“The highest life of moral principles is to become a devotee of the Lord because a pure devotee of the Lord has all the good qualities of the Lord.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.9.40 Purport)
“I understand the importance of morality. You shouldn’t tell a lie. You shouldn’t take the property of others. You should be faithful to your wife. You shouldn’t do harm to anyone else. But does morality always line up with what is right? Isn’t it better to lie in certain situations? What if someone else is in dire need of medical treatment? Isn’t it okay, then, to take someone else’s money in order to pay for that treatment? What if the moral decision leads to negative consequences? What if it gets you fired or causes your significant other to leave you? Is what is moral always what is right?”
When the morality is mentally concocted, when it is based on a theory created through mental speculation, then certainly there are holes. The principles are not always applicable. Indeed, they are likely created to create the best possible condition, with the emphasis on possible. In some situations, the principles of morality won’t work, but they are presented nevertheless because they work most of the time. Real morality, however, is not rooted in mental speculation. It is tied to inherent qualities that can never be removed.
The essential characteristics of fire are heat and light. These cannot be removed from the object. There is no machine that can remove the burning propensity of fire. At best, you can try to shield yourself from the effects of fire, but you can’t actually change the properties. The sun is the largest object of fire, and in the summertime we turn on the air conditioner to help alleviate the distress caused by the sun’s burning. In the wintertime, where the sun’s fire is missed, we use artificial sources of heat to compensate.
The individual too has core properties. These are not tied to external behavioral characteristics. They are not tied to age, gender, nationality, or occupation either. These properties belong to the individual always. Just because we sit in a closed room with the air conditioner on doesn’t mean that the sun no longer exists. Similarly, just because the individual may temporarily reside in a covering that masks their internal qualities doesn’t mean that those qualities aren’t there.
The essential characteristics of the individual are eternality, knowledge and bliss. Eternality is evidenced in the fact that despite the passage of time and its effect on the body, the individual remains constant. The time between birth and death can be up to one hundred years, but the individual remains the same throughout. The distinction is only made based on time and its influence, a distinction that we ignore when there are shorter passages of time. Five minutes ago we don’t consider ourselves to be a different person, so why should there be any difference in five years or fifty years?
Knowledge is shown to some degree in the behavior of the individual. The human being needs nurturing to learn how to walk, talk, and eat, but other species can figure these things out very quickly. Some animals even start running as soon as they exit the womb. They know how to look for food right away also. Indeed, we know that the infant will eventually learn how to walk and talk, and so this shows that there is inherent knowledge at the individual level.
Bliss always exists. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t see young children so happy. You wouldn’t see the smiling faces on grandparents when they play with their younger ones. You wouldn’t see the woman in tears from receiving a marriage proposal and you wouldn’t see the man jumping up and down when his favorite sports team wins the championship. Bliss is always there, though it may not always be evident.
Real morality addresses these three qualities at the individual level. It seeks to extract them and make them prominent, sort of like letting a fire rage in all its glory. The sun is uninhibited in its existence. Its core qualities of heat and light are on full display at all times. Thus it does not require a system of morality; it has already reached a material state of freedom.
For the living entity in the human form, freedom is limited. With morality, the ultimate objective is to find everlasting freedom. Even the sun is a living entity, and it can also reach a higher state of freedom. Its eternality, knowledge and bliss are its real essential characteristics, though we use the fire and heat properties here for comparison purposes. Eternality, knowledge and bliss don’t reveal themselves through simply telling the truth all the time and respecting the property of others. They open up when there are activities that bring one closer to their constitutional position.
In the Vedas, the spiritual science which reveals to us the qualities of the individual, real morality is known by terms such as sanatana-dharma and bhagavata-dharma. The dharma aspect addresses the system that seeks to again fully bring to life the essential characteristic. Bhagavata and sanatana further describe that system. Bhagavata refers to the Supreme Lord, who is full of opulences. Sanatana is a reference to time; it means without beginning and without end.
The guiding principle of sanatana-dharma is connection to the supreme individual, the one person whose eternality, bliss and knowledge are at higher levels than anyone else’s. Whatever needs to be done to remain connected with Him, in a manner that pleases Him, is moral. Everything else is immoral. We can look to famous examples in history to see how this works. The gopis of Vrindavana abandoned their husbands to spend time with God. A young boy named Prahlada rejected his father’s words because they were against God. A younger brother named Vibhishana rejected his elder brother because he was against God. The heroic warrior Hanuman snuck into a city, searched through palaces and then set the entire place on fire. This was moral because he was working for the Supreme Lord Rama, looking for His wife Sita Devi.
The morality in these instances also wasn’t tied to any personal interest. One can’t just say, “You know, I really want this television. It will help me think of God, so let me steal it.” So many unsanctioned things are done in the name of religion, but they do not relate to sanatana-dharma, as there is no genuine service involved. The style and implementation of that service, which is indicative of real morality, is handed down in the Vedic texts and then further explained by those who follow the teachings.
The best activity of morality in the modern age is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” This keeps the soul serving God through simultaneous chanting and hearing. The eternality, knowledge and bliss are components of the primary essential characteristic of the soul: devotee of the Supreme Lord. When devotion is brought out through authorized means, the activities are always moral. And since they lead to the best end of connection with God, they are always the right thing to do as well.
What is moral is what you should do,
But attention to what is right I have too.
With each other do both always square?
Should not over temporary results I care?
In understanding morality real,
Inherent characteristics to appeal.
Eternality, knowledge and bliss combine,
As servant of Supreme Lord individual to define.
In devotion what is moral is always what is right,
Goal to always experience God’s enchanting sight.