Living Lawfully one day Conference – transcript of a talk given by Ian Mason– Barrister and President of the School – on 28 June 2020
Ian Mason is a barrister who has been a student of Philosophy and Economics in the School of Philosophy and Economic Science for many years and currently holds the office of President. He has contributed to the United Nations Harmony with Nature Initiative on innovative approaches to law and economics based on the human duty of care for Nature. He is a senior ambassador for the Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative.
SANATANA DHARMA – LAWS FOR LIVING
The Sanatana Dharma is a code for living rightly. This talk explores how by holding to a few principles for simple living we can all contribute to resolving some of the great challenges of the present time.
THANK YOU – I think it is by expounding the challenges and possible solutions to an audience that is receptive and willing to make changes to their own life that these challenges can be met and overcome. It is your attention and responsiveness that will magnify the solutions and make them available to the world. So thank you.
Great challenges of the present time: There is always the risk that starting a talk by enumerating the problems it is intended to address will be depressing and discouraging. The challenges of the present time are not to be underestimated but the purpose of this talk is to show that we, the human race, have the capacity to meet and over-come them if we resolve to do so. It is offered in a spirit of optimism not despondency.
So what are the challenges?
Widespread agitation and anxiety: Fear of a deadly disease which can strike anyone at any time and fear for livelihoods and social stability are rampant across the globe. The social unrest surrounding black lives matter speaks of a deep anxiety and anger in people about ethics and norms that seem to be accepted but are not acceptable. There are very real concerns that these may lead to mental and physical illness as well as discontent and conflict.
Anxiety surrounding climate change (which is particularly marked in the younger generation) adds to this: This week we have heard about the Arctic heatwave – but it is not the exceptionally high recordings this week that matter; what matters is the steady underlying increases in surface air temperature in the Arctic and around the globe that are attributed to global warming made all the more alarming by our seeming inability to control the human forces of industry and wastefulness that seem to be major contributors to the problem. Surely it is the feeling of helplessness that is the most debilitating feeling of all.
All this is exacerbated by the prevailing habit of ecological exploitation – Here we are, living on the most beautiful planet, capable of an abundance of material provision, packed with beauty and nourishment for the spirit of humankind and yet the mother of all this, the bountiful and beautiful Earth, has become an economic commodity to be parceled out to the highest bidder without regard to its own integrity or to the needs of generations to come or the countless species that depend on it.
Inequality: social and economic: The World Inequality Report 2018 tells us that the share of national income accounted for by the nations top 10% of earners was 37% in Europe; 41% in China; 46% in Russia; 47% in US/Canada; and around 55% in sub-Saharan Africa, Brazil and India. In the Middle East the top 10% capture 61% of national income[a]. While it seems clear that economic growth benefits everyone to come extent, it is equally clear that it benefits those already well off far more than it benefits poor people. These levels of inequality cannot help but lead to social tension and distress.
Distrust in public life: we live in the era of fake news frequently accompanied by disrespect and contempt for people with different views. We see the cowardly anonymous trolling of public figures on social media; the eagerness to find fault with everything and everyone and the lack of compassion that this implies. One would think that our modern obsession with open-ness, transparency and freedom of information would lead to rigorously high standards of government and administration; but instead they seem to lead to fake news, deception, manipulation and a desperate loss of confidence. Perhaps after all, there is a place for trust, respect and possibly even a little privacy in public life.
Underlying all this is a deep-rooted Spiritual malaise – people don’t know what to believe any more – that shows itself in an insatiable lust for the pleasures of life without much regard to the consequences, without regard to what makes them possible in the first place and without any sense of a higher purpose to life than to eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. This manifests as the relentless pursuit of pleasure, of entertainment, often of dubious quality, and of gain for oneself without consideration for others.
I hasten to say that this bleak picture is not without remedy and it is not universal. Indeed, at least in the UK, the public response to the measures necessary to combat the coronavirus suggests a much more positive side to all this. It is the same with the widespread action to stop the desecration of the environment, to alleviate poverty and to value human beings for being human before any kind of discrimination on any other grounds. There is a groundswell of support for all these that speaks of a deep resilience and compassion in people which encourages hope and optimism in the face of great challenges.
But the question remains, how to respond to the challenges and support and strengthen the positive responses: how do we give expression to the most basic human aspirations for happiness, freedom and prosperity in the face of all this?
In the School we have come to see human society as a multi-layered complex of relationships with the family at its heart. The family, it is said, accounts for all individuals bound together with love, affection and sacrifice[b] so that these most noble of human attributes can find their home in every home and can extend from there to encompass all of humanity. But we see that there are intervening formations which make up the multi-layered complex of human society and play in every individual.
Surrounding and supporting the family are distinct levels of community and society which make up the economic organism and also the social context in which we all live. These in turn are organized, unified and governed from the level of nation which expresses itself through common laws, language and traditions that give a sense of national identity and national unity.
But nations do not live in isolation either. They rise, have their being, and ultimately fall within an even wider context of culture and civilization which hold the deeply embedded values and attitudes that enable even widely disparate nations to find common ground and common cause so that they and their peoples can live together in peace and harmony. Our modern Western culture sets high value on democracy, the rule of law, human rights and individual freedom while from the level of civilization come principles for living like the Golden Rule – do to others as you would that they should do to you – or the neighbour principle – love your neighbour as yourself.
The common factor in all of these is humanity itself, a species to which, whatever differences we may presume, we all belong; as well as being a quality that we all share and exhibit to a greater or lesser extent. In this age of globalisation and global consciousness in which a single tiny virus can affect the lives of every human being everywhere, it becomes more necessary than ever before to consider what principles of living might usefully apply to enable humanity to live happily and healthfully in peace and prosperity, even if it is likely that these aspirations will only be partially achieved. It really is better to have tried and failed than never to have tried at all.
And that is what brings me to the Sanatana Dharma….
The term, ‘Sanatana Dharma’ is variously interpreted to mean ‘ever present law’; ‘eternal law’; ‘eternal religion’; ‘natural law’; ‘right livelihood’. It presumes a lawful universe and it presumes that human nature is also lawful – that some habits and practices lead to benign consequences while others can only end in tears. The Sanatana Dharma has no single origin or source – it is rather a summation of experience of what it really means to be human.
What we have available to us is the attempts over the ages to set down or express laws or principles that most closely accord with our nature as human beings and members of the community of life on this planet. There are many formulations and no one of them has precedence or priority – it is not the preserve of any particular religion or philosophy – if anything it is the distilled essence of all religion and philosophy. This talk draws on what the speaker has most readily to hand – Indian philosophy, Christian religion, Platonic laws and the letters of Marsilio Ficino.
It seems that the human intellect is able to apprehend the laws of human nature, and indeed the laws of the universe, only partially, so that they have to be re-stated and re-understood from generation to generation. Yet there do seem to be some principles that stand the test of time and re-appear from age to age for the better governance of humankind.
The promise of Sanatana Dharma is that conformity with it – conformity with the laws of human nature – will confer freedom and prosperity[c] on humankind without exploitation or misuse of the planet we live on. It seems to take as read the observation of Sir John Fortescue: “Freedom is a thing with which the nature of man has been endowed by God. Therefore, wherever it is oppressed it strives of its own energy always to return[d]”. I think this means freedom in the sense that it has long been understood in law – that is to say freedom under law; freedom based on the human ability to discriminate and to modify action and moderate behavior to take account of the interests of everyone and everything that will be affected by human action.
When we speak of prosperity in this context we mean the full flourishing of the human spirit in body, mind and soul. It seems reasonable to assert that everyone seeks knowledge; everyone seeks happiness; everyone seeks health; everyone seeks freedom. Prosperity is a condition in which everyone enjoys, or may if they choose to, enjoy a fair measure of all of these – and in which no-one has misery forced upon them by economic or social deprivation. Of course, we cannot legislate to make everyone good, or happy, or wise – but we can at least aspire to create the social and economic conditions in which anyone may be all of these if they so wish.
There are ten aspects of Sanatana Dharma that give practical guidance for everyday living in the modern world (this is not the only possible selection[e] – but one that seems valid and sufficient for present purposes). They are all principles for individual practice:
Patience: For this we have the example of the earth itself, of Mother Earth or Mother Nature. The patience to bring seeds to birth, to nurture them while they grow and in due time and seasonality to bring forth an abundance of fruitfulness. It is all about timeliness, finding the right time for things and being willing to wait, and there is an aspect of perseverance and resilience about it which makes it a quality of immense utility in human life.
Forgiveness: This is a kind of forbearance – tolerance of the failures and shortcomings of others, perhaps flowing from the humility to realise that we have shortcomings and failings of our own and that in truth wherever we see others we see also a version of ourselves, however far from our own ideal that version may be.
Restraint or self-control: This is the very opposite of the greed that dominates our time. Nothing to excess – what extensive economic implications this has. As Mahatma Gandhi put it, “there is enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed”. And surely this is also the foundation of freedom under the law – whether in our relations with each other or with each other and the planet we live on. Not to be driven hither and thither by every passing whim or fashion or desire, but to be at one with one’s own self; to be one’s own master and one’s own law and at peace with oneself6 and hence with all others. This is the quality of restraint.
Not-stealing: To steal is said to be to take more then we need or to take what is not given consciously with pleasure. This is the principle that protects everyone in the possession of the necessities of life. What a difference it would make if we aspired to live on as little as is consistent with a dignified life instead of striving to accumulate as much as we can. And does it not also imply leaving things, whatever they are, as good, of not better, than we find them.
Purity: Not, perhaps the most popular word in the modern lexicon, but what does this idea imply for practical living? I think it implies wholesome living – cleanliness of person and of environment as well as cleanliness of mind and thought. It implies a healthy diet and simplicity of life or at least to make efforts in that direction.
For example, one views with uncomprehending dismay the devastation wrought on the beaches of Bournemouth by the litter left by thousands on a hot day[g] . On the same day, Great Yarmouth’s seafront was covered in plastic, toys, and broken glass long after the crowds had left. Is this any way to treat that little part of this land that remains the common property of us all? Why should our public spaces be uglified with our waste when they could reflect the dignity, freedom and responsibility of what it means to be human?
Mastery over sense organs: This is to realise that part of what it means to be human is to understand that the appetites of the senses feed the body and, unless restrained, cause us to neglect the development and refinement of mind and the realisation of spirit. It implies an understanding that the body is the least part of what we are and that there dwells in each of us a conscious spirit that is much finer, much greater and much more durable than anything the body can attain. It implies that happiness and contentment are to be found not in the pleasures of the body but in the spaciousness and generosity of the worlds of mind and spirit. What a different world we would live in if the efforts of the marketing industry were devoted not to creating desires for things we’d never thought of, but to encouraging us to live with as little as is consistent with dignity and to grow in wisdom and understanding.
Spiritual intellect: This is that power and strength of mind that enables us to restrain our animal nature and live in society lawfully on the basis of a moral or ethical code, and to discover and express and share that code. It is spiritual because it is directed to and guided by goodness itself enabling us to understand and prefer the good of the whole, whether it be family or community or nation or humanity or the universe and everything in it, to the satisfaction of our own selfish ends and desires. Properly trained and developed, it seeks harmony where there is discord, freedom where there is bondage and prosperity where there is poverty.
Spiritual intellect is that state of mind that follows Plato in realising that goods are of two kinds, human and divine, and that the human goods; health, strength, material wealth etc., depend upon the divine goods which Plato describes as wisdom, temperance, courage and justice[h] – which can be regarded as another expression of the Sanatana Dharma. Spiritual intellect is the intellect that aims to realise these things and to hold human idealism high whether successfully or not. It aims for the best outcomes from human actions taking full account of the welfare of all. It is a state of mind that is cultivated by study, education and training.
Spiritual knowledge: This is the wisdom combined with experience that shows us, when we look into the eyes of a working man or woman, whether employee or employer, rich or poor, self-employed or unemployed, philosopher or labourer, or even economist, that there lives behind those eyes a living spirit or soul with all the potential for a life if dignity, freedom and prosperity that is the human opportunity at its best [i]. It is this wisdom that is the ultimate guide to a full and useful life in community with friends and neighbours and in harmony with ourselves, and also with nature and with each other. It is the wisdom in the words ‘Know thyself’ that teaches us that we are one of a kind. And it is the wisdom that prompts us to live by that knowledge and understanding.
Truth: To be honest with ourselves and honest in our dealings with others is the only sound foundation of civil society and friendship. It is the antidote to fake news and to deceptive marketing. The School of Philosophy and Economic Science is founded on love of truth and justice because truth is also the objective and guide of spiritual or philosophic enquiry. Truth has a dynamic of its own, constantly calling on us to review our opinions and understanding and inviting enquiry founded in humility. It is at the same time a philosophic ideal and a practical necessity for living in community with others.
Lack of anger: Personally, I have struggled with all of these aspects of Sanatana Dharma, but I have struggled most with this one: how can one not be angry about the injustices in this world, both personal and universal? How can one not be angry when one’s personal hopes are dashed by forces one cannot control? Or when one hears of the inequalities already referred to (especially if one is outside the charmed 10%); Or what about the disgraceful treatment of people based on the colour of their skin; Or of the contempt for people who try to do some good in the world? The world is full of excuses for anger. Yet the wisdom of ages seems to say that anger is not the best response to these things, however righteous that anger may seem. Rather, we need to learn to address these issues calmly, rationally, patiently and with restraint – not adding to the agitation but somehow bringing it to rest and resolution Perhaps this will always remain a work in progress.
The most important aspect of this list of qualities is that they are for individual practice. Economies, nations, communities, even civilisations, cannot benefit from these qualities except to the extent that they are practised by people in both their private and public lives. The principles or laws of Sanatana Dharma do not work by imposition – they work, as all good law works, by acceptance and co-operation.
Hence the importance of hearing about them, reflecting on them and finding for ourselves how they work in practice. The remedy for the challenges of our time, as the poet says, is in ourselves, not in our stars[j]. May we all learn to live, as Marsilio Ficino begs us, “by the law of nature, which is content with very few and very small things[k].
- Manusmritti VI.90-93:
“90. As all rivers, both great and small, find their resting-place in the ocean, even so men of all the stages of life find shelter in the householder.
91. The law in its ten aspects is to be followed at all times and with special care by twice born men in these four stages of life.
92. Constancy, forbearance, self-control, not stealing, purity, regulation of the senses, use of reason, spiritual knowledge, truthfulness and absence of anger; these are the ten aspects of the law.
93. Those Brahmanas who thoroughly study the ten aspects of the law, and having studied them, live by them, reach the highest goal.”
(Laws of Manu – School of Economic Science – 2018)
- “These are the ultimate laws suitable to humanity.”
(Sri Vasudevananda Saraswati – 1999 – Day 3 (unpublished))
- “There is a Sanskrit verse which says, if one learns to understand that one is part of this universe and one has equal status with everyone else, then give to others what you would like given to you. What pleases you should be made available for the pleasure of others – or “Do as you would be done by.” This sums up the concept of Sanaatan Dharma. It is not a religion; it is a concept for humanity.”
(Shri Shantananda Saraswati – Red Book p 376)
a. World Inequality Report 2018: Executive Summary – Creative Commons Licence 4.0 – CCBY-NC-SA4.0 World Inequality Lab, 2017
b. His Holiness Shri Shantananda Saraswati – Conversations 1982 E.1.
c. Vaisesika Sutra 1.2.2
d. Sir John Fortescue (1394 – 1379): De Laudibus Legum Angliae – In Praise of the Laws of England – published 1543
e. It is derived from the Laws of Manu – Manusmritti:VI.92 – School of Economic Science, 2018
f. Cf .Plato Rep.IV.443 Tr. Jowett
g. June 25th 2020
h. Plato Laws Bk.I. 631 Tr. Jowett
i. I am indebted for this way of putting it, to Mr Andrew MacLaren MP: Speech to House of Commons – Hansard 2nd December 1942
j. Shakespeare: Julius Caesar Act.I Sc.2: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in the stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
k. Letters: Vol.1 2nd Ed. P 49 – Shepheard-Walwyn Publishers