(Last Updated on : 13/05/2010)
Ethical values of Vaishnavism are common to almost all the other popular religions of the world. Ethical virtues such as faith in God, honesty, integrity, compassion towards others and proper social behaviour are emphasised by all religions. In fact Satya or truth-speaking and ahimhsa or non-injury to other living beings are the fundamental ethical concepts of Hinduism
and all other religions. These constitute some of the essential tenets of Vaishnavism as well.
Apart from being tolerant towards his fellow human beings, a Vaishnava is expected to develop compassion towards all other living beings in general and fellow-Vaishnavas in particular. The author of the Idu holds the view that it is an important trait of a Vaishnava to consider the sorrows and sufferings of others as his own. It is the duty of every Vaishnava to feel sorry for the suffering inflicted on a fellow-Vaishnava. In the same way, he should also feel happy at the thought of any good that may happen to another Vaihsnava. As a criterion for determining whether or not one is a Vaishnava, it is pointed out that if a person sincerely feels pity on account of the suffering caused to another, he may consider himself as a devotee of God. If, on the contrary, he does not show sympathy to the sufferings of others, he distances himself from God. Thus, it is important for a Vaishnava to feel the joys as well as the sufferings of others as his own.
Besides daya or compassion, a Vaishnava should cultivate a few other ethical virtues. These are satya or truthfulness, integrity, dana or benevolence, ahimsa or non-violence and anabhidhya or not coveting the property of others. These qualities are regarded as kalyana or noble virtues. Though they have been laid down as preliminary ethical requirements for practising Bhakti Yoga
, they are essential qualities of every devotee of Lord Vishnu
Of all these, satya is the most important. Satya in the ordinary sense means speaking the truth. This is a common quality to be cultivated by all honest people. But its connotation here is even wider. Satya is denned as cherishing the welfare of all living beings (bhutahita). According to Vaishnavism, Vishnu is all-pervasive and He abides in all living beings as their antaratma. As all the souls are the parts of Vishnu, a Vaishnava should look upon all individuals as not only equal but also should wish for their welfare. Under no circumstances should he cherish any ill-will or hatred towards others. Even if a Vaishnava is insulted or abused by another individual, he should keep himself calm and unperturbed by it. Such an attitude is possible because he should realize that the insulting remarks made against him do not in anyway apply to the svarupa of the self (atman). The soul is distinct from the body and whatever criticisms are levelled against a person are applicable only to his physical being. He should not, therefore, feel disturbed. On the contrary, he should feel sorry for the critic since the latter is acting under the influence of ignorance and commits sin.
points out that a person who abuses another individual takes on himself the sins of the latter. The Vishnu Purana says that when persons hate one another, a pious individual should express sympathy towards them because of the fact that they are acting out of ignorance. Further, according to the Vaishnava philosophy, all souls are absolutely dependent on Paramatman and all their actions are prompted by the latter. If one commits a sin against a pious individual, the latter should feel that the former has been prompted to do so by God and should regard it as a sort of punishment for his previous karma. With this realization the pious Vaishnava, instead of hating the sinner, should develop a sense of joy that his karma has been removed to that extent by such a punishment. The assumption here is that one's karma is to be removed either by enduring its effect or by undergoing a punishment inflicted on him by God.
Apart from the cultivation of the ethical virtues, the way in which a Vaishnava conducts himself in society is equally important. Vaishnavism has laid certain broad principles for the guidance of a Vaishnava who has already accomplished the primary duty of seeking refuge of God for moksha. Though there is no need to worry about his after-life a Vaishnava as a member of the society has the social as well as religious obligations to fulfil. Regarding his attitude towards the members of society, he should regard all individuals as equal and show the utmost kindness towards all living beings.