Indian Culture · Reminders to self · Satyam Shivam Sundaram · Spirituality beyond Religion · Words of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo

Unselfishness and Selflessness

Beaumontia jerdonian (common name: Nepal trumpet flower, Herald’s trumpet, Easter lily vine) Spiritual significance: Unselfishness – Deeply open so as not to refuse anything. (Photo source)

Words so deeply inspiring, bringing so much clarity, so much wisdom…you can’t just read them once, twice or thrice. You have to read them again, and then again after a few days, and then again after a few weeks or months, and of course you must read them again after a few years. This is how the true truths of life are slowly internalised because during the intervening time, when you first came across those words and when you revisit them next, you might have had the chance to experience in some small way or some big way the truth of those words. Or if you had not been really able to live by the wisdom of those words and had acted otherwise, still you would have gained valuable experience in the process. This is why we revisit such words of wisdom, such words of the Rishis so that the force in them can blow off the cobwebs from our mind and loosen the grip of the thick crust of our physical nature, because only then more and more of the truth’s light can slowly seep in.

This is one such passage that I feel blessed to have re-re-re-read today…not keeping count, but am immensely grateful that it came in my mental sphere when it came. I am sure I will come across it again, someday when I will again need this reminder.

Unselfishness is usually imagined as the abnegation of self, a painful duty, a “mortification”, something negative, irksome and arduous. That is a Western attitude, not Hindu; the European temperament is dominated by the body and the vital impulses; it undertakes altruism as a duty, a law imposed from outside, a standard of conduct and discipline; it is, in this light, something contrary to man’s nature, something against which the whole man is disposed to rebel. That is not the right way to look at it. Unselfishness is not something outside the nature, but in the nature, not negative but positive, not a self-mortification and abnegation but a self-enlargement and self-fulfilment; not a law of duty but a law of self-development, not painful, but pleasurable. It is in the nature, only latent, and has to be evolved from inside, not tacked on from outside. The lion’s whelp in the fable who was brought up among sheep, shrank from flesh when it was placed before him, but once he had eaten of it, the lion’s instincts awoke and the habits of the sheep had no more delight for him. So it is with man. Selflessness is his true nature, but the gratification of the body and the vital impulses has become his habit, his second or false nature, because he has been accustomed to identify his body & vital impulses with himself. He, a lion, has been brought up to think himself a sheep; he, a god, has been trained to be an animal. But let him once get the taste of his true food, and the divinity in him awakes; the habits of the animal can please him no longer and he hungers after selflessness and selfless work as a lion hungers after his natural food. Only the feeling has to be evolved as a fulfilment of his nature, not painfully worked up to as a contravention of his nature. The man who regards selflessness as a duty, has not yet learned the alphabet of true altruism; it is the man who feels it as a delight and a natural craving, who has taken the right way to learn. The Hindu outlook here is the true outlook. The Hindu does not call the man who has risen above the gratification of desire a selfless man; he calls him आत्मवान्, the self-ful man; that man is अनात्मवान्, that man has not found himself who still clings to the gratification of his body & vital impulses. Read that great drama of self-sacrifice, the Nagananda, and you will feel how different is the Hindu outlook from the Western; there self-sacrifice is not a painful and terrible struggle but a glorious outpouring of the nature, a passionate delight. “It is only human nature,” we say indulgently of any act of selfishness. But that is an error and thrice an error. It is not human nature, but animal nature; human nature is divine & selfless and the average selfish man is selfish not because of his humanity, but because his humanity is as yet undeveloped & imperfect. Christ, Buddha, these are the perfect men; Tom, Dick & Harry are merely animals slowly shaping into men.”

~ Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, 17: 185-186

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