Ethical obedience is also a pathway to salvation. Hinduism desires that one’s life should be regulated by the conception of duties or debts which one has to discharge. The debts are fourfold:
(i) To the Supreme Being. One’s whole life is to be regarded as a sacrifice to God.
(ii) To the seers. By their austerities and meditations the sages discovered truth. We become members of a cultured group only by absorbing the chief elements of the cultural tradition.
(iii) To our ancestors. We repay these debts by having good progeny.
The Hindu social code does not ask us to impose an unnatural order on the world. We discover the intentions of nature in the constitution of men and women and it is our duty to act agreeably to them. Marriage is not merely of bodies but of minds. It makes us richer, more human, more truly living, and becomes the cause of greater love, deeper tenderness, more perfect understanding. It is an achievement which requires discipline. If it is not the expression of spirit, it is mere lust.
There are innumerable shades between love, the spiritual unity expressed in physical unity, and lust which is mere physical attraction without any spiritual basis, and which has created prostitution both within and without marriage.
The great love stories of the world, even when they involve a breaking of human laws, are centred, lifted up, and glorified by their fidelity, by the fact that they do not pass, (iv) To humanity. We owe a duty to humanity which we discharge by means of hospitality and goodwill. Those who adopt this view are not content with merely earning their bread or seeking their comfort, but believe that they are born not for themselves but for others.
Hinduism does not believe that the use of force is immoral in all circumstances. The Bhagavad Gita, for example, lays stress on the duties of the warrior and the claims of the nation. There is a place for politics and heroism, but wisdom and love are more than politics and war. In order to remain within the bonds of a class or a nation we need not free ourselves from the bonds of humanity.
Real democracy is that which gives to each man the fullness of personal life. Animals are also included under objects to be treated with compassion. All life is sacred, whether of animals or of fellow men. We shudder at cannibalism and condemn the savage who wishes to indulge in this habit of our ancestors, though the slaughtering of animals and birds for human consumption continues to be regarded as right.
The Hindu custom allows meat- eating but prefers vegetarianism. On days dedicated to religious functions meat-eating is disallowed. Our right to take animal life is strictly limited by our right to self-preservation and defence. The true man is he in whom the mere pleasure of killing is killed. So long as it is there, man has no claim to call himself civilized. While Hinduism has within its fold barbarians inheriting the habits of wild ancestors who slew each other with stone axes for a piece of raw flesh, it aims at converting them into men whose hearts are charged with an eager and unconquerable love for all that lives.
In the priestly codes there is a tendency to confuse virtue with ceremonial purity. To kill a man is bad, but to touch his corpse is worse. The great scriptures, however, disregard technical morality and insist on the spirit of self-control and love of humanity. To be able to fulfil the obligations expected of man he must exercise self-control. Not only what we accept but what we renounce contributes to our making.
Threefold is the gate of hell that destroys the self: lust, anger, and greed. We must make war upon them with the weapons of spirit, opposing chastity to lust, love to anger, and generosity to greed. The Veda says: ‘Cross the bridges hard to cross. Overcome anger by love, untruth by truth.’
The Mahabharata says: ‘The rules of dharma or virtuous conduct taught by the great seers, each of whom relied on his own illumination, are manifold. The highest among them all is self-control.’ Unfortunately, in our times, the man of self-control is regarded as a weak man.
It is for developing self-control that austerities and asceticism are practised, but when self-control is attained these rigorous practices are unnecessary. Insistence on discipline or self-control avoids the two extremes of self-indulgence and asceticism. Discipline does not mean either the starving of the senses or the indulgence of them.
There is enough scope for repentance also. ‘If he repents after he commits the sin, the sin is destroyed. If he resolves that he will never commit the sin again, he will be purified.’
The sannyasi is not one who abstains from work. Meditation and action both express the same spirit. There is no conflict between wisdom and work. ‘It is the children of this world and not the men of learning who think of wisdom and work as different. The peace that is won by the knower is likewise won by the worker. He sees in truth that sees that wisdom and work are one.’