From Darkness to Light, from Light to Greater Light in Our Standards of Conduct

When we recognise that standards of conduct are influenced greatly by the time and circumstance, and are thus not all eternal truths to remain constant for all time, it becomes possible for us to conceive of an evolving standard.  We would then adopt and utilize the standard of the time until the opportunity arises, through our inner growth of knowledge, both individually and within our society, to put forth a new standard.

An example of an evolving standard is illustrated in the differences between the Old Testament and the New Testament in the Judeo-Christian tradition.  The Old Testament calls for justice to be meted out as “an eye for an eye” and certain “sins” were to be treated by stoning the sinner to death.  The New Testament however, calls for the exercise of restraint and compassion, “turning the other cheek” and puts aside the judgment and stoning of a “sinner” by asking “he who is without sin” to cast the frist stone, essentially saving the sinner from the painful death by stoning.

We see numerous examples that show that standards of conduct can and should evolve through time.  Child labor, once common, was outlawed in many countries over the last several hundred years.  The slave trade was outlawed in the UK and eventually in the USA and other countries after flourishing for a considerable time.  Treating women as property used to be the norm in Europe, but eventually women were recognised as having equal rights and access to society and its rights and duties, including voting and participating in government.

In the end, spiritual growth and development opens up our understanding to the Oneness of all creation, brings forth new ways of relating to people and the environment from this standpoint of oneness, and thereby does away with fixed mental rules in favor of spiritual insight.  This is not a license to simply disregard the progress of the past with some kind of vital aggrandisement of the ego, but a movement forward to the point where no such rules are needed because the relationship, fixed in Oneness, automatically undertakes the right action at the right time through right knowledge.

Sri Aurobindo observes in The Synthesis of Yoga:  “This, then, stands fixed for us that all standards by which we may seek to govern our conduct are only our temporary, imperfect and evolutive attempts to represent to ourselves our stumbling mental progress in the universal self-realisation towards which Nature moves.  But the divine manifestation cannot be bound by our little rules and fragile sanctities; for the consciousness behind it is too vast for these things.  Once we have grasped this fact, disconcerting enough to the absolutism of our reason, we shall better be able to put in their right place in regard to each other the successive standards that govern the different stages in the growth of the individual and the collective march of mankind.  At the most general of them we may cast a passing glance.  For we have to see how they stand in relation to that other standardless, spiritual and supramental mode of working for which Yoga seeks and to which it moves by the surrender of the individual to the divine Will and, more effectively, through his ascent by this surrender to the greater consciousness in which a certain identity with the dynamic Eternal becomes possible.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Future Evolution of Man, Chapter Four, Standards of Conduct and Spiritual freedom, pp. 40-41

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