Spirituality : between morality and immorality

In the world, we generally find two kinds of people: there are those whose minds are so entangled in a complex web of moral laws that they are afraid of sin and live in awe of God; and there are those who derisively mock any notion of morality and  flamboyantly engage in unrestrained hedonism.   In the spiritual path, one has to anchor oneself in the narrow pathway  between these two extremes – between morality and immorality.   One has to adopt an inner discipline which is conducive to growth of one’s consciousness but which may or may not adhere to any moral laws.  To convey this difference, the Mother Mirra Alfassa made contradictory observations on this topic.

On one hand, she said:

You have no right to dispense with morality unless you submit yourself to a law that is higher and much more rigorous than any moral law.   You can break the moral rules only when you observe the Divine Law.

The majority of those who reject human laws and proclaim their liberty and their decision to “live their own life” do so only in obedience to the most ordinary vital movements which they disguise and try to justify, if not to their own eyes, at least to the eyes of others. They give a kick to morality, simply because it is a hindrance to the satisfaction of their instincts.

The Mother, On Education: Teachers

On the other hand, she also said:

Morality is the shield that men flourish to protect themself from the Truth.[Words of the Mother – I: No Politics]  Moral laws have only a very relative value from the point of view of Truth. Besides, they vary considerably according to country, climate and period.  What is moral in one country is immoral in another.[Words of the Mother – III: Morality]

These are further elucidations by her on the topic of morality.

Mother Mirra Alfassa: There is a great difference between spirituality and morality, two things that are constantly confused with each other. The spiritual life, the life of Yoga, has for its object to grow into the divine consciousness and for its result to purify, intensify, glorify and perfect what is in you. It makes you a power for manifesting of the Divine; it raises the character of each personality to its full value and brings it to its maximum expression; for this is part of the Divine plan.

Morality proceeds by a mental construction and, with a few ideas of what is good and what is not, sets up an ideal type into which all must force themselves. This moral ideal differs in its constituents and its ensemble at different times and different places. And yet it proclaims itself as a unique type, a categoric absolute; it admits of none other outside itself; it does not even admit a variation within itself. All are to be moulded according to its single ideal pattern, everybody is to be made uniformly and faultlessly the same. It is because morality is of this rigid unreal nature that it is in its principle and its working the contrary of the spiritual life.

The spiritual life reveals the one essence in all, but reveals too its infinite diversity; it works for diversity in oneness and for perfection in that diversity. Morality lifts up one artificial standard contrary to the variety of life and the freedom of the spirit. Creating something mental, fixed and limited, it asks all to conform to it. All must labour to acquire the same qualities and the same ideal nature. Morality is not divine or of the Divine; it is of man and human. Morality takes for its basic element a fixed division into the good and the bad; but this is an arbitrary notion. It takes things that are relative and tries to impose them as absolutes; for this good and this bad differ in differing climates and times, epochs and countries.  The moral notion goes so far as to say that there are good desires and bad desires and calls on you to accept the one and reject the other.

But the spiritual life demands that you should reject desire altogether.  Its law is that you must cast aside all movements that draw you away from the Divine. You must reject them, not because they  are bad in themselves, – for they may be good for another man or in another sphere, – but because they belong to the impulses or forces that, being unillumined and ignorant, stand in the way of your approach to the Divine. All desires, whether good or bad, come within this description; for desire itself arises from an unillumined vital being and its ignorance. On the other hand you must accept all movements that bring you into contact with the Divine. But you accept them, not because they are good in themselves, but because they bring you to the Divine. Accept then all that takes you to the Divine. Reject all that takes you away from it, but do not say that this is good and that is bad or try to impose your outlook on others; for, what you term bad may be the very thing that is good for your neighbour who is not trying to realise the Divine Life.

Let us take an illustration of the difference between the moral and the spiritual view of things. The ordinary social notions distinguish between two classes of men, – the generous, the avaricious. The avaricious man is despised and blamed, while the generous man is considered unselfish and useful to society and praised for his virtue. But to the spiritual vision, they both stand on the same level; the generosity of the one, the avarice of the other are deformations of a higher truth, a greater divine power. There is a power, a divine movement that spreads, diffuses, throws out freely forces and things and whatever else it possesses on all the levels of nature from the most material to the most spiritual plane. Behind the generous man and his generosity is a soul-type that expresses this movement; he is a power for diffusion, for wide distribution. There is another power, another divine movement that collects and amasses; it gathers and accumulates forces and things and all possible possessions, whether of the lower or of the higher planes. The man you tax with avarice was meant to be an instrument of this movement.  Both are important, both needed in the entire plan; the movement that stores up and concentrates is no less needed than the movement that spreads and diffuses.  Both, if truly surrendered to the Divine, will be utilised as instruments for its divine work to the same degree and with an equal value. But when they are not surrendered both are alike moved by impulses of ignorance. One is pushed to throw away, the other is pulled towards keeping back; but both are driven by forces obscure to their own consciousness, and between the two there is little to choose. One could say to the much-praised generous man, from the higher point of vision of Yoga, “All your impulses of generosity are nothing in the values of the spirit, for they come from ego and ignorant desire.” And, on the other hand, among those who are accused of avarice, you can see sometimes a man amassing and hoarding, full of a quiet and concentrated determination in the work assigned to him by his nature, who, once awakened, would make a very good instrument of the Divine. But ordinarily the avaricious man acts from ego and desire like his opposite; it is the other end of the same ignorance. Both will have to purify themselves and change before they can make contact with the something higher that is behind them and express it in the way to which they are called by their nature.

The Mother, Questions and Answers (1929 – 1931): 4 August 1929

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Question: Is morality useful ? Has it not helped in increasing our consciousness ?

Mother Mirra Alfassa: That depends on people. There are people who are helped by it, and there are people who are not helped at all.

Morality is a thing altogether artificial and arbitrary, and in the majority of cases, among the best, it puts a check to the spiritual effort by a kind of self-satisfaction that you are in the right way, that you are a good man, that you are doing your duty, fulfilling all the moral necessities of life. And you are so self-satisfied that you do not move any more.  It is very difficult for a virtuous man to enter on the path of God—it has been said very often, but it is quite true, because the virtuous man is very self-satisfied; he has the impression that he has realised what he had to realise—he has no aspiration any more nor even this elementary humility which makes one will for progress. A so-called sattwic (virtuous) man is generally one who is very comfortably lodged in his virtue and never thinks of coming out of it.  That puts you millions of leagues away from the divine realisation.

What helps, so long as you have not found the light within, is to make a certain number of rules for oneself which naturally must not be altogether rigid and fixed, but should be sufficiently precise to prevent you from going completely away from the right path or from making irreparable errors—errors the consequences of which you undergo throughout your life. For that it is good to set up a few principles in yourself, which however should be in accordance with each one’s nature.

If you adopt a collective social rule, at once you submit to the slavery of the collective rule; and that prevents you almost radically from making any effort towards transformation.

The Mother, Questions and Answers (1956): 16 May 1956

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Mother Mirra Alfassa: There are two things we must not confuse: certain necessities (which are purely necessities if one wants to succeed in completely controlling physical matter), and then moral notions. These are two very different things. One may, for instance, refrain from poisoning one’s body or besotting one’s brains or annulling one’s will because one wants to become master of one’s physical consciousness and capable of transforming one’s body. But if one does these things solely because one thinks one will gain moral merit by doing so, that will lead you nowhere, to  nothing at all. Because it is not meant for that. One does it for purely practical reasons: for the same reason, for instance, that you are not in the habit of taking poison, for you know it will poison you. And then, there are some very slow poisons taken by people (they think, with impunity, because the effect is so slow that they cannot discern it easily), but if one wants to succeed in becoming entirely master of one’s physical activities and capable of putting the light into the reflexes of one’s body, then one must abstain from these things – but not for moral reasons: for altogether practical reasons, from the point of view of the realisation of the yoga. One must not do this with the idea of gaining merit, or the idea that because you will gain merit God will be very pleased and come and manifest within you! It is not at all that, not at all! Perhaps even, He feels closer to him who has made mistakes, who is conscious of his faults and has the sense of his weakness, and aspires sincerely to come out of it all – He feels perhaps closer to him than to one who has never made a mistake and is satisfied with his external superiority over other human beings. In any case, that does not make a great difference. What does make a lot of difference is the sincerity, the spontaneity, the intensity of the aspiration – the need, that need which seizes you and which is so powerful that nothing else in the world counts.

The Mother, Questions and Answers (1953): 4 November 1953

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9 thoughts on “Spirituality : between morality and immorality

  1. stumblingmystic

    In the spiritual path, one has to anchor oneself in the narrow pathway between these two extremes – between morality and immorality. One has to adopt an inner discipline which is conducive to growth of one’s consciousness but which may or may not adhere to any moral laws.

    This is extremely well-put. To not be so arrogantly moralistic that you are blinded to your own flaws, or that you excessively torture or berate yourself for falls in the yoga, but to keep your eyes and heart and mind firmly on the destination and don’t allow yourself to be permanently pulled under by the subconscient tendencies that bind our species. Thanks for writing this — an important reminder!

    Reply
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  6. Sandeep Post author

    A quote by Rudyard Kipling on social pressures against immorality (debatable but worth noting) from his short story “A Wayside Comedy” published in 1888 in “Under the Deodars”:

    You must remember, though you will not understand, that all laws weaken in a small and hidden community where there is no public opinion. When a man is absolutely alone in a Station he runs a certain risk of falling into evil ways. This risk is multiplied by every addition to the population up to twelve — the Jury number. After that, fear and consequent restraint begin, and human action becomes less grotesquely jerky.

    Posted @ http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2012/08/rudyard_kipling_1.html

    Reply
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