It is very dangerous these days to talk about morality. We would accept any moral injunction as long as it is what we wish to hear. The moment we hear something that rejects our position, we feel immediately revolted and try to find reasons to escape the rule. Some moral teachers also preach unnecessary or foolish things in the name of morality. So, people develop a strong aversion to any moral-talk. They would laugh and say, "Here comes the saṃskārī, who will lecture us on culture and morals! Let us escape." Others may choose more violent methods.
However, morality is the basis of spiritual life. Today, spiritual movements gain traction because people face difficult situations in life and do not know how to cope with them. They are under stress. They want to escape that situation. Some people are truly curious about themselves. In either case, the starting point of many spiritual excursions is the misplaced sense of ego which wants to enhance itself in one way or the other. How can I become better? How can I become more successful in life? etc.
In a society where choices are limited, people are content to settle for whatever is available to them. But, when there are many choices, the mind becomes distracted. It develops jealousy and dissatisfaction. The mind that has many choices is never content. It never allows the individual to live. It is always comparing and optimizing. It is always frustrated. There are smiles on faces of ordinary people but the rich man is frustrated and tense.
We choose spiritual paths to become better; we need one more accomplishment. These spiritual paths have their own set of moral dictates. Then, one starts following them taking resolution to remain steadfast. But, after the honeymoon period, the effects vanish. For a brief period, the stories of other people return one to focus on the discipline. After a period of time, even that becomes shallow. The mind becomes frustrated. Some spiritual traditions openly declare that no morality is needed, and there also one is frustrated very soon. Freedom is a very tricky thing.
Morality cannot come from rules or books or from the desire to accomplish something. These are dangerous ways to justify one's methods. Anything can be justified quickly.
A spiritual life is the true basis for morality. Morality is that which enables a spiritual life and raises the consciousness of the individual. It does not constrain the individual and lead one to suffering. It is not an ancient dictate.
Absence of morality is not freedom. It leads to a society where the members are not interested in a spiritual life. They are busy doing the things that all animals are doing. But, they think they are doing it in a glorified way. That is why there is plenty of wealth and also plenty of poverty. If an alien were to come from a different planet and look at all the wealth in this planet, and then look at all the hunger and poverty, he would be very surprised. This is clearly immoral. People say that they want their money to do something. Of course it should. Far be it from me to say that we must simply divide up all the wealth and be content. Let money do something; let there be investment, profit, etc. In fact, we cry, "Please let it do something." The results must add up to a better life, to lesser hunger, lesser disease, more time for spiritual pursuits and knowing oneself. We have to come out of the life of a beast and know ourselves. That is the goal of life. What kind of values lead us to that life? The answer to this constitutes morality.
If teachers merely say, "do this, do that", no one would be prepared to listen. They must show how it leads one to a more spiritual life. The individual also would do well to not simply discount morality and claim liberty. There is no liberty in being the victim of emotions and passions. It is a very injurious way of living, even to physical health. One must go deep and understand why the system is so.
Without morality, there is no spirituality. In Śrīvacanabhūṣaṇam, Svāmī Piḷḷai Lokācārya says that an enlightened master should demand and instill spiritual morals before admitting one as a disciple and revealing the esoteric mantra.
For these spiritual morals to evolve, the simple, direct and most effective reason is love for Nārāyaṇa. Love or Bhakti or Prāvaṇya is the state of excellence of consciousness. Viṣṇu is the purity in what is pure, and can purify any individual who seeks His refuge; He is our deepest self (Paramātmā); we are His mode, His expression. When this love, Bhagavad-bhakti, Bhagavad-prāvaṇyam, takes root, spiritual morals will develop automatically . There is no need to keep pointing and saying, "do this, don't do that". All spiritual morals find purpose and direction through the love for God, the cause of all causes, our deepest Self and Master.
The best spiritual morals are restraint over external senses and the mind. Note that restraint is not control. Restraint comes from the loving state of God-consciousness. This is an important point. When one has reached this stage, the master reveals the message of esoteric mantra. It is hidden till then not because it is some orthodox way of keeping secrets, but because it makes sense to the listener only then. When it makes sense, one attains God and attains the highest abode.
Spiritual morality is important not because it binds but because it liberates, not because it restricts life, but because it fills it with meaning. Then there is no frustration, no sense of emptiness or loneliness, no confusion in purpose. It is all very clear.