Three adjacent piles of coins forming a simple graph.

Value of Values

Values can be universal, cultural and individual. In the West, for instance, there are a lot of individual likes and dislikes. In fact, children are taught to develop them at a very young age. The mother asks, “What do you want on your toast? Do you want honey or brown sugar?” From childhood on you are asked, “What do you want? This or that?” In this way you have been taught to exercise your faculty of choice. In India this is not done. You are offered tea with milk and sugar already in it. There is no choice in the matter, whereas in the West you are not only asked what you would like in it, but whether you would like tea, coffee, or something else.

Our choices are all based on personal likes and dislikes, which we are not concerned with here. We are concerned with the fact that there is a common structure, a universal structure, wherein no one wants to be robbed, for example. Whether the person is a tribesman living in a remote desert or an urbanite living in a sophisticated society, it is the same. A person may be walking along in a street in Delhi or a person may be walking in a forest; but both of them do not want to get hurt or robbed. No one says, “Because New York City is such a wonderful city, I want to get mugged there.” No one wants to get mugged anywhere.

There is therefore, a structure that we all commonly sense, a structure which is already there. This universal structure that is already there is a moral structure. The word dharma refers to this structure, this order, which includes the ecological order. This dharma is known to me, to you and everybody else.

Money, power, name and influence are not universal values. You may seek money as a form of security and be prepared to destroy your name for it. There will also be another person who is ready to give up his or her money for the sake of power, name, or influence. Although name, influence, money and power are generally sought after, they are not universals.

Values are not absolute

Sympathy, love and compassion, on the other hand, are universal values, which does not mean that they are absolute. Values are never absolute; they are always relative, even though they may be universal. The point is that one should not go against the universal values while pursuing individual or cultural values. For example, as long as your pursuit of money conforms to the universal values you are living a life of dharma, whereas if your pursuit, whether for money power, or pleasure, comes into conflict with the universal values, then there is adharma.

Your understanding of the laws, reflected in your choice of the means (if there are such laws) is what is meant by inner maturity. When I choose a means which is not proper for the sake of money, I go against the order, dharma, for the sake of money because I do not understand what I lose. I only know what I gain — money, which is very important to me. The difference between having the money and not having it is very clear to me.

Top of page


The Value of Values

Swami Dayananda's book is available from Arsha Vidya Research & Publication Trust.