The Three Principles

Update: 2018-09-08 00:00 GMT

The purpose of religion is to eliminate ignorance through spiritual practices

To realise our full spiritual nature is to experience the fullness of life. As long as we have not attained this state of being, our intellect will continue to suggest methods for overcoming feelings of imperfection, which manifest as desires. Desires are nothing but an expression of the ignorance of our real nature. This ignorance has made us identify with body, mind and intellect, and is the cause of our egocentric life of pains and limitations. Therefore, there is no achievement more sacred and glorious than the realisation of our true identity with the unlimited, eternal Self.

The purpose of religion is to eliminate ignorance through spiritual practices until the devotee comes to gain the light of wisdom. Ignorance, manifesting as desires on the mental plane, extend themselves as actions in the world. Therefore, spiritual masters advise that the most practical way of overcoming ignorance is through controlling our actions. They suggest that we first purify,and regulate these actions. All religions advocate qualities such as goodness, kindness, tolerance, mercy and selflessness. They insist on moral and ethical perfection as the fundamental condition for spiritual evolution.

Without these qualities we will end up far short of the goal, even after a lifetime of devotion and worship. Let us try to understand the scope of these moral and ethical values as explained in Hinduism. The three corner stones upon which the temple of Hinduism has been built are self-control, non-injury and truthfulness. The vast amount of spiritual literature in India is nothing but annotations, amplifications and commentaries upon these three principles. Ancient Indians planned their individual, communal and national life upon these three fundamental duties.

When these values are practiced they enable us to master our mind, which leads to mastery over ourselves, and the world around us. Although these principles are essentially the same in all religions, differences may appear due to the way in which they were presented to meet the needs of the people of the time. These three moral codes of behavior are: self-control (brahmacharya), non-injury (ahimsa), and truthfulness (satyam). They are the source of all values, and refer to the three layers of our personality: physical, emotional and intellectual.

The physical body longs for contact with the world of objects in order to gain sense gratification. The eyes wish to see beautiful forms and colours, the tongue craves good food, the nose likes to smell pleasant fragrances and so on. But when we continue to live only for the gratification of our sensual demands, passions multiply and ultimately consume us. To avoid such a condition, discipline (brahmacharya) at the physical level is prescribed. The meaning of the word brahmacharya has been so badly distorted that the real value of this discipline has been lost.

Brahmacharya is an attitude of intelligent contact with the world. It does not mean a total denial of the sense enjoyments, but only insists on not overdoing anything. Thus to read, watch television, talk, or walk too much, or to eat a morsel more than necessary would be considered as breaking the vow of brahmacharya. When we live in self-control we discover in ourselves a renewed dynamism, and become pillars of strength in society. If this sacred doctrine is not followed, we abdicate our freedom and become slaves to the ever-changing circumstances of life. Thus, brahmacharya is a value to be lived at the physical level.

Swami Chinmayananda


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