In Japan, suicide is considered a very dignified act. If a man fails in his duty in some way, then it is thought to be honorable that he commit suicide. They think it is honorable and moral. And the Japanese conscience urges him to commit suicide immediately. If he doesn’t, then it is considered a disgrace. Hence, in Japan, hara-kiri is a very common act. It does not happen like this anywhere else in the world. To us, it looks strange.
But here in India too, the Jainas believe that santhara, fasting unto death, is an honorable act. If somebody dies by fasting as a religious act and discipline – while meditating – Jainas don’t call it suicide. This is santhara, and it will be very much honored because this man has left his body in a right way. But in any other country this will be seen as a suicide, and this man will be a criminal in the eyes of the law.
If you think about the different customs and practices in the world, you will realize that there are millions and millions of consciences. This is not the authentic conscience. The authentic conscience is one and the same in all people; that voice is exactly the same. Those other voices are from the society. But children are not yet aware of anything, and we start putting the voices of society into them. And whatsoever you teach a child, he learns it.
Scientists say that man acquires seventy-five percent of his knowledge before the age of seven – seventy-five percent of all that is essential in life! So this conscience is almost completely created in the first seven years of life and then it becomes very difficult to change it, because it is the foundation. It is on this foundation that man’s personality forms and it is on this foundation that the palace of man’s whole life is built. Then, whenever he does anything, it is the voice of this conscience that speaks to him. If the act is contrary to this conscience, it says, “Don’t do it!”
Society creates this conscience as part of its twofold arrangement. It creates laws on the outside so that nobody does anything wrong, but no matter how skillfully the outer laws are created, there are always even more skillful criminals. After all, it is man who creates the laws, so man can also find ways to circumvent them and commit crimes. No matter how strict the laws on the outside may be, they can’t do away with crime completely. So the society makes another arrangement: it also creates a conscience inside man so that on the outside the fear of the law prevents him from doing criminal acts, and on the inside his own conscience prevents him: “Don’t do this, this is a sin.” You can somehow manage to ignore the law, but it is very difficult to avoid the condemnation of your own conscience.
This is why a person who obeys his conscience is more respected by the society, and the one who doesn’t is condemned. The one who obeys his conscience is considered virtuous and the one who doesn’t is condemned as a sinner. The one who obeys his conscience is promised heaven by the society and the one who doesn’t is threatened with the punishment of hell. All this is the inner arrangement.