Rules and Ethical Guidelines

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.

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