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Ethical Culture: The Process of Purification

Ethical Culture:  The Process of Purification



The very root and core of all moral discipline is mental purification through refraining from all evil action and the active practice of virtue. Do good at all times. Ahimsa, Satya and Brahmacharya symbolise the three processes of avoiding sin, sticking to virtue and Self-purification.

All harm arises out of man’s egoism. The ego manifests itself as ambition, desire and lust. Under their influence man indulges in hatred, love, flattery, pride, unscrupulousness, hypocrisy and delusion.

To eradicate egoism arising out of Deha-Abhimana (body-idea), think constantly on the foulness and perishability of the body and the pains arising out of the senses. Reject them as evil and mentally rise above them. Dwell upon that which is desirable, elevating and divine.

Improper action—thoughtless action without discrimination—gives rise to all misery. To get freedom from misery, the noble path of virtue—Sadachara—is to be followed. Rigidly observe truth and purity in your thoughts, speech, actions, inner motive and general conduct. Be loving, tolerant and charitable in your opinion of men and things and in your dealings with others.

In every sphere, the individual should strive to adhere to these qualities and to manifest them. Thus, this ideal is to be practised between parents and children, elders and youngsters, teacher and pupil, friend and friend, Guru and disciple, leader and follower, subject and ruler, and nation and nation.

You must proceed along the path of virtue. Be determined never to swerve even an inch from Dharma. The mind has to be carefully trained and the will should be developed and strengthened. Therefore much importance has been laid by the ancients upon Yama, Niyama and Shat-Sampat (six treasures of virtue). The mind and will must be exercised and disciplined through deliberate acts of self-denial and self-sacrifice in everyday life. Ethical culture, therefore, demands moral vigilance and right exertion. The development of a sensitive conscience and positive admiration for goodness and nobility plays a great part in ethical culture.

Philosophy of Right and Wrong:

Everybody speaks: “This is right, that is wrong; you are right, he is wrong;” but he cannot tell you exactly what he means by ‘right’ and ‘wrong’.

What is the criterion by which we judge an action to be right or wrong, and good or bad? “Right and wrong” and “good and bad” are relative terms. Right and wrong refer to the moral standard, as law. Good and bad refer to it, as end. You will have to adjust your conduct according to this moral standard. That which is in accordance with a rule is right. That which is worthy of achievement is good. Religion gives us the ultimate data upon which ethical science may be built.


Relative Nature of Right and Wrong:

Right and wrong—Dharma and Adharma—are relative terms. It is very difficult to define these terms precisely. Even sages are bewildered sometimes in finding out what is right and what is wrong in some special circumstances. That is the reason why Lord Krishna says in the Gita: “What is action? What is inaction? Even the wise are herein perplexed. Therefore I will declare to thee the action by knowing which thou shalt be liberated from evil. It is needful to discriminate action, to discriminate unlawful action, and to discriminate inaction; mysterious is the path of action. He who seeth inaction in action and action in inaction, he is wise among men; he is harmonious, even while performing all actions” (Ch. IV-16, 17, 18).

Illustrations of Right and Wrong:

Right and wrong are always relative to the surrounding circumstances. What is right in one situation is not right in another. Right and wrong vary according to time, special circumstances, Varna (status or class in society) and Asrama (order or stage of life). Morality is a changing and relative term. That passionate man who molests his legally married wife frequently to gratify his passion is more immoral than aman who visits the house of his sister of ill-fame once in six months. That manwho dwells constantly on immoral thoughts is the most immoral man. Do you clearly note the subtle difference now? To kill an enemy is right for a Kshatriya king. A Brahmin or Sannyasin should not kill anybody even for protecting himself during times of danger. They should practise strict forbearance and forgiveness. To speak an untruth to save the life of aMahatma or one’s Guru, who has been unjustly charged by the unjust officer of a state, is right. Untruth has become a truth in this particular case. To speak a truth which brings harm to many is untruth only. To kill a dacoit who murders the wayfarers daily is Ahimsa only. Himsa becomes Ahimsa under certain circumstances.

Forgiveness or Kshama befits an ascetic or Sannyasin who leads the life of Nivritti Marga or renunciation. It cannot befit a ruler. The ruler may forgive one who has injured him, but he cannot forgive one who has done the greatest harm to the public.

There are special Dharmas during critical, dangerous circumstances. They are called Apad-Dharma. Rishi Visvamitra took forbidden meat from a Chandala or outcaste when there was a severe famine, and offered this in his sacrifice to the Devas. Ushasti, a learned sage, took the polluted beans from the hands of an elephant-driver when the former was suffering from acute hunger and when he was not able to get food from anyone else.

Indicators of Right and Wrong:

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 aman 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.

dharma

“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 instill 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.

Yogic Gardening:

By doing wrong actions, you taint your character. By doing virtuous actions, you develop a noble character. Without character, man falls down to the level of a brute. A man of character is honoured, trusted and adored everywhere. Therefore, develop a good character when you are young. Learn how to eradicate vices and how to cultivate virtues in the garden of your heart. Vices and evil habits are the weeds. Virtues are priceless fruits and flowers. Learn the Yogic method of Pratipaksha Bhavana or cultivation of the opposites. Purity or celibacy, forgiveness, generosity, humility and selflessness are the opposites of lust, anger, greed, pride and selfishness. Become a skilful Yogic gardener. Plant good flowers in the garden of your heart and enthrone the Lord in the centre of the heart-garden and meditate on Him. You will enjoy eternal bliss and immortality.

Conclusion:

You must obey the laws or rules of conduct. The rules are given for you by the law-givers for your own betterment and spiritual uplift. The law-givers are great sages who had direct God-realisation.

To stick to Sadachara is difficult, no doubt. Mockery, misunderstanding and persecution will have to be faced. Therefore, the cultivation of forbearance, meekness of spirit, calm endurance and spirit of forgiveness are of great importance. Uphold virtue at any cost. For its sake, bear any calumny. Return good for evil.

Do not leave the path of morality even if your life is in danger. Do not leave righteousness for the sake of some material gain. Consult the Sastras and Mahatmas whenever you are in doubt. Build up your character. Grow. Evolve. Keep up your ideal always before your mind. Stick to Sadachara or right conduct. Practise it. You will soon attain eternal bliss and immortality.

~ Sri Swami Sivananda

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