Selfishness – the greatest disease of Mankind

posted on 17 June 2010 | posted in Information


Selfishness is not only in the genes of man but in his mind and heart too. In itself, selfishness need not be a disease. It is meant for personal evolution, especially in the animal kingdom where it is question of the famous characteristic of the ‘survival of the fittest.’ Even what appears to be non-selfishness conceals selfishness. Whatever co-operation, unity and interdependence we find either among animals or among men conceal selfishness.

In man, selfishness has become a disease. At this juncture, selfishness should have been transformed for a higher purpose. Man is very dissimilar to animals. He is meant to achieve something wonderful which only he can achieve. However, being selfish does not only prevent him from attaining that, but also creates much confusion and conflict for the whole of mankind. Manliness and selfishness form a very dangerous association and the present day barbarous society is a clear consequence of that.

We have to transcend our animal nature so as to become free from selfishness. Man should have a common vision – that of establishing peace, harmony and understanding. Only then can we progress materially and spiritually. We are fundamentally one and our force resides in feeling our oneness. With oneness we can achieve great things. What we have achieved till now has been through the force of a oneness that was superficial and for a material purpose. It has not revolutionized the mind of man.

Building the Eiffel Tower, the House of Parliament, the Statue of Liberty or the Great Wall of China was not the work of one person only. However, these achievements have not changed the minds and hearts of the people involved. Love, peace, compassion and wisdom remained unknown to them. All the progress in the field of technology, art, culture and science in general has not led to a self-educated, free, loving and blissful human society. Why? Because we have not been able to rid ourselves of the great disease called selfishness. “My health, my progress, my family, my wealth, my name and fame, my position, what ever be the cost! Who cares for others?” – this is the attitude of people.

Richard Dawkin, a famous British ethnologist, too sees man and animal as selfish and as survival machines. “To a survival machine,” he says, “another survival machine (which is not its own child or another close relative) is part of its environment, like a rock or a river or a lump of food. It is something that gets in the way or something that can be exploited.” There is indeed much truth in what Mr Dawkin says, though we are much more than a selfish survival machine. Evolution surely did not teach us at this juncture simply to survive and then die. Is that a purpose? Let the intelligent reader reflect on that. The way people live confirms very much the theory of Dawkin. This leads me to the following remark: human beings are so much animalistic in nature!

Greed is the base of selfishness. We want to have everything for us alone. The more we get, the more we want – this is our motto. We are insatiable monsters and yet we think the devil is elsewhere. Our greed and our selfishness have led us away from our real nature, from pure love, eternal bliss and immortality. Broken marriage, broken family, domestic violence, corruption, rape, poverty and crime, all have their roots in our being highly selfish. Selfishness has resulted in an exceedingly split society and a schizophrenic mankind. We are seriously ill; we think only in terms of ‘I’ and mine. Though our selfishness has not helped any one of us in the sense that we have not known eternal bliss, inner peace and freedom, yet we continue to be selfish. We neither grow nor do we give others the opportunity to do so.

From unconsciousness is born duality, from duality, desire, from desire, greed and from greed, selfishness. To eliminate all these, which are the main causes of sorrow, we have to eliminate ignorance. This cannot be done by mere knowledge; we need to bring more light of consciousness. By simply reciting, “From darkness, lead me into light,” we shall not have the light. We rather need to make space for the light to come in. Practices that will dissipate the darkness of the mind will have to be undertaken. Yoga, meditation, tantra and science of breathing are a few of these.

As we have already seen, no amount of knowledge can enlighten us. It is time for action. We have too long remained materialistic, thus selfish. It is not time to discuss about the superiority of religions and prophets. Take what we can from any source and let us see whether they dissipate our unconsciousness. It is foolish to talk about God, paradise, love, goodness and so on, when we are still 95% unconscious. The situation is crucial and the illness has already spread everywhere. Vain discussion will make us lose our precious time. Let us instead kindle the light of attentiveness, then from attentiveness to calmness, from calmness to awareness and from awareness to expansion of consciousness. Only that can destroy our selfishness. Then only we can say that we have grown up and become civilised.

However, both human beings and animals do have the opposite of selfishness, which we call altruism. Mothers, for example, behave altruistically towards their new born children. This does not mean that mothers are not selfish at all. They do become possessive and attached as the children grow up. They expect and hope a lot from them. This behaviour conceals selfishness, though in a subtle form. There are many other examples in people and animals where they do behave altruistically. However, this is not genuine altruism. It is a calculated thing, especially in humans. In animals, it is the unconscious force of evolution that draws them to be altruistic.

Man has a genuine altruistic nature that lies in the very depth of his being. By transforming our basic traits like greed, jealousy, anger, lust, hatred and above all our unconsciousness, we can unlock it from these. There are many people who exhibit altruistic behaviour based on morality, religion, fear and the desire to gain heaven. This is far from genuine altruism, which is a spiritual quality and springs from the ocean of love.

The selfish person lives in a ghetto of his own creation. He thinks he is the master there and chooses who to let in. Flatterers and those who do not threaten his ego are welcome. The selfish person has neither love, nor gratitude, compassion or forgiveness. Friends, parents, relatives, brothers and sisters are superficial bonds for him. These relationships can be broken when it is a question of wealth, money, position, name and fame and other such things. In fact, modern society is the racecourse where selfish persons take part. To succeed you must excel in selfishness.

A selfish person is possessive, jealous, obsessed and stressed, and because of these, frustration is born if his desires are not fulfilled. To some degree, almost everyone is selfish, but in most people it is a disease. However, people are expert in hiding their real face and often mask their selfishness by doing benevolent acts. “Service to man is service to God,” they say. I do not say that all those who do benevolent activities are very selfish. But many people use politics, religion, cultural organizations and other people to satisfy their selfishness. “I came into politics to serve the country,” – this has been the motto of all politicians, yet the whole world is suffering a lot and poverty is increasing.

The remedy to selfishness is education or rather self-education. People must be taught and made to realize the oneness in life. There exists a law called the law of interdependence. Life is holy and the cause of suffering is the ego, which gives birth to the notion of ‘I’ and ‘mine’ that leads to selfishness. Our true nature is bliss, ineffable peace, life abundance and eternity. Love, sharing, compassion, freedom and bliss are the greatest wealth. There is no need to be selfish to attain these because in our innermost nature, we already are all these. Children should not be taught competition but creativity. There is an elite in potential in each human being. We need to help every child how to unfurl or unfold his unique potential to the highest degree so that it benefits not only himself but others too.

The tree does not eat its fruit nor does the lake drink its own water, nor does the sun burn for itself. It shines to give light to others. We must learn the lessons of selflessness from nature. The earth, which is a living being, gives us everything and it falls to our lot to share it with everybody. Usually those who possess something, say a natural resource in great amount, use it as a bargaining power or as a means to exploit and dominate others. Nature is rich but humanity is poor, why? This is so because of selfish and greedy individuals.

Selfishness is the greatest of all diseases. Heal humanity of it and the world becomes a paradise. But that seems utopian. It seems we need a shock therapy as all else have failed. People are unwilling to leave what they have in their fist, only a shock can open it. However, the best medicine would be self-education, which alone can engender love.




Swami Paramananda


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