Sri Swami Sadananda
It is very difficult to explain what duty means. There are different notions about duty, not only in different countries, but also in the same country, among different grades of society. We may say that duty comes up only when society has been formed. In a state of nature, where society is not organised, the idea of duty does not arise because, as in the animal world, there will be the attempt on the part of the strong to subdue the weak. If you ask a tiger what its duty is, it might say that its duty is to kill all that can be killed and eaten. Therefore, it is only after human society has been organised that the idea of duty arises. It dawns upon the human mind because of the necessity to preserve oneself against one’s enemies. There is a danger of the strong attacking the weak, and, therefore, civilized man requires that some control should be exercised by the strong over themselves lest they should do harm to the weak.
We may, therefore, say that duty varies from time to time according to the stage of development reached by society. Yet, underlying all these different forms of duty observable in different periods of time, there are certain fundamental principles which do not get changed. For instance, the idea that one should love another as oneself is a duty which underlies all other forms of duty. In short, we can say that there are one’s duty to the community and one’s duty to oneself.
What should one do to make oneself happy and what should one do to see that he does not create unhappiness to his neighbours? That is the essence of real duty. When one thinks of oneself, one has to ask the question of what one is. One is not the body, or the mind, or the dweller in the body only. One is all these as long as one is in the world and alive. Therefore, one has a duty to one’s body, a duty to one’s mind, and a duty to the indweller.
Likewise, when we examine what we should do, or should not do, to the people around us, we cannot think of the different indwellers in the different bodies because we cannot have a conception of them. One can only think of one’s neighbours’ bodies and neighbours’ minds. As long as a person refrains from causing any injury to another person’s body, and as long as he refrains also from causing trouble to another’s mind, he may be said to have performed a part of his duty. This is a negative aspect of one’s duty to one’s neighbours, but there is also the positive aspect.
One should do as much as one can to promote real happiness in one’s neighbours. Giving solace to the afflicted and serving the sick, etc., constitute some of the positive aspects of one’s duty. Now it may be asked why one should help another. The answer is that one has already received help from many others from childhood and that at least for the purpose of returning the obligation one should help the others as much as one can.
For instance, when a person was a babe, he was brought up by his parents. In his helplessness of an infant if he had been neglected by the mother, or by other persons, he would certainly not be alive to grow. This obligation which he has already received is a debt which has to be discharged. In other words, there is no human being who has not been obliged to his neighbours for something or another. Beyond the help received from the neighbours, or human beings, there is the help received from nature itself.
Seasonal rains are responsible for the growth of food grains. In our scriptures they speak about the Devas, or the gods, that are responsible for the benefits conferred upon man in the form of rains, etc. Therefore, it is said in the Bhagavad Gita that if one does not discharge one’s duties to the Devas but lives only for himself, he is like a thief, because he gets something for which he does not pay anything at all.
Again there is another kind of difficulty regarding duty. We are often in a condition in which different duties come into conflict. This refers obviously to our duty to the world. It was such a conflict that Arjuna had, and he had to get his instructions from Krishna. These instructions constitute the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita. The conflict really arises because one sometimes is unable to find out which duty is to be emphasised more than the other.
For instance, to take an ordinary example, we speak of Ahimsa or non-injury. Suppose a tiger is attacking a man. Is it the duty of an onlooker to kill the tiger, or to let the tiger attack the man? The principle of Ahimsa might be interpreted to mean Ahimsa or non-injury to the tiger as well. In that case the man would die. If he kills the tiger and saves the man, he will be saving one soul at the expense of another. Can he be sure that the soul of a man is superior to the soul of a tiger? In such cases what is the answer to be given? The answer must come from within oneself. If according to the best of the onlooker’s intelligence, as it has been given to him, he thinks that saving the soul of a man at the expense of the soul of a tiger is better, he must save the man. It is therefore, ultimately a solution reached by himself.
There are in the world innumerable instances of conflicts of duties, all of which can be solved only by the exercise of one’s own intellect. It might be that one’s intellect is not always as high as it ought to be. But that does not matter. It is only the genuine effort that a man makes to arrive at a correct decision that counts. He is saved from the liability of sin if his conscience is clear, and if he has made a genuine effort. God knows full well that the intellect of the highest of human beings is limited. If God is to accept only the correct solution, nobody in the world will be able to offer it. God knows it, and, therefore, God will approve of every solution coming from any individual, provided there has been a genuine, sincere effort made by him, without any selfish motive, for the purpose of being helpful to another. Thus, ultimately, it is the conscience that decides in each case the duty that one has to perform.
It is, indeed, very difficult to find out what Cosmic Will means. There is the Cosmos worked by God according to His Will. Therefore, God’s Will is Cosmic Will. Otherwise, since cosmos is only a practically dead thing without intelligence in it, it will be difficult to understand how it can have a will of its own. Without belief in God, belief in Cosmic Will or Cosmic Momentum becomes superfluous. One can be in harmony with God’s Will only if one knows what it is. The question, therefore, arises whether it is possible at all to know the Will of God.
To know anything we must have some kind of relationship between the object and ourselves; especially in the case of God’s Will or the mind there must be a kind of sameness between our will or mind and God’s Will or God’s Mind. Is there anything like that? The Upanishads declare that we are only part and parcel of the Ultimate Reality, or God. That is the reason why it is possible for us to have some kind of conception relating to what God wills.
The question arises only when situations arise requiring us to decide what we should do and what we should not do. Till then we act more or less like automatons as impulses guide us. But during critical periods we are not quite clear what should be done and what should not. We have no clear means to know what we can do to understand the Will of God. It is possible to get the right solution by a careful examination of ourselves.
We will notice that anything that we do has to be previously thought about. Thinking is the function of the mind. In the mind arise ideas. Ideas express either something relating to knowledge, or to feeling, or to willpower. Every one of us is guided by one’s feeling. The feeling might be good or bad. The man who wants to avoid the bad and allow only good ideas to arise in his mind exercises that part of his mind which is called intellect. He decides by right thinking that bad feeling should not be allowed to predominate and that only good feelings ought to be allowed to rule over oneself.
Even after this, man finds it necessary to exercise his will, which is another aspect of his mind, to act according to the decision arrived at by the intellectual aspect of his mind. When he does that he may be said to have used all the powers of his mind for doing any particular act. There is no further responsibility for him. He has done his best because he has exercised both his intellect and his will for the avoidance of the evil thought and the promotion of the good thought. Ultimately, therefore, it is the feeling aspect of the mind that has to undergo proper scrutiny.
When we examine the feeling, as and when it arises in the mind, we get the clue to what we have been accustomed for a very long time to do, either in our past life or in this life itself. Suppose a person finds a 100-rupee note lying on the road without anybody apparently observing it, what will be the reaction in his mind? If he has been accustomed to grab things, with or without any justification, his mind will first tell him, “Take the money for yourself.” But if his mind has been trained in the past lives, or in this life itself, not to grab things which are not his, he will go away without caring for the money that lies on the road, or hand it over to the nearest police station. It does not belong to him, and he does not want it.
It is on such an occasion that he has to examine the reaction, and, from the reaction, judge about his past life. If the reaction is to grab, he can come to the conclusion that he has been a greedy person in his previous life, and it is this tendency to be greedy that shows itself in the present life also. It becomes all the more necessary, therefore, for him to see that he does not allow this impulse to predominate, and he should make the best effort he can by the exercise of his intellect and will-power to wipe out that tendency to be greedy. If he does that, he acts in such a way as would give the greatest satisfaction to God. That is God’s Will, and that is the way in which he can perform a duty which is in harmony with God’s Will. Therefore, the solution to the question of knowing God’s Will consists in this. Analyse your own impulses. If they happen to be bad impulses, involving injury to others, untruthfulness, incontinence, avarice and dishonesty, avoid all these; they are not God’s Will. If contrary, they are the Will of God, which have to be judged by a motiveless, pure conscience. This is the fundamental duty that everyone has to keep before one’s mind for all time.