Source of the Article: Personality Development by Swami Vivekananda
One idea stands out as the centre of all ethical systems, expressed in various forms, namely doing well to others. The guiding motive of mankind should be charity towards men, charity towards all animals. But these are all various expressions of that eternal truth that, “I am the universe; this universe is one.” Or else, where is reason? Why should I do well to my fellowmen? Why should I do well to others? What compels me? It is sympathy, the feeling of sameness everywhere. The hardest hearts feel sympathy for other beings sometimes. Even the man who gets frightened if he is told that this assumed individuality is a delusion, that it is ignoble to try to cling to this apparent individuality, that very man will tell you that extreme self-abnegation is the centre of all morality. And what is perfect self-abnegation? It means the abnegation of this apparent self, the abnegation of all selfishness. This idea of “me and mine” is the result of proper past superstition, and the more this present self passes away, the more the real self becomes manifest. This is true self-abnegation, the centre, the basis, the gist of all moral teaching; and whether a man knows it or not, the whole world is slowly going towards it, practising it more or less. Only, the vast majority of mankind are doing it unconsciously. Let them do it consciously. Let them make the sacrifice, knowing that this “me and mine” is not the real self, but only a limitation. But one glimpse of that infinite reality which is behind – but one spark of that infinite fire that is the All – represents the present man; the infinite is his true nature.
Doing well to others is virtue; injuring others is sin. Strength and manliness are virtue; weakness and cowardice are sin. Independence is virtue; dependence is sin. Loving others is virtue; hating others is sin. Faith in God and one’s own Self is virtue; doubt is sin. Knowledge of oneness is virtue; seeing diversity is sin.
It is the quintessence of all ethics, preached in any language, or in any religion, or by any prophet in the world. “Be thou unselfish”, “Not ‘I’, but ‘thou’” – that is the background of all ethical codes. And what is meant by this is the recognition of non-individuality – that you are a part of me, and I of you; the recognition that in hurting you I hurt myself, and in helping you I help myself; the recognition that there cannot possibly be death for me when you live. When one worm lives in this universe, how can I die? For my life is in the life of that worm. At the same time it will teach us that we cannot leave one of our fellow-beings without helping him that in his good consists my good.
Why should a man be moral and pure? Because this strengthens his will. Everything that strengthens the will by revealing the real nature is moral. Everything that does the reverse is immoral.