Essays in Life and Eternity
by Swami Krishnananda

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PART II: THE SOCIAL SCENE

Chapter 15: The Economy of Life

Life survives by the principle of economy it maintains in itself. Life is a system of harmony without excess in any of its features. Economic conditions do not exhaust themselves merely in gold and silver, land and property. Economy is the principle of the conservation of life and energy, the proper maintenance of balance in its internally adjusted parts. As the body requires physical exercise, food, water and air as well as light and heat for its healthy continuance, the mind of man, which is more than his body in value, has its own system of economy and balancing of operations. As more than the normal or less than the normal needs of the body may turn it sick and make it droop in weakness, so can the mind lose its power and become ill by either excessive activity or inactivity. The functions of the mind and the workings of the body have to go together not only parallel to one another but as a living and organised focussing of the individual towards its given purpose in life. Mental excess may take the form of passion, greed and anger and its negative aspects may appear as torpidity, sloth, sluggishness and inactivity, including moodiness, despondency and melancholy. Economy is the proper use of the forces of life and the mentioned aberrations constitute their abuse or misuse. Physical and mental economy contributes to physical and mental health and it is impossible to isolate one from the other. This is to state briefly the vital economy and mental health and vigour which the individual has to maintain for the keeping up of its own expected norms in personal life.

But the life of the individual is directly connected with the economy of social existence. The social behaviour of the individual is naturally the expression of the inner make-up of the individual psychologically and sometimes even physically. Internal excesses and weaknesses become and social lacunae in individual behaviour. This applies equally to group behaviour and to the well-known gregarious instinct common among people. To check abuses of social conduct, the ethical mandates applicable to the human individual are specially stressed as supremely important, to which we have already made reference earlier as the great qualities of harmlessness, truthfulness and self-restraint expected from each individual as its great conditioning qualities. Violence, untruth and incontinence of the mind and the senses which are the primary individual evils are also the sources of all public evil and social disharmony. Apart from these three great vows of abstinence and positive conduct emphasised again and again, ancient teachers of the economics of life have further added that no one can appropriate to oneself what does not belong to oneself by rightful means, and also one cannot accumulate belongings more than what is necessary or a reasonably comfortable and healthy way of living. Living a life of luxury is overstepping the limits of the normal requirements of life and is violative of not only the principle of goodness in one's own person but contrary to the consideration that one should have for the welfare of people other than oneself. Excess in the form of hoarding is considered as equivalent to theft, since theft is nothing but depriving others of what should truly belong to them. Profiteering and black-marketing which often become the very objective of certain enterprises would not only deal a death blow to one's own health, peace and security but also cause social restlessness and all the sorrows engendered by absence of equity in dealing with people, all which goes by the name of corruption whose forms are many and often very subtle. There are people who make it their occupation to cleverly manipulate ways and means to break very law whenever it is enacted. To them law is intended to be disobeyed and opposed. The Sutra of Patanjali, while giving the highest importance to Ahimsa, Satya and Brahmacharya, mentions the need also to observe the principles of Asteya and Aparigrah; that is, non-stealing and non-acceptance of luxuries or excessive comforts. These fivefold norms laid down by Patanjali in his Yoga-Sutras sum up the law of the economy of life, individually as well as socially, indicating thereby that no one can aspire for perfection who does not strive for the maintenance of internal harmony in one's own thoughts, feelings and volitions, and external harmony through contributions towards peace by trying to give everyone what each one is truly due, and not exploit anyone even covertly by secret commercial means or harm anyone's right to live and let live. This is the duty of each and everyone in human society, and meticulously performed duties are automatically followed by the requisite privileges which come as blessings on everyone as a result of one's good behaviour.

It is the gospel of the Bhagavad Gita that has lifted the dignity of labour and social welfare work above its ordinary meaning generally limited to the physical and empirical circumference of society. While the Bhagavad Gita emphasises the need to work as an obligatory call on each and every person, it also enlightens us as to why we should work at all. The reason is not just the material comforts of social existence but a higher demand from the spiritual side of human nature which in a state of insight beholds the one soul permeating all life and the need to present oneself before others in the light of a presence in others of that which is present in oneself also. Work, then, becomes a larger requirement on the part of man than merely a social necessity. The Gita exhorts us to work and serve as a Superman does, nay, as God Himself operates in creation. We are told that the Creator projected beings together with a compulsion for sacrifice (Sahayajna), an impulse to share with others what one has, even as one would wish to share for oneself something of what others have, in a mutual give-and-take system of cooperation, inasmuch as everyone may have something which may be the need of another and no one can have all things that one may require in life. The Gita provides to mankind the basic principles of the highest programme for civic and social harmony to be maintained by an internal adjustment of people among themselves, not only for their survival, but much more, their onward progress towards spiritual realisation which is the goal of the individual as well as of society. The Cosmic Form which is described in the Eleventh Chapter of the Bhagavad Gita illustrates, while demonstrating the unity of all existence, the moderation which should form the rule of the internal character and outer conduct of the individual as well as of society, highlighting thereby the law of the economy of life in its grandest and moat glorious form.