Read this article to learn about the ethics in Advaita Vedanta!
According to some critics, “the Advaitavada of Samkara has no place for ethics’ as it raises the supreme ideal of life above good and evil.” Thus, it has been pointed out that there is no place for ethics in Samkara’s philosophy.
According to Samkara, Brahman is the self, while the world is unreal. The ultimate end of man, according to Vedanta, is the attainment of Brahman consciousness.
Thus Brahman is beyond the dualism of right and wrong. It is beyond all dualisms, Man’s aim, according to Advaita Vedanta, is to reach a status of non-dealism which is beyond all dualisms, because dualism is Maya or Avidya while non-dualism is the Brahman or Reality. This end is undoubtedly beyond ethics, since, as Kant has painted out, the dualism of right and wrong is on the moral plane.
On the moral level, man must have both the alternatives of right and wrong and he must voluntarily choose the right one. If he cannot choose the wrong, and is bound to choose the right due to his innate nature, if there is no conflict between the two in his mind, he is not on the moral level. Thus, as a moral philosopher points out, “Virtue lies in the life of its antagonist.” This analysis amply clarifies that the summum bonum of man in Samkara’s philosophy is beyond ethics.
But this does not mean that there is no place for ethics in Samkara’s philosophy. The aim of life, according to Samkara, is beyond what is achieved through life. Again, even after the realisation of the ultimate end, the liberated person does not leave society or the world, nor does he become interested in it.
Samkara’s life self is a glaring example of this fact. He was not only a great philosopher but an equally great social reformer. He roamed about the country from North to South, and East to West, preaching the philosophy of Vedanta and making every effort to reform the society. It is only on the transcendental level that Samkara has negated all dualism. On the pragmatic level, the dualism of the right and wrong is as much true as all other dualisms.
Before the achievement of liberation, man must have due consideration for right and wrong, but after liberation is achieved, such a consideration becomes superfluous, because the liberated person, essentially established in the Brahman consciousness, does only that which is always right as it directly follows from the ultimate good, the Brahman.
Thus, though right and wrong, sympathy, pity, forgiveness and other virtues might be relative and of the lower level for the liberated person, he neither acts against them because that too is due to dualism, nor has he to make efforts to act according to them, since it all becomes spontaneous to him.
As a matter of fact, Samkara has not admitted knowledge and Niskam Karma as mutually opposed. The action opposed to knowledge is the action due to desire. It is that which leads to ignorance and bondage. Samkara has emphasized the importance of Niskam Karma. By knowledge, and detachment, practical efficiency is even more increased because after being relieved from attachment and aversion, the liberated man remains balanced, even in the face of the greatest misfortunes. The aspirant works for self-purification before liberation, and after liberation he works for the purification of those who are still in bondage.
In this work he has no vested interest of his own, because all his interests have been fulfilled. This work is not guided by any other worldly motive as name, fame, etc. This gives him a wonderful power of action. Attainment of liberation transforms all his life. By this transformation, the moral values are even more glorified and spiritualized. This gives new inspiration, energy, peace and stability in practical life. Thus, the ultimate end in Vedanta philosophy is undoubtedly beyond right and wrong, but instead of negating them, it rather leads to their ultimate fulfillment.