Several of you have pointed out that a person doesn’t have to have “spiritual” reasons for being nice to others, and that’s true.
[I’m putting quotes around “spiritual” to remind us it’s a tricky word, we’ll have to try to make clearer one of these days]
So let me stir the pot a little as we think about some aspects of this.
Even a spiritual teacher like His Holiness the Dalai Lama (HHDL) often advises people that if you want to be selfish, be wisely selfish. Being nice to others builds up good will, which will have an overall positive effect on how others treat you. That’s a straightforward statement of what, if we want to be fancier, we could call the operation of the law of karma in everyday life. HHDL believes karma goes on from lifetime to lifetime, of course, but let’s stay focused on this life for now.
I like to think of this level of niceness as “business karma” or “investment karma,” or “wise self-interest karma.” As far as it goes, it business. You can’t keep all the people happy about you all the time, but if you keep your customer base generally happy, your business is likely to thrive. This is a generally sensible strategy for living life.
So let’s say I’m a Dismissive Materialist, as discussed in The End of Materialism. That is, I think everything in the universe is material stuff and forces, it all just happened, there’s no purpose or plan, no Creator, no goal. Let those atoms bang against each other for a few zillion years and you get us, but it doesn’t mean anything other than what we care to imagine about it. Then we die and consciousness is done, poof! Gone. Any idea of a possible reality to the spiritual is dismissed a priori. It can’t be true, so don’t even bother to look at any evidence there might be for it.
So I look at you and see you have something I very much want and you’re not likely to give or sell it to me, given my limited resources. Ah, but I see there’s a way I can force you to give it to me, even though you won’t like me. That might be worth the fight if my gain is big enough… Ah, better yet, here’s a way I can trick you out of it, and neither you nor anybody else will realize I’ve done anything reprehensible. Way to go! I’m richer and happier! My customer base is still fine.
So you hurt from your loss.
Just chemical reactions in a complex biological system with no inherent meaning….. As long as my biochemical reactions don’t make me feel hurt, what’s the problem? Your biochemical reactions are in your body, not mine. They are all gone when death comes anyway.
Now suppose I have a religious or spiritual belief that I shouldn’t hurt others to advance myself?
From the logic of Dismissive Materialism, all that means is that my social feelings, based on my (inherently meaningless) biology, have been conditioned through evolution or personal enculturation conditioning to make inhibit my ability to put myself first if it involves hurting other. This may involve intellectual/emotional beliefs about what we might term retributive karma, that either the lawful nature of the universe or some divine being will know what I’ve been up to and punish me, either in this life or a future one. Business decision again, from the Dismissive Materialism point of view. Is the cost of suppressing the unhappiness caused by this feeling less than what I’ll gain from taking advantage of you? If yes, go for it!
Lots of people who’ve had what we call deep mystical experiences, though, tell us that the separation between one person and another is only a part of the story, that we really are all intimately connected at a deep spiritual level, and so there really is no true happiness for any one person without the happiness of all others. They tell us this is not an intellectual idea, it’s the deepest kind of realization they’ve ever had. They usually try to live in accordance with this understanding, although they admit it’s not easy to do.
If they are right, then intelligent self-interest is fine as far as it goes, but the reason for, the need for, being nice to others is way, way deeper, it goes down to the very core of existence. If I think I can be happy while others suffer, especially if they are suffering as a result of my actions, I’m deeply deluded.
Note that lots of people think this, so, if it’s delusion, it’s “normal” delusion… ;-(
Are the mystics right, or are they deluded, a malfunctioning of the matter and material energies in their brains?
So when a mystic feels deeply at one with all other life, is it just a failure of the boundary defining mechanisms in her brain, or, knowing, as discussed in The End of Materialism , that clairvoyance and telepathy work sometimes and there are no known limits to what we might become in contact with, is the experience of deep connection with all life a clairvoyant contact?
Things to think about….