In the article, “Who is in charge of your mind” (CLN-Religion), I had mentioned that neither education, nor professional attainments, nor belief in religion can guarantee one’s good conduct. In history, there are several examples of how renowned scientists, accomplished artists, and executives from reputed organizations, by their poor conduct,, have hurt others. For example, Newton, the renowned physicist, falsely accused fellow-physicist, Leibniz, of stealing Newton’s work, an accusation that was later disproved. A few scientists and even members of the Catholic church had actively collaborated with the Nazi regime in the extermination of Jews. As recently as 2014, major international banks and their executives were accused of deliberately manipulating the financial markets and swindling poor and low-income individuals of their meager possession, their homes. Even governments are no exception. Between 1932 and 1972, the Public Health Service of the State of Alabama, USA used Black Americans as guinea pigs to study syphilis. Hundreds of them later died or lived with serious health issues through the remaining years of their lives.

Why would accomplished individuals, people of faith, and organizations of repute engage in undesirable conduct? Why did not their education, intellect, or religious faith caution them of the consequences of their poor conduct? Contrary to our expectations, education, religious faith, or social status do not automatically translate into good conduct. Even the most intellectually accomplished individuals would often make decisions, at times, without assessing the consequences of their actions. For example, Oppenheimer, the father of the atom bomb, after the bomb was tested, expressed with utmost sorrow and grief, “I have become Death, the destroyer of world.” Although he was a renowned physicist, Oppenheimer did not foresee the significant damage his invention would cause.

The reason why even individuals with developed intellect do not foresee the consequences of their decisions is that, as Dr. Radhakrishnan says, we humans are “unfinished beings.” Our everyday judgments and actions are driven more by our primitive instincts of self-interest than by compassion that considers, at all times, the welfare of others. Religions recognize this “unfinished” nature of humans. This is why every religion of the world emphasizes good conduct,- love, empathy, caring for all creatures- as the paramount principles of human life. For example, the Upanishads and the Geetha provide abundant guidance on good versus bad conduct. Similarly, the Hindu mythological stories are replete with subliminal messages on why proper conduct is supreme and why one should refrain from behaviors that hurt others.

While religious doctrines and stories may provide guidance on proper conduct, if we use them as nothing more than religious trappings, it will not benefit us. Similar to religious doctrines, our personal accomplishments – education, recognition, wealth are like steps on a ladder; they ease the climb towards the destination, i.e., becoming a better person. But the steps will not carry us to the destination; we must climb them by our own efforts.

Dr. Ram Sriram