Drawing the line between need and greed
Dr R Neerunjun Gopee
A letter in the The Economist of August 2008, which carried a special 8-page section on ‘The credit crunch, one year on,’ pointed out that ‘greed overcrowded our senses and sound judgement was thrown to the wind.’ Last month a friend sent me copies of two articles written by Sri Aurobindo about 90 years ago in which he had predicted that the economic age, after experiencing considerable success, would come crashing under its own mass – which is what is happening. He was not against materialism per se, but he emphasized that it was not sufficient if we wanted to lead a truly beautiful life.
Indeed, when we think about it carefully, we realize that we must not deny that it is material well-being that allows us the comfort to think of things beyond immediate physical needs once they have been satisfied. So the issue is not that of denying the necessity of material comforts – it is about equipping oneself to draw the line between need and greed.
Sri Aurobindo warned against both physical and economic barbarism – and we witness countless examples of both all the time. For him, the physical barbarian makes the excellence of the body and the development of physical force, health and prowess his standard and aim – think of doping in sports, a widespread phenomenon in our times, especially amongst top athletes, even Olympian icons. At the other end of the spectrum is the modern health professional’s conundrum, of the physical man who indulges so much that he is prey to what are known as the disease of affluence and which are driving the health costs to unsustainable extremes.
As for the ‘vitalistic or economic barbarian,’ as Sri Aurobindo defined him, the exclusive satisfaction of wants and the accumulation of possessions is his standard and aim. Under economic barbarism, the ideal man is not the cultured, noble, thoughtful or moral man. Rather, it is the successful man who concentrates on the accumulation of wealth and more wealth, the adding of possessions to possessions, opulence, show, pleasure, cumbrous luxury, a plethora of conveniences, life devoid of beauty and nobility.
In such a regime, politics and government are turned into a trade and profession and enjoyment itself is made a business. To such a natural unredeemed economic man, beauty is a nuisance, art and poetry are an ostentation and a means of advertisement. His idea of civilsation is comfort, of moral social respectability, and of politics exploitation. Sri Aurobindo is prescient in his warning that the opulent plutocrat and the successful mammoth capitalist and organizer of industry are the supermen of the commercial age and the true, if occult, rulers of its society. But nowadays, they do not care about being occult, so strong and protected they feel themselves to be.
But along with helping us to understand what is happening, the sage’s teachings also make an appeal for rethinking our way of life and give guidance for what to do in this situation. He advises that the vital or economic part of the life of man is undoubtedly an important element in the integral human existence, as much as the physical part – but must not exceed its place. A full and well-appointed life is desirable for man living in society, but on condition that it is also a true and beautiful life. And what is that true and beautiful life? That neither the life nor the body exist for their own sake, but as vehicle and instrument of a good higher than their own – subordinated to the superior needs of the mental being, chastened and purified by a greater law of truth, good and beauty before they can take their place in the integrality of human perfection.
RN Gopee Copyright © 2005 Mauritius Times.