Traditional societies are based on religious ethics, on the understanding that what we do today affects our future, even beyond the grave, that there is both sin and piety, which derive from an ultimate, transcendent standard of good and evil.
The moral relativist sees no wrong in, for instance, homosexual behavior: “What’s the harm in consensual sex between two people of the same gender? They don’t harm anyone.” But persons with “the vision of eternity”¹ know that sex is meant for procreation, and therefore “recreational” sex is sinful, and that because homosexual union cannot produce a child, it is illicit sexual indulgence. It is harmful because illicit sex impedes each participant’s progress on the path of self-realization. Furthermore, it is harmful to promote that it is not harmful.
Conversely, traditional societies emphasize the duty of each person toward the whole. The concept of duty is particularly enshrined in the multilayered concept of dharma, which is the cornerstone of India’s spiritual civilization. Life being complex, dharma can be very subtle and difficult to ascertain. Hence, for the guidance of humankind, many śāstras describe conflicting dharmas and their resolution – for instance, “Is it acceptable to kill one person in order to save two lives”? Indeed, the whole story of the Mahābhārata is a record of the differing responses of dharmic and adharmic persons to an intricate web of dilemmas. And the Bhagavad-gitā, the philosophical crest jewel within the Mahäbhärata, develops from Arjuna’s being confused about his duty. He was obliged to join his brothers in battle, yet he felt that no intrinsic good could come from it – so should he fight or not?²
Still today, albeit in often-corrupted forms, dharma largely defines India and especially Hinduism. Undeniably, contemporary Indian society is beset by myriad social problems, which may well be a reason why some Western devotees are wary of what they see as an “Indianization” of the Krsna consciousness movement. But the genuine Indian culture (varņāśrama-dharma) is pervaded by a sense of dharma, which provides a natural basis for and is practically inseparable from Krsna consciousness.
Even though India, or Bharata, has to a large extent lost its original values, it still nurtures vital cultural factors (derived from the ancient understanding and practice of varņāśrama- dharma) that are conducive to Krsna consciousness and are noticeably absent in contemporary Western culture. A prominent example is the annual gathering of millions for bathing in the sacred river Gangā at Prayāga-rāja (Allahabad); and it is estimated that every twelve years, forty million people converge there on Makara-sankrānti, one of the main bathing days. It is easy to see that Vedic culture still stands strong in India (although with the march of Kali-yuga, traditions are on the wane there as well).
1. From Srila Prabhupáda’s rendering of Bg 13.32.
2. See Bg 2.7
Book: Mothers and Masters, Page 14-16