Are Values And Morals Outdated Concepts?

April 4, 2018, 2:00 AM IST Speaking Tree in TOI Edit Page | Edit Page, India, Spirituality | TOI
By Janki Santoke

What role do values play today, ask many who are faced with corruption all around. A person would not even survive today with these so-called values. Is it really possible to do business without bribery in this country? Can a politician be honest, and still manage his election spending? Get real! Insider trading, lobbying are the order of the day. But there are those who say that nevertheless, we cannot give up on values. Both perspectives seem to hold some water. So should we have values or discard them as old fashioned?

Perhaps the confusion can be removed by understanding ‘values’. Values are usually understood to be some behaviour patterns – telling the truth, being punctual and clean, not indulging in bribery and corruption, and vegetarianism, for example.

Having values means giving value to something. Finding something important. How we know what is important is by understanding the facts of life. Hence having values is being established in the facts of life. So, to have values is to understand life. When our understanding of life is appropriate, we value the right things. These correct values are known as higher values.

To have wrong values is to put the accent on the wrong syllable, to consider non-essentials as essential. Here are some examples. At the physical level: to consider looks more important than health; to consider money more important than work. At the mental level: to consider being loved more important than being loving. At the intellectual level: to consider gathering of information more important than wisdom and clarity. At the moral level: to consider what I get to be more important than what I become. At the spiritual level: to consider the robes, rituals, and paraphernalia as more important than the goal of enlightenment, moksha.

Adi Shankara says in Bhaja Govindam: ‘Nitya anitya viveka vichara’ – reflection on discrimination of what is eternal and non-eternal; what is permanent and what is passing. Values are simply the knowledge of what lasts and what passes away. When we value impermanent things the result is wrong, or more precisely, those are lower values. The more permanent things we value, the higher are said to be our values.

Money is no doubt a very useful thing. But its use is restricted to sense-objects. You can use money to transact in sense-objects. You can buy food not appetite; bed, not sleep. That does not mean we discard money. It simply means that we understand its worth. Giving it the right value means neither exaggerating nor underestimating its worth.

Similarly, emotions – if we are reliant on the emotions of others, we subjugate our lives to the whims of others. But if we can shower love, we stay independent of the vagaries of people. And so, too, knowledge. Information gathering never gave anybody knowledge. It is clarity that gives knowledge.

When you are able to map your current circumstances on the facts of life, you can make better decisions and reach your goal faster. Values or facts of life are like maps that tell us ground realities. Yet many people take them as suppositions. And therein lies the fallacy.

Hence values are the value we give something based on our understanding of life. When we value more lasting things, it is called higher values. When we value impermanent things, it is called lower values.