Rules, Rules, Rules
The problem with rules is that there are so many of them, and they are drummed into us from the time we are too young to know better. Years have passed and we have lived our lives within the confines of the rules of our religions, our schools, our parents, friends, our workplaces, the media, all whom have as their main goal to shape us into creatures who perhaps can successfully navigate life, but by their standards. One day we may realize that we basically live by unexamined rules and reaction to external expectations. We have become masters of just “getting along.”
Have we ever stilled ourselves long enough to let the outer noise fade and to listen to our inner being? Have we examined the rules we live by? Why are we in this merry-go-round, stick-and-carrot life, that sometimes is deliciously sweet and sometimes so disquieting, that all we can do is hold our breath until the next passing karma is over? It is these times, however, that can show us most clearly who and where we are. Character is not made by the unthinking adherence to a set of rules for rules’ sake. We are too prone to the sway of our emotions, our desires, the world, to build the type of character it takes to consistently turn our attention within and keep it there.
What if there was only one rule to live by? What would it be? Would it be like the four vows we take at initiation: to not eat meat, fish, eggs or anything containing them? Would it be to lead a clean moral life – what does that look like? Would it be not to use intoxicants and drugs? To meditate? Or would it be more like the palliative – “Be the best that you can be?”
The eighteenth-century philosopher, Immanuel Kant, struggled his entire life with this very notion: he searched for the most imperative rule that would become the ground or basis for all other rules which would lead us to the humanity within ourselves, within others, and beyond. Ultimately, he maintained that we as humans have within us the capacity to know what is right and what is wrong. However, he also wanted to help us find the “ground” we could go to when we were tempted by the storms of our own passions. His one rule was called the Categorical Imperative, and it says “we should live in such a way that all our maxims (rules) at the same time should become universal law.”1 He maintains it is respect and adherence to this rule for the humanity within ourselves, and within others, that leads us to the transcendental state that we are searching for. He said that we must go to our inner being to test this rule for ourselves and incorporate it into our day-to-day lives and behaviour. For example, if I want to borrow money from you and I know that I cannot pay it back, yet I say I will, I am lying to you; I am not respecting the humanity within you by doing so; Kant would maintain that to test this imperative, I should ask myself, would it be okay if everyone lied to get what they want?
Really, we might feel that Kant’s Categorical Imperative seems like nothing more than an amplified Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you), or Hippocratic oath (Do no harm). But let’s examine his Categorical Imperative with the rules that we are given at the time of our initiation and see how beautifully profound they are:
- Don’t eat meat, fish, eggs or anything containing them: this rule is most obvious in that killing anything adds to our burden of karmas, both mentally and physically. We become disquieted by the very act of killing. One of the Ten Commandments in the Bible says: “Thou shalt not kill.” There is no list of what we should or shouldn’t kill. It is merely: “Thou shalt not kill.” Full stop!
- Don’t indulge in intoxicants: this rule is so protective for us as individuals, as we can see the harm that these substances do to us, to our discrimination, our health, our ability to learn, our relationships, our ability. So be consistent in the building of our character, and which negatively impact the judgments we make day to day. They destroy our resolve as humans and very often destroy those whom we come in contact with. How much misery have we endured and how much money is spent on repairing the damage that these intoxicants have done to our families, our children, our society? Would we like a world where everyone is intoxicated by some substance or another?
- Lead a good moral life: this is perhaps the most vague of all the rules we have. Based upon our understanding of what ‘good’ means, we often will take the path of least resistance and justify ourselves relative to how society acts. But fortunately, we are not on the path of becoming one with society, we are on the path of becoming one with the Lord with the ultimate goal of resting silently in His formless presence. We must have an anchor.
- Meditate: this is the most important agreement we make at the time of initiation. Hazur says that with meditation, all these good qualities are manifested in us like cream on milk.2 But how many of us have trouble stilling our minds for even a minute and give up sitting?
How can we do this? By perhaps refocusing on the choices we make day-to-day that prevent our moral selves from developing and growing, by making compromises with the rules that have been set before us by the Masters. Great Master, in Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. 3, wrote:
A man of good character becomes a fortunate man. Right conduct is a science dealing with character, good manners, and human conduct. It may be called the philosophy of human behaviour.3
Why are we given these rules? To develop the character that we need to go within. There is, according to Great Master and Baba Ji, the need for us to become good human beings, and they are telling us there is a connection between how we behave and our spiritual life within. Sant Charandas says:
Good character is a yoga of high merit if one knows it.
O Charandas, without good character, no one attains emancipation.4
Kant maintains that we imbibe these qualities – not to make ourselves happy but in order to make ourselves worthy of happiness. It is that happiness that comes from the stability of mind and body that is the result of living a life that presumes we pay attention to our moral development. And if “lead a good moral life” is too general for us, then perhaps Kant’s categorical imperative will help:
If I believe it is ok for me to lie, then I believe that it is ok for everyone to lie to get what they want; if I believe that cheating at cards is ok for me, then is it ok for everyone to cheat at cards; if I believe it ok to overcharge for my goods or services, then am I willing to say it is ok for everyone to overcharge.
We essentially can choose to perform an action because it is the right thing to do. Reflection on our choice of moral action will help us in our quest for becoming good human beings on a path to liberation. The Categorical Imperative test might help us when the choices for our actions become unclear. Essentially, acting morally supports our ultimate goal of self- and God-realization.
In Many Voices, One Song, the positive impact of this principle is summarized:
When disciples practice meditation and mould their lives according to these qualities, a virtuous circle is created – that supports meditation, which in turn, generates a positive attitude and way of life that lead to more-focused meditation.5
Meditation is made easier by the relentless pursuit of being a good human being – the type of human that creates a beautiful mansion for the soul. The more our mind is one-pointed on our meditation and growth as a human being, the more apt we are to become one-pointed at the eye centre, and more easily detach from the opinions and habits of the world. Hazur says:
The more our mind is one-pointed at the eye centre, the happier we are.… So we have to see that our mind doesn’t scatter into the world.6
And if our mind doesn’t scatter into the world, Hazur says …
… then we need not tell our mind, “You are not to kill, you are not to do this bad thing, you are not to tell a lie”, for all that automatically will become a part of our life when we [truly] live according to the teachings of the saints. 7
Treading the path in this manner, the soul …
gradually becomes able to recognize the presence of God with facility; it recollects itself more easily and prayer becomes easy, sweet, and delightful, because it knows it leads to God.8
This is our ultimate goal; our practice, imperceptible as our progress may seem, is to draw closer and closer to the Divine presence within us and to shine in the light of becoming the good human beings that the Masters ask us to be.
- Kant, Immanuel, Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, 4:421, p. 34
- Maharaj Charan Singh, Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. 2, p. 54
- Maharaj Sawan Singh, Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. 3, p. 278
- Ibid, p. 290
- Many Voices, One Song, p. 103.
- Maharaj Charan Singh, Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. 3, p. 412
- Maharaj Charan Singh, Spiritual Perspectives,Vol. 2, p. 54
- Guyon, Madame, as quoted in Awareness of the Divine, p. 139