“He for whom no one is put into difficulty and who is not disturbed by anxiety, who is steady in happiness and distress, is very dear to Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 12.15)
When we say that someone is following their conscience, it is implied that they are using a vision that is stronger, one that sees further out. If we see that it is dark outside and think that it will never be light out again we’re not very wise. Someone with an expanded vision, one which sees the bigger picture, knows that the sun will rise again and that the darkness will eventually dissipate. The logical conclusion from this is that activities that will expand our overall vision will benefit us, and conversely anything that will keep our vision limited to the immediate vicinity, both in terms of space and time, will slowly wither away our conscience.
What do we mean by immediate vicinity?
Think of a child who follows their father on a trip to the ATM. The father steps up to the automated teller machine, takes out his card, and then places it inside of one of the slots. He next enters a series of numbers and voila, cash comes out of the machine. The child may think that this is a magical machine that gives money. “Get me some money too, dad. I want twenty dollars to go play video games. I need money to buy that new toy. What’s the big deal? Just go to the machine and take some more money out.”
This thinking comes from the visual of cause and effect within the immediate vicinity. The child sees a simple action of placing a card into a machine and then watches the result of dispensed cash. Naturally, they think this will work for anyone, interminably. The father has the expanded vision; he knows that the machine only dispenses money that was previously deposited into an account. That account also only belongs to the father. He can’t legally take money out of someone else’s account. Though he’s walking up to a machine and showing a card, it is merely another way of going up to a physical pile of cash and taking some of the cash off of it. If the child had seen that act instead, their viewpoint would be totally different.
As our consciousness develops, our conscience does as well, which means that our vision expands. When we see heinous crimes committed in society, deeds which are seemingly unthinkable for a human being to do, it is to be understood that the conscience is lacking. You can pass all the laws you want, but if someone doesn’t think beyond the immediate term, they will not hesitate to break moral codes. The teeth of legislation is in the resulting punishment for violating it. If my conscience is so blurred that I can’t see past the next five seconds, how is a threat of some future punishment going to stop me?
The question thus remains: how do we develop consciousness? Moreover, how do we prevent the conscience from withering away? Actually, we can use these questions to assess whether or not any recommended system of life is truly beneficial. If we tell someone to play sports or work hard for some personal gain, we should determine what the effect on the conscience is. It is not guaranteed that one will learn to play by the rules in such competition. The goal is to win, and if I can cheat a little bit to gain the coveted victory, what is the harm?
Knowledge is our true savior. The expanded vision is tied directly to knowledge, which gives us foresight, which is stronger than the physical sight provided by the eyes. As an example, with knowledge of the spiritual science, I know not to cause undue harm to any other creature. The obvious reason is that I will have to suffer the same harm in the future. This is only fair after all. In addition, the other creatures are just like me. They are spirit at the core, part and parcel of the Supreme Spirit. If they are not doing anything wrong, why should I bother them? There is plenty of food around for me to eat, so why should I rely on violence to satisfy my tongue and stomach?
With knowledge of the origin of the creation, I know that all property is on loan from the Creator. Each person is given their temporary allotment, and so I have no need to steal anything from anyone else. I also have no need to take credit when I don’t deserve it. If someone else does something good, shouldn’t they be praised? If I falsely take the credit, am I not a fraud? This attention may help me today, but if in the future I’m called to do the work I was praised for, I won’t be able to, which will be to my detriment.
“This knowledge is the king of education, the most secret of all secrets. It is the purest knowledge, and because it gives direct perception of the self by realization, it is the perfection of religion. It is everlasting, and it is joyfully performed.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.2)
The highest knowledge doesn’t arrive through an accumulation of sense perceptions. It must be accepted from the authority that is the Vedas. The glorious work known as the Bhagavad-gita perfectly summarizes Vedic philosophy. It has the aforementioned knowledge pertaining to the origin of matter and spirit and the laws relating to the transmigration of the soul, or what is more commonly known as reincarnation. The action and reaction affecting the material bodies is known as karma. But more importantly, works like the Bhagavad-gita describe God, who is related to the individual. The individual is the self and God is the Superself. Realization of God automatically means realization of the self.
Self-realization offers the most expanded vision. The conscience of a self-realized person keeps them away from activities that will cause harm. Such a person refrains from meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex, which are known as the four pillars of sinful life. These four activities work best at killing the conscience, which in turn leads to so many tragedies in society that are otherwise avoidable.
Rather than impose restraint on the individual through requiring conscious avoidance of these activities, if one simply tries to understand God by hearing from the Bhagavad-gita and chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” then the proper consciousness, known as Krishna consciousness, will quickly develop. A truly God conscious person follows the best conscience, which keeps them attune to their connection to the Supreme Lord, which in turn steers them clear of unwanted behavior.
His father at ATM child sees,
Intrigued by cash that it frees.
“Dad, why not more money take?
I can buy toys, do it for my sake.”
Father sees with vision more expanded,
Knows that previously cash in account landed.
In life the conscience is our way to see,
Past the immediate, what the future will be.
With superior knowledge can see out the longest,
From Bhagavad-gita develop conscience the strongest.