Chapter 9: Right and Wrong
There is a sentence in At the Feet of the Master which says, “Firm as a rock where right and wrong are concerned, yield always to others in things which do not matter.”
This is a very important piece of advice that needs close and earnest attention in our everyday life as members of a family, as neighbours, friends and fellow-workers.
A question naturally arises as to what is right and what is wrong. It must at once be said that right and wrong cannot be placed in watertight compartments for all mankind, and cannot be defined in rigid and absolute terms; nor should anybody try to dictate to another what is right and what is wrong for him. Each one of us must find the answer to that question for himself in each situation. It has been said that “right and wrong for evolving creatures are not absolute things but relative things, things which depend upon your stage of evolution, your relation to the outer world, and the evolution of the Will within you.”
It may, however, be relevant to refer to some tests or touchstones which can be useful to us in considering what is right and what is wrong.
What the Buddha said about true and false doctrines in one of his sermons may well apply to the determination of “right and wrong.”
…doctrines (which) conduce to passions, not to dispassion; to bondage, not to detachment; to increase of (worldly) gains, not to decrease of them; to covetousness, not to content; … to sluggishness, not energy; of such teachings thou mayest…affirm, “This is not the norm.”
The Christ suggested a practical and common-sense test for judging the rightness of one’s contemplated action when he observed: “Therefore, all things whatsoever ye would first man should do to you, do ye even so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.”
A useful test to decide right and wrong may be to think in terms of wholeness or oneness. Whatever is in consonance with it, and whatever is harmonious with the rhythm of Nature, is right; whatever is not so and disturbs that rhythm is wrong. And to try to work out a test from At the Feet of the Master itself, one may say—that which works for love is right; that which hurts love is wrong.
It is often the voice of conscience which whispers gently to us what is right and what is wrong. It is sometimes the intuition which tells us in a flash what is right. But when uncertain or in doubt, it has been said that one should think deeply, dispassionately, selflessly, exercising one’s discriminative faculty, and then act according to what comes out of that deep thought.
Ultimately, however, right and wrong have to be decided by us for ourselves and not by somebody else for us. “Do ye abide in heedfulness,” said the Buddha. Having taken a careful decision, one has to be “firm as a rock,” for between right and wrong, occultism knows no compromise.” Occultism is a way of life—is life itself—and cannot be confined to particular compartments thereof. That is why it is said that “occultism” cannot be trifled with; it demands all or nothing”. And, therefore, one cannot compromise one’s position for the sake of popularity, equivocate or waver where principles are at stake however strong may be the public opinion on that issue at the moment.
It is obvious that indomitable courage is a necessary qualification for firmness in right thinking and right action. In the “Golden Stairs: Madame Blavatsky refers to “a brave declaration of principles” as also to a “courageous endurance of personal injustice.”
But things are really not as difficult as we often imagine them to be due to our myopic vision. We tend to make ourselves unhappy and also hurt others by taking every windmill to be a monster to be charged at and slain. We often take every little thing as involving a matter of principle, a question of right and wrong. Our background, our religion, our tradition, habits, social customs and manners, and the prejudices based on them, often make us believe that every little departure from our way of thinking—which is grooved in the past—involves a question of principle and of right and wrong, on which we have to be “firm as a rock”, and for which we must wage a relentless war. Much of the gap between age and youth is due to this mixing of principles with trivialities. Among others, in respect of work, wherever it may lie, there are often differences, and rigid stands are taken about the details even when there is no disagreement on the objectives.
Looking at the differences deeply and dispassionately, one finds that they are almost always based on “I-ness”—what I suggest is the right way of doing a thing the right way of presenting it, the right way, even , of wording it.
And so, to be able to follow the other part of the advice about yielding always to others in things which do not matter, it becomes necessary to try to shed this “I-ness’. No two individuals are alike, and true understanding demands, the recognition of their natural differences. Much greater cooperation becomes possible if we are careful to perceive the difference between principles and the things which are of no consequence. As Madame Blavatsky once advised—“It is not…an impossible unanimity as to all details of work that is needed, but a true, hearty, earnest devotion to our cause which will lead each to help his brother to the utmost of his power to work for that cause, whether or not we agree as to the exact method of carrying on that work. The only man who is absolutely wrong in his methods is the one who does nothing; each can and should cooperate with all and all with each in a large-hearted spirit of comradeship to forward the work….”