RIGHT AND WRONG
The problem that we have to consider this morning is one of great complexity and of great difficulty. Confusion as to “What is Right,” as to “What is Wrong,” is unfortunately very general among all, even among educated people. The standard of Right, the canon of Right, that is a matter that ought to be placed on some definite principle, some intelligible axiom; and, if instead of such definite foundation, you do not realise on what the standard is based, the result is necessarily a confusion of conduct, a doubt as to how Right and Wrong are to be determined. And so, sometimes, almost in despair of a rationally intelligible law, you find people saying that Right is absolute, is always the same invariably for man at all stages of evolution. The result of that has been, both in the East and in the West, that a standard of conduct laid down for the Yogī, the Sannyāsī is held to be the standard to be held up before the comparatively undeveloped man. The Sermon on the Mount, among Christians; the teaching of the _Bhagavaḍ-Gīṭā_, of action without desire for fruit, among Hinḍūs; these are regarded as universally binding; and the result is a divorce between theory and practice, between the conduct which is actually followed and the theory which is intellectually accepted. You find a striking instance of that in the West, where the Sermon on the Mount, nominally regarded as binding on every one, is entirely put aside as regards the vast majority, and is held to have no bearing on National conduct, or the treatment of one Nation by another. You find, for instance, a Bishop of the Church of England who declared that if any Nation followed the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount it could not exist for a week. That is literally true. For if, when a man stole your coat, you gave him your cloak, the result would be that the thief would be doubly clothed, the honest man would go naked. If, when a man was struck on the one cheek, he turned to the striker the other cheek, then the oppressor and the tyrant would have free course, and the doctrine of non-resistance of evil would triumph over the resistance which means liberty and progress. And so, in the West, which has as a rule a fair amount of common-sense, and is not too much given to logic in practical matters, they resist evil, they resist the oppressor, they strike back when a blow is given, and they do not submissively bow to every tyrant and every injustice. Yet, unless you bring into accord theory and practice, you have no rule of conduct which in any way is an inspiration for life. Similarly in the East, where the doctrine is taught in the _Gīṭā_ that action should be undertaken without desire for fruit. There you have a doctrine for the Yogī, like Arjuna, to whom the Song of the Lord was given; but if you say to the man of the world, if you say to the man who does not regard the Divine Will as the binding rule of conduct, “work without desire for fruit,” you paralyse his activity, for there is no other motive sufficiently strong to move him to action. To work without desire for fruit means that your own will is so consciously in accord with the Will of God, that you work as earnestly for the benefit of the world as the ordinary man works for fame, for power, or for money. That is the highest rule of conduct; but if you teach the highest to the half-developed, you give them no ideal at all which is practical, by which they can guide their lives; and the result of that in India has been a paralysis of action, and a yielding unduly to oppression and injustice, as the Sannyāsī would yield. Now Hinḍūism, as taught by the Sages, was not of that type. Hinḍūism has always had a relative morality. The whole of that part of its teaching which divided society into castes according to evolution, the unfolding of the spiritual life, is a recognition that ḍharma, duty, depends on the stage of evolution reached by the man. The ḍharma of the Shūḍra is not the ḍharma of the Kṣhaṭṭriya or of the Brāhmaṇa. The Kṣhaṭṭriya is to keep order, he is to repress evil, he is to encourage good, he is to punish the wrong-doer; but the Brāhmaṇa, the ideal Brāhmaṇa, he ought to suffer any wrong done to him, for it is not his ḍharma to resist. And so, it is written, that a man by following his own ḍharma, he attaineth to perfection. That it is better to follow your own ḍharma though imperfect, than to follow the ḍharma of another, for the ḍharma of another is full of danger. That has been forgotten in India, though, nominally, the caste system has persisted. And so, with the teaching of the Āshramas; the duty of the student, the Brahmachārī, is not the duty of the Gṛhasṭha, the householder, and when that is forgotten and when the duties of the householder are put on the shoulders of the student, you have then a debilitated race of youth that is not allowed to grow to the stature of manhood which follows youthful celibacy. The duty of the householder is not the duty of the Vānaprasṭha; the duty of the Vānaprasṭha is not the duty of the Sannyāsī; for the Sages, the Ṛṣhis that built the foundation of Hinḍūism, they knew that morality was relative, and gave an evolving ethical teaching suited to the evolving children of Man. Let us then, with that preface, try to find some common principle to which we can refer Right and Wrong.