The Upanishads (Volume 2) cover

The Upanishads (Volume 2)

Swami Nikhilananda. Svetavatara. Prasna and Mandukya Upanishads with Gaudapada's Karika. Introduction to Hindu ethics.

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Excerpt from the Introduction - Hindu Ethics.

As long as man regards himself as a part of this world of contradictions and identifies himself with it, he must follow moral law. But the religious prophets and seers of India tell us that there is another part of man, his real Self, which transcends contradictions and is therefore perfect. The goal of ethics is, in the Hindu view, to show man the way to rediscover that real Self. There lies its true mission.

The merely ethical man, moreover, cannot be expected to bring Liberation to one involved in the struggle between good and evil. Liberation comes from the realization of the soul's true nature: simplicity, guilessness, and innocence. If is through maya, as Vedanta says, that the soul forgets its true nature. The Bible, too, states that man was perfect before his fall from parades. This perfection a boy intuitively feels before sacrificing his chastity on the threshold of adolescence. The purity that he then loses can never be regained through the help of the moralist. The ethical man, though an experienced man of the world, is still entangled in the struggle between good and evil. His experience has been gained at the costs of his innocence. He cannot redeem an immoral person, however much he may condemn the latter, simply because he himself is no longer in possession of purity. This why religion says that redemption comes through the grace of one who is pure in heart and above good and evil. Thus, in the classic example of the woman taken in adultery, redemption came from Christ, der reine Tor, and not from the high priests, who were the wise and moral men of the time. Christ was not merely a moral man, but a pure soul who had not tasted the fruit of the forbidden tree. How significant were his words, smiting like a scourge the judges about to punish the woman: " he that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her!"

Hindu philosophers have suggested means for resolving the conflict involved in moral action. There are, in the main, tow kinds of action: optional (kamya) and obligatory (nitya). An optional action has a particular end; it is performed by the agent who seeks that end. It is his pleasure, not his duty, to perform such an action. But if he undertakes an optional action he must not violate moral law while performing it. But obligatory action must be performed; its non-performance causes harm, while if one performs it one does not obtain any special and direct result (the indirect result being the purification of the heart). Obligatory action belongs to the realm of duty and may sometimes be tiresome. But it must be performed in accordance with moral law.

The Bhagavad Gita states that all actions ordinarily bind their doers by creating attachment to the result. It is not action, but the desire for the result, that brings suffering. Therefore the doer is asked to relinquish all attachment to the result. Through his body and senses perform action, his mind must remain unruffled in success and failure. Hinduism advocates renunciation in action, not renunciation of action. A duty must be done regardless of its result, because it ought to be done. The desire for the result is irrelevant. This principle is to be applies as well to social service. Neither private ends nor the so-called public good should be the motive. If anyone is benefited by the action, well and good; but that should not be the impelling motive of the doer. He should perform the action simply because it ought to be done.

What happens if action is performed in this way? Though the doer rejects the immediate and limited fruit of life, namely, the realization of perfection. Thus we see ethics opening the door to the realm which lies beyond ethics.

Perfection is broadly defined by Hindu Philosophers in two ways. For the believer in God it means God-realization, and for the non-dualist it means Self-realization. The devotee of God regards himself as God's instrument, subordinating his own will to God's will and dedicating his work entirely to God. His own ego is kept under control. Work done in this spirit becomes a mode of worship which brings about the fruit of God-realization. For the non-dualist motiveless action purifies the heart. The proper mood is thus created for the cultivation of the Knowledge of the Self, which is birthless, deathless, non-dual, free from good and evil, eternal, devoid of the illusory notions of being either the agent or the enjoyer of the result, and is all peace. This Knowledge liberates man from the bondage of the world. Both dualists and non-dualists are utterly unselfish. Free from the idea of agency, they transcend the moral "ought." While dwelling in the body both the knower of God and the knower of the Self may perform action, but their action is never under any pressure. No categorical imperative of duty can fucntion, in them, as an impelling force. They work from love. Spontaneous action flows from the fullness of their hearts. The question of improving the world is meaningless to them. The dualist sees God not in a limited form but as dwelling in all beings. Through loving service to God's creatures he worships God. The knower of the Self, on the other hand, sees the Unity of Existence. There exists for him only one Soul. He loves his neighbors as himself because they are his own Self. Needless to say, all living beings are neighbours to a non-dualist.

Work of lasting benefit to humanity is performed only by those blessed souls who are illumined by the Higher Knowledge and consequently free from moral struggle. The action performed by others is neither serene nor totally disinterested. Whatever benefit such action may produce in the phenomenal world, it cannot bring about the Highest Good. Even in philanthropy there lurks somewhere in the subconscious mind of the doer a desire for fame or power. He is not altogehter motiveless. Only the fully illumined person can be free from selfish motives. His ego has either been burnt in the fire of Self-Knowledge or totally transformed by the touch of God.

An illumined person is no longer troubled by the idea of good and evil. After the realization of the Truth he never again makes a false step. His struggles are over. With destruction of maya, the cosmic ignorance which conjures up the dream of duality, he is no longer haunted by the dream of good and evil. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad declares: "Evil does not overtake him, but he transcends all evil. Evil does not trouble him, [but] he consumes all evil. He becomes sinless, taintless, free from doubts, and a knower of Brahman." He does not strive after morality from fear of punishment or hope of rewared or for attainment of any mundane good. Moral virtues such as humility, self-control, and tranquility, as Gaudapada says become natural attributes of the illumined knower of Brahman.