Are Values Subjective? How To Establish Them?


Dear Tyagi Jaidev,

I like your answer on being true to one’s own self. I am confused about one thing. Today’s world is full of people who say there is nothing right or wrong. Values are subjective. How true is this? If our action has harmed or hurt another person, can we say that it isn’t wrong if we can rationalize it?

It is said, when it comes to principles, we should be as strong as thunder. In a nutshell what should be the basis to build our principles amidst so many conflicting views?

—Rohit, India


Dear Rohit,

Yes, we live in a time when not a few people define values as “relative” or “subjective.” Or they declare that cosmically speaking, there is no “good” and “evil”, no “right” or “wrong”, it is us who define them as such. Swami Kriyananda wrote a book on this topic, Out Of The Labyrint, to answer to this unhealthy tendency of modern meaninglessness, directionlessness, purposelessness.

And yes, the human mind is very able to rationalize everything, to find logical justifications even for ones worst behavior and attitude.

It all boils down to our core belief. If we think that everything was created from “below,” out of matter, by chance, yes, then nothing has purpose or meaning, only as much as we give it. If however we believe that our creation has come from “above”, from intelligence, from the Divine, then everything has a plan, an intelligent design, there is a purpose to life, an evolution, every situation has meaning, and there are definite values. Yoga talks about them in the Yamas and Niyamas; Buddha taught universal values; Christ did; Krishna did. None of them taught, “You may express your anger and harm people, it’s a good value.”

These values (love; truth; non-worldliness; purity; devotion; inner transformation and elevation, compassion) become our life principles, which should be strong as thunder, as you say. Moral behavior then comes naturally, even in a modern world which might laugh at morality.

To answer your “nutshell”: taking for granted that you are a devotee and believe in a higher Reality, your principles should reflect your openness and attunement with that higher Reality. The only real purpose of life, Masters say, is to return to that higher Reality (God), from which we have come. If that is your main goal, all other values fall into place naturally (and if not it is the “intelligent” mind guided by the ego which distorts these natural values).

Here is an interesting conversation between Yogananda and a disciple, taken from the book The Essence of Self-Realization:

The disciple: “But Master, if good and evil are both merely parts of a cosmic drama, what does it matter what roles we play in the story? Whether as saints or as gangsters, our parts will be illusory, and won’t affect our true nature as images of God.”

The Master laughed. “You are right in the ultimate sense. But don’t forget that, if you play the part of a villain in a drama, in that drama you will also have to receive the villain’s punishment! If, on the other hand, you play the role of a saint, you will awaken from this cosmic dream, and enjoy oneness with the Dreamer for all eternity.”

In divine friendship, jayadev