8. FIVE CARDINAL VIRTUES
The first and foremost thing to attempt in Man's long journey to Divine Perfection is to acquire certain cardinal virtues. The Gita lists these virtues and classifies them as divine characteristics:
abhayaM satva-samSuddhir-jnAna-yoga-vyavasthitiH /
dAnaM damaSca yajnaSca svAdhyAyas-tapa-ArjavaM //
ahimsA satyaM akrodhas-tyAgaH SAntir-apaiSunaM /
dayA bhUtesh-valoluptvaM mArdavaM hrIr-acApalaM //
tejaH kshamA dhRtiH SaucaM adroho nAtimAnitA/
Fearlessness, Purity of heart, steadfastness in the ascent to the Divine,charity, sense-control, sacrifice, study of scriptures, asceticism, straightforwardness,non-violence, truth, absence of anger, renunciation, peacefulness, absence of crookedness, compassion to beings, non-covetousness, gentleness, modesty, absence of fickle-mindedness, vigour, forgiveness,fortitude, purity, absence of hatred, absence of pride.
Five of these have been repeatedly emphasized, by expositors of sanAtana dharma, as all-embracing. These are:
PURITY, SELF-CONTROL, DETACHMENT,
TRUTH, AND NON-VIOLENCE
The first three pertain to the individual. The last two are social virtues. Each of these must be very broadly interpreted. For example, PURITY is external as well as internal. So in addition to cleanliness it encompasses such qualities as straightforwardness, frankness, innocence, absence of envy or of pride or of malice, absence of crookedness, gentleness and modesty.
SELF-CONTROL is the rooting out of the sins of the flesh and of the mind. Observe that flesh is not suppressed but only put in its place. Keeping impure thoughts away is the major part of the control of the mind. If one can be master of one's mind, if one can direct the mind to think what one wants to think and not allow it to think what it likes to think about, then one may be said to have self-control. What is important is who is occupying the driver's seat in this vehicle of journey through life. Making one's mind the servant rather than the master is not suppression. One might be tempted to say: 'Allowing the mind and body to have their way, will rid us of all inhibitions and will give us complete relaxation, thus relieving us of all tensions. But tension is again a state of the nervous system and the nervous system is not what we inherently are. It is external to us and any time we allow something external to us to tell us what we have to do, we have lost self-control. And this disease of being controlled by things external to us, the 'us' that we really are, is a worse disease than the so-called disease of suppression. Slavishness to the vagaries of the mind is the entry visa to hell. On the other hand the discipline of self-control brings us the prescription of the supreme alchemy of the divine urge. 'Discipline' and 'Suppression' should be carefully distinguished. To follow the discipline of driving on the lawfully correct side of the road cannot be called a disease of suppression of the urge to drive 'as we like'! To train oneself in this discipline of self-control, Hinduism, like other religions, prescribes fasts, penances and certain routines which are necessary exercises for this discipline. Note that the broad discipline of self-control embraces qualities like patience, forbearance, modesty, humility, self-sacrifice, self-effacement, sense-control, and, last but not least, absence of anger, of hatred and of pride.
The next virtue, DETACHMENT, has to be elaborated upon at length. It can be easily misunderstood. Detachment is freedom from attachment to anything that is transient. It is the cessation of the feeling of attachment to anything that is not you. Anything that is yours is not you. So detachment means non-attachment to one's external possessions, as well as to one's body and mind; in fact one should not be attached even to one's opinions, which is perhaps the most difficult attachment to discard. Such detachment comes from an absence of egoism. Identification of oneself with the external body, external action, external pleasure and pain is egoism. The only identification that is enjoined is that with the inner Self, Atman. Other identifications which is what happens most of the time, is the reason for all miseries. So detachment is a cardinal virtue which has to be gradually cultivated. The methodology is to intellectually analyze 'Who am I' and get rid of all trace of attachment to anything that is not 'I'. But all this is theoretical. What is the practical way to be detached and at the same time not fail in one's responsibilities to oneself and to society? For this the Gita gives an extraordinary recipe, called the cultivation of the yajna attitude. We elaborate this in The yajnaMethodology for Detachment. (P. 9.1 onwards)
(=Truth) and sustained by satya. Truth is not mere truth-speaking; it includes all forms of truth, beauty and perfection, any just cause, right action and a life of virtue. This broad interpretation of truth that Hinduism revels in talking about is so encompassing that the purANas are full of episodes which illustrate the numerous dilemmas that present themselves to the pursuer of truth. Whether at such and such a time a certain choice of action among several options available is the right one from the point of view of Hindu dharma and the principle of truth, is a recurring theme in Hindu mythology. The itihAsas (Ramayana and Mahabharata) abound in elaborate discussions of such situations and of the dharma-sankaTa (the dilemma of choice regarding dharma) involved in such problems. These discussions turn out to be equally valid even in the context of modern times and this is why these two epics are so valuable more than 25 centuries after they were composed.
Here are some specific injunctions from the various secondary scriptures which give us some idea of the sweep of the importance of Truth:
satyaM brUyAt priyaM brUyAt na brUyAt satyam-apriyaM /
priyaM ca nAnRtaM brUyAt esha dharmas-sanAtanaH //
Speak what is true, speak what is pleasant; speak not what is true but unpleasant;
nor what is pleasant but not true ; this is the tradition of dharma.
In the Ramayana King Dasaratha promises to the sage Visvamitra on welcoming him that he (the King) is at the sage's service and whatever he wants will be done. But when the latter wants the son Rama to be sent along with him to protect his yajnasfrom the demons, the father Dasaratha demurs. The preceptor Vasishta advises him as follows (Valmiki Ramayana 1-21-8):
pratiSrutya karishyeti uktam vAkyam akurvataH /
ishTA-pUrta-vadho bhUyAt tasmAd rAmam visarjaya //
Loss of merit accrued from sacrifices and noble works will cause if you fail to redeem the promise made, having solemnly declared that you will do it. Therefore send Rama .
Here is again, Rama to Sage Jabali who, in order to support Bharata, deliberately played the Devil's Advocate to bring back Rama from the forest : (Valmiki Ramayana: 2-108-12,13):
udvijante yathA sarpAt narAd anRta-vAdinaH /
dharmaH satya paro loke mUlam sarvasya cocyate //
satyam-eveSvaro loke satye dharmaH sadASritaH /
satya-mUlAni sarvANi satyAn-nAsti paraM padaM //
People turn away in fear from a man telling lies just as they do from a serpent. dharma has its culmination in truthfulness; it is in fact declared to be the root of all.Truth alone is God
in the world, dharma ever hinges on truth.All have their root in truth; there is no goal higher than truth.
Even the devil has to quote scriptures! Listen to Queen Kaikeyi blackmailing King Dasaratha into agreeing to send Rama to the forest, by cornering him in the name of adherence to Truth: (Valmiki Ramayana, 2 - 14 - 6, 7):
saritAm tu patiH svalpAM maryAdAM satyam-anvitaH /
satyAnurodhAt samaye velAm svAM nAtivartate //
satyam-eka-padam brahma satye dharmaH pratishTitaH /
satyam-evAkshayA vedAH satyenA-vApyate paraM //
Wedded to truthfulness the ocean for its part does not even at the time of flow-tide transgress its limits because of its respect for truth. Truth is brahman denoted by the mono-syllabic OM;dharma is rooted in Truth. The immortal vedas represent Truth alone.
The Supreme is attained through Truthfulness.
The entire Ramayana story hinges on the single resolution of Rama based on his obligation to carry out his father's word, come what may; here he is seen consoling Lakshmana who could not tolerate the injustice done to the Lord by the father: (Valmiki Ramayana, 2 - 22 - 9):
satyas-satyA-bhisandhaSca nityam satya-parAkramaH /
paraloka-bhayAd-bhIto nirbhayo'stu pitA mama //
Let my father, who is ever truthful, true to his promise, truly valiant and afraid of falsehood be rid of fear (in the other world)
Here is Sanatkumara, the divine sage, sermonising to King Dhritarashtra on the latter's specific questions to him on Immortality: (mahA-bhArata, udyoga-parva, SanatsujAtIyam, 2-30):
satyAtmA bhava rAjendra satye lokAH pratishTitAH /
tAmstu satya-mukhAn-AhuH satye hyamRtam-AhitaM//
Oh King, Be full of Truth, all the worlds are established in Truth.All of them are said to be dependent on Truth for their survival. In Truth lies moksha.
One of the most important divine descents was when the Lord appeared as nara-simha (half-man-half-lion) to bless the boy Prahlada. God appeared at that time from the pillar in that fashion, says Vyasa, the author of the bhAgavatam, to prove true the words of his favourite: (bhAgavatam, 7 - 8 - 18):
satyam vidhAtum nija-bhRtya-bhAshitam
The favourite whose words He had to prove true was not just the boy-devotee Prahlada. He had with infinite confidence in the Lord declared a little while before that God is everywhere and he certainly sees Him in the pillar indicated by the father HiraNya-kaSipu. That was certainly to be vindicated. But there was more. Brahma the Creator had given the demon an unusual boon that he will not meet his death with either a man or an animal, with anything created by the Creator or not, with any weapon, the death will not occur either inside or outside, day or night, either on earth or above in the sky, either by the living or non-living, or by the demigods. All this had to be simultaneously vindicated. The complicated avatAra of the Lord had to be that way in order to establish so many facets of satya!
From the Tamil tirukkuRaL:(No.292) :
poymaiyum vAymai iDatta purai tIrnda
nanmai payakkum enin /
If the result can be an unadulterated good, even untrue words can be considered as truthful.
Here is an interesting episode in the sundarakANDa of Valmiki Ramayana. Hanuman has finally located Sita in the Ashoka garden, met her, talked with her, reassured her, exchanged tokens with her, takes leave of her. Then he decides to do sufficient havoc to the fruits and trees in the garden so that he attracts attention from the demonesses. They go to Sita and ask her who this monkey is, with whom she was seen conversing. Sita replies that she does not know him and this statement of Sita is a constant topic for debate among scholars whether Sita was right in denying knowledge about Hanuman. Her actual words are: (Sundara-kanda, 42 - 8, 9, 10):
rakshasAM kAma-rUpANAM vijnAne kA gatir-mama //
yUvam-eva-asya jAnIta yo'yaM yad-vA karishyati /
ahireva hyaheH pAdAn vijAnati na saMSayaH //
aham-apy-atibhItAsmi naiva jAnAmi ko'hyayaM /
vedmi rAkshasam-evainaM kAma-rUpiNam-AgataM //
What means do I have for knowing about Rakshasas who take forms at will? You alone ought to know who he is and what he is about.Indeed a serpent alone has true knowledge about the movements of a serpent. No doubt about it. I too am exceedingly frightened and do not at all know who he really is. Of course I think he is a Rakshasa who can change his form at will.
NON-VIOLENCE, ahimsA, the fifth cardinal virtue, is a social virtue which is usually not well understood, even in the country of its origin and in the country which mothered the greatest apostle of non-violence who ever lived. Non-violence is a concept which is not binary, that is, there is nothing like, 'This is nonviolence and that is not'. It is a continuous concept, like, say, temperature. It is a whole spectrum of qualities; there are shades and shades of violence and non-violence. Just as absolute Truth or absolute Purity is an ideal, absolute Non-violence is also an ideal. Naturally there can be degrees of non-violence. What is recommended is that one should move closer and closer to that ideal. As a consequence, the spectrum of the allied concept of vegetarianism and non-vegetarianism also varies from the extreme of cannibalism to the other extreme of not even breathing plain, unfiltered air lest you hurt the germs in it!