Vanity thought #1753. The question of immoral morality

On with “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology”.

Yesterday we got to the source of all happiness in the world – mahat-tattva. Usually, when we talk about the creation, we don’t pay attention to it. Universes emerge from pores in the skin of Lord Mahā Viṣṇu, The Lord then enters into each universe as Garbhodakaśāyī Viṣṇu, and then, from His navel, grows the lotus flower on which Lord Brahmā is born, who then creates the rest of the universe. This description is correct but it lacks the purpose. “For the sake of jīvas who want to enjoy separately from Kṛṣṇa,” we say, but it doesn’t tell the full picture and it’s not very helpful in identifying our real problems in our lives. Knowledge of the mahat-tattva should relieve us of this ignorance. Unfortunately, the subject is complicated and I don’t think the book itself is very clear on it either.

The appearance of mahat-tattva is described in chapter 26 of the 3rd Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam by Lord Kapila, from verse 19 onward (SB 3.26). Its effulgence swallows the darkness that covered the creation after its dissolution. This mahat-tattva is the root of all varieties of material enjoyment as well as all the universes and all the living beings, beginning with Lord Brahmā. In its original state the mahat-tattva is pure and serene and it first manifests the state of śuddha-sattva.

Now, if we say that mahat-tattva is the source of all morality and all dharma that would make every action inside the universe moral in its essence. How could immorality rise from this pure mahat-tattva? How could it become the source of all evil, too? The next chapter in the book deals with these questions but I’m still not entirely convinced in how it works.

Our present universe is built by selecting four base qualities from mahat-tattva – truthfullness, kindness, austerity, and cleanliness. These are qualities of Kṛṣṇa, they are the properties of His person, and, though appear distinct, they really aren’t because they exist inseparably from Him. In the material world, however, we can’t see Kṛṣṇa but we can sense the presence of His qualities and this starts our search for ānanda. As Kṛṣṇa’s parts and parcels we also possess these qualities, even if to a minute degree, and so we can, theoretically, be perfectly happy on our own. Māyā, however, hides our real personalities and so we think that we are lacking something and we need to find it externally.

We think that being truthful, kind, austere, and clean would make us happy but, ironically, no one in this world is clean, honest, austere and kind. We realize that we ourselves aren’t but we expect these qualities in others and they always fail to deliver. So why is it that we do not live up to these expectations?

The book says that it’s because we forget our original nature, which is already clean, kind, honest, and austere, and we instead take on qualities of corresponding sins – deceit, selfishness, greediness, and adultery. This is where I fail to follow. Anyway, we seek things but ourselves become emblems of opposite of what we want. The idea that by uniting with qualities that are our opposites we’ll become happy never becomes real because we have to BE the qualities we seek in others.

Rules of dharma prescribe us to be kind and truthful but there are two issues with these rules – first, we have to BECOME these qualities, not seek them outside, and, secondly, due to our desire to be separate from Kṛṣṇa, and Kṛṣṇa Himself is these virtues, then by separation from Him we become unvirtuous and, by implication, unhappy.

This sort of makes sense – Kṛṣṇa’s virtues separated from Him in our consciousness becomes unvirtuous sins. Do these sins exist in mahat-tattva? No, apparently they don’t, but it’s our consciousness that turns otherwise effulgent and pure mahat-tattva into unhappy suffering. Next sentence is even better – any dharma that separates virtues from a spiritual understanding of the self and spiritual relationship to God becomes unvirtuous. That’s why Kṛṣṇa says “abandon all varieties of dharma.” This faulty understanding of religion creates a lot of strife and suffering because it doesn’t practice what it preaches.

Next the book discusses a materialistic point of view here. We realize the value of altruism but the problem is that, short of Kṛṣṇa Himself, no one can be truly altruistic in return. Our kindness becomes something to be exploited and we resent that and stop being kind ourselves. Our search for virtues can only be satisfied if we find them in the Lord and that’s why materialists are always ultimately frustrated. Without God our virtues constantly appear and disappear again and cannot be sustained. That’s why it’s said that only devotees can always have all good qualities of God and everybody else would have to give up his good behavior after some time.

That’s how we can convert prescriptions of ordinary dharma into sanātana dharma – by directing them towards Kṛṣṇa. Following ordinary dharmas is better than not following them but, without Kṛṣṇa, they create karma and bring only temporary benefits.

Next the book gives us an important distinction in the nature of intelligence. One kind of intelligence judges whether statements and phenomena correspond with each other, and the other kind of intelligence judges whether the phenomena correspond to reality. The example given is that of a political report on TV. The media might reproduce politician’s statements truthfully, and we can also spot when they are misrepresent what was said, but we need another kind of judgement to determine whether the politician himself tells the truth.

The consistency between phenomena, i.e. TV report and actual statement, does not guarantee the truthfulness of the phenomena. For that we have to go “behind” the phenomena and find its correspondence to reality. That correspondence is morality. Mahat-tattva, therefore, is sometimes called intelligence, too, but it represent a different kind of judgement. Intelligence is the judgement of correspondence with phenomena and morality is the judgement of correspondence with reality. The book doesn’t tell us here why this distinction is necessary but I think it explains what is meant when we say that Lord Brahmā’s body is made of pure intelligence – his intelligence judges morality while our intelligence judges phenomena.

Mathematicians define numbers as properties of sets but to create sets there needs to be a distinction between different objects, plus the objects needs to be ordered so that you can select the first five, for example. Why do we choose these five and not other five when we create sets? The choice must be there and, as we learned yesterday, choices are guided by our search for pleasure. All math, therefore, depends on the theory of pleasure and all our counting, ordering, and classifications eventually reduces to our ideas of what constitutes pleasure.

The differences between us is that we think that different things will make us happy. All forms of happiness exist in Kṛṣṇa and so we can say that He is the space of all happiness and we are locations in that space defined by our specific selections of what makes us personally happy, these selections represent our coordinates in Lord’s space.

If we want to be happy separately from God we need another space and that space, which exists separately from God, is mahat-tattva. Our personal ego, intelligence, mind, senses etc grow out of our chosen locations in the space of mahat-tattva and, therefore, it is said that mahat-tattva contains all the universes and all living beings appearing in them.

Mahat-tattva is, therefore, a material representation of Kṛṣṇa’s virtues, and because they become separated from the Lord they become seen as distinct and even contradictory. Separately from Kṛṣṇa we might want to be truthful but it means that sometimes we have to be unkind, because truth hurts. If we want to be kind we might sometimes become unclean, and to always be clean we might sometime overlook austerity – because cleanliness costs money, too. Whatever virtue we might try to pursue it would eventually come in conflict with another virtue and create karma.

At the end of the day, it’s not that mahat-tattva is the source of all evil as well as of all good, but that evil is produced from separating virtues of mahat-tattva from Krishna. On their own they cannot produce ever-lasting happiness and we always end up in breaking this or that rule, i.e. sinning and thus and creating karma. Not really clear but this will do for today.

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