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Is there anything called universal truth or universal beauty? || IIT Kanpur (2020)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
10 min
33 reads

Questioner: If positive and negative, good and bad, beauty and ugliness are all a matter of personal perspective, then can universal positivity, universal goodness, or universal beauty exist? If it is the majority that decides, then is the majority the judge of the deeds to be done by one in a communal setting? Or is it better for an individual to believe in oneself and proceed with his own beliefs?

Acharya Prashant: That which you call as personal perspective obviously belongs to the person, right? And as you have pointed out, the person is a bundle of conditioning; the perspective of the person comes from his illusions. Don’t you see that that which you think of as good for yourself so frequently turns out to be harmful? That which appears beautiful right now probably is merely a shadow of the ugly. But we have a lot of confidence in our beliefs. We say, “I think of something in a particular way, therefore that thing is the way I look at it.”

Now, what is it that you call as universal positivity or goodness or beauty? Probably you mean to say that if a lot of people agree, that if they have a shared belief that something is good or beautiful or positive, then that something can be called as universally good or beautiful. Not really. If it is our conditioning that leads to our perspectives, if it is our conditioning that leads us to believe in our sets of good and bad, high and low, fair and unfair, profitable and unprofitable, vice and virtue, then what would be good for all human beings would simply be freedom from this conditioning, right?

So, conditioned, the person believes, “This is good, this is bad.” And whether he takes something as good or bad, the fact remains that his choice is coming from his conditioning, and therefore his decisions or his experience or his opinions of good-bad, right-wrong, etc., are all deluded. Think of a drunkard. He says something is very good for him, then he says something is very bad for him—how does it matter? The fact remains that the person behind the assertion—the choice is not quite free to choose—does not quite have the clarity to decide.

Therefore, what is it that would be good for all people? You have said ‘universal’. What is it that would be universally good? The universally good thing would be to be free of the fundamental vice, the fundamental problem. And what is the fundamental problem? The fundamental problem is human illusion.

Therefore, what is universally good? To be free of the illusions that give rise to our perceptions of good and bad, that is universally good.

Whether we say ‘good’ or we say ‘bad’, it is actually coming from our illusions. Therefore, whatever we say is actually bad. You say ‘good’—it is bad. You say ‘bad’—it is bad. Therefore, what is it that would be good for all people? I am repeating, it would be good for all people to be free of that central illusion from where all their dualistic perceptions arise. And that central illusion is Maya , is Prakriti , is conditioning. You can give it different names.

So, what would be universally beautiful? It would be beautiful for all human beings to get rid of the central ugliness within. What is the central ugliness? The central ugliness is the distortion we have brought upon, accumulated upon our True Self. That is the fundamental ugliness. That fundamental ugliness leads to our perceptions of what is ugly and what is beautiful.

Pay attention. Even when we declare something to be beautiful, that declaration is coming from a point of ugliness. So, it is the ugly one that is finding something or someone beautiful. So, this perception of beauty is all flawed, junk, bogus, has no value at all. Equally, if the ugly one declares something as ugly, it cannot be taken as reliable, right?

So, good-bad, right-wrong, high-low, virtue-vice, ugly-beautiful—all these dualistic pairs, they arise from a point that is not reliable at all. Then what is it that one must seek? One must seek freedom from this very center that gives rise to illusory appearances, and that is beautiful; that is real goodness; that is, if I go by your words, the only positive thing that is possible.

So, it is not as if there is nothing that is universally good. But for something to be universally good, it would apply to all conscious-sentient beings, right? Therefore, it would have to address that which is commonly bad between all human beings. If you are to discover what is universally or unexceptionally good for all human beings, you will, first of all, have to figure out what is unexceptionally bad for all human beings. What is unexceptionally bad for all human beings is that all human beings confidently live in their flawed and illusory perceptions.

Therefore, it is not that there is nothing that is universally good for everyone. Yes, there is something that is universally good for everyone, and that is freedom from illusion, freedom from the little egoistic self, freedom from conditioning, freedom from Maya . That is what is universally good. And that freedom, depending on the context, can be given suitable names. So, beauty, goodness, freedom, Truth, awakening, joy—all these are names for just the same things. And that is what is universally good; that is what all human beings should strive for.

Next you have asked, “Is it the majority that decides what is universally good or bad?” Obviously not. The majority just consists of persons, and all those persons are conditioned in their own ways. The conditioning might be of different types, the conditioning might show up in different ways among different individuals; nevertheless, the common thing is that all are conditioned. It is like saying that all are diseased; it is just that the symptoms of the disease are different in different people, and those different people call themselves as different from each other depending on the symptoms they exhibit.

So, if the central disease—which is common to everyone, which pertains to the obfuscation of health—shows up in someone as a high temperature, then that person starts identifying with his high temperature and starts taking that high temperature as his central identity. Compared to him, in the next person that disease shows up as high blood pressure. Now, this person with high BP thinks of himself as someone who is centered around high blood pressure. And these two think of themselves as different from each other. This one says, “I am the one with high temperature”; the next one says, “I am the one with high blood pressure.” So, they are convinced that their lives, their opinions, their world views, their identities are divergent; they may even get into conflicts with each other. But the fact remains that these two are very much alike: they share a central, common disease.

So, that which you call as the majority is actually just a conditioned lot of people. It could be a majority, it could be a minority—how does it matter? Hundred drunkards versus ten drunkards—how does it matter? Just because something is a majority view it holds no credence. Just because something is a minority view, that doesn’t make it any special. Who is the one holding that view? Has the person taken care to cleanse his mind? Has the person paid the price for freedom? That is the question to be asked.

So, good-bad, right-wrong, these obviously are not standards that can be set by the majority or the minority, or even the individual. Remember, the unit of the drunk crowd is the drunk individual. How is the individual any superior to the crowd then? In fact, it is several of these drunkards that get together to form that crowd. It is another matter that in the crowd there is greater incentive to remain drunk.

Is it a better choice for an individual to believe in himself rather than the majority and live by his own beliefs? No, not at all. Whether you go by the standards of the mob outside of you, or whether you go by the dictates of the mob inside of you, it is much the same thing. So kindly do not hold the impression that if you are going by your own personal beliefs you are any better than the ones who follow the crowds.

See, the crowd is not only outside of you; the crowd is within you as well. And when you are physically in a crowd, then, in fact, it is a bit easier to acknowledge that you are influenced and dominated and conditioned because you can easily see with your eyes, with your senses that a lot of people are holding sway over you. In contrast, when the crowd is inside you, then it is a lot more difficult to realize, to acknowledge that you are controlled by that crowd; then you start feeling and asserting that you are a free man. You start saying that you live by your own individual, personal beliefs and convictions, which is totally false.

Most of the people who believe in free thought or free will are actually highly conditioned. Free thought is not free at all. Free will is not free at all. It is just that there is great egoistic pleasure in declaring oneself to be a free man, especially when one is in bondage within. You continue to remain in bondage within and you do not pay the price for freedom, and yet you can relish the pleasure of declaring freedom. One falls for that; it is tempting.

So, go neither by the crowd nor by your inner beliefs. Keep striving for the Truth. Go neither by the crowds nor by your inner beliefs or convictions. Remember that the outside and the inside are not very different. That which we call as our inside is composed mostly of external influences. Then how is the ‘inside’ inside at all? The ‘inside’ is as much controlled by the outside as is the ‘outside’.

Therefore, stop identifying with the so-called inside, the so-called person, the so-called individual self. Instead, pay attention. Acknowledge that there is bondage all around and within, and pay attention to the facts of your slavery. That will enable you to move towards the Truth or have the freedom to enter the Truth.

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