[Advaita-l] Conscience in Gita

Shyam shyam_md at yahoo.com
Thu Jun 5 16:21:17 CDT 2008

Bhagwan Krishna has clearly delineated in the Gita the
overriding principle that ALONE should govern one's
actions - tasmAt shastram pramAnam te kArya-akArya
vyavasthitau jnAtva shAstra-vidhAna uktam karma kartum
iha arhasi - the Shastras, the vEdAs are the only
guidepost that should ever govern our actions in any
sphere of time/era. 
Superimposing our wishes and the value-sets of our
times whatever that may be taken to mean, upon the
ShAstrAs, is not option - it never has been.

DharmA is too complicated to ever be amenable to
interpretion by any given individual however refined
his intelledct or exalted may be his or her secular
status - the mahAbhAratA is replete with many examples
to illustrate this - any student of ethics will tell
you that its interpretations are ever governed by
one's internal value structures - there is close to
zero universality even within a given
society/region/religion/time-frame as to what is
ethical and what is not - so we can never rely on the
"conscience" of our own minds when it comes to
determining if our actions are in keeping with dharmA
or not.

I am humbly submitting here an excerpt which gives us
the views of one of the most revered jivanmuktAs of
our times - Sage of Kanchi.
The goal of dharma is universal welfare. The great men
who produced the works on Dharmasastra didn't have a
trace of self-interest in them and had nothing but the
thought of the happiness of all creatures. These
treatises are the authority on which dharma is
founded. You find the form of things, the image, with
your eyes; you perceive sound with your ears; you know
dharma with the help of Dharmasastra. 

The Vedas (Sruti) are the root of all dharma. After
Sruti comes Smrti. The latter consists of the "notes"
based on Smrti. It is the same as Dharmasastra.
Another guide for the dharma is the example of great
men. The Puranas provide an answer to how great men
conducted themselves. Then there is sistacara to guide
us, the life of virtuous people of noble character.
Not everybody's conduct can be a guide to us. The
individual whose life is an example for the practice
of dharma must have faith in the sastras and must live
in accordance with their ordinances. Besides, he must
be free from desire and anger. The conduct of such men
is sistacara. Another authority or guide is what we
know through our conscience in a state of

In matters of the Self, of dharma and religion, the
Vedas are in the forefront as our guide. Next come the
dharmasastras. Third is the conduct of the great sages
of the past. Fourth is the example of the virtuous
people of our own times. Conscience comes last in
determining dharma. 

Now everything has become topsy-turvy. People give
importance first to their conscience and last to the
Vedas. We must consult our conscience only as a last
resort when we have no other means of knowing what is
dharma with reference to our actions. Why is
conscience called one's "manahsaksi"? Conscience is
fit to be only a witness(saksi), not to be a judge. A
witness often gives false evidence. The mind, however,
doesn't tell an untruth - indeed it knows the truth of
all things. " There is no deceit that is hidden from
the heart(mind), " says Auvvai. Conscience may be
regarded as a witness. But nowadays it is brought in
as a judge also in dharmic matters. As a witness it
will give us a true report of what it sees or has
seen. But on the basis of it we cannot give on what is
just with any degree of finality. "What I think is
right, " everybody would try to satisfy himself thus
about his actions if he were to be guided only by his
conscience. How can this be justified as the verdict
of dharma? 

We often hear people say, "I will act according to
what my conscience tells me. " This is not a right
attitude. All at once your conscience cannot be given
the place of a judge. It is only when there is no
other way open to you that you may tell your mind:
"You have seen everything as a witness. Now tell me
your opinion. " The mind belongs to each one of us as
individuals. So it cannot be detached from our selfish
interests. The place it has in one's personal affairs
cannot be given to it in matters of religion. On
questions of dharma the opinion of sages alone is
valid, sages who were concerned with universal welfare
and who transcended the state of the individual
concerned with his own mind [or with himself]. 
Humble pranAms
Hari OM
Shri Gurubhyoh namah

1/ It is difficult to agree to the position that
conscience comes only after SAstra. I do not think
there is any thing in my presentation that has
violated SishTAcAra. My mentioning SAstri-pundit-s
rigidly interpreting SAstra-s is a scenario in the
context of specific example without any disrespect to
them as class. 

2/ The point I am making is SAstra-s are not end in
themselves.  A particular smRti may say "women are not
fit for freedom', or that "women can not remarry", or
that "certain class should do only menial work" and so
on so forth. I can definitely have conscience to
reject these positions even if I am not a SAstri or

3/ To make my position clear, I tend to respect SAstri
or Pundit in today's context. They do not have 
any influential arbitrating power which they used to
have in the past. Today, they could be learning SAstra
for the sake of Knowledge or for keeping alive their
tradition of learning. I have empathy for both these


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