The Non-Duality of Shri Shankara

Further extracts from H P Shastri’s essay on the Outline of the Advaita of Shri Shankara

Moral virtues
Let us consider the position of moral virtues in the non-dual teachings. In our practice, the inner life is considered more important than the outer life. Ethical living according to dharma makes the higher experience easier. A good life of benevolence, peace, study, devotion and meditation occupies the highest position. In the Bhagavad Gita as well as in the Upanishads the ethical virtues occupy a prominent position. Shri Shankara also accepts their importance. Let us consider the social virtues as described in his writings.

One who is devoted to this ideal has to cultivate inner and outer purity, peace of the senses and the mind, renunciation, asceticism and forgiveness. Of these, purity is the first, as without it other virtues do not grow in the soul. By water and other outer means the body is purified. The mind is purified by giving up attachment, that is, pleasurable associationship for individual satisfaction. When inner and outer peace have been cultivated the way is clear to renunciation, austerity and contentment.

Social virtues occupy a very important position in Vedanta. They not only help quiet meditation, but also help our social conduct. The virtues so far mentioned prepare the mind for the social virtues. Purity gives sweetness of disposition and teaches us a lesson in humility. Cultivation of peace within and without fills our mind with compassion and gives rise to the flame of harmlessness towards others. Renunciation also implies generosity, liberality and charity; by this means our conduct is made easy and pleasing.

Fearlessness is a great virtue in the daily life of a seeker, and self-control practised with devotion in view gives us a real feeling of fearlessness. Contentment inspires our heart with friendliness towards all and shows us the way to Truth. Shankara says that self-reliance, love of truth, fearlessness, simplicity and non-violence are the cardinal virtues of Vedanta. No fearlessness is possible without faith and truth which ennobles our speech and thoughts. Unless we are established in non-violence, we cannot practise true forgiveness and peace. Humility is not a sign of weakness but of great strength.

The five great virtues are the foundation of this way of life. They are the ethical aspect of the metaphysical Truth and when cultivated with interest, diligence and patience bring our heart nearer and nearer to God.

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This article is from the Spring 2024 issue of Self-Knowledge Journal.