With the decline in the belief of supernatural sanctions, which began with the Enlightenment, it has, indeed, become much harder to find a firm resting place, a fixed point on which a moral system or a social objective greater than the individual can be built up. What is a crime from one point of view, is heroic self-sacrifice from another, and all the civic virtues of one system become persecuted vices over the border, where political power is built on a different class structure. In this ocean of restless waves there has emerged only one firm island outside the temporal and biased perspective of each separate interest: the continuous improvement, that is to say, the progress of humanity itself. It is a yardstick against which the separate contributions of men, of classes, and of theories, can be measured, and it can give moral reassurance to those who are well aware of the relativity of their convictions, but who yet require, psychologically, the assurance of a firmer morality. Conversely, without the conviction of progress, there is no alternative to an inevitable despair in reason and in a rational, scientific approach to society, and to the decline into a mythology of nihilism. (from The Idea of Progress, by Sidney Pollard, London 1968, p.180-181)
The Ethics of Fundamental Consciousness (from The Enlightenment Process, by Judith Blackstone, Rockport, Mass. 1997)
Our true relationship with the universe contains an inherent ethical perspective. As we realize that our own essential being is a dimension of consciousness that is also the esssential being of all other life, we feel an underlying kinship with everyone we meet. We can use the metaphor of a musical instrument. If we are all basically pianos, even if we meet a piano playing a tune quite different than our own, we can feel in our being the potential to play his tune also. When we know our self as the pervasive ground of life, we have learned the basic language of all beings, including animals and plants. In this shared field of fundamental consciousness, we do not need to adopt a static attitude of goodwill that obscures the richness of our feelings and the directness of our contact with our self and others. To actually experience the heart of a bird, or the subtle awareness of a tree, or the complex emotions in another person, evokes a spontaneous response of empathy and compassion.
There is also a more subtle manifestation of ethics in fundamental consciousness. This is expressed in the Sanskrit word dharma. In Buddhist tradition, this word has several connotations. It means the Buddhist metaphysical understanding of the universe and enlightenment, the teaching of this understanding, and the living of this understanding. The direct translation of ‘dharma’ is ‘justice’. To live dharmically is to practice the justice of enlightenment. But this practice is not a preconceived set of behaviours. It is the alignment of oneself with the metaphysical laws of the universe and the great benevolence inherent in those laws. To the extent that we have realized fundamental consciousness, we are unified with the wisdom and love of the whole, and with the spontaneous unwinding towards enlightenment of all forms in creation. In this dimension, our own choices of action are the choices of the universe, and all our actions serve the progression towards enlightenment of all life, including our own. We do not have to shame ourselves into doing good works. Our own truth will benefit the truth of the life around us.
The idea that we can be aligned with the will of God also exists in Western religion. In Judaism, there is the concept of the mitzvah, which has a range of meaning from a good deed to a general attitude of justness and benevolence towards others. Jewish scholar Abraham J. Heschel writes: “Every act done in agreement with the will of God is a mitzvah”. Hassidic writer Reb Zalman Schachter defines mitzvah as “the divine will doing itself through the vehicle of the now egoless devotee”. Christian interpreter Maurice Nicoll writes: “When Good comes first, a man acts from mercy and grace. Then he is made Whole. When he is Whole, he no longer misses the mark”. In this quote we have the idea that the individual becomes whole by being good. And we have the more subtle idea, very similar to the Buddhist idea of dharma, that he is now right on target, that he does not ‘miss the mark’. That mark is the action that benefits everyone involved.