top of page

Bertrand Russell and the Fifth desire

Famous author and humanitarian Bertrand Russell, in his noted Nobel Price acceptance speech, talked about the four desires that motivate mankind into action:

Acquisitiveness, Vanity, Love of Power and Love of Excitement.

By Acquisitiveness, Russell meant the desire of people to acquire things. Power of this desire is well known. We know that motivation for many of our actions is based on this desire.

The next is Vanity. We are proud of our possessions, achievements and laurels. Vanity propels us to act in self promotion.

World has many examples of men and women who rose to prominence because of their Love of Power.

Similarly, Love of Excitement was responsible for achievements of heroes like, Charles Lindbergh, Wright brothers, Sir Edmund Hillary, Tenzing Norgay, among many others.

As insightful as his speech was, in my opinion, Bertrand Russell left out an important fifth desire.

He overlooked the Love of Service. How did Bertrand Russell not mention the love of service? May be, in his reasoning, it was not a motivating factor for most people.

Without this love of service, we will not have humanitarians like, Albert Schweitzer, Mother Theresa, Florence Nightingale, Mahatma Gandhi, or many others like them.

Many human endeavors are propelled by altruistic motives.

All religions emphasize the importance of service to mankind.

Coming from India, we recognize the special importance of "Sewa", or Selfless Service in life. Eastern religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism) hold "Sewa" as a part of one's duty in life. Many of our religious institutions are run by selfless service of volunteer patrons.

Hindu scripture Bhagavat Gita encourages selfless service as a way to develop spirituality.

It is closely linked to Hindu concept of Karma Yoga.

"Living creatures are nourished by food;

and food is nourished by rain;

rain itself is water of life,

which comes from selfless worship and service."

Bhagavat Gita 3.14

Buddhism emphasizes the importance of service on the Eight-fold Path.

By serving others one cultivates compassion and washes away past sins.

Particular emphasis is placed on service to parents, teachers, learned persons, fellow monks, friends, servants, others and even animals.

Similarly, three fundamental principles of Sikhism are:

1) Naam Japna- Remembering God through Meditation

2) Kirat Karo- Earning a livelihood by means of earnest and honest efforts

3) Vand Chakko- Selflessly serving others and sharing income and resources with people in need

"Sewa" is one of the foundations of Sikhism. It involves acting selflessly and helping others without the thought of any personal gain or reward. It is a way of life for many Sikhs and is part of their daily routine.

The primary feature of Jain philosophy is Ahimsa - non-violence. This requires behaving in such a way as not to cause discomfort or harm to any living being. Followers of Jainism practice non-violence through Seva (service) and Dana (donation).

Tattvartha Sutra, a second century Jain Text says, "Parasparopagraho Jivanam": Souls render service to one another. TS V.21

Bertrand Russell was a renowned agnostic. He was one of founders of analytic philosophy.

This branch of philosophy is popular in the western world.

May be, there is a disconnect between Russell's Analytic Philosophy and the idea of selfless service through religion.

Perhaps, Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore said it best,

"I slept and dreamt that life was joy.

I woke and saw that life was service.

I acted and behold, service was joy."

67 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page