• No products in the cart.

Ethics-Ethical Philosophy and India !!!

Moral consciousness is an undeniable fact of human experience. The moral sensibility is something essential for the peaceful society and the work. Even gods are believed to incarnate to restore righteousness and peace in the society.

Down through the centuries, many religious teachers, and philosophers were interested in the rational ground of morality. Ethics as a speculative science is based on the foundations of the moral behavior of man, but a substantial portion of the moral codes are based on religious beliefs, social customs and traditions.

When we take the Indian ethics too the morality is very much based on certain beliefs, customs and traditions of Indian religions. It is true that the foundations of Indian ethics can be sought in the metaphysical and the theological beliefs in the form of worship, prayers and in the form of ideals and principles that directed man’s life in the society.

When we speak of Indian ethics, we cannot deny the intimate relationship that prevails between ethics and Hindu or any other religion. Ethics and religion are so closely related and whatever may be the religion, it contains within itself some system of morality for the guidance of its followers. And thus Indian ethics is the indispensable part of Hindu religion and other religions of Indian origin.

Indian ethical ideals and principles are very much found in the Vedas and in other Indian literatures and in other teachings of the Indian religions. Like religion and art, morality also is an institution of life for anyone to adopt in his life. By this institution of morality one’s actions from the moral point of view might be branded as good or bad, right or wrong, praiseworthy or blameful etc.

And again by morality one may be entitled to judge others’ action as good or bad, right or wrong. In this sense morality can be regarded as a particular way of looking at issues of character and conduct. It is in this sense of morality, that we talk of human beings as moral agents but not of animals, we also talk of moral concepts, laws and principles etc for a morally good or morally right life.

Morality means conscious living within the frame of certain principles of conduct laid down by those regarded as authorities. So in general morality as an institution of life consists in the awareness of an important distinction between what is and what ought to be.

So men should live not merely in the light of what is but also what ought to be. Specifically speaking morality is the awareness of a living based on a distinction between our animal demands and the demands of the higher faculties of human life, which make the human distinct from the animals.

The ancestors in India were spiritual in nature, they fixed their attention on a life beyond death. They regarded the human soul (inner being) as an eternal entity co-existing with the Supreme Being. They believed that every human soul goes to the round of births, rebirths and reaps the fruits of actions. When a soul comes to be associated with the gross material body, it is bound to perform certain deeds and in conformity with laws divine, reaps the fruits thereof.

The belief is that, if good deeds are performed, happiness results and if evil deeds are performed, misery falls to the lot of the doer. The human soul never dies; it can never remain without doing ‘actions’ and can never claim exemptions from reaping the fruits of its deeds. It reaps as it sows. Any man ultimately looks for happiness which is the fruit of Karma and so he should necessarily know what is good and what is bad. Every law giver and every thinker of India in ancient period felt, the supreme necessity of framing certain rules of conduct and of presenting the ultimate end to which all the life of a human being is to be directed in this lesson on Indian ethics we will be dealing with the Hindu ethics, some ethical notions of Buddhism and Jainism.

Any human being in the society is called to live and lead a moral life. To lead a moral life, he needs certain guidelines and principles of morality to do certain deeds and to abstain from certain deeds. What is the primary source of morality in India?

The answer could be the authority of the Scriptures especially that of the Vedas, after the Vedas, the authority of the Smrtis is accepted. So Vedas (Srutis) and the Smrtis (Dharmasastras of Manu) taken together, have been regarded as the source of morality. Of these two (Vedas and Smrtis), the Vedas are regarded as superior. In the event of a conflict between the two, the verdict of the Vedas prevails.

Besides Srutis, Smrtis and practices of good people conscience and reason also play a role in the matters of morality. The inner conscience also is the source and test of morality. This means that even the desire arising out of right will or determination may serve as a source or guide to morality. Right will is to be identified and decided. In recent times, especially; in the thoughts of Gandhi, and Aurobindo, conscience has been accorded a very important place as giving the final verdict regarding questions of morality and immorality.

The very concept of Indian morality is both authority based and social reasoning. Both in Buddhism and Jainism reason has been given a prestigious place. In Jainism right faith is given the first place among the three jewels.

One is advised to use his reason in ascertaining the validity and worth of the precepts before following them. In Buddhism too the use of personal reason is neither disallowed nor despised. The four noble truths are to be followed but even then Buddha says wherever there is disagreement, questions can be asked for removing doubts. In modern Hindu thought, reason is given better place, especially in the ideas of Vivekananda and Gandhi. For them reason is not the source of moral ideas, but yet they believe in the role of reason in the matters of morality. Hence, the primary role is given to Vedas and Smrtis as the fundamental source of morality in Indian tradition, but besides them, all the above mentioned sources also played their roles in deciding the question of morality and immorality in Indian tradition.

The Indian term for morality and ethics is ‘dharma’. Dharma comes from the root ‘dhr’, which means to hold together. And thus the function of dharma is to hold the human society together for its stability and growth.

Right conduct is essential if the human society is to survive. The dharma in Hinduism is coextensive with morality. Dharma in the Vedas refers to the highest truth and power and it is very much understood as the performance of Vedic sacrifices and other rituals in the Vedas and Dharmasastras.

So Dharma is understood in Vedas as duty par-excellence. And thus many Hindu thinkers say if one does his duty; he will achieve either heaven or a better birth in the next life or even prosperity here and now. Thus the Hindu concept of dharma has been recognized by its very close association with ritualistic and caste-oriented duties.

And the purely moral sense of duty is overshadowed. But yet the Hindu thinkers advocate and recommend the practice of moral virtues and moral norms, which make a man as man. These moral virtues are called Sadharana Dharma or universal duties.

When we speak of Indian ethics, its early beginnings have to be traced from the Vedas, particularly the Rig Veda. One of the central ethical concepts of the Rig Veda is ‘rta’, a conception of unifying order or moral law, pervading all things.

The concept ‘rta’ has given rise to two other important concepts, the concept of Dharma and the concept of Karma. The concept Dharma has got so different and divergent meanings, but generally it is known as duty. The concept Karma signifies that there is a uniform moral law, governing the actions of man and the rewards and the punishments appropriate to their actions.

The Upanishadic ethics is primarily atmancentric and intellectualistic. The Upanishads declare that the Vedic sacrifices are totally irrelevant for the realization of moksa. And so man is constantly exhorted to seek his individual liberation and not worry about other social, moral obligation. This kind of philosophical individualism definitely undermines the values of social morality. For the Upanishads, the identification and the realization of the self with Brahman is very important. In this metaphysical realm only we can speak of Upanishadic ethics.

The oldest Upanishads say that the perfect sage is a saint who burns evil away and he is free from evil. So it is in the avoidance of evil, we can see the clear moral teaching in the Upanishads. Katha Upanishad declares in 1,2,24 that he who is always impure is born again and again that he fails to reach the highest goal. Good conduct is very much necessary for the attainment of man’s metaphysical good (identification of the self with Brahman). And man who is wise is morally a good man whose nature approximates to the divine model (Kat.Up 1, 2, 24, Ch.Up 8, 6, 1). So the Upanishads are clear in saying that the man who has wisdom does not sin. He ceases to do evil and through his wisdom he annuls the evil of his former life

Doctrine of Karma

The doctrine of Karma states that whatever a man suffers or enjoys is the fruit of his own deed, a harvest sprung from his own actions, good or bad committed in his previous life. Karma is of four categories:

1) Sanchita Karma, which means the accumulated past actions

2) Prarabdha Karma, which means the part of Sanchita Karma, this results in the present birth itself. This is also called predestination

3) Kriyamana Karma, which means present willful actions or free will

4) Agami Karma, which means the immediate results caused by our present actions.

Karma simply means action. And this Karma must remind us that what is called the consequence of an action is really not a separate thing but it is a part of the action and it cannot be divided from it. The consequence is the part of the action, which belongs to the future but yet the part is done in the present. Whatever a man sows he shall reap.

Transmigration of Soul

The doctrine of Karma and transmigration of soul are so closely bound up together. After the death of the body the life of the individual is continued in another body and so on in indefinite series. According to this theory, the soul though pure and blessed in itself, gets entangled in the Samsara (cycle of birth and rebirth). It is because of the Karma it passes through innumerable births (transmigration) before it regains its original state.

Supreme Goals (Purusharthas)

The dominant interest of the Indian thought is in the highest value of human life. There are four values, which give meaning to human life. They are called Purusharthas. They are as following

1) Dharma

2) Artha

3) Kama


There are ten cardinal virtues known as sadharana dharma they are- endurance, patience, self-control, integrity, purity, and restraint of senses, wisdom, learning, and truth, absence of anger or non-violence.

Svadharma – By this term we mean each individual has to grow to his best according to his own dharma, that is to say the principle of individual growth is called Svadharma. Svadharma is in relation to an individual’s temperament and stage and duties in life.

It is made in terms of three gunas, the sattva (purity), rajas (virility), and ‘tamas’ (darknesss). These three qualities are found in each individual in varying proportions and thus this varying proportion of qualities is regarded as the basis of different types of actions and of four castes.

The concept of Svadharma is very much based on these three classifications and it is well promoted by Indian ethical code that if the society is to function smoothly there should certainly be a hierarchical arrangement of functions and duties in it.

Stages of Life (Ashrama Dharma) – According to Hindu thought the life was divided into four stages or Ashramas: that of the Brahmacari (Studenthood), the student who is bound to celibacy. The second stage is Grihasthah (the householder), and the third is Vanaprastha (the forest dweller) and the last is the Sannyasin (the mendicant).

The Buddha thought ten meritorious deeds for us to perform in order to gain a happy and peaceful life as well as to develop knowledge and understanding. The ten meritorious deeds are:

1. Charity


3.Mental Culture

4. Reverence or respect

5. Service in helping others

6. Sharing merits with others

7. Rejoicing in the merits of others

8.Preaching and teaching the Dhamma

9. Listening to Dhamma

10. Straightening one’s views.


There are ten demeritorious deeds from which the Buddhist are advised to keep away. These deeds are rooted in :- greed, hatred, and delusion and they will bring suffering to others. These ten deeds are divided into three sets:

1. Actions of the Body

2. Verbal Actions

3. Actions of the Mind.

Bodily actions are killing of living beings, stealing, and unlawful sexual intercourse. Four verbal actions are: Lying, Slander, Harsh Speech, and Meaningless Talk. The other three actions of the mind are: Covetousness or being desirous especially of things belonging to others, ill-will, wrong views.

Buddhist morality judges an action good or bad basing on the intention or motivation from which it originates. If a person performs an action out of greed, hatred, delusion, his action is considered to be bad. On the other hand, if he performs an action out of love, charity and wisdom, his action is good. Love, charity and wisdom are known as the “the three Good Roots.”

Here the word ‘root’ refers to the intention from which that action originates.

In Buddhism a person’s first duty is to cleanse him of the mental defilements of greed, hatred and ignorance. The reason for doing this cleansing is not because of fear or desire to please some Divine beings. If this is so, that would mean that the person is still lacking in wisdom.

A Buddhist should act out of understanding and wisdom. He performs good actions because he realizes that by so doing he develops his moral strength, which provides foundation for spiritual growth, leading to liberation.

Five precepts or Panchsila of Buddhism –Telling about ten meritorious and ten evil actions, the Buddhism invites the lay Buddhists to adopt five precepts voluntarily to follow in order to live together in civilized communities with mutual trust and respect. F

ollowing these five precepts helps the lay Buddhist to make a spiritual journey towards liberation. These five precepts are purely voluntary ones. A good Buddhist should remind himself to follow the five precepts daily they are as follows:-

Refrain from Killing living creatures,

Taking which is not given,

Sexual misconduct,

False speech, and

Taking intoxicating drugs and liquor.

The precepts are the basic practice in Buddhism. They are also an indispensable basis for people who wish to cultivate their minds. Without some basic moral code, the power of meditation can often be applied for some wrong and selfish motive. These five refrains is called as Panchasila.

Buddha proposes Universal Love or “Metta”. By this, Lord Buddha invites one to cultivate a boundless heart towards all beings. Speaking about charity Buddha says that the essence of true charity is to give something without expecting anything in return for the gift. A charitable person should not make other people feel indebted to him or use charity as a way of exercising control over them.

He should not even expect others to be grateful. The act of true charity leaves both the giver and the recipient free. A real charity must proceed from the whole person as an act of his body, heart and mind.

It should not be an act of generosity but it should be a “Dana” when a person performs “Dana”, he gives as a means of cultivating charity as a virtue. It reduces one’s craving and his selfishness. Love for Animals The Buddhists are encouraged to extend love for all living beings without restricting only to Human beings.

Since every living being has a right to exist so it is not right for us to take away the life of any living being. It is unfair for us to deprive their living rights. If we believe that animals were created by someone for men, it would follow that men were also created for animals since some animals do eat human flesh. Buddhism says the destruction of any creature represents a disturbance of the universal order. Man’s cruelty towards animals is another expression of his uncontrolled greed. Our own existence on this earth may not be guaranteed if we do not take stern measures for the survival of other creatures.

It takes ahimsa to be the most important ethical virtue and consequently denounces the Vedic sacrifices. In the observance of ahimsa, Jainism rather surpasses even Buddhism. In the observance of ascetic rituals also, Jainism goes further than Buddhism especially in the case of monks.

The pancamahavrtas and triratnas form the ethics of Jaina tradition. Right knowledge, right faith and right conduct are known as Triratnas – or the three gems of Jainism.

Right knowledge is the detailed cognition of the real nature of ego and non-ego, which is free from doubt, error uncertainty etc. It can be obtained only by studying carefully the teachings of the omniscient Tirthankaras or teachers who have already obtained liberation and therefore are fit to lead others out of bondage.

Then that preliminary faith should be supported by right knowledge again for having right faith based on general acquaintance (samyag- darsana) in support of right knowledge.

Right faith does not imply that one must blindly follow the Tirthankaras. But one must have the right attitude of respect towards truth. Further by studying the teachings of the Tirthankaras one can strengthen his belief. But these two are rendered useless unless they are followed by rigorous practice. Right conduct is the third indispensable (samyag-caritra) condition of liberation. It is this that enables one to stop the influx of new karmas and also to eradicate old ones.

It consists in the control of passions, senses, thought, speech etc. Right conduct is therefore described as refraining from what is harmful and doing what is good. Right conduct enables man to liberate himself from bondage.

The Jaina prescription for right conduct: One must follow the five great vows namely the panca-maha-vrata for the perfection of right conduct. They are Ahimsa, Sathyam, Asteyam, Brahamacaryam and Aparigraha.

Ahimsa denotes abstinence from all injuries to life – either trasa or sthavara. Satyam is abstinence from falsehood. It is speaking what is true, good and pleasant. Asteyam refers to abstinence from stealing. Brahmacaryam pertains to abstinence from sensual and casual pleasures. One must refrain himself from karma of any form altogether either in speech talk or action. Aparigraha: By this what is meant here is that abstinence from all kinds of attachments. It lies in giving up attachment for the objects of five senses.


August 19, 2017

0 responses on "Ethics-Ethical Philosophy and India !!!"

Leave a Message