Ethical Teachings

by Swami Sivananda

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Book Code: ES48
viii+144 pages
ISBN:  817052041X
Book Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.30 inches
Shipping Weight: 180 grams

Table of Contents

Dedication iii
Publishers’ Note iv


1. Ethical Science 3
2. Foundation of Ethics 5
3. Dharma 7
4. A Query on Dharma 9
5. Right Conduct 9
6. Purity of Motive 9
7. Ethics: Eastern and Western 11
8. Ethical Culture 11
9. Self-realisation, The Ultimate Meaning of Ethics 13


1. Character, Conduct, Behaviour 15
2. Basis of Conduct 16
3. Nature of Conduct 17
4. Ethical Discipline 18
5. Samanya Dharma 19
6. Right and Wrong 20
7. Truth 22
8. Forms of Truth 23
9. Stick to Your Promise 25
10. Conscience 25


1. Benefits 27
2. Moral Obligation, Moral Sentiments 28
3. Moral, Immoral and Non-Moral Actions 29
4. Moral Life and Moral Standard 30
5. Dharma Sankata 31
6. Moral Judgment 36
7. Moral Standard and Judgment 38
8. Crime and Punishment 41


l. Virtue and Virtuous Life 43
2. Who Is Good and Virtuous? 47
3. Charity 48
4. Annadana Yajna 51
5. Glory of Annadana 52
6. Penance 57
7. Friendship (Maitri) 58
8. Be Sweet 59
9. Sweet Speech 60
10. Honesty and Faith 61
11. Moderation 62
12. Tolerance 64
13. Fortitude 67
14. Self-Control 68
15. Practice of Self-Control 70


1. Nature of a Vicious Man 72
2. Anger 73
3. Covetousness 74
4. Drinking and Drugs 76
5. Gambling 78
6. Prostitution 80
7. Eradication of Vices 82


1. Legal Ethics 85
2. Medical Ethics 87
3. Business Ethics 89
4. Industrial Ethics 91
5. International Ethics 92
6. Domestic Ethics 94
7. Spiritual Progress 97


1. General Duties 101
2. The Duties of a Brahmachari 102
3. The Duties of a Householder (Grihastha) 106
4. The Duties of a Vanaprastha 110
5. The Duties of a Sannyasin 112


1. Morality—The Basis of Spiritual Life 116
2. Dharma Confers Wealth and Happiness 116
3. Character Is Power 117
4. The Power of Ahimsa 119
5. Truth Alone Reigns Supreme 119
6. When Man Becomes One with the Divine 120
7. Importance of Brahmacharya 123
8. Disastrous Consequences of Anger 126
9. Control of Anger 128
10. Selfishness Retards Progress 130
11. Destroy Jealousy and Prejudice 132
12. Discipline the Tongue 134
13. Humility—The Path of Immortality 135
14. Be Self-Controlled 136
15. How to Purify Heart and Mind 137

16. Contentment Is the Real Wealth

17. Direct Enemies of Peace 139
18. Be Always Hopeful 140
19. Develop Universal Love 140
20. Advice to Sadhakas 141

Who Is Ever Seeking Happiness,
For Happiness Is Attainable Only Through
A Life of Virtue and Goodness


The reading public is too well aware that a distinct feature of Sri Swami Sivanandaji’s forceful writings is that he does not merely write on a subject but primarily writes about it directly to the reader. His interest in a subject is mainly with regard to its practical implications in connection with man. He is the saint and awakener and as such he makes a study of man his foremost concern. This work, “Ethical Teachings,” more than ever testifies to this. The reader will find that this volume is not merely of a definitional and informative character but treats of ethics as specially practically manifest in the daily conduct of everyone.

Works on ethics there have been. More often than not they dealt purely with the theoretical aspect of it, various types of ethical theory, evolution of ethical thought in the course of history, etc. What man today urgently needs is to know how exactly he ought to act and live his life if he were to conform to the basic principles of goodness and virtue. This need, the present volume, most eminently fulfils.

A glance at the contents will reveal how no aspect of the subject has been left untouched. Extremely valuable instructions are given to the students, householders, retired men and ascetics alike. The section headed ‘Domestic Ethics’ contains the most precious teachings to ladies in particular. The Lawyer, Doctor, Trader, Industrialist and Politician will find sagely advice from the pen of a saint who has known the very essence of true Dharma. The final Chapter, bearing the name of the book, is a veritable treasure-house wherein is to be found a wealth of the most precious gems of teachings. And as is invariably the case, the revered author has dealt with all doubts and difficulties that are likely to arise in the actual following of these precepts. We have the greatest pleasure in putting this invaluable work before the public, for we feel perfectly confident that it is going to be of utmost, and immense help in making the human nature grow into the Divine and in ushering in a blessed new era in the land.




1. Ethical Science

Ethics is the science of conduct. Ethics is the study of what is right or good in conduct. Ethical science shows the way in which human beings behave towards each other as well as towards other creatures. It contains systematised principles on which a man should act. Without ethics you cannot have any progress in the spiritual path. Ethics is the foundation of Yoga, the corner-stone of Vedanta and the strong pillar on which the edifice of Bhakti Yoga rests.

Ethics is right conduct or Sadachara. The mark of Dharma is Achara or right conduct. Achara is the mark of good. From Achara only, Dharma is born. Dharma enhances life. Man attains prosperity, fame, here and hereafter through the practice of Dharma. Achara is the highest Dharma. It is the root of all Tapas. It supports the whole universe. It leads one to Eternal Happiness and Immortality.

Ethics is morality. Morality is the gateway to God-realisation. It is the master-key of religion. He who leads a moral or virtuous life, attains freedom, perfection or Moksha.

Ethics is a relative science. What is good for one man may not be good for another man. What is good at one time may not be good at another time and at another place. Ethics is relative to the man himself and to his surroundings.

Every religion has its own ethics. The primary truth of every religion is the foundation of ethics or morality or the science of right conduct. Yama and Niyama of Patanjali Maharshi on the Raja Yoga Philosophy constitute the best ethics for a Yoga practitioner. The Manu Smriti, Yajnavalkya Smriti, Parasara Smriti, all explain the code of right conduct. The noble Eightfold path of Buddhism is the essence of the ethical teachings of Lord Buddha. The Ten Commandments of Judaism, and the Sermon on the Mount by Lord Jesus contain the ethical teachings for the uplift of humanity.

The first thing you learn from every religion is the unity of all Selves. It is the only one Self which is immanent in all creatures. All human relations exist because of this unity of Self. The basis of the unity of Self is the Universal Brotherhood and the Universal Love. Yajnavalkya said to Maitreyi, his wife, “O Maitreyi! Not indeed for the love of husband is the husband dear; for the love of the Self is the husband dear. And so the wife, sons, property, friends, worlds and even the Devas themselves are all dear because the one Self abides in all.” If you injure another man, you injure yourself. If you help another man, you help yourself. There is one life, one consciousness in all creatures. This is the foundation of the ethics of each and every Religion.

Practice of ethics will help you to live in harmony with your neighbours, friends, your own family-members, fellow-beings, and all other people. It will confer on you lasting happiness and Moksha. Your heart will be purified. It will keep your conscience ever clean. A moral man who follows strictly the principles of ethics, will not deviate even a fraction of an inch from the path of Dharma or righteousness. He earns undying reputation for his practice of ethics. He becomes an embodiment of Dharma. He only leaves the physical body; but his name lives as long as the world lasts.

We have human morality, family morality, social morality, national morality, professional morality. A doctor has his own professional ethics. He should not divulge to others the secrets of his patients. He should be kind and sympathetic towards his patients. He should not give injections of water and charge highly as for best medicines. Although the guardian of the patient did not pay the fees of his last visit, he should go voluntarily and attend the cases. He should treat the poor cases freely. An advocate also has his own ethics. He should not coach up false witnesses. He should not take up the weak cases, only for the sake of fees. He should argue freely for the poor people. There is ethics for a business-man also. He should not expect much profit. He should do much charity. He should not speak falsehood even in his business.

Do not do any act which does not bring good to others or that act for which you will feel ashamed after doing. Do such acts which are praiseworthy and which bring good to others. This is the brief description of right conduct, highest Dharma. Moral precepts have been made to free the creatures from all injuries.

The ethics of Western Philosophers is superficial. It is a mere surface ethics. But the Eastern ethics is subtle, sublime and profound. All religions teach the ethical rules such as: “Do not kill; do not injure others; love your neighbour; etc.” But they have not given the reason. Only Hindu ethics says, “There is one All-pervading Atman. It is the inner soul of all beings. It is hidden in all creatures. It is the common, pure consciousness. If you injure your neighbour you actually injure yourself.” This is the basic metaphysical truth that underlies all Hindu ethical codes.

Stick to Sadachara or right conduct and attain Immortality. Practise ethics and reach the illimitable dominion of eternal bliss! Grow. Evolve. Build up your character. Consult the Sastras and Mahatmas whenever you are in doubt. Attain the goal of life and rest in the inner harmony!

2. Foundation of Ethics

Ahimsa, Satyam, Brahmacharya are the very foundation of ethics, Yoga and Vedanta. Practice of these three virtues is a Maha Vrata or great universal vow, for the whole mankind. These are Samanya or Sadachara Dharma (common duty) of men. The practice of these cardinal virtues purifies the heart and steadies the mind, and prepares the Antahkarana for the reception of the transcendental light. Dharma is rooted in these virtues. All enmities and hatred cease in the presence of one who is established in Ahimsa. Brahman or the Eternal is Truth itself. It can be realised only by practising Purity.

The practice of endurance (Titiksha) steadfastness (Dhairya), control of senses (Indriya-Nigraha) and other Sadachara Karmas (virtuous deeds) aim in making a man self-sufficient, independent and free from external bondage, physical and social.

Ahimsa or refraining from injury is a self-evident duty of every man. It is not simply in the negative sense of mere cessation from harm or injury (Himsa-abhava). It is a positive definite resolve or internal Sankalpa or the attitude of the will not to hurt any living creature. You should practise Ahimsa in thought, word and deed. No thought of revenge or ill-will should arise in the mind.

Injuring others gives rise to hatred and enmity. From these arise violence and revenge. Fear also comes to reign. Where fear and violence reign, there is destroyed peace and society will be in chaos. This is the real condition of modern society today. It is in a state of dormant or suppressed chaos only. There is just a semblance of order outside. Violence, disorder and hatred of one sort is kept suppressed by force, violence and hatred of another kind. Society is filled with crime, open and concealed in spite of police forces visible and secret. All this constant fear, tension and tug-of-war between man and man would vanish if Ahimsa comes to be practised by one and all.

Brahmacharya also is not the mere abstaining from the outward act of sexual indulgence, but also implies a definite resolve or internal Sankalpa or the attitude of the will not to long for sexual indulgence even in thought. You must observe Brahmacharya in thought, word and deed.

Asteya is not mere refraining from theft. It is not mere cessation from appropriating what belongs to another but implies an internal Sankalpa or resolve not to think of misappropriation of any object belonging to others and to disapprove and scorn all acts of misappropriation as unrighteous.

The inner motives of a man form the seed and root of all his life’s activities. If it is pure all the subsequent consequences are pure and good. Else only evil and unhappiness will accrue. A man of purity becomes a positive elevating influence, affecting all beneficially; whereas a man of impurity vitiates everything he contacts. Therefore it is a moral obligation of the individual to society to keep purity of character and be a force for good in society. Else he harms them.

You must have Bhava-Suddhi or purification of the motive. Acts done with pure motive only will be conducive to morality. There must be an internal Sankalpa or resolve or attitude of the will to be free from all impure feelings of pride, self-esteem, etc., in the discharge of duties. Only then you will have purity of motive.

3. Dharma

Etymologically, Dharma means ‘that which upholds’ this world or the people of this world, or the whole creation from microcosm to the macrocosm. It is the Eternal Divine Law of the Supreme Lord. The whole creation is held together by the all-powerful Law of God. Practice of Dharma, therefore, means to recognise these laws and abide by them.

That which leads to the goal is Dharma. That which leads to the path of perfection and pristine glory is Dharma. That which makes your life divine is Dharma. That which makes you to ascend unto Godhead is Dharma. That which helps you to have direct communion with the Lord is Dharma. God is the centre of Dharma. Dharma is the heart of Hindu Ethics. The principle of unity, righteousness and holiness is Dharma. It is your sole companion after death. It protects you after death, if you protect it now. If you transgress it now, your transgression will pursue even after your departure and destroy you. Therefore it is the sole refuge of humanity.

Dharma means the Achara or the regulation of life. Achara is the supreme Dharma. It is the basis of Tapas and austerity. It leads to wealth, beauty, longevity and continuity of lineage.

Dharma is given the foremost rank in the scriptures among the four Purusharthas, the grand objects of human aspirations. Through Dharma, the other three, Artha, Kama and Moksha come automatically to you, because, through the practice of Dharma alone one can achieve his goal of life and crown himself with eternal bliss and supreme peace.

The four Vedas, the Smriti-texts, the behaviour of those who have entered into their spirit and act according to their injunctions, the conduct of holy men and satisfaction of one’s own self—these are all the bases of Dharma. The only authority in the matter of Dharma is the Vedas.

That which is Dharma is verily the Truth. Truthfulness, contentment, self-restraint, non-stealing, purity, control of anger, discrimination between the right and wrong, between the real and the unreal, spiritual knowledge, control of the senses come under the general Dharma or the universal Dharma according to Manu.

As enumerated in Mahabharata the performance of Sraaddha or offering oblations to the forefathers, religious austerity, truth, restraint of anger, loyalty to and contentment with one’s own wife, purity, learning, absence of envy, knowledge of the Self and forbearance are the fundamentals of Dharma.

As detailed in Padma Purana, the six characteristics of Dharma are, the bestowing of gifts to deserving persons, fixing one’s thoughts on the Lord, adoration of one’s parents, offering a portion of the daily meal to all creatures and giving a morsel of food to cows.

All other religions also lay stress on Dharma. Buddhism, Christianity, Jainism, Sikhism and Islam are all remarkably alive to its value. Plato, Socrates, Aristotle are all striking examples in the history of the West in keeping up Dharma.

Dharma includes all external deeds as well as thoughts and other mental practices which tend to elevate the character of a man. Dharma comes from the Divine and leads you also to the Divine.

Follow the Dharma with zeal and enthusiasm! Discharge your duties well and attain the Supreme and enjoy the eternal bliss!

4. A Query on Dharma

An aspirant went to Vedavyasa and said, “O Maharshi, Avatara of Vishnu, I am in a dilemma. I cannot properly comprehend the right significance of the term ‘Dharma.’ Some say that it is right conduct. Others say, that which leads to Nisreyasa (Moksha) and Abhyudaya (happiness) is Dharma. While some others remark ‘Anything, any action that takes you to the goal is Dharma. Anything, any action that brings you down is Adharma.’ Lord Krishna says, Even sages are puzzled to understand perfectly what is Dharma. What is Adharma? Gahana Karmano Gatih.’ Mysterious is the path of action. I am bewildered. O Maharshi! Kindly give me a very, very easy definition of Dharma to enable me to follow Dharma in all my actions.”

Maharshi Vyasa said, “O Aspirant, hear me. I shall suggest an easy method. Remember the following sayings with great care when you do any action: ‘Do as you would be done by. Do unto others, as you wish others do unto you.’ You will be saved from all troubles. If you follow these wise maxims you can never give any pain unto others. Practise this in your daily life. Even if you fail one hundred times, it does not matter. Your old Samskaras, Asubha Vasanas are your real enemies. They will come in the way as stumbling blocks. But persevere. You will succeed in the attainment of the Goal.”

5. Right Conduct

Abstinence from injury in thought, word and deed, mercy to all creatures, charity, control of anger, freedom from malice and pride, restraint of senses, and to follow the teachings of Sastras and Brahmanas, constitute the praiseworthy behaviour.

That act or exertion which does not do good to others, or that act for which one has to feel shame, should never be done.

That act, on the other hand, should be done for which one may be lauded in society. This is a brief description of what right conduct is.

6. Purity of Motive

Purity of motive (Anupadhi) is a Samanya Dharma or common duty of every man. It is the motive that counts in the performance of an action. If an action is performed with a selfish motive it binds a man to the wheel of births and deaths. If it is done with a pure motive in a disinterested manner, it will purify the heart and lead to the attainment of the final emancipation.

Right and wrong are to be determined not by the objective consequences but by the nature of subjective intention of the agent.

God looks to the motive of the doer. Lord Krishna says, “He who is free from the egoistic notion, whose reason is unaffected, though he slays these people, he slayeth not, nor is bound” VIII-17. “Having abandoned attachment to the fruit of action, always content, nowhere seeking refuge, he is not doing anything although doing actions” IV-20.

Before you perform any action scrutinize your motive. If there is selfishness give up that action. It takes some time to purify the motives. Go on doing actions incessantly and watch your motives. Gradually the motives will become purer and purer. Selfishness is deep-rooted. Strenuous efforts, patience, perseverance and vigilance are needed to root it out entirely.

Lord Rama fought with Ravana. Ravana also engaged himself in battle. But the motives of both were different though the action was the same. Sri Rama fought in order to establish Dharma and protect the people from the trouble and havoc of wicked Ravana. He had no selfish interests. But Ravana had an evil motive.

A Karma Yogi works in the society intensely with more zeal than a worldly man. The action is the same, but the motives are different, in each person. The Karma Yogi marches forward towards the Goal or the summum bonum but the worldly man entangles himself through his impure motive of self-interest.

Cultivate purity of motives again and again. Persist. Watch the mind carefully. Work without expectation of fruits, and idea of agency. Surrender all actions and their fruits to the Lord. You will be freed from the bonds of Karma and attain Supreme harmony, highest good, undecaying felicity.

7. Ethics: Eastern and Western

Western ethics is superficial. It is surface ethics. It treats a little of “good and evil,” “right and wrong” conduct and behaviour. Eastern ethics is profound. The whole Sanatana Dharma is built upon ethics. Yoga and Vedanta are based on ethics. No salvation is possible without ethical perfection.

Western ethics does not sufficiently treat of absolute self-control and Brahmacharya, cultivation of divine virtues and eradication of vices. There is neither Tapas nor asceticism nor control of the senses. Eastern ethics gives paramount importance to Dama or perfect restraint of all the senses. Eastern ethics lays great emphasis on self-control, virtuous divine life and righteousness. There is intense asceticism. There is perfect control of the out-going senses.

Western ethics does not speak a word on Atman or Soul. It speaks of a little social service, altruism, humanitarianism, philanthropy. Eastern ethics says: there is one Immortal Soul in all creatures. There is one common consciousness. If you hurt any other creature, you hurt yourself. If you serve another man, you serve yourself. By serving others you purify your heart and purification of heart leads to descent of divine light and final emancipation or Mukti.

Western ethics may make one a dry philosopher but not a sage or a Yogi. Eastern ethics makes one a dynamic sage or a dynamic Yogi. It transforms man into Divinity.

8. Ethical Culture

Ethical culture will result in ethical perfection. An ethical man is more powerful than an intellectual man. Ethical culture brings in various sorts of Siddhis or occult powers. If you study Yoga Sutras you will find a clear description of the powers that manifest by observance of the practices of Ahimsa, Satyam, Asteya, Brahmacharya and Aparigraha. The nine Riddhis roll under the feet of an ethically developed man. They are ready to serve him.

The philosopher need not necessarily be a moral man or ethical man; but a spiritual man must necessarily be moral. Morality goes hand in hand with spirituality. Morality co-exists with spirituality. The three kinds of Tapas, viz., physical, verbal and mental that are prescribed in the seventeenth chapter of the Gita, the practice of Yama in Raja Yoga philosophy, and the noble Eightfold path of the Buddhists, viz., right thinking, right endeavour, right action, right living, etc., are all best calculated to develop the moral side of man. Sadachara or right conduct aims at making a man moral, so that he may be fit for the reception of Atma-Jnana or the realisation of the Supreme Tattva.

You should always try your level best to speak the truth at all costs. You may lose your income in the beginning. But in the long run you are bound to be victorious. You will realise the truth of the Upanishads, “Satyameva Jayate Na-anritam. Truth alone triumphs, but not falsehood. Even a lawyer who speaks the truth in law courts, who does not coach up false witnesses may lose his practice in the beginning but later on he will be honoured by the judge as well as the client. Thousands of clients will flock to him only. He will have to make some sacrifice at the outset. Lawyers generally complain “What can we do? Our profession is such. We must tell lies. Otherwise we will lose our case.” These are false excuses. There is an advocate, a mental Sannyasi who is practising in the Uttar Pradesh, who is a friend and benefactor of Sannyasins, who never coaches false witnesses, who never takes up criminal cases and yet he is the leader of the bar and is revered by the judges, clients, and colleagues. O, my friends, barristers and advocates, you are killing your conscience in order to have comfortable living and to please your wife. Life here is evanescent and like a bubble. Aspire to become divine.

The various formulae—Ahimsa paramo dharmah—Non-injuring is the highest of all virtues; Satyam vada, Dharmam chara—Speak the truth and do virtuous actions—Do unto others in the same way as you wish others to do unto you—Do as you would be done by—Love thy neighbour as thy Self—are all best calculated to develop the moral aspects of a human being. Morality is the basis for the realisation of Atmic Unity or oneness of life or Advaitic feeling of sameness everywhere. Ethical culture prepares you for Vedantic realisation of “Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma—All indeed is Brahman—there is no such thing as diversity.”

All aspirants commit mistakes in jumping to Samadhi and Dhyana all at once as soon as they leave their houses without caring a bit for ethical perfection. The mind remains in the same condition although they have practised meditation for fifteen years. They have the same jealousy, hatred, idea of superiority, pride, egoism, etc. No meditation or Samadhi comes by itself when one has no ethical perfection.

9. Self-realisation, The Ultimate Meaning of Ethics

A person should finally renounce everything, without losing his vigour, finding that the whole world is not better than a dry straw, and eager to find out the essence behind all things. Of all Dharmas or ethics, the knowledge of the Self is most precious, because through that, one attains Immortality. Wishing to enter the regions of the Eternal, the wise renounce the whole world, without mercy.

Ethics is right living. Ethics leads to restraint of the lower self and thereby the mind is calmed. Through the calmness of the mind, discrimination dawns and one knows the Self in a short time. But all ethics have as their aim the realisation of the Self. This is the highest duty. This is the highest ethics. This is the highest Sadachara. This is the highest morality. This is the highest teaching. This is the highest penance.

One cannot attain to perfection by mere goodness and practice of virtue. He has to intensely meditate on the ideal with the help of purity acquired through virtue. Virtue and morality act as auxiliaries to meditation and final mergence of the individual in the Supreme. In Raja Yoga, Yama and Niyama act as ethics for perfection in Samyama. In Jnana Yoga, the Sadhana-chatushtaya acts as ethics for perfection in Sravana, Manana and Nididhyasana. The Veda Samhitas act as ethics for perfection in the knowledge of the Upanishads. Grihasthadharma acts as ethics for perfection in Sannyasa, the wise portion of life. Ethics leads to wisdom of the Self, where all duties, diversely practised, find a final satisfactory explanation.

All duties, domestic, social and the like are only relative. The ultimate and chief duty of every human being is the attainment of Truth, God-realisation. The discharge of all duties is in reality to qualify man to do this highest duty.

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