit in telling a lie? The lie is useful only so long as it wear the garb of truth; then only it can succeed, otherwise it cannot succeed. Therefore, "tell a lie" cannot become a universal law. Then he said you find out `those principles` which you can make 'universal'. "Tell the truth" is applicable to the whole world; even if everybody knows that he is going to tell the truth it will not destroy itself.

So, he argued that there is in the human being not a seeking of pleasure, but seeking the right itself which is universal. He said that human being is so constituted psychologically, he cannot help to discover a law which is universal and an impulsion to do that and that alone and nothing else. This is his famous doctrine of "Duty for Duty Sake". Why do you perform a duty? Duty is a universal law which you obey: and why do you do it? Not because it is going to give you pleasure or pain or anything of the kind; whether it gives pleasure or pain or anything; you do it because it is the right thing to do. This is the doctrine of "Duty for Duty Sake".

Now, even this idea is present in the mind of Arjuna. He had come with that idea, that justice should be established: 'justice', why, because it is Justice. Not because it is going to give me happiness or happiness to others or anything of the kind. Justice is justice, whatever may happen. So, that argument is known, therefore first of all he says, "Egoistic Hedonism is to be thrown away." Then he says, "even the Universal Ethical Hedonism is to be thrown away." For the sake of justice, for the...what is called "the idea of categorical imperative". Kant's theory is called "the Theory of Categorical Imperative". And imperative is a command, "Do this!" Categorical means, "unconditional". Not because you are going to get this result or that result, it is categorical, for its own sake. So, he says again, he argues, "yes, I know what is justice. And it is true, I have come for justice. "But now the more difficult question which arises, and that which takes Gita's teaching higher than that of Kant: that is: 'if that justice itself is going to produce injustice'; if by doing this very just act: 'I am going to kill all the people', and first of all slaughter itself is a wrong thing, because if everybody slaughters everybody else, so, where is the question of doing anything in the world at all? It is not a universal law: universal ethic lies only in things in which you can protect, maintain everybody. So, slaughter itself is unethical, first of all. It is not a universal law. So, slaughter itself is sin. So, to establish justice, if I have to make slaughter, then, that itself is Adharma. So, between these two what have I to select, this Dharma or that Dharma.

Kant was not aware that there are conflicts, not only between Adharma and Dharma, but also between Dharma and Dharma. And that is what makes Gita's teaching on a very high plane. When Arjuna says that, "This Dharma I know, I would even fight in spite of all this, but when this slaughter itself is a sin and further, by doing this, a greater bastard progeny is going to be produced, in which Dharma will not be resurrected at all, and there will be a reign of Adharma. So doing itself, slaughter itself is a wrong action, it is going to produce a further wrong action because of the bastard progeny". In that condition what is the solution?

Therefore Sri Aurobindo says: "whenever you think at the ethical level, all your standards of conduct, right and wrong, 'depend upon the stage at which you have reached in your development'. If you are at the lowest level then Hedonism is alright, at a higher level Universal Hedonism is alright, at a still higher level Categorical Imperative is alright; but when one 'Categorical Imperative' fights against another `Categorical Imperative`, then the solution is only spiritual. You have to transcend ethicality; at the ethical level there is no answer. The conflict of ethics can be resolved only at the spiritual level.

And that is why Sri Krishna entered into a spiritual answer to the question.

So, now next time we shall study the fourth chapter which is the core of the teaching.