Sunday, February 7, 2016

Absolute Morality

Someone mentioned the Mahabharata to me.  

I did not realize that the Bhagavad Gita is a part of this extremely long Indian epic.  The Bhagavad Gita  I have read, I think when we were looking at Gandhi's favorite books.  It struck me at the time, that the morality is something different from what we teach. But I just came across this:

Just as the battle is about to start, Arjuna falters at the sight of his relatives and teachers, now his sworn enemies. He breaks down and refuses to fight. “How can any good come from killing one’s own relatives? What value is victory if all our friends and loved ones are killed? … We will be overcome by sin if we slay such aggressors. Our proper duty is surely to forgive them. Even if they have lost sight of dharma due to greed, we ourselves should not forget dharma in the same way.” (KD 544-5)

Arjuna fears that acting out his own dharma as warrior will conflict with universal dharma: how can killing family members be good, and not disrupt the social order? Herein lies an unresolved conflict in Hinduism between universal dharma and svadharma (an individual's duty according to caste and station in life). A warrior must kill to fulfill his duty, whereas a brahmin must avoid harming any living creature. Even demons have their own castes and svadharma, which may run counter to human morality. One person's dharma may be another's sin. This doctrine distinguishes Hindu thought from religions such as Judeo-Christianity and Islam which teach universal or absolute moral codes.

One person's dharma may be another's sin.

This philosophy explains a few things.

It explains, for one thing, how some existentialist I have met can be so cruel and feel completely justified in it. I have met people who feel justified manipulating and lying because it is somehow part of their calling.

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