Conscience and Inborn Goodness
THE CONSCIENCE IS A GLEAM OF THE DIVINE WITHIN, prompting us to do good deeds and opposing our inclination to do evil. Buddhism describes this faculty as the “enlightening mind” or “Buddha nature” which can be uncovered through the eye of wisdom. Confucianism regards it as the heart of benevolence; this is illustrated by a well-known passage from Mencius about people’s spontaneous reactions to a child falling into a well. Islam likewise regards the human heart as inherently upright, and St. Paul wrote that the conscience allows even those unschooled in religion to distinguish right from wrong.
The conscience operates positively, encouraging self-betterment and the idealistic search for a better society. It also operates negatively, scolding and admonishing us for acting selfishly and hurting others. In this regard, Father Moon speaks of the conscience as a “precious teacher” that knows us better than our parents, our teachers, and even God. The conscience is God-given, enabling us to improve and ultimately realize our full purpose as God intended. It must constantly struggle, however, against the self-centered desires of the body.
It is possible to speak of a corrupted conscience, because although its essence is God-given, upbringing and education can affect its judgment. To indoctrinate the conscience with false judgments of right and wrong is indeed of the worst defilements of the human spirit. Yet there are levels of conscience. The more superficial level of conscience is relative, adhering to a person’s concept of truth. Yet at a deeper level is the Original Mind, which maintains a connection to the absolute God. Therefore, someone like Saul of Tarsus, who had persecuted Christians in good conscience, could be awakened to a higher vision of truth and change his direction in life to become St. Paul. This divine quality at the root of the conscience is the basis for Father Moon’s optimistic view that all human beings will ultimately be saved.
“Does our conscience truly know us better than God?”
“He created us with the free will and we are the ones to decide whether to follow our conscience or not.”
- The Original Mind and Heart—Rooted in Goodness
Gentleness and goodness are the roots of humanity.
Book of Ritual 38.18 (Confucianism)
“There would be no problem if that was the essence of nature.”
“Many people say that human is not originally good. Man is originally good, but the society is the one to corrupt him. If Adam and Eve had not fallen, they would have remained good.”
Religion is basically virtue, which is grounded ultimately in the spiritual nature of man.
Kundakunda, Pravacanasara 7 (Jainism)
“Many religions are influenced by the cultures and ethics.”
“Reincarnation is biologically not possible, as a man and a woman create another human being and not a cow.”
“Religion does not remain to one, in opposite to spirituality, which can be only counted to one. That means something, like cultural influence, is added to religion.”
Behold, the kingdom of God is within you.
“‘Let us create man in our image and our resemblance, is what God said.’ But how do we resemble God?”
When Gentiles who have not the Law do by nature what the Law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the Law. They show that what the Law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
“If you follow the conscience, you will inevitably do good. The law can be found within ourselves, even though there is no concrete law from the religion.”
“Even secret deeds are seen by God and will be judged by our conscience.”
Wabisah ibn Ma`bad said, “I went to see the Messenger of God and he said to me, ‘You want to question me on the subject of virtue?’ ‘Yes,’ I replied, and he went on, ‘Question your heart.
Virtue is that by which the soul enjoys repose and the heart tranquility. Sin is what introduces trouble into the soul and tumult into man’s bosom—and this despite the religious advice which men may give you.’ ”
40 Hadith of an-Nawawi 27 (Islam)
“The answer is to be found in ourselves, deep within. Examine yourself and you shall find the answer.”
“When you do wrong deeds, your heart will put your actions into questions. When your heart does not feel at ease, that means something, an action for example, has to be taken in consideration and analyze it with our conscience.”
For him who... knows his own mind and sees intuitively his own nature, he is a Hero, a Teacher of gods and men, a Buddha.
Sutra of Hui Neng 1 (Buddhism)
“Very often, we know our true nature, our essence, but still do not follow this path. It is the contradiction between mind and body, mentioned by Paul.”
Your eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is sound, your whole body is full of light; but when it is not sound, your body is full of darkness. Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.
The Purpose of the one true God, exalted be His glory, in revealing Himself unto men is to lay bare those gems that lie hidden within the mine of their true and inmost selves.
Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh 132 (Baha’i Faith)
“Reveal God through us.”
“The path to God, to glorify him. Amid accusations to our own self, we must strive this path and motivate ourselves to go this path.”
Every being has the Buddha Nature. This is the self. Such a self is, since the very beginning, under cover of innumerable illusions. That is why a man cannot see it. O good man! There was a poor woman who had gold hidden somewhere in her house, but no one knew where it was. But there was a stranger who, by expediency, speaks to the poor woman, “I shall employ you to weed the lawn.” The woman answered, “I cannot do it now, but if you show my son where the gold is hidden, I will work for you.” The man says, “I know the way; I will show it to your son.” The woman replies, “No one in my house, big or small, knows where the gold is hidden. How can you know?” The man then digs out the hidden gold and shows it to the woman. She is glad, and begins to respect him. O good man! The same is the case with a man’s Buddha Nature. No one can see it. It is like the gold which the poor woman possessed and yet could not locate. I now let people see the Buddha Nature which they possess, but which was hidden by illusions. The Tathagata shows all beings the storehouse of enlightenment, which is the cask of true gold—their Buddha Nature.
Mahaparinirvana Sutra 214-15: Parable of the Hidden Treasure (Buddhism)
All men have this heart that, when they see another man suffer, they suffer, too... A man looks out; a child is about to fall into a well. No matter who the man is, his heart will flip, flop, and he will feel the child’s predicament; and not because he expects to get something out of it from the child’s parents, or because he wants praise from his neighbors, associates, or friends, or because he is afraid of a bad name, or anything like that.
From this we can see that it is not human not to have a heart that sympathizes with pain. Likewise not to have a heart that is repelled by vice: that is not human, either. Not to have a heart that is willing to defer: that’s not human. And not to have a heart that discriminates between true and false is not human, either.
What is the foundation of natural human feeling for others (jen)? The heart that sympathizes with pain. What is the foundation of a commitment to the common good (i)? The heart that is repelled by vice. What is the foundation of respect for social and religious forms (li)? The heart that is willing to defer. And what is the foundation for a liberal education (chih)? The heart that can tell true from false.
People have these four foundations like they have four limbs. A man who says he cannot practice them is calling himself a criminal. A man who says the ruler cannot practice that is calling the ruler a criminal.
Everybody has these four foundations in himself. If these four foundations can be filled in on a broad scale, it will be like a fire starting up, it will be like a spring bursting through. If they can be filled in, it will be enough to create and preserve the world order. Leave them unfilled, it will be impossible for a man to take care of his father and mother.13
Mencius II.A.6 (Confucianism)
Teachings of Sun Myung Moon
The human conscience is the faculty of mind that represents God. It does not exist for personal benefit, but for the righteousness of Heaven. It always strives for goodness. (219:118, August 28, 1991)
“The conscience gives us the possibility to embody God. Act for humankind, put other’s benefit first before your own. What can I do for my nation and what can the nation do for myself? First strive for others.”
“The lie of Abraham was done for the glory of God. He said that God is above everything.
Some lies do not harm anyone.”
The Buddha said that all beings have a Buddha-mind. What is this Buddha-mind? It refers to the pure, original mind. (33:45; August 2, 1970)
“Our pure and original mind is God.”
“Buddhism, wants each of us to become Buddha.”
“Christianism would like us to act like Jesus, which means to also attain his level and go even beyond. If we have faith we can attain even a higher level.”
Your attitude should be: “God is the source of my mind. I am God’s object partner who strives to move according to God’s mind.” (162:40, March 22, 1987)
“We strive to become like God. That way our conscience will be nourished. Jesus said: ‘I am the trunk and you are the branches’. If the trunk is cut down, the fruits will not be able to grow. In that same way, we must find source in God.”
“God has created us and therefore we shall live according to his desire and do his will. ‘Will God like me to act this way or not?’ is something we should ask ourselves.”
Human morals and ethics should develop on the right path to Heaven, and this is motivated by the conscience. Your conscience is striving to develop toward an ideal world, higher than the world of today. (90:161, December 26, 1976)
“The conscience is what should guide morals and ethics and not the opposite.”
As we human beings strive to follow moral laws, there is a mind that tries to protect us from falling into ruin. This mind was with God from the very beginning, before human beings were created. It is called the conscience. The conscience is not a self-made law. When I justify what I do, will my conscience accept my arguments? Will it be convinced by my speech? Although we do not clearly know the source of the conscience, clearly it is not from human beings, but from elsewhere. Our conscience ever discerns whether our lives are public or private. (31:241, June 4, 1970)
All people, in all ages and places, including even the most evil, have an original mind which inclines them to repel evil and seek goodness. People’s intellectual understanding of what goodness is and how goodness is achieved has differed according to time, place and individual viewpoint; this has been a source of the conflicts which have made history. Nevertheless, everyone cherishes the same fundamental goal of finding and establishing goodness. Why does the original mind irrepressibly induce people of every age and every place to do what is good? God, the Subject of goodness, created human beings as His good and worthy object partners in order to fulfill the purpose of the good. Despite Satan’s crippling efforts, which have rendered fallen human beings incapable of leading a life of total goodness, the original mind remains intact within them and prompts them toward goodness. Hence, the ultimate desire of the ages is to attain a world of goodness. (Exposition of the Divine Principle, Eschatology 2.3)
All people have a conscience, something we cannot deny even though we may doubt the existence of God.
If we assume that God exists and that He created human beings, He must have provided a way that creatures and Creator can form a union, that is, to present a common purpose. This required that God place within them a faculty whose action enables His creatures to accord with His intended purpose for them. This original foundation, by which we human beings can unite with God the Absolute Being, is none other than the conscience...
The conscience always acts to push us to a higher level, saying, “Become better!” It urges us to reach for a higher level; it never urges us to sink to a lower level. It acts that we might be better tomorrow than we are today, and better the day after tomorrow than we will be tomorrow. It acts that we might be better next year than we are this year, better when we are in our twenties than we were in our teens, and better during our thirties than we were during our twenties. The conscience by its operation urges us continually to elevate ourselves and make ourselves increasingly valueoriented. (56:137-39, May 14, 1972)
What is the direction of the conscience, and what is its ultimate purpose? It has to be love— true, unchanging love. The essence of the conscience steers us towards love as our ultimate goal. (216:311-12, April 15, 1991)
God loves by investing Himself one hundred percent and more. Something of that nature still remains in the fallen world. It is not paternal love, but maternal love. It remains like a seed fire. If a seed fire is well guarded, it can be used later to kindle another fire. Likewise, salvation is possible only because the seed of God’s original nature still remains in us. (199:276, February 20, 1990)
Written by Mélanie Komagata