Ethical Teachings 2

Ethical teachings

Sri Aurobindo

The criterion of social development, according to most of the Western social philosophers, is the moral progress in the individuals and society. Thus ethics has been considered as the most potent method of social development.   This contention, to be fully verified and examined, requires a two-fold inquiry. First, what is that standard of morality which is the wisest and hence the widest and most comprehensive?  

Such a theory of moral standard will, obviously, harmonize and integrate all other theories, show their limitations and weld them into a more perfect theory. Secondly, does moral progress realize an integral evolution of man and society?

As this is the aim of social development, the social philosopher will find out the true nature of ethics, its highest standard and its value but he will also see its value for the achievement of the ideal of social development.  Find out its limitations, if there are any, and suggest other methods which might be an improvement upon it Sri Aurobindo examines various standards of morality, presents a standard at once integrating and transcending others, assesses the value of moral progress in social development, shows its limitations and finally indicates how religion and Yoga are an advance upon the ethical method.

The basic fallacy underlying the different theories of ethics is the same as it is in the theories of psychology, metaphysics and religion all these are vitiated by the defect of abstraction.

Theories of ethics, psychology and metaphysics have been generally built upon the truths of some one aspect of man’s being, on the truth of the individual, in isolation from society and vice versa, and on similar other abstractions.  But as Sri Aurobindo points out, “The ethical being escapes from all these formulas; it is a law to itself and finds its principle in its own eternal nature which is not in its essential character a growth of evolving mind, even though it may seem to be that in its earthly history, but a light from the ideal, a reflection in man of the Divine.”  Morality, religion, science, metaphysics, all should seek the development of the whole man, not isolated from but in and through society. This is the aim of all the efforts of man.

The Ultimate End

Thus the ultimate end, according to the moral philosophy of Sri Aurobindo, is God-Realization. This is the criterion of good and right “All takes new values not from itself but from die consciousness that uses it; for there is only one thing essential, needful, indispensable, to grow conscious of the Divine Reality and live hi it and live it always.’

This is a principle on which Indian sages have generally agreed. It is the real inner meaning of the ethics of self-realization as Sri Aurobindo points out, “The God is also, subjectively, the seeking for our highest, truest, fullest, and largest self.”

In the philosophy of Sri Aurobindo, man, world and God, are three forms of the same Reality, Existent, Conscious and Blissful to realize that Reality is the supreme end. Thus “good is all that helps the individual and die world towards their divine fullness and evil is all that retards or breaks up that increasing perfection?  These concepts of good and evil hi Sri Aurobindo’s ethics are dynamic since their aim is progressive and evolving in time. Hence no rigid rules of conduct can be framed. The temporality of the forms of moral conduct is quite compatible with the eternity of moral ideals.’

Ethics: A means to God realization

Kant preached “Duty for the sake of Duty.” Sri Aurobindo like the author of Gita, accepts Duty for the sake of God. He interprets the central teaching of the Gita in a way different from that of Samkara, Ramanuja and Tilak, etc.  

To him, “The Gita does not teach the disinterested performance of duties but the following of the divine life, the abandonment of all Dharmas, sarvadharman, to take refuge in the Supreme alone, and the divine activity of a Buddha, a Rama Krishna, a Vivekananda is perfectly in consonance with this teaching.  Thus, like the Gita, Sri Aurobindo strongly emphasizes the value of Kanna in life. There he agrees with Tilak, his closest associate in political activities. But he does not admit Kanna as an end in itself. The ideal man of Sri Aurobindo’s moral philosophy works neither for himself nor for society, nor event for Duty itself but for God, as an instrument hi His hand.


Tulsidas was the most important poet of the Rama Bhakti school. The wave of the Bhakti movement spear-headed in the North by Ramananda may have influenced Tulsidas. But to Ramananda it was irrelevant whether the devotee was a Nirguna or Saguna Bhakta so long as he followed Ramananda’s preaching and had religious fervour. His disciples were free to interpret Rama in any manner they liked so long as they felt drawn towards Him as an object of worship and devotion.

Among the different Bhakti schools, the most prominent were the Nirguna and Saguna. Nirguna School believed in formless God, whereas those belonging to Saguna worshipped a personal God with a form. Kabir who founded the Nirguna School of Bhakti conceived Rama as a formless God whereas Tulsidas and his followers worshipped Rama as Saguna God taking into account His divine.

Even the Nirguna School of Bhakti was split into two groups – those who believed in ‘gyan’ (knowledge) and had an intellectual approach to devotion and those who believed in love and attachment, and total surrender to God for attaining Him. Those who followed the latter path were the Sufis or mystics. The Saguna school of Bhakti also branched into two directions, one devoted to ‘Rama’ and the other for ‘Krishna’. The former school of saint poets was led by Tulsidas and the latter by Surdas. Thus in Hinduism the three schools of Bhakti which produced poetry of highest order was Kabir, Surdas and Tulsidas, besides the Sufis.

The magnum opus of Tulsidas is, however, Ramcharitmanas in Hindi or Avadhi. It is the life story of Rama as narrated by Valmiki in his Ramayana with slight modifications. The Manas has been adjudged as the best work in Hindi literature with devotion as the theme and, as one of the best epics in any tongue anywhere. It presents Rama as an ideal man in all respects, viz. as a son, brother, husband, friend, warrior and a king.  

For Tulsidas Rama was an incarnation of God (Vishnu) Himself. No other book has made such a deep impact on the minds of the people in the North. Many scholars and even foreign critics have gone to the extent of comparing ‘Manas’ (Tulsidas) with Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’. According to H.C. Kala, both believed in a life with spirituality and truth as the dominant note, struggle between good and evil, and ultimate triumph of god over evil. Both have a classical theme and subject; Tulsidas narrated the story of Rama and Ravana, and Milton having made us of Adam and Eve.

In his beautiful verse of couplets in rhyme (dohas), Tulsidas has described the greatness of Rama and also the characterization of Bharat, Sita, Lakshman and Kaushalya superbly. Equally fascinating is the collection of poems in Vinaya Patrika and Kavitavalli.  When Tulsidas abandoned home and became an ascetic, he is said to have spent fourteen years visiting numerous sacred places of pilgrimage. One of the moving descriptions by Tulsidas in the Manas is that of Chitrakoot which Rama, Lakshman and Sita passed during their exile.

A most touching incident about Tulsidas and Chitrakoot tells us about his unfathomable love for Lord Rama.  It is said at this crowded Chitrakoot Ghat Tulsidas sat making the paste of sandalwood waiting for the ‘darshan’ of Lord Rama, Sita and Lakshman who were to visit there. But actually when the Trio came to his counter and stood in front of him, Tulsidas was so engrossed in his love for making the paste for his Rama that he doesn’t look up!

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