Morality is one of the most important characteristic of human beings. Morality is like self-governing codes of conduct for the humanity. No animal except human being follows any morality as they all are governed by their instinct. The greatest achievements of human race have been to rise above the instinct and make some principles that give precedence to the collective good of humanity rather than the individual benefits to the individual. These principles are often called Morality.
Morality is often defined as the ability of a person to distinguish good and evil or right and wrong. A moral man follows the path of good and righteousness. The system of determining right and wrong may be established by some authority, such as a Churches, an organization, a society, a government or by the individual himself. Thus logically the moral codes must be different for each society, religion or even individual. Thus many people consider morality as individualistic which is based on time and society. Often it is argued that there can no universal principles of morality.
Recently on a forum hosted by evangelical pastor Rick Warren, Barack Obama cited his youthful experimentation with drugs and John McCain noted his failed first marriage as their greatest moral failings. Obama also said one of the country’s biggest moral failings involved its treatment of the poor. McCain said the nation’s greatest moral shortcoming is its failure to “devote ourselves to causes greater than our self-interests.”
The moral failings of the individual and the nation as stated by the presidential nominees of the world’s most powerful and modern nation are not local but truly universal. No society can define these actions as moral.
Thus there may be some differences in the body of the morality which is often coded in the law books, yet the essence or the soul of the morality is same in all societies and individual.
Morality and Legality
People often confuse morality with legality. They believe that observance of the laws of the society is sufficient to be moral. This may not be always true. For example if a society allows divorce or polygamy, or make extramarital affairs legal, it is perfectly legal to leave one spouse or have relationship with multiple partners. Yet the same action can not be said to be moral as McCain accepted his failed marriage as his greatest moral failing.
In the same way even if the national laws allows accumulation of private wealth without any limit, yet it may be indeed be a sin to accumulate huge wealth when large number of people continue to be poor. It may be perfectly legal to promote the interest of the self by the following legal paths which may not be necessarily in the interest of the country, yet the same action is viewed by the society as immoral if the benefit to the individuals is not shared by the society.
Thus morality and legality often confront each other. In every era, people challenge the laws on the moral ground and changed the society. Christ challenged many principles of the Old Testament like “eye for eye policy” that even cost his life. The action of the Christ was illegal as adjudged by the State and State was perfectly legal in hanging him. Yet in reality it was Christ who was morally right in speaking the universal principle of love and the state was morally wrong in executing him.
All great people in the history broke the laws of the land for the sake of higher moral principles. These moral principles are not different but same in all societies in all times. They were discovered many thousands years back and they will continue to guide the humanity on the right path in all times to come. What are these eternal moral principles?
Dharma: The Universal Principles of Morality
Wikipedia defines Dharma as an Indian spiritual and religious term that means one’s righteous duty, or any virtuous path in the common sense of the term. Throughout Indian philosophy, Dharma is present as a central concept that is used in order to explain the “higher truth” or ultimate reality of the universe. Dharma ( Dhama ) is also the guiding principle of Buddhism.
The word dharma literally translates as “that which upholds or supports” (from the root, Dhr, to hold), and is generally translated into English as “law”. It has governed ideas about the proper conduct of living – ideas that are upheld by the laws of the universe. Yet these laws are such that can never be reproduced in words in law books. They have to be understood intuitively.
Hinduism is one of the rarest religions that is not based on any “book” or “scripture” but on Dharma. Though there are numerous books that forms the basis of Hinduism but in reality, Hinduism is nothing more than the observance of these universal principles of morality. A devout Hindu can disregard any scripture if these are contrary to the dharma.
The benefit of making a society based on dharma, the unwritten principles of morality, is that one who follows dharma is actually religious in every religion. Thus a devout Hindu like Gandhi was more Christian than most Christian as he followed the Dharma which had always been in conformity with what is revealed by Jesus Christ. He said,
“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
Thus Gandhi was Christian not by birth but by deeds as he followed the eternal principles of Dharma. All spiritual people in fact follow the life of Dharma even if they do not know what Dharma is. What are these principles of Dharma.
10 Principles of Universal Morality
Dharma has to be understood intuitively by listening to the voice of ones conscious. It is difficult to reproduce these principles in words. No Hindu scripture defined these universal principles except the Patanjali’s Yogashastra (The Book of Yoga). Yoga defines 10 principles called yam (do’s) and niyam (don’t) which summarizes these moral principles. These ten principles are often called the ten commandments of Hinduism. Yet unlike other scriptures, they are neither religious nor pertains to any specific God or religion. These 10 principles are
1. Ahimsa: Nonviolence i.e. not giving pain to anyone through speech, deed and mind
2. Satya : Always Speak Truth
3. Asteya: Altruism i..e. not to get attracted by the wealth of others
4. Aparigraha : Avoid unnecessary collection of luxuries or attachment to collections
5. Brahmacharya: Follow natural discipline of the body, mind and senses
6. Sauch – cleanliness of the body, mind and soul
7. Santosh : Contentment in every aspect of life
8. Tap: To bear all pains and hurts bravely and be unaffected by them,
9. Swadhayay : Self-learning or self-realization
10. Samarpan: Surrender to Supreme or Creator
Hinduism which is also called Sanatan (Eternal) Religion considers these 10 principles as universal. Yoga which means Union of Self with the Supreme is now universally accepted by people to live a healthy and happy life by people of all religions. It is also evident that prayer to any specific God is not covered as one of the principles of Yoga though it is not prohibited. Most of these principles are also mentioned in other religions too in different forms.
Let Morality Prevail over Man Made Laws
Dharma is the supreme law of the universe. It has been codified in different religion, yet it has to be understood only through intuition and experience. For example, killing of animals are allowed in many religions and even made as an essential part of religion. Yet the dharma can never allow it which makes nonviolence as the very first principles of universal morality. The sermon of Jesus to turn the other cheek is the best example of observance of such principle in Christianity.
Accumulation of wealth too goes against these principles of morality which are considered legal and proper in most societies. Yet we know from experience that accumulation of wealth always creates contempt and hatred in others as it contradict the dharma. It is for this reason that the deprived humanity again and again punishes the wealth accumulator and brings equality and justice in the society.
A careful study of these ten universal principles of morality clearly reveals that one lead a happy life by following these principles. If one live life against these principles, he may get instant pleasure for sometime but he suffers disproportionate pain in the later part of his life. Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States and the principal author of the Declaration of Independence explained the universality of these moral principles are explained by Thomas Jefferson
I never did, or countenanced, in public life, a single act inconsistent with the strictest good faith; having never believed there was one code of morality for a public, and another for a private man”