The Transition from Ethical Action to Divine Nature

Fear of God, which includes fear of punishment and fear of eternal damnation, has been seen as a primary motivating driver towards ethical and moral rectitude in the interactions of the individual with others in society. It plays a role in social interactions and in schooling the soul in higher forms of interaction than simply giving in to impulse of desire or reaction of fear in the world. Sri Aurobindo reminds us however: “When we grow into spirituality, this motive can no longer remain except by the lingering on of some confusion in the mind, some persistence of the old mentality.”

Yoga does not look at ethical behavior in the same way that religions or social scientists may do so. The goal in Yoga is to prepare the inner psychological makeup of the seeker to unify with the higher and subtler powers of the Divine, and in order for this to take place, the actions based on Tamas and Rajas have to more and more give way to the development of a Sattwic nature. “But to the Yogin action is chiefly important not for its own sake, but rather as a means for the growth of the soul Godward. Therefore what Indian spiritual writings lay stress upon is not so much the quality of the action to be done as the quality of the soul from which the action flows, upon its truth, fearlessness, purity, love, compassion, benevolence, absence of the will to hurt, and upon the actions as their outflowings.

The Indian approach is the opposite of that taken in the Judeo-Christian tradition, which holds human nature as inherently weak, bad or even perverse, such that the practice of ethical actions and the development of virtuous conduct is seen as a difficult discipline punctuated with weakness of the flesh and failures and recriminations with penalties extracted to train the lower being into the right path. “Our nature contains, as well as its passionate rajasic and its downward-tending tamasic quality, a purer sattwic element and it is the encouragement of this, its highest part, which is the business of ethics. By it we increase the divine nature…, which is present in us and get rid of the Titanic and demoniac elements. Not therefore the Hebraic righteousness of the God-fearing man, but the purity, love, beneficence, truth, fearlessness, harmlessness of the saint and the God-lover are the goal of the ethical growth according to this notion. And, speaking more largely, to grow into the divine nature is the consummation of the ethical being.. This can be done best by realizing God as the higher Self, the guiding and uplifting Will or the Master whom we love and serve. Not fear of him, but love of him and aspiration to the freedom and eternal purity of his being must be the motive.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part Three: The Yoga of Divine Love, Chapter 3, The Godward Emotions, pp. 540-541

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