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Vices and Virtues of Soul

Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 12:58 AM

Shri Aurobindo
A common question asked is whether Hinduism believes in the sins of Man and the punishment of God being meted out to those committing these sins.

Hindus consider only self-centred desire as a sin which leads to all the evils of mankind. However we believe that it is not God who punishes us but our actions or Karma, as explained earlier.

There are, however, six main obstacles or vices which detract Man from performing his dharma. They are kama (lust), krodha (unjust and vicious anger), lobha (greed and avarice), moha (infatuation arising out of ignorance and delusion), mada (vanity resulting from egoism) and matsarya (envy and jealousy).

To overcome them one should practise some of the essential virtues which are taught to us in our various epics. They are satyam (truth), ahimsa (non-violence), vairagya (detachment from desires), purity of thought, word and deed and self control.

Saiyam does not only mean merely speaking the truth. It means the permeation of Truth in our thoughts, words and deeds and in our relationships with fellow human beings. Hinduism is itself based on Truth and the pursuit of Truth. Truth is beautiful and untruth ugly. The former leads to justice and righteousness in the world and to scientific progress. It blazes new trails in the spiritual progress of Man.

Swami Sivananda
Truth must not be confused with morality. Truth is unchangeable. Concepts of morality change from time to time. Much earlier it was explained that Hinduism alone of all religions accepts that the laws of Man are changeable in each age. The Dharma of ancient India enjoined that the brother-in-law of childless widow should marry the widow so that she could bear children. Today this is no longer the practice. Punishments of thieves by cutting off their hands was a common practice in ancient times, but is no longer permitted. A man's dharma in ancient India followed his caste or sect. Today one born a Brahmin owns a leather factory, one born a Kshatriya takes to farming, one born a butcher becomes a Sanskrit scholar. The castes no longer follow their occupational divisions. Yet society and politicians misuse the defunct caste system for their own ends, the upper castes in order to maintain an artificial social status for themselves, and the lower castes, for getting special privileges for themselves.

Dharma or the laws of society therefore change from age to age and should not be confused with Truth which is unchangeable, transcending Time and Space. All the other virtues are only different aspects of Truth which is all-encompassing. Even the slightest deviation from Truth is considered Untruth and is unacceptable.

The belief `Ahimsa paramo dharmah', or that Ahimsa or non-violence is the greatest of laws, is Hinduism's great contribution to mankind. Mahatma Gandhi made this the cornerstone of the Indian Independence movement, and oppressed people all over the world have adopted it or drawn hope from it.

Ahimsa is often confused with non-killing alone. A businessman may destroy his competitor by unfair means but be a vegetarian in his food habits. He thinks he is practising Ahimsa but he is not.

Vegetarianism is one of the goals of Ahimsa in its ultimate form, but it also means not hurting anyone or any being in thought, word or deed and not killing or causing pain to man or animal. On the positive side, Ahimsa implies kindness to all people and one's neighbours, care of animals and birds, indeed, of all life. It teaches hospitality of the highest order to be extended to friends and enemies. 

The reverence given to the cow, based on Ahimsa or not killing one who provides a largely vegetarian nation with milk products (much as a mother provides food for her young), is a part of our reverence for Ahimsa.

The reverence for plants and trees was ingrained in the people by asking them to protect the vana-devata, the heavenly beings which reside inside trees. Thus, by preventing the cutting down of trees, Hindus were the first to give spiritual emphasis to ecology and the environment, considered modern-day subjects. Ahimsa is not a result of cowardice but of strength. It is only the very strong in spirit who can choose this path as, in today's world, with its napalm and neutron bombs, it is easy indeed to practise violence and very hard to desist from it and to practise Ahimsa.

The third important virtue, detachment, is not a virtue enjoined on the young. It is only at the stage of a Grihastha or householder that one should slowly start performing acts without attachment to the results. When he becomes a Vanaprastha, a man should detach himself from attachments to the body and soul and work for the good of all. Detachment does not mean not loving one's near and dear ones. It means extending love to all equally and not working only for or loving only the ones to whom we are attached by family or emotional bonds. The Upanishads so rightly say, Vasudhaiva Kinumbakam' (the whole world is my family).

Purity is often misunderstood in India to be bodily purity alone. Rules of bathing, of eating and drinking, all emphasise the importance of purity, as personal cleanliness is considered a step towards godliness. But purity of the mind and spirit are equally important, as is civic cleanliness, and often forgotten in our obsession with physical purity.

Ramana MaharishiThe last virtue that of self-control, implies control of the five senses, the mind and the spirit. The importance of discipline at the stage of a Brahmachari, during studentship, first initiates the young into the control of the body and the mind and, in the later stages, as a Grihastha and a Vanaprastha, to the control of the spirit also. Self-control does not mean denying oneself. It means moderation in all things and avoidance of indulgence. Even loose talk and harmful gossip are to be avoided, as are over-eating and excessive drinking. Keeping one's body, mind and spirit under control is one of the virtues enjoined on the Hindu at every stage of his life.

We have gone through the main tenets of Hinduism, the concepts of Samsara, Karma and Dharma and the aim of the individual soul to be liberated from the cycle of births and deaths so as to reach the Brahman or the Absolute.

Writer – Shakunthala Jagannathan

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