Rishi Kanada, author of the Vaiseshika system of philosophy, says in the opening Sutra: “That which elevates you and brings you nearer to God, is right. That which brings you down and takes you away from God, is wrong. That which is done in strict accordance with the injunctions of the scriptures is right and that which is done against their injunctions is wrong.” This is one way of defining the terms ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. To work in accordance With the Divine Will is right and to work in opposition to the Divine Will is wrong.
It is very difficult for the man in the street to find out what exactly the Divine Will is, in certain actions. That is the reason why wise sages declare that people should resort to Sastras, learned Pundits and realised persons, for consultation. A pure man who has done Nishkama Karma-Yoga for several years and who is doing worship of Isvara for a long time, can readily find out the Divine Will when he wants to do certain actions. He can hear the inner, shrill, silent voice. Ordinarily people should not attempt to hear this Divine Voice, the Voice of the Silence. They may mistake the voice of the impure mind for the Voice of God. The lower instinctive mind will delude them.
Selfishness clouds understanding. Therefore, if a man has got even a tinge of selfishness, he cannot detect what is right and wrong. A very pure, subtle and sharp intellect is needed for this purpose. The Bhagavad-Gita describes the nature of Sattvic reason, Rajasic reason and Tamasic reason as follows: “That which knoweth energy and abstinence, what ought to be done and what ought not to be done, fear and fearlessness, bondage and liberation, that reason is pure, O Partha. That by which one wrongly understandeth right and wrong, and also what ought to be done and what ought not to be done, that reason, O Partha, is passionate. That which is enwrapped in darkness, thinketh wrong to be right and seeth all things subverted, that reason, O Partha, is of darkness” (Ch. XVIII-30, 31, 32).
Various other definitions are given by wise men to help the students in the path of righteousness. In the Bible it is said: “Do unto others as you would be done by.” This is a very good maxim. The whole gist of Sadachara or right conduct is here. If one practises this very carefully, he will not commit any wrong act. Do not do to another what is not good for yourself. Do not do any act which does not bring good to another or which injures another and makes you feel ashamed for it. Do that act which brings good to others and which is praiseworthy. Do as you would be done by. Do unto others as you wish others should do unto you. This is the secret of Dharma. This is the secret essence of Karma Yoga. This is a brief description of what right conduct is. This will lead you to the attainment of eternal bliss.
“Ahimsa Paramo Dharmah — non-injuring in thought, word and deed is the highest of all virtues.” If one is well established in Ahimsa in thought, word and deed, he can never do any wrong action. That is the reason why Patanjali Maharshi has given Ahimsa great prominence in his Raja Yoga philosophy. Ahimsa comes first in the practice of Yama or self-restraint. To give happiness to others is right; to spread misery and pain to others is wrong. One can follow this in his daily conduct towards others and can evolve in his spiritual path. Do not perform any act that brings to you shame and fear. You will be quite safe if you follow this rule. Stick to any rule that appeals to your reason and conscience and follow it with faith and attention. You will evolve and reach the abode of eternal happiness.
That work which gives elevation, joy and peace to the mind is right and that which brings depression, pain and restlessness to the mind is wrong. This is an easy way to find out right and wrong.
That which helps you in your spiritual evolution is right and that which obstructs and hinders your spiritual evolution is wrong. That which leads to unity of self is right and that which leads to separation is wrong. That which is in accordance with the injunctions of the holy scriptures is right and that which is not in accordance with the sacred lore is wrong. To work in accordance with the Divine Will is right and to work in disharmony with the Divine Will is wrong. To do good to others, to serve and help others, to give joy to others, is right and to give pain to others, to injure others is wrong. All that which is free from any motive of injury to any being is surely morality. Moral precepts have been made to free creatures from all injuries.
Why is charity right? Because it is in conformity with the law: “Do charity.” Why is stealing wrong? Because it is against the law: “Thou shalt not steal.” Why is it good to help a man when he is in trouble and difficulties? Because it will refine and ennoble your character. It will instil mercy in your heart. The cultivation of virtues will help you to realise the Supreme Self. Why is it bad to kill any being? The end is unworthy. It will corrupt your character. It will reduce you to the level of a brute.