‘What is good?’ asks Aristotle. ‘That which is useful to us’ is the answer. There is physical good such as food, shelter, security, a holiday; then there is mental or moral good. This consists of mental discipline, education, order in the emotions, right discernment and the unprejud-iced exercise of reason. Is that all?
Our soul is not satisfied with the physical and mental good; it wants something more, and that is peace, harmony, unity, lasting happiness, self-offering in love to somebody or something of infinite beauty. Truth is dearer to a right-thinking person than all the physical and mental good.
‘Man loves to exercise his faculties’ says the same philosopher. Knowledge of Truth is the good which a calm application of the mental faculty promises. Love of beauty is innate in man; beauty must lead to Truth, the permanent good without which man, in spite of his physical and mental achievements, remains a prisoner and a slave to passions, superstition and separateness.
Physical good is comparable to a suitable house, well-built and provided with all the comforts and amenities of life. But the house is not in itself the good; neither is the furniture nor the decoration in the house good in itself. It is the dweller who confers value on the house and its decorations, without whom the house will become derelict. The philosopher Herbert Spencer names a number of qualities which one must cultivate to be good. Duty is a most important virtue. There are social and moral duties which we must certainly perform. But the achievement of material and moral good is not the end of human life.
It is the spiritual good which is supreme in human life. Conscious-ness of immortality, contact with and absorption in Infinity, realization of permanent bliss, indisturbability of mind, and self-sacrifice in quest of the Eternal in the temporal, are some of the aspects of the spiritual life. Unless they are realized. all the other achievements are inadequate and uncertain.
The present disturbed state of the world, the absence of security and of peace of mind are traceable to the indiscriminate pursuit of science and power. One of the great principles Pericles learned from his spiritual teacher Anaxagoras is that the real good is the good of all. When his teacher was dying of starvation in a lonely spot, Pericles came to know of it and ran to his assistance. Anaxagoras said to Pericles: ‘Give oil to those who have lamps.’
The spiritual principle, Purusha—the ‘dweller in the body’—must be fostered and its dynamics must be actualised. All life is one. Every human being, irrespective of caste, race, colour or nation, is a Purusha in whom are latent Eternal Truth and Bliss. To actualise them through beauty and harmony is the highest good.
The mind must be disciplined in self-restraint, self-sacrifice and self-refinement. Pericles knew how to create silence in his soul and discern the highest good in his being. While ruler of Greece for forty years, this votary of peace, this patron of art and learning, lived a simple life. The Athenians voted large sums of money for military purposes but Pericles spent it on decorating the city with works of art.
The mighty monarch of ancient India, Ashoka, devoted his life-energy and his treasury to the moral and spiritual good of his subjects, whilst he himself lived a life of extreme simplicity in a monastery. He founded hospitals not only for men but also for animals in each town.
To supply this vital and most essential need of the individual and the whole is the aim of the higher Yoga. Universal good, peace and happiness to each, highest appreciation of beauty and unrestricted pursuit of truth in our own being as well as in nature and society, should be our ideal.
Some may say ‘I have no time for spiritual study or meditation. I am so busy and feel quite fatigued by evening.’ Alas! How contrary to truth are such expressions! Can a man drowning in the sea, say to his rescuer: ‘I have no time for you.’ Should a sick man say to his tried doctor: ‘I have no time for you,’?
Our life, our resources material and moral, our deepest urges and ambitions are meant to be devoted to the discovery of Him whom time cannot touch, causation cannot affect, who is compassionate and is the only friend of the friendless. This is love; this is duty; this is the path to the highest good.