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Ethical Sadhana

by Swami Sivananda

Atman or Self is one. There is one common consciousness in all beings. All Jivas are reflections of the one Supreme Soul or Paramatma. Just as one sun is reflected in all pots of water, so also the one Supreme Being is reflected in all human beings. One cannot become many. One appears as many. One is real. Many are illusory. Separateness is illusory. Separateness is temporary. Unity is real. Unity is Eternal. 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. This primary truth of Religion is the foundation of ethics or Sadachara. If you hurt another man, you hurt yourself. If you help another man, you help yourself. On account of ignorance one man hurts another man. He thinks that other beings are separate from himself. So he exploits others. So he is selfish, greedy, proud and egoistic. If you are really aware that one Self pervades, permeates all beings, that all beings are threaded on the Supreme Self, as rows of pearls on a string, how can you hurt another man, how can you exploit another man?

Who of us are really anxious to know the truth about God or Divine life? We are more ready to ask ourselves: "How much money you have got in the Imperial Bank? Who said that against me? Do you know who I am? How are your wife and children doing?" and questions of this sort than questions like: "Who am I? What is this Samsara? What is bondage? What is freedom? Whence have I come? Whither shall I go? Who is Isvara? What are the attributes of God? What is our relationship to God? How to attain Moksha? What is the Svarupa of Moksha?"

The beginning of ethics is to reflect upon ourselves, our surroundings and our actions. Before we act we must stop to think. When a man earnestly attends to what he recognises as his duties, he will progress and in consequence thereof his comfort and prosperity will increase. His pleasures will be more refined; his happiness, his enjoyments, and recreations will be better and nobler. Happiness is like a shadow; if pursued it will flee from us; but if a man does not trouble himself about it and strictly attends to his duties, pleasures of the best and noblest kind will crop out everywhere in his path. If he does not anxiously pursue it, happiness will follow him.

The increase or rather refinement of happiness, however, cannot be considered as the ultimate aim of ethics for pain and affliction increase at the same rate because man's irritability, his susceptibility to pain, grows with the growth of his intellectuality. The essence of all existence is evolution or a constant realisation of new ideals. Therefore, the elevation of all human emotions, whether they are painful or happy, the elevation of man's whole existence of his actions and aspirations, is the constant aim of ethics.

The Socratic formula: "Virtue is knowledge" is found to be an adequate explanation of the moral life of man. Knowledge of what is right is not coincident with doing it, for man while knowing the right course is found deliberately choosing the wrong one. Desire tends to run counter to the dictates of reason; and the will perplexed by the difficulty of reconciling two such opposite demands, tends to choose the easier course and follow the inclination rather than endure the pain of refusing desire in obedience to the voice of reason. Hence mere intellectual instruction is not sufficient to ensure right doing. There arises the further need for chastisement or the straightening of crooked will, in order to ensure its cooperation with reason in assenting to what it affirms to be right, and its refusal to give preference to desire or irrational element in man's nature when such desire runs counter to the rational principle.

The pure reason urges a man to do what is best. The Asuric nature of a man fights and struggles against the man. The impulses of man who has not undergone the ethical discipline run counter to his reason. All advice, all rebuke and exhortation, all admonition testify that the irrational part is amenable to reason.

The basis of good manner is self-reliance. For such reasons have the great founders and eminent teachers of all religions repeatedly proclaimed the need for recognising the God-head within and for self-reliance in the last resort rather than any texts and persons and customs. Self-reliance is the basis of behaviour.

Self-control is greatest in the man whose life is dominated by ideals and general principles of conduct. The final end of moral discipline is self-control. The whole nature of man must be disciplined. Each element requires its specific training. Discipline harmonises the opposing elements of his soul. The self-control will enable the aspirant to know the Truth, to desire the good and to win the right and thus to realise the Reality.

Discipline is the training of our faculties through instructions and through exercise, in accordance with some settled principle of authority. You must discipline not only the intellect but also the will and the emotions. A disciplined man will control his actions. He is no longer at the mercy of the moment. He ceases to be a slave of his impulses and Indriyas. Such mastery is not the result of one day's effort. One can acquire the power by protracted practice and daily self-discipline. You must learn to refuse the demands of impulses. A self-controlled man will have to resist the wrong action to which a worldly man is most strongly impelled.

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