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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A new Dharma for the 21st century

Dear Asha, Ajay, Ravi and Ariana,

(After reading my previous remarks, you will not be surprised to read what I have to say in this essay)

A study of the history of organized religions show that they do not ensure equality, justice and peace even when they profess they do, by excluding a few and by building a hierarchy among both the leaders and the followers. Organized religions most often tolerate and sometimes even instigate hatred to “outside” groups. They have also supported or condoned violence and cruelty inflicted on others and sometimes even within its own groups. Thus, organized religions have often led to human discord instead of to harmony.

Any organized institution needs an administrative structure, finances to support its activities, and mechanisms to monitor the activities of its staff and “clients”. This leads to a power structure and power structure can be easily manipulated, and often is manipulated, leading to corruption and misuse of power.

In reality, there are but ONLY TWO true natural classes of human beings, namely, man and woman, be they white, colored or tanned; Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists or one of the other faiths. Rest of the classes is man-made.

It is clear to me that peoples of the world belong to ONE family. Exclusion of any one, for any reason, particularly along man-made classification schemes, encourages and supports cruelty and denial of life, liberty and justice to the “excluded”.

For reasons listed above, I wondered how and where I can seek guidance for
A Dharma for the 21st Century, based on universal principles, common to all of mankind, sanctified by mystics from every culture and free from the trappings of “organized” religions.

I sought for guidance in the writings of Mystics, who listened to an Inner Voice,
who saw universal truths, who saw unity in diversity, who taught compassion, love and humility, who taught tolerance and forgiveness, who taught love for all of mankind, and who taught universal principles of Love and Justice to the in-group and the out-group and taught that actions that benefit others are more moral than those that serve ourselves.

These Mystics from different cultures and at varying periods of human history allowed us freedom to think for ourselves, and asked that we allow others the freedom to think for themselves. They made us feel equal to others and asked us to treat others as equal. They asked us to be fair and expected others to be fair to us.

They did not teach us external symbols to hang on to; instead they showed an internal light to turn to. They insisted that the best teacher is in you and me and asked us to look deep inside and see the Light. They also pointed out that the Light we see is the same Light others see through a different eye.

All the mystics I read consistently caution us not to be carried away by flowery oratory if they do not stand to reason, if they do not agree with our insight and if it will harm others. Even their teaching was not exempted from this advice.

I sought for guiding principles of a Dharma for the 21st century. I call it Dharma, since a new word is needed to designate the idea. The word Dharma already exists in the English dictionary, albeit with a restricted definition of its meaning. However, the meaning can easily be expanded to make it the underpinning of all ethics, morals and universal values and with flexibility to suit changing conditions, time, place, and context.

I sought principles of a Dharma for the 21st century that will be a personal and a societal virtue with universal respect for sanctity of life. Such a dharma should be universal and at the same time flexible to suit time, place and one’s place in life. It should be a selfless activity, as opposed to the natural tendency for self-preservation - a virtuous act, not based on rights and legality but on morality, based on reason and observable facts, and NOT on faith which contradicts reason and observable facts.

I sought for rules of conduct of a new Dharma for the 21st century which will be simple and self-evident,impartial and objective, universally known to all religions and cultures and therefore easily acceptable. I wanted to be sure such a universal, public system of morals will ensure that everyone will be “in” with no “outside” group. In such a system there will be only two classes – man and woman, who are equal, as they have always been with no need for an administrator, an interpreter or an enforcer, and therefore no need for power structure.

I found suggestions for these ideals and virtues in several sources. They are enshrined already in the sacred texts of all religions. But I decided not to use these sources because of three reasons. First, as pointed out in the previous essay on Non pace sincere al mondo, religious teachings try to answer questions in all three spheres of influence, namely metaphysical, moral and inspirational. My concerns are with answers to questions on morals and on human behavior. I am looking for rules of conduct towards others that can be practiced by any one irrespective of allegiance to any tradition. Second, I pointed out already that many of the problems of man’s inhumanity arise when answers to metaphysical and inspirational spheres of religions are carried over into individual and group behavior. When rules of conduct that can be accepted by all “rational, impartial persons” get embedded in an organized religion, they tend to be practiced within the groups and certain groups (example, women and non-believers) get excluded. In other words, these values are not applied in our relationship to the “excluded”, who are therefore liable to get persecuted, or mistreated. Third, in the current climate, I find a need to focus on fairness and avoiding harm to other lives as the core needs of any universal rules of conduct.

I looked for sources in moral philosophy and found inspiration in the writings of Prof.Gert, a Professor of Intellectual and Moral Philosophy, who considers morality “as a public system that applies to all rational person”. I agree with Prof.Gert that these moral principles should operate on their own logical merit, and not get mixed with theological ideas. In the Preface to the first edition of the book, he states “ if morality is limited to its proper sphere, then one can expect almost complete agreement among rational men on all questions of morality”.

These principles outlined by Prof. Bernard Gert are impartial, objective and based on sound theoretical basis. (Morality: A new justification of the Moral Rules. Bernard Gert. Oxford University Press. 1988). They are:

Don’t cause death
Don’t cause pain
Don’t cause loss of ability
Don’t cause loss of freedom
Don’t cause loss of pleasure
Don’t deceive
Don’t cheat

Keep your promise
Obey the law
Do your duty

These rules of conduct are well-known and should be acceptable to all “rational, impartial” individuals irrespective of their culture and belief systems. When these are also associated with explicit statements of conditions under which violations of these rules are acceptable to all “rational, impartial” individuals, we have the necessary elements for enlightened human behavior and hopefully for Peace on earth. Prof.Gert calls these items as belonging to a “public system of morality”. Although I do not have his permission, I would like to call them “Rules of conduct for a new Dharma of the 21st century", since they are so simple, logical and universal.

Codes of conduct and other moral ideals and virtues are already well-known in every culture and tradition. Therefore, you may ask: “why do we need old wine in a new bottle?” I will give my reasons in the next essay.

Reference: Morality: A new justification of the Moral Rules. Bernard Gert. Oxford University Press. 1988.

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