Most people require a framework within which to act in society. Set standards of conduct may it easier to understand and negotiate one’s way through life. An individual knows exactly how to respond in situations that are likely to arise, and will be aware of the consequences of action outside of that framework. This creates, however, a static model of morality and ethics that cannot easily adapt to new circumstances. This makes it difficult for people who are locked into these fixed rules of conduct to understand, appreciate or adapt themselves to new ways of acting in the world. Those who follow a different pattern, whether it be due to following a different religious persuasion or philosophical belief system, or whether it be due to an intelligent understanding of the need of the situation that does not fit neatly into the rule-book, are perceived as a threat, evoke fear, and then anger (and potentially violence) in those who are bound to a fixed, narrow set of rules. At the extreme we find the fanatic who wants to force everyone to follow his guidelines and who will be willing to kill or destroy to achieve his results. Such fanaticism has been a causal factor in the history of warfare, as well as being the cause of significant interpersonal harm in a local community where those who are “different” are cast out, tortured to recant, or sacrificed so that the standard upheld by the majority of the community can exist without opposition or threat. Of course, it is through the progress of individuals, who see a larger, higher, diviner way forward, that humanity itself eventually can grow and evolve in its moral standards.
In The Synthesis of Yoga, Sri Aurobindo writes: “To those who can act only on a rigid standard, to those who can feel only the human and not the divine values this truth may seem to be a dangerous concession which is likely to destroy the very foundation of morality, confuse all conduct and establish only chaos. Certainly, if the choice must be between an eternal and unchanging ethics and no ethics at all, it would have that result for man in his ignorance. But even on the human level, if we have light enough and flexibility enough to recognise that a standard of conduct may be temporary and yet necessary for its time and to observe it faithfully until it can be replaced by a better, then we suffer no such loss, but lose only the fanaticism of an imperfect and intolerant virtue. In its place we gain openness and a power of continual moral progression, charity, the capacity to enter into an understanding sympathy with all this world of struggling and stumbling creatures and by that charity a better right and a greater strength to help it upon its way. In the end where the human closes and the divine commences, where the mental disappears into the supramental consciousness and the finite precipitates itself into the infinite, all evil disappears into a transcendent divine Good which becomes universal on every plane of consciousness that it touches.”