We live in a world of rules, codes and standards of conduct. As long as we are still working within the physical-vital-mental framework of the ordinary outer life, these standards are essential to help both the individual to mature and the society to survive and thrive. When an individual reaches the point where he is prepared to go beyond the mental limitations and external rules, because he has embarked on a spiritual journey and quest, these outer rules can no longer be determinative for his action. The ideas of “duty” and “morality” and “societal expectation” are all relative terms based in the outer life, and do not take into account the higher spiritual impetus that occurs when the soul becomes liberated.
Sri Aurobindo takes up the discussion: “It is altogether from within that must come the knowledge of the work that has to be done. There is no particular work, no law or form or outwardly fixed or invariable way of works which can be said to be that of the liberated being. The phrase used in the Gita to express this work that has to be done has indeed been interpreted in the sense that we must do our duty without regard to the fruit. But this is a conception born of European culture which is ethical rather than spiritual and external rather than inwardly profound in its concepts. No such general thing as duty exists; we have only duties, often in conflict with each other, and these are determined by our environment, our social relations, our external status in life. They are of great value in training the immature moral nature and setting up a standard which discourages the action of selfish desire. It has already been said that as long as the seeker has no inner light, he must overn himself by the best light he has, and duty, a principle, a cause are among the standards he may temporarily erect and observe. But for all that, duties are external things, not stuff of the soul and cannot be the ultimate standard of action in this path.”
This is in fact the dilemma that Arjuna faced when he found all the principles, duties and expectations of his position in society coming into conflict and he could not determine the right direction based on his ethical, moral or social sense of duty. It was at this point that Sri Krishna asked him to “abandon all Dharmas” and act from the spontaneous inner sense that arose from complete surrender and identification with the higher spiritual truth of the Purushottama, the Divine Being manifesting the evolutionary development of the world.
“On the other hand, to love or have compassion, to obey the highest truth of our being, to follow the command of the Divine are not duties; these things are a law of the nature as it rises towards the Divine, an outflowing of action from a soul-state, a high reality of the spirit. The action of the liberated doer of works must be even such an outflowing from the soul; it must come to him or out of him as a natural result of his spiritual union with the Divine and not be formed by an edifying construction of the mental thought and will, the practical reason or the social sense.”
“But in the last state of the soul’s infinity and freedom all outward standards are replaced or laid aside and there is left only a spontaneous and integral obedience to the Divine with whom we are in union and an action spontaneously fulfilling the integral spiritual truth of our being and nature.”
Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 12, The Divine Work, pp. 260-261