Defining Good

August 9, 2018

Let’s take Donald Trump as a symbol for hedonistic living and the Buddha as a symbol for compassionate living. If we imagine these figures at two ends of a spectrum, a majority of us would fall somewhere in between. Most of us aim at striking a balance between living for ourselves and for others. When you realise that your belief system and intentions are inclined towards achieving good for others — any historically suppressed/oppressed class or species of our terrestrial family — the question arises of what is objectively good. For a few thousand years in human history, organised religion prescribed what was right and wrong, good and bad. But since the onset of scientific and industrial revolutions in the west, it is the individual (free, now that God is dead, as Nietzsche put it) and not religious dogma, henceforth to decide what is good and bad for her/ him.

Sure, each individual decides what is good and bad for them. But if you realise that your beliefs and life choices are even slightly geared towards helping others, leaning away from Trump and towards the Buddha, then good and bad no longer remain an individual, subjective opinion. It would become necessary, before venturing out to do much needed work, to define what is good for all, what is absolutely good. Since without an objective yardstick to measure good work, you would be naïvely relying upon good intentions alone to achieve a positive impact as well as risk causing more harm than good.

We at Peepal Farm believe that physical pain is absolutely bad. All organisms avoid it and at the basic level it is unconditioned by culture or species behaviour. Although it may be an evolutionary necessity that makes certain species stronger than others, at the individual level no creature acts to bring pain upon itself. When we speak of pain, we must also address emotional or mental pain, the suffering we experience in our lives, perhaps more frequently and strongly than physical pain. But the quality and degree of emotional pain one feels differs from person to person.

In other species, too, emotional pain manifests in a variety of ways, meaning that despite its presence it is not as apparent as an earthworm tossing and writhing when accidentally stepped on or a mule braying when hit by a speeding car. In humans, emotional pain or suffering is usually (not exclusively) brought on by unfulfilled desires and expectations from ourselves or others, by dissatisfaction arising from selfishly clinging to the ego.

Since emotional pain is subjective from person to person and inter-species, it cannot be used to define something absolute, like a yardstick to determine what is good or bad for all life forms. Once we have ascertained that physical pain is absolutely bad, alleviating physical pain becomes absolutely good, which gives direction and impetus to doing good work and helps define how best to utilise the time and resources available to us.


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