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Notes on counselling

The malady of the impersonality of ethics

Dr. Soumitra Basu

The other day, a 15 year-old schoolboy in Kerala killed his tenth standard classmate, inspired by the action-packed Rambo series featuring screen-hero Sylvester Stallone. The revenge killing was for a trivial conflict when both the boys were in ninth standard. That incident was apparently only an excuse to act out the crime thriller in real life.

Such incidents are not uncommonly reported in contemporary media. The counsellor today has to cope with situations which are too complex to be handled even in the therapeutic arena. Mere behaviour modification techniques, cognitive-behavioural approaches or even the conventional psychoanalytical approach no longer suffice to deal with an increasingly complex mindset, whose complexity seems to outgrow the in-built coping mechanisms in society as well as therapeutic strategies.

There is a more basic problem to be considered. We are moving towards an age where ethics are becoming more and more impersonal. The phenomenon started gradually with the advent of industrialisation. Industrialisation ushered in social mobility and helped individuals not only to move away in space but also to move forward in time. One moved away from one’s caste-ridden rural milieu, from the matrix of ignorance and superstition to the arena of education, technology and an increasingly global culture. But it also meant a move away from one’s traditional roots, one’s age-old cultural fabric, one’s cherished social circle. The commitment to one’s time-honoured ethical values began to lessen. The culmination came with the ushering of cloud-based virtual reality where personal space coalesces with public space to give a false sense of omnipotence and omnipresence. In that new space, the impersonality of ethics borders on nihilism and both homicide and suicide become child’s play.

We have to find ways and means to tackle this new crisis. It is not so simple that a solution can be worked out by merely emphasising the importance of interpersonal relations. It is true we need role-models for our children in flesh and blood, not only in cyberspace. But that role-model has to work on one’s own consciousness. The counsellor of the future has to learn how to reach to the depths of his or her self to come in contact with the core of the being that integrates one’s personality and also to heighten one’s consciousness so that the time and space-bound personality merges with the timeless and spaceless infinity that holds the dimension of impersonality. Only then is one capable of surpassing the constraints of the ego and be ready for the supra-ethical poise of the human cycle.

The impersonality of ethics is a malady that can only be tackled by Sri Aurobindo’s proposition that ethics themselves are transitional and need a transvaluation. Mankind travelled from the infra-ethical to the ethical stage to build up the norms of societal transactions that have so long supported civilisation. Today, there is a certain stagnation as the huge outer material progress of mankind has not been complemented by a sufficient inner progress in consciousness except in selected gifted individuals. As a result, ethics have become impersonal to an extent that they have lost their potency. Sri Aurobindo suggested that we have to move towards a supra-ethical poise where the perspective of life changes. The problems are viewed from a different kaleidoscope and hence the solutions turn out to be different.

Let us suppose that this 15 year-old murderer had a short-lived dilemma a moment before the act: ‘to kill or not to kill’. Is the situation different from the scene where a 50 year-old perfect gentleman known for high moral conduct is asked to decide whether the life-support system supporting his 90 year-old comatose mother in the intensive care unit of a hospital should be withdrawn or not? It is a real dilemma. If he does not consent to withdraw the life-support system, he does not know how to pay the bill which might reach astronomical amounts. If he consents, he is actually taking a decision to ‘kill’ his mother! This dilemma cannot be solved from an ethical poise either by the individual or by institutions like religion and law. It can only be solved from the supra-ethical poise. To reach that poise, one has to cultivate supra-rational faculties like intuition. One can then take decisions which align with the Truth.

There is another interesting aspect to be considered. The origin of ethics had an in-built component that has been forgotten but needs to be resurrected in the process of transvaluation. When a tiger kills a deer, there are no ethics involved. But the human being who witnesses that scene feels recoil somewhere in his aesthetic and emotional being. There is a breach in the beauty and joy and delight or Ananda of creation. It is not only the human being who witnesses that scene who has the recoil, the “fear of the deer for the tiger” itself … “is a vital recoil of the individual delight of existence (1).” That recoil is not itself ethical but progressively refines into dislike and disapproval, which later becomes the base for the ethical impulse. But the original association of the feeling of recoil with the delight of existence was lost as the ethical discipline becomes strict, rigid, and moralistic and sermonised. Ethics get divorced from aesthetics, from joy, beauty, delight and Enanda. In an integralist resurrection, ethics and aesthetics have to be synchronised, programmed together in education, in character building, in personality development, in counselling sessions. This will be another creative step to tackle the malady of the impersonality of ethics and formulate our intervention strategies in consonance with the movement to the supra-ethical poise.


1. Sri Aurobindo. SABCL, Volume 18. Pondicherry; Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust, 1970, p.96.

Dr. Soumitra Basu, a practising psychiatrist, is the Director of a new school of psychology, the Mira Vision Trust. He is also one of the editors of NAMAH.

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Sri Aurobindo


A tiger