Understanding how moral values and a sense of obligation can come from beliefs and experience;
Evaluating their own and others’ values in order to make informed, rational and imaginative choices.
One of the core values of the Hindu tradition focuses on the sanctity of life. It is called ahimsa, meaning ‘not to hurt, harm or kill through word, thought or deed’. This forms the basis of moral behaviour. It is still a statement of negation – the positive projection of the theory is reverence for life. This guides the behaviour of Hindus towards everyone and everything. Living for others through self-sacrifice becomes the core teaching. Living in a family unit for example requires provides the means to put this teaching into practice. The practice should be broadened to take into account the needs of those who are less fortunate. The theory requires Hindus to play an active role in helping to alleviate the suffering of others.
The source of both these fundamental values comes from esoteric Hindu philosophy which states that all living things are essentially the manifestation of spirit defined as Brahman. Spirit does not come in plural hence by implication all living things are the expression of the same phenomenon. Ecology, or caring for the environment, also becomes a natural outcome of the philosophy. It says that essentially everyone and everything including the universe, is the expression of the spirit, hence divine, and should be cared for.
Spiritual humanism as promoted by Swami Vivekananda in the last century, suggests that we must not search for God in some invisible place because he is very visible here. He manifests himself through millions of living beings. The highest worship of God is not tinkling bells in front of images but serving humanity. Pramukh Swami of the Swaminarayan movement affirms ‘In the joy of others lies our own, and in the good of others abides our own.’
Right and wrong are recognised as useful religious injunctions. However the contextual aspect should not be ignored. Hinduism does not promote relativism. There is a clear injunction in Hinduism that any activity that draws us towards God (or our spiritual dimension is right and any activity that leads us away from our spiritual underpinning is wrong. However, the way this can work in practice has to take into account the context. What may appear as right in one situation may be seen as wrong in a different situation. What may be right in the short term may turn out to be wrong in the long term. What may be right for one person may be wrong for another person. Hinduism recognises the contextual nature of religious injunctions hence the law books of Hinduism come with a sell-by date.
Varnasharamdharma means how to translate religious teachings into practice. It means that the age and aptitude of the individual must be taken into account to decide what role he or she can play in society. Children and youngsters have different roles to play; adults and the elderly have their own roles. They all make different contributions towards family life and society in general.
Hinduism does not claim monopoly in dealing with global issues like human rights, fairness, social justice and environment. It appreciates other religious as well as non-religious world-views on these issues. What it offers is an interesting insight on why these ideas are important. The esoteric terms Brahman and Atman promote the idea that the underpinning to the universe is essentially the same Spirit. This spirit manifests as the universe and becomes more visible as living things and becomes most transparent as men and women. The underpinning to everything and everyone is the same Spirit. This gives greater impetus to the idea of why it is necessary to be fair to others or to seek justice or human rights for others. The Hindu response claims that it is because it is the same spirit that underpins everything and everyone, equality arises very naturally – it is just reinforcing this underlying deeper spiritual unity.
Theistic Hinduism will offer the same reasons for why we have to be fair to others or seek justice or look after the environment. It will bring God into the equation and say that because everything and everyone has been created by the same God, we are obliged to look after his creation. In contrast the non-theistic Hinduism offers a more direct reason for why we should insist on justice and fairness. It is because at a deeper level we are linked to everything and everyone. Hinduism would insist that this linkage is not at the material level (as the materialistic Humanist suggests) but at the deeper spiritual level.
A question has not been properly answered: all human beings are clearly quite different from each other at the physical as well as mental levels, so why insist on equality? The satisfactory answer cannot simply be: because we are all human — because we are so different from each other. The satisfactory answer comes with the declaration that even though we look different, we are the manifestation of the same spirit, hence we insist on equality. This approach promotes spiritual humanism in contrast to materialistic humanism.
The theory of reincarnation in Hinduism views death as a comma rather than a full-stop. Though Hinduism places great emphasis on the sacredness of life, it would view issues like abortion or voluntary euthanasia in a slightly different way.
Abortion and Voluntary Euthanasia: in the case of the abortion of a seriously malformed foetus – if the foetus is destined to suffer and certain to die due to its malformation, the Hindu teachings can be interpreted to suggest that by not terminating pregnancy the parents are incurring bad karma. That individual may be reborn in a better foetus so it may be best to let it progress to its next life rather than let it undergo suffering for no apparent reason. There are no strict religious injunctions to fall back on hence the individual family will be left to take the final decision. Similar views could be expressed in dealing with the issue of voluntary euthanasia. The individual has a right to terminate his or her own life and continue his or her journey to the next life after being freed from suffering.
Contraception: it is acceptable because it does not take life, though using it as a means for a promiscuous life style goes against the Hindu ideal of overcoming bodily infatuation.
Just War: despite appearances, Hinduism is not a pacifist religion. It recognises that there are situations where it may be necessary to take up arms. The scripture of authority for Hindus – the Bhagavad Gita – was preached on a battlefield.
Hinduism promotes spiritual humanism wholeheartedly. However this is not the same as the materialistic humanism that is in vogue. The basis for human rights, social justice and citizenship are given firm footing through esoteric Hindu teachings. These teachings suggest that men and women are not material beings aspiring to spirituality to improve their material status, but spiritual beings on a material journey.
It is essentially the same spirit that manifests in everyone. This gives a firm footing to the ideals of human rights, social justice and good citizenship. Mahatma Gandhi successfully combined the religious teachings of satya (insisting on truth) and ahimsa (non-violence) to forge a potent political tool that has been used again and again as a humane resolution to issues of gaining Human rights
From ancient times it has been recognised that earning money righteously to support the needs of family and society are very important. The creation and accumulation of wealth are entirely acceptable, yet the ultimate aim should be selfless rather than selfish; the wealth should be redistributed for the good of others. Sri Ramakrishna, a recent prophet of Hinduism states that householders should not act as hoarders of wealth, but become stewards of wealth. He tells the wealthy that it is necessary to ‘act in the world as a servant, look after everyone and act as if everything belongs to you, but know in your heart that nothing is yours; you are only the guardian, the servant of God’. This is dharma or truly religious living. Looking after those around us is not simply a matter of practical concern but also a matter of spiritual concern, since the dignity of all is a central doctrine of Hindu philosophy. Selfless action is called karma yoga and is one of the prescribed ways of making spiritual progress.
Physical and Mental Health: Hindu philosophy contends that we possess three layers to our being: physical, mental and spiritual. Good physical and mental health are pre-requisites to allow the spiritual element to become visible. Developing nations require more help with physical health issues and developed nations need more help to foster better mental health.
War: Gandhi’s use of Ahimsa or non-violence as a religious tool has successfully resolved many political issues in a non-violent method. This idea has been successfully used by many groups to resolve serious issues without waging war.
Care for the people around us should be extended to care for the animal kingdom and the environment, since all are essentially divine. Hinduism agrees with the theory of evolution which states that we are the continuation of the animal kingdom. Hence reverence for life cannot be restricted to the human kingdom; it must be extended into the animal kingdom. Poor treatment of animals bred for human consumption, or hunting down animals to the point of extinction because of greed and commercialism, go against Hindu teachings.
The Isa Upanishad in its first verse states: View all this that you view as the manifestation of the lord. Seeing the universe as the manifestation of the divine or the spirit is at the heart of Hindu teachings. Desecrating the environment is viewed as compromising the dignity of the spirit that underpins everything.
Contextual limitations on the principle of reverence for all living things and the environment: Hindus believe there is a hierarchy in creation, as some things are considered more sacred than others. Human life is seen as more valuable than animal or plant life. Divinity has become most clearly manifest in human form through the evolutionary process. This is why it is considered legitimate for humans to live off other living things or to take medicine to destroy bacteria and viruses that may be detrimental to their well-being. Sometimes this ‘violence’ is unavoidable.
It is also valid to defend and protect yourself from other human beings who may want to harm you. In the story of the Mahabharata, Krishna urged Arjuna to fight the wrongdoers as it was his duty to protect the righteous. Hindus have never gone out of India to conquer other people or impose their authority on others as that goes against the grain of Hindu teachings.
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