Now the surprise is that nearly all of these relate to self-training. There’s hardly anything about doing things for society and for other people. And the Gita morality is criticised for this purpose – but the purpose is self-training, and it’s not about doing good to other people. This is a very important point in the Gita. The fundamental basis of its morality is a sentence in the modern times in the Shri Dada Sanghita (the Heart of the Indian Mystical Teaching): “You cannot do good action, you will not be able to do good action, until you begin to rise above the body consciousness.” We can say, “Well that remains to be seen, surely that’s not so.” But one modern example – well from the last century – was given. Before Pasteur the doctors didn’t understand the need to disinfect their hands. They used to come to childbirth cases or treat wounds without washing their hands. So although they treated the injuries of the patients, they were infecting them very often.
Now in the same way one can do good, but if it arises from a mind which is impure then to some extent those good actions will be a vehicle for the passions of the one who does them – their hate, their attachment, or their egoism. Mother Theresa said that it’s very difficult to do good without getting a sense of domination. And so the Gita training, gift, is one of the few – what we would call – positive, good actions. The rest consist of making the person pure, self-controlled and upright. The Shri Dada Sanghita speaks of this, of a purity, and it says that without inner purity, then many of our attempts to do good will fail. And he says that many start off with benevolent intentions and are great philanthropists and do good to the human race, but they turn into tyrants and even murderers.
The early Chinese, Chuang-Tzu, he has a little one of these very acute Chinese fables on it. The lady of the house sees the hens in the courtyard eating the ants. She feels sorry for the ants, so she tells the servant, “Take the hens to the market and sell them”. So he ties their legs together and takes them, flapping and squawking furiously, to the market – and the lady of the house feels good. On the way he meets the master talking to a friend. The master says, “Where are you going? What’s that?” And the servant tells him. The master looks at the hens squawking and feels sorry for them. So he says, “Well take them back. I’ll explain.” So he takes them back. Then he feels that he’s done good and the hens are again picking up the ants. But now he comes back and he finds that his wife is sad. And Chuang-Tzu says, “Ants, hens, human beings. What was good and what was bad? It’s like a mountain stream rushing through a cataract, twisting and turning.” He observed, or guessed, that a stream of water gushing through an enclosed channel would develop a rotary motion, as Einstein proved two thousand years later. They try to do good.
Then Dogan, much later, in China – a Zen master – he said, “The frog is sitting watching the dragonfly. When the beautiful dragonfly gets a little bit closer, the frog’s sticky tongue would come out and get it. But behind the frog, there’s a snake, making for the frog silently. Now you see them. We don’t like snakes much; frogs are a bit better. If you drive off the snake and spare the frog, you’re interfering with nature. The snake’s hungry just as the frog’s hungry. If you don’t drive off the snake, you’re interfering with your own heart. It tells you “Don’t like snakes, drive it away.” So he says again, “It’s a tangle and it’s not easy, by thinking and by reasoning, to resolve it.”
We can say, “Surely, in modern times we can have scientific objectivity – a scientific view. The scientist is trained to be objective and when he applies his objectivity to the world, well then these problems will be solved.” But, as a matter of fact, it isn’t so. As Einstein pointed out, most scientists are scientists by chance. They happened to have an uncle who was in science. They could have been lawyers or accountants. It’s the same type – there’s accuracy in ordering the facts, and there’s the ability to draw up the implications.
© Trevor Leggett
Talks in this series are:
Part 1: Tradition and Inspiration
Part 3: Seeking for something to worship
Part 5: What is good and what is bad