Good Deeds, Bad Deeds

by | Jun 1, 2022

Every childhood is synonymous with instructions raining from parents and other people around. A child is continuously told to do this and not to do that. This continues throughout their childhood where they are influenced by the various people around them and their prejudices. And now, social media is treating human beings as puppets and has assigned emojis, so that they can express their emotions as one type of the many offered.

But a human being is not a puppet and, endowed with the mental faculty of imagination and discernment, can never be one. Even the poorest of the poor, the most hopeless, disadvantaged person, upholds this unique feature that no other creature has in the known universe. However, the tension between what you are told to do and what you believe you should do, creates a force that decides the course of your life. In the epic poem, Aeneid, Virgil (70-19 BCE) writes of a character as saying, “If I cannot bend Heaven, I shall move Hell,” (Book VII, line 312).

Even after we grow up and parents and other authority figures have faded away, the “shoulds” given to us, continue to live inside us, like the echo of a shout keeps wandering in the valley for a while. Our mind is, indeed, ruled by the oppression of the “shoulds”, dictating the way we think, act, and feel. Of course, our “should” beliefs have served us in the past, in shaping our concepts of how the world works and how we are to behave in it. Our achievements, social network, and control are the fruits of this “should tree.” 

But, like fruits rot over a period, we must examine the “shoulds” operating inside us, refreshing them with the changing times and situations. The good news is that we have the power to change the way we think — and free ourselves from the shackling “shoulds.” I have come to believe that the purpose of a human life is best served by allowing your unique “person” to manifest, transcending the “shoulds” by developing the faculty of discernment between what is good and bad, and acting upon life, as it presents itself. Adi Shankaracharya called his magnum opus of the Advaita Vedanta, the Vivekchudamani (विवेकचूडामणि) i.e., the “crest-jewel of discrimination.” 

All major religions of the world are unanimous on this one point that this life is an opportunity to better the afterlife. There is a Quranic verse (11.7), as translated by the Turkish scholar, Ali Ünal (b. 1955), ‘Your proper abode is the Hereafter, where you will be either in bliss or suffering according to your conduct in the world.’ Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam taught me to take every situation in life as a test that I must pass with honors. He used to say, ‘If things are flowing very fine for you, most likely, you are getting trapped by the bliss, to be driven to your destruction.’

Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) titled his major work as Divine Comedy. Human beings are born in this sinful world, in the process of moral change. People suffer, not simply as the consequences of some past bad deeds or to repay some debt, but to become good. This world is a place where one can reflect upon the sins, and thereby, change the psychological tendencies which lead one to sin. This process, called Purgatory, leads to an extraordinary richness in one’s character.

Dante imagines Purgatory as being divided into seven terraces, each one corresponding to a vice, namely, pride, envy, anger, sloth, avarice, gluttony, and lust. On each terrace, there is a slightly different form of suffering: the envious, for instance, have their eyes sewn up; the proud are weighed down by stones. The range of forms of suffering is, therefore, considerably greater, but so is the process of change, full of opportunities and possibilities.

And, coming to the concept of reincarnation, we leave one life and go into another as part of spiritual growth, by taking on physicality. There are varying levels of consciousness through which a soul moves, depending upon the moral quality of the activities in the life-forms, from minerals, plants and animals to human beings at the pinnacle. The implication is that the soul essentially remains the same, while occupying a new body. A life is, essentially, a dream: fleeting and illusory. 

Buddha pinned the ego-consciousness, as grounding one into a cesspool of desires. One is reborn through desire, which needs a body to manifest. Every desire creates an action, that generates a reaction, and this cascade of actions and reactions determines one’s next incarnation. A human life, being the highest in the entire creation, is, indeed, achieved after great tribulations through multiple existences at lower levels of consciousness, and it is a pity if it is wasted, and one slides back into inferior realms by living unwholesomely. Virgil writes in the Aeneid (Book VI, lines 126-129, as translated by the English poet, John Dryden (1631 1700):

The gates of hell are open night and day Smooth the descent, and easy is the way: But to return, and view the cheerful skies, In this the task and mighty labor lies.I have derived a three-fold code of living a good life, from the Shrimad Bhagavad Gita. The first is to act upon your circumstances, मा ते सङ्गः () अकर्मणि मा अस्तु. Action is not optional (II. 47). The second is to act wholesomely, and not selfishly. One must surrender to one’s fate, माम् एकम् शरणम् व्रज (XVIII.66). Attend to the situation in the best way possible, without grudging and complaining. And finally, one must learn to be satisfied in one’s own self, आत्मनि एव आत्मना तुष्टः. Being alive and experiencing bliss is the greatest blessing (II.55). 

There was a great tennis player, Arthur Ashe (1943 –1993), whom I admired as a teenager, for his graceful style. He won the singles title at Wimbledon, the US Open, and the Australian Open. But fate was cruel to him, and Ashe contracted HIV from a blood transfusion he received during a heart bypass surgery in 1983. However, rather than moaning over the tragedy, he dedicated the rest of his life, albeit a short one, to service. He founded the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS and the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health, before his death in 1993. For several years, I used his words, ‘Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can,’ as a footer in my email. 

It is futile to get annoyed that your position is not good, that you are at a disadvantage, that conditions are unfavourable, people are against you, and so on. Acceptance of your situation and/ or condition, as well as putting in conscious efforts to make the best of the same and moving on from the undesirable situation, is fundamental to living a peaceful and meaningful life. Easy money, entitlements, and rise without effort have never been good to whoever had gone after them. 

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21 Comments

  1. I agree with you, Sir. Even though the ‘shoulds’ shape who we are in the early stages of our life, we should keep reevaluating them as time goes on.

    And regardless of one’s belief in purgatory and reincarnation, people should be conscious of their every decision. As an appreciator of the above-mentioned concepts, though, I think that we should let them be our moral compass since we live in a world where it’s very easy to stray into the darkness.

    The three-fold code you have described is truly the one to live by, Sir, and I will keep it in mind. Thanks again for reminding us of the best way to live life and what it means to be a good human.

  2. A thought provoking article Sir of how our mind gets programmed from a very young age with inputs that are fed by parents and people around which makes an impression of the kind of person we end up being. Acceptance of what we are today irrespective of how we are or why we are like this, is the first step of realization that we should get, before we actually can think of doing any deed. In other words, I feel we have to understand if the deed is something corresponding to an intutive action or a reaction to the circumstance. Intitutive spontaneous actions most often are of the purest form and happen when we are connected within ourselves. Its is not about whether we are right or wrong but more of, how connected we are within ourselves and to the nature around. It always appears that we are playing a role in life (son, daughter, father, mother , sibling, boss, subordinate…) more atune to the power of the role, without understanding the true responsibilities of the role. This is the reason why there is more often discords in relationships because we sync up more with the power of the role and not the true repsonbility of the role. The responsibility is more to be of a guiding force to people than excerising authority on people because of the role being played. Deeds which benefit others more often are done by people who understand the true value of life and how insignificant they are are in the big scheme of things but yet want to do good.

  3. Tiwari Bhaisab thanks for posting a wonderful and very thought provoking write up.
    You have very thoughtfully described the human behavior.
    It is true that all ways lead to one god, it is up to us what we chose.
    Positivity in life is the essence.
    There is a beautiful sculpture displayed in Akshardham Delhi that say “ you are your own sculpture” . I think it is worth following the saying.
    Nice write up. Thank you.

  4. Sir, a Bhajan of Mirabai comes to my mind.

    करम की गति न्यारी न्यारी, संतो।
    बड़े बड़े नयन दिए मिरगन को,
    बन बन फिरत उधारी॥
    उज्वल वरन दीन्ही बगलन को,
    कोयल लार दीन्ही कारी॥
    औरन दीपन जल निर्मल किन्ही,
    समुंदर कर दीन्ही खारी॥
    मूर्ख को तुम राज दीयत हो,
    पंडित फिरत भिखारी॥
    मीरा के प्रभु गिरिधर नागुण
    राजा जी को कौन बिचारी॥

    This world is truly strange. Rather than keep bothering about what is good and what is bad, attending to the situations that life present with best possible effort seems to be the right way.

  5. Your mention of Arthur Ashe in the blog triggered a long cascade of memories. When in 2004 I was trying for my visa to go to US for study, it took a while. In that context one gentleman narrated this to me.
    In 1969 Arthur first applied for a visa to travel to South Africa and compete in the South African Open. At the time the country’s government enforced a strict policy of racial segregation called Apartheid. Because of this they denied him a South African visa despite his number 1 U.S. ranking. Arthur continued to keep applying for visas, and the country continued to deny him.
    In January of 1970 Arthur won the Australian open, the second of his three career grand Slam singles titles. By the early 70s he had become one of the most famous tennis players. South Africa eventually granted Arthur a visa in 1973. He was the first black pro to play in the national championships there where he reached the singles finals and won the doubles title with Tom Okker.
    On July 5, 1975, Arthur defeated the heavily favoured Jimmy Connors to win the Wimbledon singles title. He was the first and only black man to win the most prestigious grass-court tournament.
    Thank you for bring these great examples.

  6. Sir, thank you very much for this wonderful post.
    All religions taught that there is God essence in us. The term ‘soul’ is used to refer to this immortal essence in our mortal body. It can be accessed by destroying hatred and attachment. So, the emphasis needs to be on doing this and not worrying about a list of ‘should nots.’ There is no enemy outside your soul. The real enemies live inside you—anger, pride, greed, attachment, and hatred. Thank you once again Sir, for raising these important issues.

  7. Very thought-provoking blog! A poem comes to my mind.

    By performing good deeds,

    Goodness is neither depleted nor lost.

    By correcting a wrong by a right

    We add little brightness to the light.

    But bad deeds multiply

    Like a festering wound,

    Till one day the entire body turned septic

    Darkening the very soul that was born!

    Thank you for making us think about these matters.

  8. You have brought out the basic dilemma of our lives. There are two forces, like gravity, that work upon everyone. One pulls them towards the sensual pleasures, and another pulls them towards the higher planes of their existence. By balancing both pulls one can be successful in life.

    What is pleasant (प्रेयः, Preyas) is obvious. The territory governed by what is good (श्रेयः, Shreyas) is self-knowledge, higher intelligence, and a divine purpose. Rather than opposite forces Shreyas and Preyas are our left and right hands. Both of our hands must work in synchronized harmony to get the work done. Making balance to achieve both Shreyas and Preyas leads one to success in life.

    There is no point in renunciation of worldly pleasures, but instead, it is a way to reconnect with our own energy to establish a deeper understanding of ourselves, while enjoying the pleasures of life. Meditation and introspection help to choose wisely in between Shreyas and Preyas. Thank you for raising this important awareness.

  9. What we are or what we have become involves far more than parenting and schooling. The society influences our choices and we in turn shape our society. Certain labels that we use to categorize the people we come across are so strong that they prevent us from seeing the unique identities of others. Sometimes these labels lead to suspicion, fear, or even hatred.

    Stories of good Samaritans instil in me the faith and understanding that no matter how far removed someone might seem from this basic goodness, no one is beyond redemption. Imagine the image of a gem covered with mud, or a lamp coated in dust. Doesn’t it affirm that the treasure/light is always there, and has only temporarily become obscured? There is no certainty that we will uncover this treasure in ourselves or help others discover it in themselves. But, there is intrinsic value in the effort itself. So let’s keep rolling.

  10. Dear Prof. Tiwari, Characterization of a deed as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is contextual/situational. A deed may be classified as good in a given context and the same deed may be characterized as bad in some other situation.

    The childhood/ upbringing environment has a long lasting effect/impact on a child’s personality, attitude and behavior. However, as a child grows up and develops mental faculties and ability to discern and evaluate the worth of ‘shoulds’ in life, a tug of war between ‘what you are told to do’ and ‘what you believe you should do (upbringing lessons)’ starts. If there is too much conflict between these two scenarios, obviously, the person is not at a right place. He/she should change the place. Freedom from shackles of ‘shoulds’ will lead to individual’s liberation.

    I have always wondered why one should ‘suffer’ to ‘become good’ and to better ‘afterlife’. What is this suffering, I am not sure. Why we cannot achieve the same goals in a normal manner, while enjoying the life. I agree with your advice – ‘one must learn to be satisfied in one’s own self. Being alive and experiencing bliss is the greatest blessing.’

  11. Thank you Sir for sharing another thought-provoking blog. I am also a fan of Arthur Ashe and believe the words ‘Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can’ have a significant impact on my life.

    At present I am managing 3 IT projects for Infosys clients in Sydney, as a system analyst and scrum master without having a degree in IT. I started my carrier as a medical graduate and have now become an IT professional, really it doesn’t matter from where you started, it totally depends on your attitude, and where you want to be in the future.

    The theory of Karama is quite true and all your past deeds comebacks to your in one or another way, so, we must act precisely in the present to make out the future as we really want and not follow the words of Eblish sitting inside our mind and body.

  12. Wonderful piece of writing. What holds one back is compliance, not comfort.

    I’ve seen this many times in my research. People have pursued one path in life — influenced by their culture, parents, or sense of what they “should” pursue — that leads them to invest time, money, and skill development in a path that is very hard to escape from. Over time, through repetition, and by dutifully fulfilling others’ expectations, you internalize these behaviors as your own, even if they don’t actually reflect who you are.

    Of course, there are certain tasks we simply have to do in our jobs and lives in order to fulfill our regular roles and responsibilities. But avoiding new situations can hold you back. I second your thought – “life is best served by allowing your unique “person” to manifest……”

  13. Dear Arun, Nice blog evolving a whole strum from childhood “should” to an adult’s practical mortifications of “should” for this life and beyond. Child hood “should” are the foundation on which a good edifice will be built as they are received by child out of pure love (divine love) by parents /teachers. As one grows in age, worldly affairs get too much into an adult and his ideals get skewed.

    The debate of good and bad deeds is affair of a common person trapped in this life cycle of birth-death and rebirth. Rishi Patanjali says: For a yogi, purity of thought and mind must reach a level where good and bad are same. This is the ultimate truth of stage leading to Nirvana. Only practice helps here.

  14. Thank you Arun ji for this valuable blog. I got benefitted in life when I accepted the situation and made the best out of it. Thank you. I also used what I have and did what I could. Thank you.

  15. arun you have well encapsulated life’s philosophy from the greatest scriptures of the world.

  16. “Should” comes up so often in our daily conversations!
    I have been reading a book where the author addresses how “should” quite often exists as a proxy for comparison to others. And just because it worked for someone doesn’t mean it would work for everyone, there by questioning the entire concept of one size fits for all. I believe it’s subjective and depends on one’s circumstances.
    Questioning oneself if this is going to be good for me every time a should pops out, practicing gratitude and focusing on your own story is what works.

  17. Insightful as always

  18. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and setting us thinking about ‘good deeds’ and ‘bad deeds’ and examining our own lives, Prof Tiwari.
    I have often seen people get delusional and justify selfish actions. This is in effect ‘bad’ in the garb of ‘good’.
    I got a wonderful takeaway from your blog today, namely Ashe’s quote: “Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can”.

  19. Lovely. This is so important in today’s world, especially the corporate world. These thoughts will help them take life in the right stride and not just focus on material growth but also spiritual growth. Will be sharing this blog with my team. I love the idea of freeing yourself from the shackles of “should”. Refreshing and very insightful. Thank you Sir!

  20. Dear Sir, Nice post, the conundrum of past birth karmas and its impact with what you do with this life, deal with challenges today is something i am not clear at all. In a way Gautama Buddha’s teachings to live in the present moment and not worry about what happened and what will happen is very apt.

  21. Thanks for sharing this, Prof Tiwari!

    Most of the ‘shoulds’ that family and society impart from on one’s childhood are meant for good and survival, the human species, like other animals, take care of their posterity through this mechanism.

    The bad deeds are a result of choice as one grows up and fully exercises their faculty and free will.

    As mentioned in this piece of writing by Prof, one has to account for the choices made in this life one way or the other.

    Let’s all rise and make good choices for good deeds in our lifetime…

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