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What is Goodness?

--by Rabindranath Tagore (Apr 26, 2010)


The question will be asked, "What is goodness?  What does our moral nature mean?"  My answer is that when a man begins to have an extended vision of his self, when he realizes that he is much more than at present he seems to be, he begins to get conscious of his moral nature.  Then he grows aware of that which he is yet to be, and the state not yet experienced by him becomes more real than that under his direct experience.

Necessarily, his perspective of life changes, and his will takes the place of his wishes.  For will is the supreme wish of the larger life, the life whose greater portion is out of our present reach, most of whose objects are not before our sight.

Then comes the conflict of our lesser man with our greater man, of our wishes with our will, of the desire for things affecting our sense with the purpose that is within our heart.  Then we begin to distinguish between what we immediately desire and what is good.  For good is that which is desirable for our greater self.  Thus, the sense of goodness comes out of a truer view of our life, which is connected view of the wholeness of the field of life, and which takes into account not only what is present before us but what is not, and perhaps never humanly can be.

--Rabindranath Tagore, in Sadhana


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On May 23, 2014 aravind wrote:

 Dear Sir,

I do not quite understand many of this.  Why should one be good, after all everyone has to die the same death one day. Nothing is brought and nothing is taken. What is the basis of morality. What is lost if one is immoral, greedy, selfish, rude, with all vices and the lot. One can live life here and now with sense pleasures being the maximum. Why do all religions and spiritual doctrines insist on being good, honest, truthful and all these qualities.

Aravind



On Dec 16, 2013 shikhar paroha wrote:

The matter is btter than other sites



On May 3, 2010 Charlie wrote:

Happiness is found within yourself. Everyone has a different perspective of their happiness. In life I have found myself floating away from society's beliefs of how life progresses and the nature of it's play. You have only one blink of an eye in this life to satisfy your human brain's needs. Life is beautiful and many pass through with blind eyes and closed hearts... Open up and let the wonders of the world absorb inside your blessed skin and mind that is only your own once... once finished you have no memory of your glorious stay, only the earth will feel your love's strength when you have become one with it's phenomenon that created you. Appreciate Love Understand Act... ALUA



On May 2, 2010 Ripa wrote:

I really liked how Somikbhai reminded us of the importance of allowing love to be the motivating force behind all of our actions. I believe there is a real polarity between fear and love. Swami Sivananda shared how the fear of death underlies all other fears. I have found that fear is always connected with negative emotions in some way. Anger often masks fear. Even the big tough guys in juvenile hall and prison who others get afraid of are themselves scared: of being judged, stolen from or discriminated against. Far from being passive, it takes tremendous courage to be truly non-violent. To face the threat of even being killed without reacting on the deepest cellular level is a feat that can be achieved only with years of meditation practice. Reactions of anger and violence are always based on the fear of what will happen to oneself if one does not respond to hatred with hatred. Fear begets more of the same. As Martin Luther King Jr. shared in his 1963 "Strength to Love" s  See full.

I really liked how Somikbhai reminded us of the importance of allowing love to be the motivating force behind all of our actions.

I believe there is a real polarity between fear and love. Swami Sivananda shared how the fear of death underlies all other fears. I have found that fear is always connected with negative emotions in some way. Anger often masks fear. Even the big tough guys in juvenile hall and prison who others get afraid of are themselves scared: of being judged, stolen from or discriminated against.

Far from being passive, it takes tremendous courage to be truly non-violent. To face the threat of even being killed without reacting on the deepest cellular level is a feat that can be achieved only with years of meditation practice. Reactions of anger and violence are always based on the fear of what will happen to oneself if one does not respond to hatred with hatred. Fear begets more of the same.

As Martin Luther King Jr. shared in his 1963 "Strength to Love" speech, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hatred cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." Just as the fear of death underlies all other fears, so too does Swami Sivananda share how the desire for love underlies all other desires. All the positive emotions (like gratitude, as Somikbhai shared through his dissertation experience) are really a manifestation of love in some form.

I like how Ammachi (hugging saint from Kerala) shares that "True love is fearlessness." True love, or fearlessness, is also a choice we can make in any given moment. To lead us, as in the moksha (liberation) mantra, from the unreal to the real. From darkness to light. From mortality to immortality.

In the quest for ultimate liberation of the soul (the real aim of the spiritual journey), I am reminded of how essential humility is. How a student once approached a spiritual guru (teacher) for knowledge, only to be dismissed by this great teacher. "How could you refuse me knowledge? I am a learned scholar already - you need to lead me to full enlightenment!" the student exclaimed.

"How can I possibly teach you anything?" the great teacher calmly replied. "For your cup is already full."

Like that, we must empty ourselves of everything we think we have known in order to receive the ultimate knowledge or Truth. 

Manvi's sharing about the battle within between fear and love also reminded me of how the Bhagavad Gita seems to, on the surface, just be a dialogue between two mythical figures on the battlefield at the dawn of Indian history, as the warrior Arjuna freaks out to Krishna about whether to fight the battle ahead. The Gita's real subject is actually the war within, the struggle for self-mastery that every person must wage to live a life that is fulfilling, a life that could meaningfully contribute to the lives of others. A life that can lead to the attainment of the lofty goal of full liberation from the sufferings of human life and thereby serve as an example for others.

I was reminded by a great teacher last weekend about how when reading texts like the Gita, there are often passages that on first glance seem confusing and that we thus often cast of, but how these passages often have real treasures underneath that we have to dig to discover. And, as Krishna wisely reminds Arjuna, "No effort on this path goes to waste."

In terms of goodness, I am also reminded of the Aesop quote that asserts how "No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted."

I really liked how Meghna built upon and ultimately transcended the polarity between fear and love by sharing how Jayeshbhai told her when she was struggling to make a decision to "do whatever arises in you from love, whether or not this seems like the right or wrong thing to do in conventional terms."

I wholeheartedly agree with Jayeshbhai and with Martin Luther King Jr., who shared in his December 1968 Nobel Prize lecture how "The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued that self-defeating path of hate. Love is the key to the solution of the problems of the world."

 

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On May 1, 2010 Somik Raha wrote:

Tagore is a poet and it shows in his prose. I found myself pondering deeper than usual on the meaning of things. First, I wondered about the difference between "will" and "wish." The word "wish" has an element of uncertainty in it, and I seem to be saying, "There's nothing I control, but if I did, I'd want this." The word "will" on the other hand, has no uncertainty in it. "I will do this." When looking at my regular conversations, I am surprised by how much wish trumps will, and often leads to untruths. For instance, when asked if I have time, I am more tempted to say, "No, I'm busy," as opposed to, "Yes, but I will spend it elsewhere for now, and will get back to you later." Second, when Tagore says, "when he realizes that he is much more than at present he seems to be," I wondered if this was a supernatural statement. Then the thought of love came to mind. When we truly love, our heart e  See full.

Tagore is a poet and it shows in his prose. I found myself pondering deeper than usual on the meaning of things.

First, I wondered about the difference between "will" and "wish." The word "wish" has an element of uncertainty in it, and I seem to be saying, "There's nothing I control, but if I did, I'd want this." The word "will" on the other hand, has no uncertainty in it. "I will do this." When looking at my regular conversations, I am surprised by how much wish trumps will, and often leads to untruths. For instance, when asked if I have time, I am more tempted to say, "No, I'm busy," as opposed to, "Yes, but I will spend it elsewhere for now, and will get back to you later."

Second, when Tagore says, "when he realizes that he is much more than at present he seems to be," I wondered if this was a supernatural statement. Then the thought of love came to mind. When we truly love, our heart expands, and we connect in a deep inseparable, indelible way. In that moment of connection, there is no "I." There's only great joy. Love is not supernatural - it is an entirely natural experience.

Third, when Tagore says, "and perhaps never humanly can be," surely now he is referring to a supernatural possibility. Let us see how love holds up here. My interpretation of human limitations is that of space and time. With space, it would be ridiculous for me to say, "I can only love you if you are within 5 feet of me." We find in ourselves an ability to love others no matter where they are. Love therefore transcends space. It is also weird for us to timestamp love. I cannot distinguish between the love I received 10 years back from someone and the love I received from someone yesterday. There is "old" love or "new" love. Love is just love, fresh and ego-transcending as ever. Thus, love transcends the limitations of space and time, and yet, love is utterly natural.

Chris and Steve built on this notion, with Chris wondering what it would be like if what we consider supernatural were instead natural. What if our thoughts of well-being traveled around the world to the intended recipient? Steve challenged the very interpretation of "super-natural" - that which is superly natural, and not unnatural in any way. Loved that observation!

Ganoba shared how he found himself on the edge between the known and the unknown, and how he has to go beyond the past (memory) to face the present.

On the topic of love, I was reminded of my own experience with the dissertation defense. To prepare on the last day, I had decided to meditate to get rid of the butterflies. As I observed the fears, the source of it became clear. It was a preoccupation with "I," will I look good, will I be able to impress others, what if others reject what I have to say? As I observed some more, every slide on my deck flashed by, and I remembered how much help and love I had received toward preparing it. That brought up a lot of gratitude - which is really love in response to love. Somehow, with the emergence of gratitude, the fear had disappeared completely, and I don't quite remember what I said, but I was very happy saying it.

Manavi pointed out how she has struggled with fear as well, and how she's had similar conclusions about the connection with the ego, versus a focus on wanting to serve and give. By connecting with the larger self which wants to be of service, one can transcend the little self.

There were many other sharings that escape my memory but the authenticity with which they were shared have left an indelible mark of love.

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