Q: Can you say something more about obedience? Is it not good to serve obediently in a noble cause?
Awareness is the only virtue with me, remember. If you serve with awareness, it is good. If you serve in an unconscious way, it is bad. It is not a question of a noble cause. If you are unconscious, even a noble cause is going to be very ignoble. It is the consciousness that you bring to it that matters.
You can look in the history books: all kinds of mischief have continued on the earth in the name of noble causes. Christians. Mohammedans, Hindus, have been fighting, destroying each other – for noble causes. Communists, socialists, fascists, have been bringing more and more violence into the world and more and more murder – for noble causes.
Do you think Adolf Hitler’s cause was not noble? If it had not been noble, how could a very intelligent race like the Germans have followed him? And remember that the Germans are one of the most intelligent races on the world-map. This age’s four great minds who have dominated the whole world, all have come from Germany. Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, Albert Einstein – these are the four great names of our times. They all came from the German mind, from German sources.
How could such an intelligent people follow this stupid megalomaniac, Adolf Hitler? In the name of a noble cause. The noble cause was: The world is in chaos and the world has to be dominated and ruled by the noble people, by the Aryans. Do you know? – the word ‘arya‘ means noble. The world has to be dominated and ruled by the noblest of the noble.
Arya is a Sanskrit word. It means the noblest. Now, behind the word ‘noble’, Adolf Hitler was hiding all kinds of ugly things. And thousands and thousands of intelligent people followed him, obediently – because the cause was noble! Millions of Jews were burnt – in the name of a noble cause – millions suffered in concentration camps. And the people who were torturing them were not unintelligent people, were very efficient and intelligent people. And they were doing their duty, obediently, for a noble cause.
What happened in Russia? Joseph Stalin, another man of the same type as Adolf Hitler, murdered and butchered millions of people – again in the name of a noble cause: Communism has to be established, and any sacrifice is not too much. If communism, the paradise, the classless society, can arrive on the earth, then no sacrifice is too much.
And the same has been happening down the ages: the Christian crusades, the Mohammedan jihads – wars of religion to save religion. Of course, when Islam is in danger it has to be saved, and the people who are creating the danger have to be destroyed – in the name of a noble cause. When Christianity is in danger, then everything is allowed. And who decides when Islam is in danger? Who decides when Christianity is in danger? Who decides who is an Aryan and who is not?
Jews think they are the chosen people of God, and Adolf Hitler thinks Nordics, the purest Aryans, are the chosen people of God. Now there cannot live two people who think that they are the chosen people of God: one has to be destroyed, the competitor has to be destroyed. Look at the whole inhuman history of humanity and you will always find it is obedience to noble causes that has caused immense misery, that has made the whole life of humanity a nightmare.
You ask me: Is it not good to serve obediently in a noble cause?
No. Serve only with awareness. Obey only with awareness. Obedience should NOT be for something exterior. Obedience should be something interior. You should be able to see what is at stake. And you will be able to say yes or no according to your own conscience. Only then can the world become a little better, a little more human.
The people who dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki – just two persons! – they could have said no. It was so obvious that the one hundred thousand people who lived in Hiroshima were utterly innocent – small children, women, old people. Why drop an atom bomb that would destroy them immediately, within seconds? Within ten seconds Hiroshima was a dead city. Just ten seconds before, it was alive. It was time… people were taking their breakfast, people were singing, people were doing all kinds of things. Just a few seconds before, all was so alive. And after just a few moments, the whole of Hiroshima was just a cemetery – all dead people.
The person who dropped the bomb could have said no, but he was obediently serving a noble cause. What was the noble cause? – democracy. These big words are very dangerous, because behind them you can hide anything. Now in the name of democracy, capitalism hides itself. And in the name of equality, communism hides itself. Watch all big words, and whenever a politician uses a big word, be aware – there must be something fishy about it.
And don’t go on following. It is better to die… if the man who was going to drop the atom bomb had said no, it is possible he would have been court-martialled. So what? He could have said, “You kill me – that seems to be a lesser evil. I would like to die.” – and that would have been a noble cause! – “You shoot me, but I simply say no. I will not drop this atom bomb on innocent people.”
The people who were destroying poor Vietnam could have said no. And the same is continuously repeated everywhere, all around the globe. Now it is time we should become more aware.
Obedience has been exploited. Obedience has been a very subtle strategy of the politician and the priest. If it comes out of your awareness, if you see that this is good – not that your leaders, your politicians, your priests, say it is good, but you feel it is good, it has to be your response – then do it by all means. But if you see… your individual conscience has to decide. That’s my whole point: each individual has to create his own consciousness and conscience – only then will we be able to create a better world. Otherwise, this world is going to commit suicide within twenty-five years.
By the end of this century, this foolish idea of obedience to noble causes is going to destroy the whole of humanity, and not only humanity – with humanity, all life on this earth, all trees, all birds, all animals – all kinds of life. And there are millions of kinds of life on this earth. This earth is a festival.
If you go on carrying this stupid idea that has been put into your mind down the ages… throughout the ages, you have been fed this idea with your mother’s milk: Obey!
I teach you awareness. And, of course, out of awareness a totally different kind of obedience arises. Then you say yes because your heart says yes. And if your heart says no, then say no, and risk all for your no. That is human dignity.
Arthur Koestler writes about an experiment. Meditate over it:
A series of highly original experiments was started by Doctor Stanley Milgram. The purpose of the experiments was to discover the limits of the average person’s obedience to authority when ordered to inflict severe pain on an innocent victim in the interests of a noble cause.
The noble cause was education. It involved three people: the professor, who was the authority figure in charge of the proceedings; the learner or victim; and the experimental subject, who was asked by the professor to act as teacher and to punish the learner each time he gave the wrong reply. Punishment was by electric shocks of growing severity, administered by the teacher on the professor’s orders. The learner or victim was strapped into a kind of electric chair. The teacher was seated in front of an impressive shock-generator which had a key-board of thirty switches ranging from fifteen volts to four hundred and fifty volts. There were also verbal inscriptions on the machine ranging from ‘slight shock’ to ‘intense shock’ to ‘danger: severe shock’.
In fact, the whole gruesome set-up was based on make-believe: the victim was an actor, the shock-generator was a dummy. Only the teacher, at whom the experiment was aimed, believed in the reality of the shocks he was ordered to administer and the shrieks of pain and cries for mercy uttered by the victim.
The basic procedure was as follows: the learner was given to read a long list of paired words, that is ‘blue box’, ‘nice day’, ‘wild duck’, etc. Then in the examination he was given one test word, for instance, ‘blue’, with four alternative answers, that is ‘ink, box, sky, lamp’, and had to indicate which was the correct answer. The teacher was instructed by the professor to administer a shock each time the learner gave a wrong response, and moreover to move one level higher on the shock generator each time the learner gave the wrong answer. There was a fifteen volt increment from one switch to the next.
To make sure that the teacher was aware of what he was doing, the actor who played the role of the learner uttered complaints which increased in stridency according to the voltage, from mild grunts starting at seventy-five volts, in a crescendo, until at one hundred and fifty volts the victim cried out, “Get me out of here! I won’t be in the experiment any more. I refuse to go on!”
Remember that the teacher believed that the victim too was a volunteer.
At three hundred and fifteen volts, after a violent scream, the victim reaffirmed vehemently that he was no longer a participant. He provided no answers, but screamed in agony whenever a shock was administered. After three hundred and thirty volts he was not heard from… yet the professor instructed the subject to treat no answer as a wrong answer, and to continue to increase the shock level according to the schedule. After three shocks of four hundred and fifty volts, he called off the experiment.
How many people, in an average population, do you think would obey the command to carry on with the task of torturing the victim to the limit of four hundred and fifty volts? The answer seems to be a foregone conclusion: perhaps one in a thousand – a pathological sadist.
Before starting his experiments, Milgram actually asked a group of psychiatrists to predict the outcome. With remarkable similarity, they predicted that virtually all subjects would refuse to obey the experimenter. The consensus of the psychiatrists was that most subjects would not go beyond one hundred and fifty volts, that is when the victim asks for the first time to be released. They expected that only four percent would reach three hundred volts, and that only a pathological fringe of about one in a thousand would administer the highest shock on the board.
In actual fact, over sixty percent of the subjects continued to obey the professor to the very end – the four hundred and fifty volt limit. Remember: sixty percent.
When the experiment was repeated in Italy, South Africa and Australia, the percent of obedient subjects was somewhat higher. In Munich it was eighty-five percent.
The act of shocking the victim does not stem from destructive urges, but from the fact that the subjects have become integrated into a social system which is based on obedience. To prove this point, Milgram carried on a further series of experiments in which the teacher was told that he was free to inflict on the learner any shock level of his own choice on any of the trials. Though given full opportunity, almost all subjects administered the lowest shocks, the mean shock level being fifty-four volts.
Remember that the victim’s first mild complaint came only at seventy-five volts.
In the original experiments, when the teacher acted on orders, an average of twenty-five out of forty subjects administered the maximum shock of four hundred and fifty volts. In the free-choice experiment, thirty-eight out of forty did not go beyond one hundred and fifty volts – victim’s first loud protest – and only two subjects went up to three hundred and twenty-five and four hundred and fifty respectively.
The vast majority of the subjects, far from deriving any pleasure from shocking the victim, showed various symptoms of emotional strain and distress. Some broke into a sweat, others pleaded with the professor to stop, or protested that the experiment was cruel and stupid. Yet two-thirds nevertheless went on to the bitter end.
We have been taught for centuries to obey – and to obey in the noble cause is a virtue; to disobey is a vice, is a sin. Disobeying any noble cause will create guilt in you. Obeying will make you feel good. And you may even be obeying it in spite of your own conscience. You will see the futility, the stupidity, the cruelty of it.
The man who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima slept very well that night, and in the morning when he was asked how he was feeling, he said, “Perfect!” People could not believe it. They said, “Could you sleep in the night? One hundred thousand people have been burnt by you – could you sleep in the night?”
He said, “I slept very well, because I had done my duty. And when one does one’s duty well, one earns a good sleep.”
Truman was the President of the United States when the atom bomb was dropped. When he was asked, “How do you feel?” he said, “I feel great! A noble cause has been served – democracy has won over fascist forces.”
Remember always: big words are very dangerous. And big words have a very hypnotic power in them: democracy, God, religion, Bible… great words have a very hypnotic power over you. They can create a great unconsciousness in you, and you can go on doing things which you would have never even dreamt of doing without those big words.
So remember, ‘noble cause’ is a very dangerous game. Who decides what is noble? Let each individual decide according to his own conscience.
And why in Munich was the percentage the highest? – eighty-five percent. Because Germans are very obedient. That has been their training, that has been their conditioning – and they have been praised for it. That has become part and parcel of their inner mechanism.
The disappearance of a sense of responsibility is the most far-reaching consequence of submission to authority.
It is very easy to dispense with your responsibility. You can always say, “What can I do? – I have been ordered.” And the higher person can say he has been ordered from a higher authority, and so on and so forth. Even the President can say, “I have been advised by the military experts.” And so on and on, round and round it goes. Nobody is really responsible. Responsibility can always be shoved on somebody else’s shoulders.
And a really religious person is a responsible person. He says, “I am responsible. If I am doing something, then I am responsible, and I have to think it over, whether to do it or not. If my own awareness allows it, I will do it; otherwise, whatsoever the consequences, I am going to disobey. ”
So obedience is not a value to me at all, neither is disobedience a disvalue. Your own understanding is the value. Out of that, obedience is good; out of that, disobedience is also good.
Morality does not disappear, but acquires a totally different meaning: the subordinate person feels shame and pride depending on how adequately he has performed the actions called for by authority. Language provides numerous terms to pinpoint this type of morality: loyalty, duty, discipline, obedience….
Great words! Beware of them. Always beware of great words: My country, motherland, fatherland, church, temple. Beware of all great words! They can drive you into an unconscious, robot-like behaviour.
This is now the greatest danger to human survival: the capacity for man to abandon his humanity, indeed, the inevitability that he does so as he merges his unique personality into larger institutional structures. It is not anger, violence, aggression, destructiveness, which is so dangerous, but the greatly valued idea of obedience.
It is ironic that the virtues of loyalty, discipline and self-sacrifice that we value so highly in the individual are the very properties that create destructive organizational energies of war and that blind men to malevolent systems of authority.
Remember, if we want to create a new humanity, we will have to reconsider the whole mind of man. The past has created a very ugly mind – of course, with beautiful labels, with beautiful painted smiles, and behind is great animality.
My emphasis is on the individual not on the society, not on the nation, not on the religion. My emphasis is on the individual. The individual has to be freed from all kinds of social bondages and slaveries. That’s what sannyas is all about. Become aware… and out of your awareness, obedience is good, disobedience is good. But it has to be rooted in your awareness – then everything is good. And out of unawareness, obedience is bad, disobedience is bad.
Let me remind you: I am not telling you to be disobedient, because if it is out of unawareness, and you say no, it is as bad as saying yes. I am not teaching you disobedience, disorder, indiscipline. I am not doing that kind of thing at all. I can be misunderstood. I am being misunderstood. What I am saying is: I am making you responsible.
The individual is totally responsible whatsoever he is doing. So you have to think, meditate, and act out of your meditations – and whatsoever you do will be virtuous, and whatsoever you do will be moral, and it will be a totally different kind of morality.
Osho, Philosophia Perennis Vol. 5, Ch 3, Q 5