The mark of Dharma is Achara or good conduct. Achara is
the mark of the good. From Achara is Dharma born. Dharma enhances life.
Man attains prosperity and fame, here and hereafter, through the
practice of Dharma.
Good conduct is the highest Dharma. It is the root of all Tapas or
austerities. Righteousness, truth and good works, power and
prosperity—all originate from conduct.
Conduct And Character
Man wills to obtain his objects of desires. Willing results in
action. This is called conduct. Conduct is behaviour. The will that is
expressed becomes conduct.
Man has various sorts of desires. Sometimes, there is conflict of
desires. That desire which obtains victory is termed ‘will’. The inner
disposition which makes the will possible is called character. Character
is the aggregate of peculiar qualities which constitute personal
External behaviour is not always a sure guide in judging the
character of a man.
Ethics Or The Science Of Conduct
Morality or ethics is the science of conduct. Ethics is the study of
what is right or good in conduct. Ethical science shows the way in which
human beings should behavetowards one another, as well as towards other
creatures. It contains systematised principles on which a man should
act. Ethics is right conduct or Sadachara.
We have human morality, family morality, social morality, national
morality, professional morality, etc. A doctor has his professional
ethics. He should not divulge to others the secrets of his patients. It
is his duty to take all precautionary hygienic measures to stop the
spread of an epidemic disease and direct his earnest attention towards
public health and hygiene.
Ethics is a relative science. What is good for one man may not be
good for another man. What is good at one time and at one place may not
be good at another time and at another place. Ethics is relative to the
man himself and to his surroundings.
Ethics, Spirituality And Religion
Without ethics, you cannot have progress in the spiritual path.
Ethics is the foundation of Yoga. Ethics is the corner-stone of Vedanta.
Ethics is the strong pillar on which the edifice of Bhakti Yoga rests.
Ethics is the gateway to God-realisation.
Without ethical perfection, no spiritual progress or realisation is
possible. A Yogic student or aspirant must be strictly ethical. He must
be truthful and pure in thought, word and deed. He must possess
excellent conduct. He must not injure any living being in thought, word
and deed. He must practise rigidly right thought, right speech and right
Every religion has its ethics. The Sermon on the Mount of Jesus and
the Ten Commandments contain ethical teachings for the uplift of man.
The Noble Eightfold Path of the Buddha is the essence of ethics. The
Yamas and Niyamas of Patanjali Maharshi constitute the highest ethics.
Manu Smriti, Yajnavalkya Smriti and Parasara Smriti contain the code of
conduct for man. The three kinds of austerity of the Gita are nothing
but ethics in an intensified form.
Benefits Of The Practice Of Ethics
Morality is the gateway to religion. He who leads a moral or virtuous
life attains freedom, perfection or Moksha.
Practice of ethics will help you to live in harmony with your
neighbours, friends, your own family members, fellow-beings and other
people. It will confer on you lasting happiness and Moksha. It will
purify your heart. It will keep your conscience ever clean. A moral man
who follows strictly the principles of ethics will not deviate even a
fraction of an inch from the path of Dharma or righteousness.
Yudhishthira had earned an undying reputation for his practice of
ethics. He was an embodiment of Dharma. Hence he still lives in our
Good conduct is the root of material and spiritual prosperity.
Conduct increases fame. It is good conduct which prolongs life and
destroys all calamities and evils and brings eternal happiness. It is
good conduct that begets virtue. Therefore develop good conduct.
Ethical Codes In Hinduism
Hindu ethics is superb. Hinduism lays great emphasis on ethical
discipline. Yama (self-restraint) and Niyama (religious observances or
canons) are the foundations of Yoga and Vedanta.
Undeveloped persons cannot think for themselves. Hence rules of
conduct have been laid down by great sages or seers like Manu and Sage
Lord Krishna says in the Gita: “Let the scriptures be thy authority
in determining what ought to be done or what ought not to be done.
Knowing what hath been declared by the ordinances of the scriptures,
thou oughtest to work in this world” (Ch. XVI-24). The Smritis written
by Yajnavalkya, Manu and other sages distinctly prescribe the rules of
conduct. As you have not got the power nor the time to think of the
moral principles and rules given in the scriptures, you can get them
from the sages and saints and follow them to the very letter.
The Foundational Principles Of Hindu Ethics
The ethics of the Hindus is subtle, sublime and profound. All
religions have taught ethical precepts such as: “Do not kill, do not
injure others, love your neighbour as your self,” but they have not
given the reason. The basis of Hindu ethics is this: “There is one
all-pervading Atman. It is the innermost soul of all beings. This is the
common, pure consciousness. If you injure your neighbour, you really
injure yourself. If you injure any other creature, you really injure
yourself, because the whole world is nothing but your own Self.” This is
Hindu ethics. This is the basic metaphysical truth that underlies all
Hindu ethical codes.
The Atman or Self is one. One life vibrates in all beings. Life is
common in animals, birds and human beings. Existence is common. This is
the emphatic declaration of the Upanishads or Srutis. This primary truth
of religion is the foundation of ethics or morality or science of right
conduct. Morality has Vedanta as its basis.
The first thing you learn from religion is the unity of all selves.
The Upanishads says: “The neighbour is, in truth, the very Self and what
separates you from him is mere illusion.” One Atman or Self abides in
all beings. Universal love is the expression of the unity. Universal
brotherhood has its basis in the unity of Self. All human relations
exist because of this unity. Yajnavalkya said to his wife Maitreyi:
“Behold, my dear, not indeed for the love of the husband is the husband
dear, for the love of the Self is the husband dear.” And so with wife,
sons, property, friends, worlds and even the Devas themselves. All are
dear, because the one Self is in all. If you injure another man, you
injure yourself. If you help another person, you help yourself. There is
one life, one common consciousness in all beings. This is the foundation
of right conduct. This is the foundation of ethics.
Service As Worship
A philanthropist donates big sums to social institutions. He regards
this as some kind of social service only. That is all. He has not got
the Bhava or mental attitude, that the whole world is a
manifestation of the Lord and that he is serving the Lord. He has not
got the Bhava that the Lord is working through his instruments or
senses, that every act is an offering unto the Lord, and that every deed
is a Yogic activity.
In India, dinner is prepared for five hundred persons even when two
hundred persons are invited. Feeding is worship of Narayana or the Lord,
for a Hindu. It is Atithi-Yajna or sacred sacrifice. A Hindu
regards every creature as the Lord.
The Hindus are very generous, noble, large-hearted, charitable,
God-fearing, sympathetic, merciful and hospitable. If they see a hungry
man in the street, they will take him to their house, treat him as
Atithi-Narayana (God in the form of guest), feed him first and then
take their food. Nowhere in the world you will hear of such a treatment.
You cannot get even a morsel of food free in other countries.
A Hindu believes that if he feeds a single sage or a Mahatma, he is
feeding the whole world, because he has realised that a realised sage is
identical with the whole Virat or Brahman and is one with all beings of
the entire universe. Hindu ethics is based on the sublime philosophy of
Vedanta which propounds the doctrine of oneness of life and unity of
consciousness. Ethics or morality and doing good to others, is the
manifestation of this oneness. A Hindu distributes food to the crows,
dogs, cows and fish first before he takes his food. He tries to
recognise the one Atman that is hidden in all these forms. He endeavours
to become one with the Universal Being. He knows that in loving others
he loves himself and in injuring others he injures himself. Through the
practice of cosmic love he feels that all bodies are his, all hands are
his, all feet are his and that the whole world is his home
(Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam). Gradually he becomes one with the soul of
the universe and one with the Oversoul also. Hindu ethics leads
eventually to Self-realisation. Ethics is a means to Yoga.
Ethical Culture Or 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
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
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
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
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 a man who visits the house of his sister of ill-fame once in six
months. That man who 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 a Mahatma 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 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.
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.
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.