What is Duty? Part 3

By Peter Worman

In the previous talk, we looked at the Vedantic system and what the Upanisads have to say about duty. In a previous age, what we know as India was known as Āryāvarta and was vastly different to what it is now both in land size and in spirit. We heard from them that All men on earth should learn their own way of life from a Brāhmaṇa born in this region.

Those born here within Āryāvarta taught the whole world, through their behaviour, through their character, through their speech. Then, the declaration here was: All be happy, all be without disease, none see sadness, meaning none be sad. This was the bhāvanā or inner attitude of the inhabitants of Ayāvarta, meaning that however many people there are in the creation, all should be happy, all be without disease, all experience well-being.

The question is how this is attained for those of us born in this Iron Age, the least refined of the Gold, Silver and the Bronze ages. How did the people from Āryāvarta teach the world through their behaviour and character and speech? Is it us humans in this age we live in that have become so ignorant of what really inspires all beings, and have we totally forgotten what makes us human? It certainly seems so based on the behaviour of so many in the world, behaviour that makes angels weep.

Being eternally optimistic I would rather say that we’re suffering from a dose of selective amnesia and every so often we wake up and experience the world how is really is, full of knowledge, consciousness, and bliss. Every so often we all connect with ourselves, and all cares and concerns recede as if they were never there. In this heightened awareness we know and can appreciate that in dealing with people the world over, that by seeing all beings as happy, all beings being free of disease and none in any misery of any sort, that there is no space for misery. Could we say this viewpoint is our duty, which is to present ourselves to the world in a happy state of mind which would ensure that we never harmed any one and thus lived honestly.

Putting our best foot forward so to speak doesn’t need lots of money or a university education, it needs mindfulness and willingness and an open heart. This is the duty of all human beings, and all humans are capable of living in this non-violent manner and despite what the media might project, all humans crave to be happy and free of disease.

There was a set- work book we were forced to study when I was at school called Lord of the Flies by William Golding. His book details how when a group of young boys were marooned on an island and had to look after themselves, they became savage. He contends that human nature, when free from the constraints of society, draws people away from common sense to savagery. His fundamental argument is that human beings are savage by nature and are moved by urges toward brutality and dominance over others. That Golding received a Nobel Prize for this work was something of a mystery as the book was in short, a novel. His observations were made up and largely influenced by his background where he suffered from depression and alcoholism. As a teacher he reportedly divided the boys up into 2 groups and instructed them to attack each other. Out of this festering mind we get Lord of the Flies, a purely speculative work existing in the authors imagination but sadly the narrative was believed to be true by many.

On the other hand, there is a record of 6 young Tongan boys who set out in their boat one night to escape to Fiji and they were caught in a severe storm and eventually were washed ashore on a deserted island. They remained stranded for just over a year and were eventually discovered by a British sea captain called Peter Warner. Prior to their being saved the boys had set up places to sleep, receptacles to store water and even started a small vegetable garden and were found in good health and had in fact worked together to survive as best as they could. No savagery or brutality at all in fact quite the opposite.

A biologist called Frans de Waal stated that there is not a shred of evidence to support Goldings claims. What his book demonstrates is that we should strive to elevate our faculty of discrimination to enable us to navigate securely throughs life’s meanderings and not to be beguiled into believing other people’s theories and beliefs.

Unfortunately, this and other narratives feed this idea of mankind being inherently evil and stand in contrast to mankind’s ability to withstand the most intense horrors and still rise above them. To quote author Rutger Bregman who wrote a book called Human Kind. In the introduction he says This is a book about a radical idea, and idea that’s made rulers nervous, an idea denied by religions and ideologies, ignored by the media, and erased from the annuls of world history. It’s an idea that’s legitimised by virtually every branch of science. One that’s corroborated by evolution and confirmed by everyday life. An idea so intrinsic to human nature that it goes unnoticed and overlooked. So what is this radical idea? It is that most people, deep down, are pretty decent.

In the next session we will try and discover how we can naturally overcome these urges that drive us away from this simple realization that most people are pretty decent. In the meantime, try a simple experiment. When interacting with other people, always greet everyone with a warm smile and a friendly greeting, no matter how down you might be feeling and note the result. Then let all thoughts about this practice fall away and try as best you can to remain present.