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A Hindu Perspective on Social Action

Seeta Lakhani's picture

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What is good for ourselves?
The word Good is a meta-term that needs to be unpacked before we discuss the issue of doing good.
What may appear as good for one person may be bad for another. A bar of chocolate for a hungry person can be good but the same bar of chocolate can be poison for a diabetic suffering from a high blood sugar level. What appears good today may be viewed as bad tomorrow. Hence we have to view the idea of good in a contextual sense before we examine on what is meant by doing good because the contextual element inherent in the concept of good should not be ignored.

The idea of good is inherent in all of us. It can be viewed as a social or spiritual element to our being. We seem to possess this inherent compass that classifies actions as beneficial or not so beneficial. One of the scriptures of authority of Hinduism - the Kathopanishad says that two things present themselves to mankind: those that can be classed as beneficial (shreya) and those that can be classed as pleasurable (preyas). It teaches that the role of religious teachings is simply to distinguish and choose correctly between things that are beneficial in the long term over those that appear as pleasurable but are only short term appeasement of the human condition. Doing good to ourselves translates in practise as: Getting our priorities right.

What about doing good to others?
This can be invoked either in a theistic mode which suggests that because the same God created everyone it becomes our duty to help others i.e. doing good to others will appease God. The non-theistic mode adopts a dramatically different approach. It introduces a new idea that says that the essential nature of every living thing is the Spirit. This spirit does not have any division hence essentially we are all manifestations of the same spirit. So when we help others we are simply helping ourselves and when we hurt others we are hurting ourselves. This forms the foundation of ethics and morality in esoteric Hinduism. Every activity that acts to remind us of our essential nature as the spirit is classed as good and every action that invokes the idea that we are not the spirit is classed as not good. Selfish activities distance us from our true nature as the spirit hence these are classed as not good while every Selfless activity that reinforces the idea that we are the spirit is classed as good because it reflects reality. Hinduism thus recognises that doing good to others is one of the best ways of doing good to ourselves because it allows us to link with our true nature as the spirit. In a unique manner this approach gives us a handle on the meta-term good. Every activity that allows us to see our real nature as the spirit can be classed as good because that is reality, and every activity that obscures this reality from us can be classed as not so good.