Lack of ethical guidance in Hinduism?

Discussion in 'Hinduism' started by DavidMcCann, Jun 13, 2014.

  1. DavidMcCann

    DavidMcCann Hellenist

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    One of the things that troubles me about Hinduism is the lack of ethical discussion. Even the Bhagavad Gītā says little more than "do your duty". Defining duty then seems to be left to custom. I found a list of 20 requirements for achieving mokṣa, of which only 3 relate to society: show devotion towards your superiors, affection towards your equals, and sympathy towards inferior but good people. Śaṁkara allowed all castes into his temple, yet didn't seem concerned about the burdens imposed by caste distinctions outside it.

    Compare this to the long line of ethical discussions in the West, from Plato to the present day. Similarly, in China Confucianism is largely about ethics and politics: as Confucius said, how can you know how to behave to gods if you don't know how to behave to men?

    Are the social problems in India the result of this difference?
     
  2. Namaste Jesus

    Namaste Jesus Praise the Lord and Enjoy the Chai

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    Hello DM,

    not sure exactly what you're asking here, but you may find this link helpful,

    Ethics
     
  3. DavidMcCann

    DavidMcCann Hellenist

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    I was asking for comment, of course.

    I know the site you mention, and it confirms my point:
    "Hindu ethics is mainly subjective or personal"
    "Objective ethics … is based upon … duty, related to a man’s position in society"
    And on the caste system:
    "Who are these untouchables? Originally they were the aborigines, with a very low mental development, who ate unclean food, lived by hunting, and were uncouth in appearance, manner, and conduct."
    Anyone for racism?!

    Before anyone gets excited, this is not an attack on Hinduism: I find it one of the best "religious packages" available. But it seems that India and China each missed something. The Chinese have been so concerned about society, that worship has become a matter of going through the motions rather superstitiously. On the other hand, the Indians have been so concerned with escaping the world that they've just left society to its own devices, without any real religious guidance. Personally, I suspect contamination from the Jains and Buddhists.
     
  4. Namaste Jesus

    Namaste Jesus Praise the Lord and Enjoy the Chai

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    Being Christian and having been married to a Hindu woman for a quarter century now, I approach this topic from a somewhat unique perspective. Admittedly, my knowledge of Hinduism is limited to the Fiji Islands. However, from what I've read and picked up over the years, the Hindu population of Fiji appears to be a good reflection of Hindus throughout the world.

    Getting back to the topic of the thread, you say that Hindus lack ethical guidance. In your op however, you mention the, 'Bhagavad Gita'. Though you dismiss it as only being about duty, it's that very notion of duty that guide many Hindus ethically.

    The 700 verses of the 'Bhagavad Gita' recount the epic moral and ethical dilemma Arjuna faced on the battle field when he realizes that the enemy includes members of his own family and friends.

    Arjuna's initial response is to throw down his weapon and refuse to fight on the grounds that it is morally wrong to kill those who have taught, cared for and nurtured him. In other words, it's unethical. That's when, Lord Krishna, who was actually the driver of the chariot that carried Arjuna into battle, told him to pick up his weapon and do his duty. At which point a lengthy debate ensues about the importance of duty as defined by cast and how that relates to other aspects of life.

    Essentially, for many Hindus, not performing ones duty as defined by their cast is what's unethical, not the duty itself. Those of western religions often dismiss this notion as preposterous, but the thing to remember is, western and eastern cultures simply do not use the same ethical guidelines. What applies here does not necessarily apply there.

    The same goes for the cast system. As you point out, it's often construed as racism here. In many Hindu cultures however, it simply ties in with their belief in reincarnation. If you're born unto a lower cast in this life, you'll be born into a higher cast in your next. Provided that is, you accept your position with all the pitfalls and inequities that go with it and perform your duty as defined by that cast.

    These days, mainly due to western influence, much of the younger generation of Hindus are rejecting the old traditions and customs. This has caused much turmoil. I have mixed feelings about it myself. On the one hand, I hate to see anyone mistreated. On the other, I hate to see the old traditions fade away. I'm just not sure the loss is worth the gain.

    Finally, let me just say that, unlike western faiths, Hinduism is not based on a single belief or even one scripture for that matter. There are nearly as many belief structures within Hinduism as there are Hindus. They do not all belief the same way nor do they engage in the same religious practices or even worship the same incarnation of God. I've always felt welcome among Hindus and have never once been expected to compromise my own religious beliefs to suit any of there's.

    In short, don't be so quick to judge that which you do not understand.
     
  5. DavidMcCann

    DavidMcCann Hellenist

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    I might say the same to you! How do you know what my understanding of Hinduism is, how much study I've done, or how much of the scriptures I've read?

    It won't do just to say "western and eastern cultures simply do not use the same ethical guidelines". That's begging the question: assuming that ethics is simply a matter of your culture and class, rather than having any objective reality.

    You aren't sure the loss of caste distinctions would be worth the gain? Tell that to the victims! Perhaps things are different in Fiji, but in 2007 the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination quoted Indian government statistics to show there had been over 100,000 cases of violence, murder, or rape of untouchables in 2005.
     
  6. Namaste Jesus

    Namaste Jesus Praise the Lord and Enjoy the Chai

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    You make a good point DM, but this goes well beyond what I meant by, 'pitfalls and inequities' in my previous post. Horrific events like this should not be tolerated. Obviously the individuals that take part in these atrocities have no code of ethics at all, eastern or western. They are nothing more than criminals and should be treated as such.

    The same goes for other religious extremists. Christians who would use the scripture as an excuse to blow-up abortion clinics, Muslims that crash planes into buildings in the name of Allah, or Hindus that would use their caste as an excuse for rape and murder. Criminals, the lot of them! Nothing more, nothing less. Their faith did not teach any of them this however, nor do I believe these crimes are committed for lack of ethical guidance. The actions of these individuals are derived purely from their own misconceived notions.
     
  7. Aupmanyav

    Aupmanyav Search, be your own guru.

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    Is ethics not the custom/tradition of a society? All unethical things in Hinduism are against 'dharma' (duty and engaging in righteous action). They are illustrated in the stories of Puranas. Puranas, in real sense, are the Hindus ethical texts. 'Dharma' is not personal, it is what is sanctioned by the society. Of course, 'dharma' for each section of the society at each stage of life is different.
     
  8. Aupmanyav

    Aupmanyav Search, be your own guru.

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    Shudras were not untouchables all the time in history. There were Shudras like VedaVyasa and Vidura, so was Shukadev being son of Veda-Vyasa. Few of our greatest sages and wise men. After all, Veda compilation, Mahabharata, 18 Puranas including SrimadBhagawat Purana and Brahma Sutras are all credited to VedaVyasa. Change among varnas was common. Untouchability perhaps happened in medieval ages. Even with untouchability, there was no persecution of Shudras. That came even later. Only that each section of the society continued with its prescribed duties.

    Why do you think Hindus are escapists. Did we not fight wars? Did we not engage in trade? Did we not establish kingdoms in foreign countries? Dissociation from worldly things also is a stage of life (the four ashrams). It is not advocated in young age or at the house-holder stage. The duties at that time are different.
     
  9. Aupmanyav

    Aupmanyav Search, be your own guru.

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    Please take time to get information about what politics and reservations (affirmjative action) have done in India. The 27% 'Other Backwar classes' and 16% Shudras (Scheduled castes) are at war, and so are some other sections of the society as well - for political dominance. That is why the Scheduled castes suffer. It was not like that before independence and in the time of native rulers. However, India expects improvement in the next ten years when the Hindu party (Bharatiya Janata Party) at the helm with Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister. The opposition is decimated at the moment.
     
  10. DavidMcCann

    DavidMcCann Hellenist

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    Not for me. For Western (e.g. Plato) and Chinese (e.g. Mencius) thinkers, ethics is objective. Because of that, it is possible to say that some traditions of a society may be unethical. Your own comment about "affirmative action" suggests that you yourself admit this.
     
  11. Aupmanyav

    Aupmanyav Search, be your own guru.

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    And is custom/tradition not objective (well, objective is always in a limited sense)?

    'Affirmative action' in India is a political device to garner block caste or religious votes. Recently the former ruling party (Indian National Congress headed by Sonia Gandhi) declared the Jats, generally a prosperous and educated section of the society, as 'Other Backward Classes'. Unfortunate for her that the Jats accepted the action but did not vote for her party which was routed in the recent elections. Indian 'Affirmative action' has benefited only a few, since the rich among those castes can and corner the benefits.
     
  12. Senthil

    Senthil Active Member

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    Hinduism has a ton of ethics. The yamas and niyamas are starters. The way some people portray us, you'd think we're a bunch of crazy people all over the map of immorality.
     
  13. DavidMcCann

    DavidMcCann Hellenist

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    Not me! I have a great respect for Hinduism — if I didn't, I wouldn't be concerned about any weak points; unlike Islam, where I'm always agreeably surprised by anything good.

    It's interesting to compare two sets of virtues:
    Patañjali: non-violence, truthfulness, honesty, absence of desire, sexual restraint
    Plato: wisdom, courage, justice, moderation
    There are elements in common, but significant differences. It's also notable that the yamas seem to be discussed in the context of raja yoga, rather than as guides for everyone.
     
  14. Senthil

    Senthil Active Member

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    Your average village Hindu knows a lot about ethics ... non-stealing, loyalty in marriage, virtue, that sort of thing. I can only venture it comes from the society as a whole , and is more or less passed down orally. Both the BG and the Tirukkural have a lot of ethics as well.

    I'm more curious about where this opinion (that Hindus don't have ethics) comes from. Any ideas on that? I mean, just who told you we Hindus don't have ethics?
     
  15. Nick the Pilot

    Nick the Pilot Well-Known Member

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    "I'm more curious about where this opinion (that Hindus don't have ethics) comes from."

    --> My sentiments exactly.
     
  16. Nicholas Weeks

    Nicholas Weeks Bodhicitta

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    There is plenty of detailed ethical precision in the Gita, not to mention the Laws of Manu.

    Here is how chapter 16 of the Gita begins:

     
  17. Nicholas Weeks

    Nicholas Weeks Bodhicitta

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    Here is Radhakrishnan on ethics:

    From his "Ethics of Vedanta" article.
     
  18. Aupmanyav

    Aupmanyav Search, be your own guru.

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    Patanjali too got them from the tradition of his time. A person's dharma. Surely, he did not invent 'yamas'. They are eternal, sanatan, as old as human (or more correctly Homonid) societies (I should take only my portion of the kill, etc.).
     
  19. Senthil

    Senthil Active Member

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    Patanjali codified (organised) them from the Vedas.
     

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