In a recent article in Newsweek magazine, columnist Meg Greenfield protests our amoral dealings nowadays. Although we are in general quick to condemn others, says Greenfield, "where the concept of wrong is really important-as a guide to one's own behavior or that of one's own side in some dispute it [our condemnation] is missing." mother words, we don't like to admit we're wrong. Greenfield describes a number of evasive tactics we use to avoid owning up to our mistakes.
One tactic is to think that what you did was not bad or wrong just stupid. Instead of admitting you did something wrong, you simply say you acted stupidly. You can still pride yourself on being right while conceding to being imperfect and prone to human error. Another tactic is to excuse yourself by thinking you were not physically or mentally up to par. Or you might try to get off the hook by blaming the circumstances, or by saying the offended party "asked for it." Greenfield Concludes that the "'still, small voice' of conscience has become far too small and utterly still."
Although I appreciate Ms. Greenfield's analysis, I find the solution she hints at listening more to the "still, small voice" of conscience to be simplistic. Some people, even while committing great mistakes, claim they are listening to the voice within. Mahatma Gandhi was a great advocate of heeding ones innervoice. Yet he admitted to sometimes committing "Himalayan blunders," and he at times sorrily regretted having listened to his inner guide.
Who is to say whether the mind's inspirations and inclinations are actually morally right? The motives behind our actions may be very subtle and intricate. Moreover, moral opinions differ from person to person, culture to culture. Just desiring to "do good" and to "act right" does not guarantee that you will always be "good" and "right."
The Vedic literature explains that a person should not depend only on conscience to determine right and wrong. Rather, there are three objective Vedic guidelines for right action: ones own spiritual master, or guru; the Vedic literatures themselves: and the statements of great, selfrealized saints throughout history. These three sources of guidance provide a natural system of checks and balances by which one can distinguish clearly right from wrong. When these three sources are consulted in a mature and responsible way, one can confidently chart a course of right action.
The first index reading one should lake is the instruction of the spiritual master. Spiritual masters are of two types: the guru within the heart (God Himself) and the external guru (the pure devotee and representative of God). Although these two gurus are in accord, the instructions of the external guru should be ones prime criterion. Here's why.
Alter Krsna creates the universe, He expands Himself as the Supersoul within the heart of every living entity. As Supersoul. Krsna directs the movements of all living entities according to their desires and their previous activities (karma). Certainly God is within the heart of everyone, but this does not mean that every "small voice within" is divine, the will of God. Only a pure, very advanced transcendentalist, one who is determined to serve God with all his energies, can receive transcendental instructions from the Lord within his heart. Therefore, we should hear from the external spiritual master. Krsna Himself instructs us in the Bhagavad-gita to do so: "Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The spiritual master can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth." The spiritual master can confirm whether ones plans and inspirations do in fact originate from the Supersoul and not one's own mind.
The qualifications of the bona fide guru, or spiritual master, are described in the Vedic literatures. He has imbibed Krsna consciousness in disciplic succession and is fully engaged in the service of Krsna with his body, mind, and words. The spiritual master is completely free from all selfish desires. His only concern is to satisfy the desires of the Supreme Lord. He speaks only what is in the scriptures, and he takes responsibility for directing the lives of his disciples back to Godhead.
Our second index reading is the Vedic literature. This is the standard "lawbook" its codes forming the basis of right and wrong; as well as the basis for the words and deeds of a bona fide guru. The Vedic writings detail the myriad aspects of morality. They are based on the desires of God and are God's instructions for guiding the fallen living entities back to Him. Through the Vedas God reveals His will for all mankind.
All of us in this material world are subject to four basic defects. (1) Our senses are imperfect. (2) We are subject to illusion. (3) We commit mistakes.(4) We have the tendency to cheat. The Vedic literature is transcendental sound, free from these defects. Although Lord Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself and is therefore supremely independent to act in any way He pleases, He nevertheless refers to Vedic literature as the standard authority. In the Gita, for instance, He cites the Vedanta-sutra. As for those who act independently of scriptural injunctions, He warns, "But he who discards scriptural injunctions and acts according to his own whims attains neither perfection, nor happiness, nor the supreme destination" (Bg. 16.23).
The third source of Vedic moral instruction comprises the self-realized Vedic authorities, who live in strict accordance with the instructions of their guru and the injunctions of the Vedic literature. We naturally seek advice when making important decisions, and this is especially important in spiritual matters. It is important to confide in saintly persons and to hear their advice and suggestions on moral questions. By taking counsel from highly qualified, morally upright authorities, by consulting the revealed scriptures, and by hearing submissively from one's own spiritual master, one is sure to always do what is morally right and pleasing to God.
We cannot, of course, be perfect. Mistakes will happen. And when we make mistakes, it is always best to honestly admit them. That is the sign of a good person, and it requires humility. We should not be so proud or so partisan that we cannot admit our wrongs. SDG