Aggressive goodness

I admit that the title has two words that seem mutually contradictory. Yet, I use them because they convey aptly the sentiment I wish to express here.

From time immemorial, the question has been asked, ‘Why is it so difficult to be good?’ Every culture has produced thinkers and philosophers who have raised this question, in various forms, and attempted an answer.

Socrates was once talking to a group of youths at a prominent square in his city. A public woman happened to stop by and taunted Socrates: ‘Sir, do you know that if I wish, I can draw all these young men towards me in no time?’ Socrates gravely replied, while the youths all waited with bated breath for his words, ‘Certainly I do. But that is because you drag them down, while I try to lift them up above this morass!’

The II law of Thermodynamics states that Entropy [or the degree of disorder] is an ever increasing quantity in this world. Left to themselves, everything tends to achieve states of greater and greater disorder. The catchword here is ‘left to themselves’. This acknowledges that if we apply an external influence, we can reverse the situation. We can ensure greater order in this world.

I agree that goodness and evil are not absolute entities. Yet, will you not acknowledge that all of us seem to possess a general conception of what is good and what is bad?

Being on time is good; tardiness is bad.

Following rules is good; breaking them is bad.

Utilizing time profitably is good; wasting time is bad.

Being honest is good; being devious is bad.

We all seem to agree on this. However the question that still remains is – why does our mind like ease, comfort and luxury more than hard work, discipline and evolution? Many people ask me if it would not be wise to give in to the natural inclinations of our minds. Well, suicide of one’s personality is the outcome of allowing free rein to an untrained mind. I agree that freedom is essential for creativity in a person. But we need to train the person’s mind, organs and faculties rigorously before giving him any freedom.

All of us know that we need to be good. We may not all agree that we are good, nor even that we are inclined to be good. But we all know that our well-being depends on our being good. A Sanskrit verse from the Mahabharata says:

Punyasya phalam icchanti punyam necchanti manavaah;

Na papa phalam icchanti paapam kurvanti yatnatah.

It means: We all desire the result of being good. But we don’t wish to be good. None of us desires the result of being bad. But we force ourselves to be bad, nonetheless!

Let us take the case of students or youths, especially in an educational institution. Consider a group of friends. Study what happens between them. Supposing nine boys have bad habits and one good boy joins them. Within a fortnight, he would have been effectively converted into one of them. He would have picked up all their rotten habits like smoking, drinking, bunking classes, missing routines, eve-teasing, etc. Now again, suppose nine boys have good habits and one bad boy joins them. By the same logic, what would you expect to happen? That they all convert him around into their good ways? But, have you ever seen such a thing happen? Well, I confess that I haven’t, yet! On the contrary, we generally find that the one bad apple spoils the whole lot of good ones. Why is this? I ask.

The simple answer is – bad people have a wonderful quality in them. It is ‘Aggressiveness’. They are ever enthusiastic to spread their qualities, their habits, their attitudes, their thought-patterns, their life-style, their weltanschauung. Their convincing powers are really enviable. They are active in converting others. Good people, on the other hand, seem to be contended in leading a good life, consisting of good habits, good attitudes and good thought-patterns. They generally lack the whim, the vigor, the zeal, the fire to bring more people into their fold. Again, I ask – why is this so? I am not sure, but the psychologists might answer that it could be because the good people are not really convinced about the correctness of their own style of living; or that the good people are not really free within themselves regarding the conflict between the instinct to be bad and the wish to be good. Some philosophers and moralists will probably contend that it is against the very ethos of goodness to be expressive, to be proactive, to be extroverted, and to be making converts.

Whatever the reason, the damage to society is painful to see and makes me ask – why can’t we have an amalgamation between the goodness of good people and the aggressive nature of the bad ones? A great monk once said, “It is not enough to be good; it is important that you give expression to your goodness!”

Patanjali Yoga Sutras say: ‘Ahimsa prathistaayaam tat sannidhau vaira tyagaha’. i.e. people lose all ability for violence and hatred in the company of a person who is established in non-violence. Swami Vivekananda explains this as follows: “If a man gets the ideal of non-injuring others, before him even animals which are by their nature ferocious will become peaceful. The tiger and the lamb will play together before that Yogi. When you have come to that state, then alone you will understand that you have become firmly established in ‘non-injuring.’”

Recall the desperate efforts of Mahatma Gandhi during the period of 1947-48. When he heard that post-independence communal riots had broken out in Naokhali, he rushed there personally. He did this because he believed that if he lived in that region, the people would eschew their hatred for one another! What the Mahatma attempted was something unprecedented. Never before had anyone experimented this on such a large scale. Did he succeed? Sadly, no. But that was not due to any sort of deficiency in him, is my contention. I hold that there is an inherent strain for violence in the cosmic consciousness. It is, nevertheless, possible to bring about permanent changes in a handful of people at a time, provided we are ‘established’ in goodness.

I wouldn’t wish to enter into a philosophical explanation of what ‘established’ means. I, on the other hand, contend that all of us who are trying to be good and do good ought to be more forthcoming in roping in more and more converts into our folds. Thus, goodness will no longer consist in preserving our individual personality from corruption, but will mean positive conquest over the evil nature of people I interact with.

I believe this strain of aggression in our behavior ought to be our approach until a time comes when we are truly ‘established’ in goodness. I am not watering down the ideal. I am not suggesting this because I consider the ideal as Utopian. History has many instances where we see a truly non-violent man converting a confirmed rogue into a docile person. But, let us also be realistic in our approach and not confuse the ideal with the real. We shall head towards the ideal. And while we are headed there, let our approach be one of enforcing, by our words-demeanor-attitudes-insistence, goodness onto others, even as the wicked people enforce their own evil ways on others.

I wish to present before you two instances of the ideal from the history of spirituality before I end this deliberation.

Buddha once was required a walk along a secluded road in order to reach a certain village. Everyone around that region warned him not to take that route since the dreaded highwayman Angulimala lived there. He would stop wayfarers, rob them and cut off their little finger. This little finger he would sew onto a garland he always wore around his neck as a souvenir of his achievements. But Buddha walked along. But before he entered the road, he sent out intense waves of goodness from his heart, directed to hit the rogue, who, he knew was a deeply troubled soul. Soon he was confronted by Angulimala. The highway robber, for the first time in his life, saw a man who was so full of fearlessness and genuine fellow-feeling. Instead of committing his nefarious deeds on the Buddha, he sought discipleship under him!

A lady from a noble family used to visit Dakshineshwar to meet Sri Ramakrishna. Her family members didn’t approve of this. But her intense love for spiritual life made her ignore all the injunctions that her family members put on her and she continued to visit her Guru. One day she invited him to her house. When her family members learned of this visit, they engaged a local ruffian called Manmatha to soundly beat up the Paramahamsa when he came to their house. When Sri Ramakrishna alighted from his horse-drawn carriage in front of her house, Manmatha was there. Sri Ramakrishna went near him, touched him on the shoulder and said something indistinctly. From that day onwards, Manmatha became a staunch devotee of the Paramahamsa. Later on, it is said, he lived a completely god-intoxicated life.

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Author: Swami Vedatitananda

Monk of the Ramakrishna Order

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