An inner happiness abode in all,
A sense of universal abode of all,
A sense of universal harmonies,
A measureless secure eternity
Of truth and beauty and good and joy made one.
~ Sri Aurobindo, Savitri, CWSA, Vol. 33, p. 291
Chanakya, the great philosopher-economist-jurist-strategist once said that the fragrance of flowers spreads only in the direction of the wind, but the goodness of a person spreads in all directions. Not so with a flower named sweet Alyssum also known as Sweet Alison (Lobularia maritima). It is an invasive shrub that is used to blanket gardens or landscapes as it spreads really fast.
Alyssum flowers come in different shades and look really pretty and beautiful. The flower has a lively honey-like fragrance that almost takes over the entire garden. Their honey-like fragrance is the reason they attract honey bees, butterflies and other pollinators and are, therefore, a favourite of all gardeners throughout the world.
Goodwill or goodness is almost like Sweet Alison that comes in different shades of colours and also has the ability to spread, almost having a kind of domino effect on others. Perhaps because of this innate quality of spreading fragrance, the Mother gave this flower the spiritual significance ‘Goodwill’ and added a description – “modest in appearance, does not make a show but is always ready to be useful.”
What is Good and What is Goodness?
But what constitutes goodness or goodwill and how do we define “Good”? Perhaps good and goodness are mostly illustrated than defined. Both have been the topic of debate for eons among philosophers, poets and religious leaders alike.
Often our definition of good depends upon the choices we make, and these choices can depend upon a variety of factors such as ethics, morality, philosophy and religion. In a narrow way, good is generally considered opposite of evil. And an act of goodness is understood as something that promotes love, justice, happiness, generosity and overall sense of contentment.
Of God, Universe, Good and Evil
In the drama ‘Prometheus Unbound’ Shelley wrote:
The good want power, but to weep barren tears.
The powerful goodness want: worse need for them.
The wise want love; and those who love want wisdom;
And all best things are thus confused to ill.
Many are strong and rich, and would be just,
But live among their suffering fellow-men
As if none felt: they know not what they do.
What he perhaps meant was this: to do good one has to be powerful. But as is often the case powerful people easily get corrupted and in turn promote evil.
On the contrary, it is wrong to assume that powerful people can never do good. The Mother reminds us:
“Sweetness without strength and goodness without power are incomplete and cannot totally express the divine.”~ CWM, Vol. 10, p. 280
It is thus very tricky to define good and its adjective, goodness. If I were to define goodness in a phrase, I would call it ‘alignment with life’. When we are in alignment with nature and life, goodness prevails. And there is no better teacher than nature herself who is always abound with goodness and bounty that we overlook and take for granted.
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Sri Aurobindo on the Essence of Ethics
I remember a poem I once read on the internet:
It was almost time for harvest.
Her boughs, laden with fruit
Engorged by the goodness
Received from the roots;
Put strain on her branches;
Far more than she could take
Even holding too much treasure
Can cause someone to break.
Mother Nature teaches us that being good is not only laden with obstacles but also needs a lot of faith and perseverance. Somehow, more often than not, it is the good people who suffer a lot and are taken for granted. But when faith prevails, nothing deters them from their path of goodness. Such is the quality of this trait. This is not just goodness but “spiritual goodness.”
There is a beautiful story of two farmers that illustrates this kind of goodness.
Once upon a time, in a village lived a farmer who was not only kind but also of very good nature. His name was Paramraj. He lived in a small humble hut with his wife and two children. He owned a small piece of land where he grew crops such as rice and vegetables. He didn’t earn much, but he was content, hard-working and happy.
Param was always kind and helpful to others. His goodness was known to almost every person in the village. They knew they could depend upon him for any help they wanted. There was none who disliked or hated him. Except for his next-door neighbour named Charanraj. He sought of hated Param because of his very nature of being kind and generous.
Charan was a lazy man. He didn’t put much effort in his work; as a result his land yielded poor crop, year after year. And this made him jealous of his neighbour Param who seemed to live happily on a small piece of land. One year, Charan could no longer contain his jealousy and just before days of harvest, set Param’s farm on fire.
It was late in the night and Param was fast asleep. His other neighbours woke him up to alert him but it was too late. Almost all his crop was burnt and Param made very little money that year to sustain his family.
Param eventually came to know who was the culprit, but he let the matter to rest without making it a big deal. But he promised himself that he would take action if it happens again. From then on, he was more vigil during nights.
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A few months later, he heard much commotion in his neighbour’s home. There were sounds of crying and seemed like Charanraj was very upset. Several people had gathered around his house. Upon asking one of them, Param learned that Charan’s only son was seriously ill and the village doctor couldn’t do much about it.
Immediately, he took his bicycle and rode ten miles to the next village where his cousin was a doctor. He convinced him to go with him. The doctor was able to diagnose the disease and Charan’s son recovered in a few days.
Some days later when Param went to meet his neighbour to inquire about his son, somehow the topic of fire came up. Param told him that he knew who was responsible for the incident and that made Charan weep unconsolably. He confessed his sins. And then sheepishly asked Param — “you knew about what I had done, and yet you went all the way to bring the doctor for my son! Why?”
Param replied — “Those are two different things. My conscience would never permit me to do otherwise. When I learned about your situation, I immediately knew what was the right thing to do at that moment. So I did what was necessary, that’s all!” Charan was deeply moved listening to this, and silently resolved to change his attitude and get over his petty jealousies.
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It is said that one’s goodness brings goodness to the world. Param’s goal was to be good and this helped him look at the bigger picture than a few incidents in the past. I am reminded of a beautiful quote of the Mother: “Do not let the view of the part hide the perception of the whole, and the details of one step obstruct the concentration of the goal.” (CWM, Vol. 14, p. 230). Goodness compels us to remember that we must aspire for the ‘wholeness’ of our being.
Goodness makes life fragrant when one is doing the best he can without expecting a result. Often people are good so that they receive good in return. But the Mother says that true goodness should be devoid of such intentions and we should do good despite how others behave towards us. One must be good not for anything but for the “love of goodness”.
~ Design: Beloo Mehra and Biswajita Mohapatra