Amazing articles on just about every subject...


Ethics Of The Six Systems Of Philosophy

( Originally Published 1922 )



IN the course of our study of the Upanishads it was indicated that there were to be found in them various philosophical theories. This point was not elaborated, as it was said that the ethical outcome of the different doctrines was to all intents and purposes the same. But in later times these theories came to be more sharply distinguished from each other, and the great orthodox systems of Indian Philosophy came to be recognized as such. There are many problems connected with their rise which we may pass over here. It is not necessary that we should study them in any detail at all as philosophical systems. But they have important bearings on ethical theory and practice, and it is desirable that from this point of view we should give them some attention. The ethical consequences of these systems have not been worked out as those of European systems have been, for there is a sense in which moral questions have but little interest or meaning for Indian philosophers. But any system of philosophy must have very important ethical bearings, and it is incumbent on us in a study of Hindu ethics to try to bring to light the peculiar relationships which exist between the great metaphysical conceptions of these systems and the conceptions which implicitly or explicitly have determined the lines of ethical thought.

Six schools or darsanas are usually reckoned as `orthodox. They are the Purva Mimamsa, the Uttara Mimamsa or Vedanta, the Samkhya, the Yoga, the Vaiseshika, and the Nyaya. They are spoken of as orthodox because they are supposed to be in agreement with the teaching of the Vedas.

This is to a large extent a fiction, for in many points all of them disagree with the Vedas and with each other. There are, however, certain great doctrines in which all are agreed. Among the most notable of these are the doctrines of karma and samsara, and, theoretically, the supreme authority and divine character of the Vedas.

To the modern philosophical student it will seem strange that the Purva Mimamsa is included among the philosophical systems. In it is set forth the karma kanda, or ` work portion of the Veda. It expounds the details of Vedic dharma, and the rewards that are attached to various works. These are in the main not ethical works, but the sacrificial works and other ritual observances of the Brahmanas, reduced to some kind of a system. It is indeed hardly an independent system of philosophy, even in the Indian sense of the term. for it really serves as an introduction to the Vedanta, as the name itself indicates—the earlier Mimamsa, in relation to the Uttara or later Mimamsa. Deussen says that it is related to the Vedanta much in the same way as the Old Testament is related to the New Testament. But just as the New Testament supersedes the Old Testament, so does the Vedanta, the jnana kanda, or part of knowledge, supersede the Purva Mimamsa, the karma kanda, or part of works. It is taught, nevertheless, in the Purva Mimamsa, that salvation can be attained through the right performance of these works, when they are performed without thought of reward.

One question which has a distinct ethical significance has been raised in connexion with the Purva Mimamsa. It is the question whether it is or is not atheistic. The charge of atheism finds justification in a remark made by Badarayana, the author of the Vedanta Sutras, where he expounds the peculiar teaching of Jaimini, the author of the Sutras of the Purva Mimamsa, regarding the operation of karma. He held that God would be guilty of cruelty and partiality if He rewarded and punished men according to their works, and that works produce their own result ; in other words, that for the moral government of the world no Lord is wanted I This is a point of view which certainly reveals an appreciation of one of the difficulties of the doctrine of karma.

The greatest and most characteristic system of Indian Philosophy is the Vedanta. Its greatest exponent was Sankaracharya, a thinker who was born in South India in the end of the eighth century A. D., living probably till about A. D. 85o. His doctrines are expounded in his Commentary on the Vedanta Sutras of Badarayana, the date of which is doubtful. Sankaracharya is recognized as the greatest philosophical thinker whom India has produced, and there has certainly been none who has left a deeper influence on Indian thought.

The central doctrine of the Vedanta may be enunciated very briefly. It is expressed in the Chhadndogya Upanishad (vi. 8) in the words spoken to Svetaketu by his father, ` Tat tvam asi, ` Thou art that. In these words there is taught the identity of the soul with Brahman. The individual soul falsely imagines that it exists independently, and that other beings have similar independent existence. The ignorance, avidya, which accounts for this, is the root of all evil. The soul through ignorance is misunderstood, and instead of being known as it is, it is identified with its upadhis, or limitations. It is in this way that the illusion of the empirical self comes to be—the illusion of the self as limited in various ways. The self thinks of itself as agent and enjoyer, and it is this illusory self, alike deceiving and deceived, that is the subject of sathsara. The Vedanta seeks to show how through true knowledge, vidya, the soul is to be delivered from its bondage to shadows, and led into freedom. It is not through becoming something which now it is not, but by realizing what it is : the self is Brahman.

The doctrine thus briefly outlined is expounded and elaborated in great detail. It is possible here to deal with only the most significant conceptions, and of these only with such as will help to make clear the ethical tendencies of the system. Let it be noted once more that there are certain principles which are common to all orthodox Hindu thought, that are taken for granted. It is assumed that the doctrines of karma and samsara are valid, and that existence under conditions in which they apply, in other words empirical existence, is essentially evil. This is taken for granted, and the question is as to a way of escape from this evil state. The answer of the Vedanta involves a special theory of the nature of the Universe and of the Soul.

It is important to observe that the Vedanta does not maintain that the Universe as it presents itself to the ordinary mind is simply illusion. It is sometimes represented as if it did so, but the case is not so simple. The validity of the judgements which we continually pass on events taking place around us is not denied. It is true that the phenomenal world is the outcome of avidya, but it has a certain relative reality. It is real for him who has not attained to the knowledge of Brahman. Thus Sankara says : ` The entire complex of phenomenal existence is considered as true so long as the knowledge of Brahman and the Self of all has not arisen, just as the phantoms of a dream are considered to be true until the sleeper wakes . The same is true of popular beliefs and exercises. They are not meaningless or valueless. The worshipper of Brahman as personal really worships God, and he who speaks of Brahman as creator of the world speaks what is true. The whole Vedic system of religion is sound. But in all this the individual is at the stage of apara vidya, or lower know-ledge, not para vidya, or higher knowledge. The former provides a religious philoscphy, relatively true, for those who have not attained the higher knowledge. But from the point of view of para vidya all this is false. The phenomenal world is unreal, the worship of a personal God invalid, and the idea of the creation of the Universe a myth. All is Brahman, and Brahman is all. The application of predicates to him is illegitimate, for all predicates, even that of existence, are inadequate. He is misrepresented when in any way duality is ascribed to him. In this sense the world is maya, illusion, and the apara vidya is false. Ignorance, avidya, accounts for the illusion. But whence does it come ? In some sense Brahman is the cause of it, as the magician is of the illusion which he projects. But this is only a figure. It is an answer to a question that will not arise for him who has attained to the knowledge of the identity of the self with Brahman. The white radiance of Reality is unstained, undifferentiated.

What then of the Self, which we are told is Brahman ? This brings us to the peculiar psychology of the Vedanta. As has been said, the doctrines of karma and samsara are unquestioningly held. The soul passes through death to re-birth, determined in its course by the karma which it has made. But the soul which migrates is the soul as obscured by avidya. To this ignorance it owes the upadhis, limitations, which belong to it as a phenomenal existence. It is difficult to find an English equivalent for this word. The term ` faculties perhaps is the nearest equivalent, but even it is inadequate and misleading. These upadhis are (1) the Mukhyaprana, the vital spirit, the principle of the unconscious, vegetative life, presiding over the other organs of life ; (2) the Manas, the organ of understanding and volition, which presides over (3) the Indriyas, the organs of perception and action. These together constitute the Sukshma Sarira, the subtle body, invisible, but material. The subtle body is distinguished from the Sthula Sarïra, the gross body, which with death is decomposed, while the subtle body finds a home in another gross body. The subtle body does not change, but it is accompanied by (4) moral determination, the -treasure of karma which it has acquired. By this the next form of existence is determined. Now, in all this we have nothing that belongs to the Soul in its real nature. In common thought the Soul is so represented as the outcome of ignorance. But ignorance does not simply misrepresent the Atm an. The phenomenal soul is more than the merely passing product of a freak of the imagination from which one may turn at any time. Like the external world, it has a coherence and orderliness that prevent it from being so lightly set aside. To him who has not attained to the highest knowledge it is real.

We need not here enter into any account of the course that the soul with its upadhis takes after death—along the way of the fathers, or of the gods, or being debarred from either, according to its works and knowledge. Nor need we enter into any of the other psychological-eschatological questions connected with the state of the soul after the death of the body. Suffice it to say that the round of samsara remains for all except those who have attained the higher knowledge. He who has attained to the knowledge of the identity of the self with Brahman, which involves the distinction of the self from its upadhis and consequently its freedom from them, has thereby attained Moksha, or freedom. This is a freedom for which one has not to wait till after death, but it may be possessed even in this life.

Max Müller has drawn attention to a discussion which has been long carried on, as to whether virtue is essential for the attainment of Moksha. The question is perhaps hardly a relevant one. For, as has been pointed out in Book II, Chapter I, it is not quite just to interpret the knowledge which brings freedom as if it were of the nature of a purely intellectual intuition. If it were, then every one who yielded intellectual assent to the central propositions of the Vedanta, would thereby have freedom. The knowledge that is meant is more than that, involving activity of the will as well as of the intellect. Yet it is liable to misunderstanding, just as the Christian conception of faith is. And the result is that we have contradictory answers given to the question whether virtue is or is not necessary. There seems to be no real difficulty about the relation of good works to Moksha in the teaching of Sankara. There can be no doubt that they help a man on to the stage at which deliverance becomes possible. And they do this in two ways, by their meritoriousness leading to re-birth in more favourable forms of being, and by their moral discipline helping the soul to freedom from the tyranny of the senses. It is in the second way that the operation of good works is of greatest importance, for meritorious works are of many kinds and most of them are devoid of strictly ethical character ; and in any case it is held that the attainment of knowledge cannot be guaranteed by the performance of meritorious works. Speaking of the value of works as a means to knowledge, Deussen says of both the ` outward means to knowledge (Vedic study, sacrifice, alms, penance, fasting) and the `closer means (tranquillity, self-restraint, renunciation, patience, concentration) that they do not, strictly speaking, produce knowledge as their fruit. ` These works are only auxiliaries to the attainment of knowledge, inasmuch as the man who leads a life of holy works is not overpowered by affections such as Passion, &c. According to this their rôle in the scheme of salvation would be not so much meritorious as ascetic." But in all this it is important to remember that when Moksha has been attained a stage has been reached at which morality has no longer any meaning ; the ethical is transcended.

The distinction which has been drawn above between the meritorious and ascetic aspects of works is one which deserves somewhat closer attention. All works alike have merit or demerit in themselves, in addition to any influence they may have of an ascetic character, and so they contribute to the shaping of the ` moral determination which accompanies the subtle body. This is a fact pointing to a difficulty which obtrudes itself in many places in our account of Hindu ethics. The difficulty is connected with the dualism existing between what in later thought have been called noumena and phenomena. Let us look at the case in this way. It is taught that all works bear their appropriate fruit. But then there is undoubtedly truth in the distinction that has been drawn between the meritorious and ascetic aspects of works, and this distinction has far-reaching consequences, though here we must beware of exaggeration. Those works which are described as ascetic are also meritorious, bearing their proper fruit in future lives. But the difficulty lies in this, that not all meritorious works contribute directly, at any rate, to the production of that condition of mind in which the attainment of Moksha becomes possible. Good deeds as well as evil deeds bind man to the chain of samsara, for the fruit of all works alike has to be consumed. We see from this how ill the traditional morality has been related to fundamental philosophical conceptions. The system of dharma, with all its unethical admixtures, has been uncritically accepted. But alongside the strange medley of practices which constitute dharma there are those spiritual qualities and activities, which owe the value that is attributed to them to the relation in which they stand to the goal of all being. We have thus in a certain sense a double ethical standard. This was perhaps almost inevitable, for only an other-worldly and anti-social ethic could have been deduced from the ideal which the Vedanta presents. But it is nevertheless unsatisfactory that recognition should be given to a system of dharma which stands in no intelligible relation to the goal of all attainment.

This is a difficulty that cannot be got over by the argument that through the observance of dharma a man is helped on towards the stage at which it becomes possible for him to attain saving knowledge. It is true that the system of dharma does provide a way of life, at the end of which a man enters upon a mode of existence conducive to the attainment of the apprehension of the oneness of the self and Brahman. But the great mass of the details of dharma still remains unexplained. They certainly stand upon a different footing from the qualifications which are laid down by Sankara as necessary for him who would study the Vedanta, viz. study of the Veda, and the Four Requirements, (1) discerning between eternal and non-eternal substance, (2) renunciation of the enjoyment of reward here and in the other world, (3) the attainment of the six means—tranquillity, restraint, renunciation, resignation, concentration, belief, (4) the longing for liberation. Apart from the implications of the principle that the study of the Veda is a necessary element in the preparation of the student of the Vedanta, we have here a set of principles partly ethical in character. But such teaching serves to bring into clearer light the meaninglessness of the great mass of the details of dharma.

The difficulty may be put more palpably if we try to show how the double standard touches practical life. And here it cannot be denied that the Christian ethic is much more consistent. On most interpretations of the Christian ethic, the ideal man is one who, while having his ` citizenship in heaven, enters with the greatest zest into the social life of the world, not being conformed to it, but seeking to transform it in accordance with the heavenly pattern. According to the Vedanta, the ideal is expressed, not in the perfect fulfilment even of what are admitted to be ones social duties, but ultimately in the negation of them. Our objection to this attitude to the common life of man in the world is not that it does not promise salvation as a reward for the fulfilment of ones worldly duties, for in this it agrees with Christianity, but that the realized ideal is not expressed in the richest social life. There is thus lacking to dharma that inspiration which is necessary to the living of the best ethical life. Obedience to it is in no way an expression of mans true being. It stands largely through the promise which it holds out to the mass of men of a second best as the reward of its observance. So the Vedanta has serious limitations on its practical side, the side of it with which we are here concerned. Max Muller has clearly apprehended this weakness in it, as is seen in the following passage :

I quite admit that, as a popular philosophy, the Vedanta would have its dangers, that it would fail to call out and strengthen the manly qualities required for the practical side of life, and that it might raise the human mind to a height from which the most essential virtues of social and political life might dwindle away into mere phantoms.

We turn from the Advaitist (monistic) philosophy of the Vedanta to the Dvaitist (dualistic) philosophy of the Samkhya. Samkhya ideas are prominent in some of the Upanishads, particularly in the Katha, Svetasvatara, Prasna, and Maitrayani. The Manabharata contains in parts a great deal of Samkhya thought. We have seen that the Bhagavadgita has a form of the Samkhya as its philosophical basis, but other parts of the Manabharata also contain Samkhyan ideas. The classical expression of the Samkhya philosophy is found in the Samkhya Karika, a work which belongs probably to the first half of the fourth century A. D.

The Samkhya starts from the assumption of the validity of the doctrine of karma and satsara, and of the essential misery of the world. This misery, it is held, is threefold. There is that which is due to ourselves, that which is due to others, and that which is due to fate. The Samkhya professes to show a way of deliverance from this misery, through knowledge.

The ontology of the system is thoroughly dualistic. The phenomenal universe owes its being, or its being consciously experienced, to the coming together of two principles, Purusha, ` Soul, and Prakriti, `nature. Prakriti is also designated Pradhan, chief one, and Avyakta, unevolved. It has three Gunas, originally conceived as constituents of Prakriti, later as qualities or moods, Sattva or goodness, Rajas, or passion, and Tamas, or darkness. It is through the activity of these moods that the unevolved develops itself. Through their activity the phenomenal universe, or the universe regarded as a possible object of knowledge, takes shape. But Prakriti by itself is unconscious. Conscious experience arises only when it is illuminated by Purushaa. It is the subject for which Prakriti is the object. Purusha is described in terms not essentially different from those in which Brahman is described. The main difference between them, besides the fact that Prakriti is given an existence independent of it, is that Purusha is described as not one but many. This may seem to be no slight difference, and in truth it is not. But the practical implications of its manifoldness are not great, and the question whether it was many or one was even a subject of discussion among early thinkers. As contrasted with Prakriti, Purusha is inactive. These two are thought of as absolutely different from each other ; yet it is through their union that the empiric self arises. The union has been compared to that of a lame man with a blind man on whose shoulders he is borne. Purusha remains in the bliss of isolation till its union with Prakriti brings it into the experience of a world of objects.

Prakriti differentiates itself under the influence of Purusha. From Prakriti first is derived Buddhi, intelligence or under-standing. From it is derived Ahamkara, or individuation. From it again are derived Manas, or mind, the five buddhindriyas, or organs of perception, the five karmendriyas, or organs of action, and the five tanmatras, or fine elements. From these last, again, are derived the five mahabhutas, or gross elements. which constitute the material universe. This brief statement by itself will not be particularly intelligible, and a few words may well be said in explanation ; but even with much explanation the difficulty remains that we are dealing with terms to which there are no equivalents in English, and with conceptions some of which have nothing corresponding to them in Western thought ; and there is the added difficulty that there seems to be considerable ambiguity in the use of the terms in Samkhya writings. In the Karika, according to Professor Keith, Buddhi ` is defined as the power of decision, by which it seems to be distinguished from the mind, Manas, as the power which formulates the possible courses and carries out the decision, while on the intellectual side mind brings up the material for concepts which the, intellect formulates. But besides this psychological interpretation, buddhi and manas have also a cosmical significance to which but little attention is given in the Karika. Ahamakara, the principle of individuation. is the principle in virtue of which the belief in an ` I, which is the subject of experiences, arises. The five Buddhindriyas, the ear, the skin, the eyes, the tongue, and the nose, and the five Karmendriyas, voice, hands, feet, the organ of excretion, and the organ of generation, are, along with Manas, derived from Ahamrkara in its Sattva form, with the aid of Rajas. Similarly from it in its lamas form are derived the five Tammatras, the essences of sound, touch, colour, taste, and smell. These essences have no difference in them, but they give rise to the Mahabhutas, or gross elements, earth, water, light, air, and ether, each of which is possessed of qualities, and each of which stands in a special relation to one of the five senses.

Every living being possesses a linga deha or linga sarira, a subtle body, which migrates from one gross body to another in successive births. It is composed of Buddhi, Ahamkara, Manas, the organs of sense and action, the fine elements, and the subtle parts of the gross elements. It is this subtle body, incorporeal in character, which receives the impressions made by deeds performed in the course of its various migrations, and by these it is determined as to the form of each new embodiment. Further it is the union of the spirit with this subtle body which is the cause of all misery, and `salvation is attained only through the breaking of the union, a consummation dependent in the Samkhya, as in the Vedanta, on knowledge ; but in this case the knowledge is not of the identity of the Self with Brahman, but of the distinction between Purusha and Prakriti. When this knowledge has been attained, the illusory union which existed between them is broken ; Prakriti withdraws itself from Purusha, the latter having realized the falsity of the attribution of the adventures of Prakriti to itself. Purusha now remains in eternal isolation, and Prakriti relapses into inactivity.

It is evident that in the Samkhya as in the Vedanta, moral predicates do not apply to the state of him who has attained Moksha. With release from individuality, they no longer have any meaning. But this does not mean that morality has no significance at all. For to man in his unenlightened state moral distinctions have real value. The principles of karma and transmigration operate with absolute inflexibility. Every deed leads to its appropriate result, and the merit or demerit that one acquires brings one nearer to, or takes one farther from, a position at which final liberation becomes possible of attainment. But in this respect the teaching of the Samkhya is not different from that of the Vedanta.

There is another aspect of Samkhya ethical teaching which is more distinctive, though rather in the particular form in which it is expressed than in the practical outcome of it. In certain ways the value of virtues of an ascetic kind is emphasized. The Gunas are interpreted in one aspect in an ethical way. There are three different kinds of action springing from them. Sattva is the occasion of good conduct, which consists in kindness, control, and restraint of the organs, freedom from hatred, reflection, displaying of supernatural powers. Rajas leads to indifferent conduct, which consists in passion, anger, greed, fault-finding, violence, discontent, rudeness, shown by change of countenance. Tamas occasions bad conduct, which consists in madness, intoxication, lassitude, nihilism, devotion to women, drowsiness, sloth, worthlessness, impurity. All these actions, good and bad alike, are transcended when liberation is won, but the actions of the Sattva Guna are those which carry one on towards the point of attainment. It is when the Sattva mood is dominant that it becomes possible for the Buddhi to apprehend clearly its own nature as belonging to Prakriti, and to discriminate Prakriti from Purusha.

The Yoga must be treated along with the Samkhya, to which it is closely related. Indeed it is hardly entitled to be called a distinct system of philosophy, for in the strictly theoretical part of it it follows the Samkhya with but slight deviations. The classical expression of the Yoga is the Yogasutra of Patanjali, a writer who, until recent times, was generally identified with the grammarian of the same name, who flourished in the second century B.C. It has now been established that they were two distinct persons, and the author of the Sutras undoubtedly lived at a date several centuries later, though his precise period is still uncertain. The Yoga, as a philosophy, follows the Samkhya in all important details, as has been already said. The only important difference is that while the Samkhya is ` atheistic, the Yoga recognizes an isvara, or Lord. This may be a rather loose form of statement, for the Samkhya does not deny the existence of gods ; it fails only to find any place for a Supreme Being. In the Yoga system, on the other hand, isvara has a very definite and essential place. The accounts that are given of him are by no means consistent. It is clear that he is not thought of as in any way transcending the Samkhyan dualism of Purusha and Prakriti. He is a particular soul, As Patanjali himself puts it :

Isvara, the Lord, is a Purusha (Self) that has never been touched by sufferings, actions, rewards, or consequent dispositions.

In him the Sattva Guna shines eternally undimmed. The primacy that he possesses among Purushas is not something that he has attained, for he stands above all limitations which belong to them. More than that, it is in some sense through his will that the union of Purusha and Prakriti takes place, in other words, that the phenomenal world comes into being. And, what is equally important, he is gracious in his attitude towards men. Madhava has put the case well in the following words :

This school accepts the old twenty-five principles (of the Samkhya) Nature, &c.: only adding the Supreme Being as the twenty-sixth--a Soul untouched by affliction, action, fruit, or stock of desert, who of His own will assumed a body in order to create, and originated all secular or Vaidic traditions, and is gracious towards those living beings who are burned in the charcoal of mundane existence.

It is important to bear in mind the fact that the Lord of the Yoga occupies a place that is by no means central in the system. It is essentially a practical system, and the importance of Isvara lies in the function which he fulfils of helping in their progress towards liberation those who are devoted to him. The predominantly practical purpose of the Yoga is indicated by its very name. It is derived from the root yuj, meaning to yoke, and the sense in which it was originally used was probably that of yoking ones self or undertaking exercise with a view to the attainment of an end. The Yogasutra, accordingly, supplies us with practical directions intended to help the soul towards the attainment of the end laid down by the Samkhya. Some thinkers have misconceived its purpose, and in this they have been misled partly by a false interpretation of the term ` Yoga. They have taken the root idea to be that of joining. Even Barth fell into this error, when he spoke of Yoga as ` the state of union . Such an interpretation involves the putting of Isvara in the central place, while undoubtedly his place is alongside the other instruments through the help of which that discrimination is made possible, which is the end of Samkhya and Yoga alike--the discrimination of Purusha and Prakriti. This position is not inconsistent with the statement of Professor Berriedale Keith that in the conception of Yoga ` there seems to be an almost necessary, or at least normal, reference to a fixing of the mind on God . It is the yoking of ones self especially to this task which is the distinctive element in the teaching of the Yoga. But this is but a means to the end. In the end itself there is no place for Isvara.

The Yoga springs from a source more primitive than that of any of the other philosophies. It seeks to turn to account practices which belong to an early stage in the development of man, and which exercised a great influence in India both among the early inhabitants, and, in certain forms, among the Aryan conquerors. We have already had occasion to speak of the place of tapas in the practices followed in India in early times. It is in it especially that we have the basis of Yoga. There were two sides to the practices which this word represents. There was first of all the superstitious idea, not altogether lacking basis in fact, that through the practice of austerities of certain kinds supernatural powers could be attained. There was developed later the conception of tapas as having value as a discipline of a more properly ethical kind. It is particularly this latter purpose that is kept in view in the Yoga philosophy. Yoga has been defined as chitta-vrittinirodha, which means suppression of the modifications of the mind, and the whole course of discipline which is prescribed has this end in view. From this point of view we have in the exercises of the Yoga something that is comparable, for example, to the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola, though, of course, the goal to which the exercises are supposed to lead, and the special character of the exercises themselves, are very different.

There are eight stages in the process whereby the devotee progresses towards liberating knowledge. These stages are : (1) Varna or forbearance, which consists in ` not wishing to kill, veracity, not stealing, continence, not coveting . (2) Niyama, or religious observances, consisting in ` purifications, contentment, mortification (tapas), recitation of texts, and resignation to the Lord . (3) Asana, or posture, under which are described various postures of the body conducive to meditation. (4) Pranayama o regulation of the breath, which comprises breathing exercises, which owe their importance partly to fantastic physiological conceptions and partly to the observed psychical effects of regulation of the breath. The value attributed to this discipline is indicated by the following quotation :

When the element air is thus comprehended and its restraint is accomplished, the evil influence of works which conceal discriminating knowledge is destroyed ; hence it has been said— There is no austerity superior to regulation of the breath !

(5) Pratyahara, or restraint, which means the withdrawing of the senses from their objects, and the accommodating of them to the nature of the Buddhi. In this way the Buddhi ceases to be affected from without, and it advances towards an understanding of the true relation of Purusha and Prakriti.

(6) Dharana, or attention, which means the fixing of the mind on some object, a part of the body or something external to it, so making ` the perfect asylum the dwelling-place of his mind.

(7) Dhyana, or contemplation, ` a continued succession of thoughts, intent on objects of that kind and desiring no other .

(8) Samadhi, or meditation, or ` concentration. There is no precise equivalent for the word in English, and perhaps the expression ` meditative absorption which Max Muller uses is a better translation than either of those which we have given. There are various degrees of this meditative absorption, but we need attend to only the two great stages in its development. There is samprajnata samadhi, in which there is an object of meditation, and finally asamprajnata samadhi, ` that meditation in which distinct recognition of an object is lost. When this stage has been reached the effects of karma vanish, for ignorance has disappeared, and Buddhi is discriminated from Purusha. All causes and effects are absorbed into Prakriti, and the soul, no longer ignorantly identified with Buddhi, reaches Kaivalya, complete isolation.

Much of this has but little direct relevance to our ethical inquiry, but in all the importance of Vairagya, or freedom from passion, is emphasized. It is put alongside the exercises as a means for the attainment of the suppression of the modifications of the mind. It is not something different from all that is contained in the exercises, for in some of them there are elements which contribute directly to Vairagya. It may not be improper here to draw attention to the significance which the idea of Vairagya has not only in the Yoga, but in all the Hindu systems of thought. Max Muller says :

It is interesting to see how deeply this idea of Vairagya or dispassionateness must have entered into the daily life of the Hindus. It is constantly mentioned as the highest excellence not for ascetics only, but for everybody. It sometimes does not mean much more than what we mean by the even and subdued temper of the true gentleman, but it signifies also the highest unworldliness and a complete surrender of all selfish desires.

In the Yoga, at any rate it stands for the most complete unworldliness. There is no place for social ideals in the goal of attainment which the Yoga offers. The discipline which is inculcated has reference only to the liberation of the soul of the individual who practises it. When others do come in at all, they are not considered as members of a society of persons whose well-being is intimately bound up with mine, but as beings the injury of whom interferes with my own progress towards liberation. The social duties that are prescribed are, therefore, of a purely negative kind. They are such as abstinence from murder, falsehood, theft, unchastity, and sensuality.

In modern times it is the miraculous powers that are believed possible of attainment through Yogic practices that have been specially sought, and it has been less practised as a means to the attainment of final deliverance. In this way it may be said that it has a distinctly anti-moral tendency. The cultivation of the spiritual life is given a wrong direction when its object is the acquisition not of the social virtues but of powers by which one may be enabled to perform all kinds of incredible physical feats. At its best the Yoga has little or no place for the life of the ` good citizen and the honest neighbour, and at its worst it opens the way for all kinds of immoral frauds.

The two remaining philosophies, the Nyaya and the Vaiseshika, may be dealt with more briefly. They have been regarded as a single system of thought as have been the Samkhya and the Yoga. The date of the Nyaya-sutras of Gotama is extremely uncertain, but the sixth century has been tentatively suggested ;1 and a date not far remote from this may be assigned to the Sutras of Kanada, which are the classical expression of the Vaiseshika. The term Nyaya means ` going into a subject or ` analysis , and the term ` logic has frequently been given as its equivalent. But as Max Muller and other writers have pointed out, logic is not the sole or chief end of Gotamas philosophy, its aim being salvation, as is that of all the other darsanas. The term Vaiseshika means ` particular, and is derived from Visesha, or ` particularity, which is one of the categories under which the inquiries dealt with in the system are classified.

Both these systems teach that emancipation is to be attained through knowledge—the Nyaya, through the knowledge of the sixteen topics of Gotama, and the Vaiseshika, through know-ledge of the seven categories of Kanada. It is not necessary for us to go into the details which are contained in these Topics and Categories, for they have little importance for the student of ethics. It will suffice if a few remarks be made regarding the more general tendency of the two systems. Both set out from the assumption which they share with all the other philosophies, that all individual existence is evil, and that salvation means freedom from the bondage of individual existence. It is in their accounts of the particular character of the bondage in which man finds himself, of the method of release, and of the nature of the positive state which is the goal, that the various systems differ from each other. The Nyaya and the Vaiseshika differ from both the Vedanta and the Samkhya in holding that deliverance is attained through that knowledge which makes manifest the essential difference of soul and body. The union of soul and body is the occasion of the evil which besets our life, and if the difference between them be apprehended, then the individual will be freed from the sufferings which the union with the body occasions. Knowledge of the truth leads to the destruction of desire and aversion. Gotama calls the goal to which knowledge leads, Nihsreyasa or Non plus ultra, or Apavarga, bliss. This is a state not positively defined. It is sufficient that deliverance is attained from what is positive evil.

There is little in these systems that is of importance for the student of ethics—not in the Topics of Gotama, or in the Categories of Kapada, or even in the atomic cosmogony of the latter. We have the same general attitude as in the other philosophies to the great questions that gather round the conduct of life in the world, and the way of deliverance. And the practical influence of the systems at the present day is so much less than that of the three great systems with which we have just dealt, that we seem to be justified in passing over them with this brief mention.

These great systems of thought, differing in many things, have some features in common which have deep significance ethically. As regards the goal of all attainment, it will be seen that the practical consequences of the various ways in which it is conceived are the same. Profound differences may be discovered in the nature of the end in itself as it is under-stood by different schools. From the metaphysical standpoint there may be great differences between the various conceptions of the state of the emancipated soul—as realizing its oneness with Brahman, or as dwelling in isolation from Prakriti, or as freed from the trammels of the body—but all alike involve the same attitude towards the phenomenal world. To put it briefly, for him who has attained to the philosophical stand-point, to whatever school he may belong, the ethical is transcended. The way of works is a lower way, which has a certain relative value, leading to temporal rewards. But the philosopher is on the quest of deliverance from work and reward alike. This is a point of view which will be examined more closely later.

There is another important feature of the philosophies, not unconnected with this, that all of them, even the Yoga in a way, teach the doctrine of salvation through knowledge. This is a feature that may strike us as surprising even after our study of the Upanishads, for it is a way of looking at the matter very foreign to the Western mind. We have to bear in mind the fact that Hindu religious and philosophical thought starts out from presuppositions of a kind very different from those of Christian thought, and indeed of Western thought generally. The great root evil in man has been understood to be not sin or moral evil, but ignorance or intellectual error. This accounts for the various evils to which flesh is heir. There is no place in the philosophies for a blessedness that is the inheritance of those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. The only blessedness to which that could lead would be a temporary and unsatisfying one. Not, let it be noted, that sin is not evil and to be condemned, and that righteousness is not good and to be praised. To charge Indian philosophers with such views would be as unfair as it would be to say that in Western thought ignorance is not regarded as an evil. But whereas in the West the tendency has been to regard moral evil as the root of all evil, the Hindu has regarded ignorance as the fundamental evil. As Deussen has put it, speaking with special reference to the Vedanta :

Christianity sees the essence of man in will, Brahmanism in knowledge; therefore for the former, salvation consists in a transformation of the will, a new birth, whereby the old becomes the new man ; for the latter in a transformation of knowledge, in the dawning of the consciousness that one is not an individual but Brahman, the totality of all Being.

The antithesis here is between Christianity and Brahmanism, but if we substitute the term ` Western thought for ` Christianity there would still be much truth in it. Western thought has seldom advanced such claims for knowledge as has Indian philosophy, and it has even found it difficult to grasp the Indian point of view. The deeper implications of this will be discussed later, but it is well that attention should be drawn, in connexion with the philosophies, to a feature so characteristic of Indian thought.

Lastly, it may be observed here that so far as morality is recognized at all in the philosophical schools, it is a morality for which they do not supply the norm. They give us no principle by reference to which moral duties may be determined. This statement may require some qualification, for, as we have seen, we do have the basis for ascetic doctrine in certain forms. But for social morality there is no basis, and where it is enjoined it is on grounds that have no direct relation to what may be called the absolute good.

These criticisms do not apply in their entirety to one formulation of the Vedanta philosophy which we have reserved for brief separate treatment. Ramanuja, a South Indian thinker of the twelfth century, interpreted the Vedanta Sutras on lines different from Satikaracharyas presentation. Where Sankaracharya found an absolute monism, Ramanuja found what has been called Visishta-Advaita, or qualified monism. The motive to this interpretation was partly intellectual and partly practical. The great stream of philosophical thought which comes most clearly to view in the Upanishads contained within it various currents. Philosophical thinkers, bound by the sacred traditions, were able to exercise considerable liberty in their speculations through availing themselves of those currents which were set in the direction of their own principles and conveniently ignoring the others. Modern scholars are generally agreed, though they are by no means unanimous, that Sankaracharya laid hold on what are really the dominant ideas of the Upanishads, but other thinkers were able to find texts enough to justify their own philosophical doctrines. Ramanuja was able to find a basis for a philosophy in which, while the absolute supremacy of Brahman is maintained, the doctrine of maya is rejected, and the reality of the world and of individual souls is admitted. In this he was partly deter-mined by certain important religious influences. There had been for long in South India a strong Vaishnavite movement of a definitely theistic character, and Ramanuja was caught up in the full stream of this movement? He is known in the history of religion as one of the great exponents of bhakti, and as a successor of the great unknown who wrote the Bhagavadgita, and the creative theologian of the Sri-Vaishnava sect. The ardent devotion with which his heart glowed for God in the form of Vishnu Narayana was the expression of a religious experience with which the Advaitism of Sañkaracharya was incompatible.

Ramanujas philosophical position may be briefly summarized. Brahman is existence, knowledge, infinite. He is the cause of the creation, sustenance, and dissolution of the world, not merely the efficient but also the material cause. There is no existence without and independent of him on which he operates in his work of producing the world of things and of individuals ; all existence is the body of Brahman. The whole Universe undergoes periodical dissolutions, in which matter and individual souls are resolved into a subtle condition, from which they again evolve when the process of recreation begins. But they are in their essence eternal, having this eternity as modes of Brahman. The position of Ramanuja is thus distinguished from that of the Samkhya thinkers, who hold to the independent existence of Prakriti as the basis of the world of experience. At the same time the advaitist distinction of para vidya and apara vidya ceases to apply, for the world is not the outcome of ignorance, but is real. Provision is thus made for a relationship between the soul and God which is foreign to the thought of Sankaracharya. God is knowable, not merely by that lower knowledge which obscures his real nature, but truly. There is no validity in the distinction between the God of religion and the Absolute of philosophical thought, between Isvara and Brahman. It is through knowledge that deliverance is attained, but there are other elements in the case which serve to show the profound difference between it and the doctrine of Sankaracharya. According to the latter, deliverance is found in an intuition in which the distinction of subject and object is overcome. According to Ramanuja, as will be clear from what has already been said, this distinction cannot be overcome, and the interpretation of the text, Thou art that, as implying identity with a non-qualified Brahman, is unsound. Brahman has various qualities, and it is noteworthy that in his relations with individuals he is gracious. In his essential nature he is not the undifferenced Absolute, but God, living and active, the Supreme Person, on whose favour or disfavour depend the fruits of karma.

Since bondage springs from ajnana in the form of an eternal stream of karman, it can be destroyed only through knowledge of the kind maintained by us. Such knowledge is to be attained only through the due daily performance of religious duties as prescribed for a mans caste and asrama, such performance being sanctified by the accompanying thought of the true nature of the Self, and having the character of propitiation of the highest Person.

All this involves, on the philosophical side, an entirely different doctrine of the nature of reality, and, on the religious side, an entirely different conception of the relationship of the individual with God. It is from the latter point of view that we see most clearly the practical and ethical outcome of the teaching of Ramanuja. The whole round of religious observance is brought into close relation with the process whereby release is attained, as not simply the scaffolding by the aid of which one is enabled to reach the stage at which vidya becomes possible, but as an essential part of the process, and the hiatus between the religion of common life and the higher religion by which one is carried on to the ultimate goal is overcome. The study of the Karma-Mimamsa is, accordingly, necessary for him who would attain to true knowledge. It is a preparation for the higher study of the Sariraka-Mimamsa, the last part of the Vedas. It is necessary, because, while the end is release from nescience, samsara and karma are not unreal as they are represented to be in the teaching of Sankara. They are real, and their continuance depends on the will of Brahman. So the knowledge which brings release, or which is release, is not of the nature of a merely intellectual intuition ; it is attainable only through the divine favour.

The Vedanta texts . . . give instruction on a subject which transcends the sphere of all the other means of knowledge, viz. the highest Person who is free from all shadow even of imperfection, and a treasure house as it were of all exalted qualities in their highest state of perfection ; on sacrifices, gifts, oblations, which are helpful towards the propitiation of that Person ; on praise, worship, and meditation, which directly propitiate him ; and on the rewards which he, thus propitiated, bestows, viz. temporal happiness and final Release.

There are thus two elements in the knowledge which brings final release, knowledge of the true nature of Brahman, and bhakti, which involves the ability to realize continually the immediate presence of Brahman. The performance of works prescribed by the Vedas for the different asramas is therefore necessary both .as an intellectual discipline, and as a discipline which contributes to the purification of the heart. Details are given of the conditions which help to the attainment of knowledge thus understood. He mentions the three conditions laid down in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad,, iii. 5, viz. learning, childlikeness, and sageness, and following the Vakyakãra, he gives another statement of seven conditions, (I) keeping the body unpolluted by unclean food, (2) absence of attachment, (3) repeated reflection, (4) performance of religious works, (5) good conduct, (6) freedom from dejection, (7) freedom from exultation. This shows that the favour of God is not something that is arbitrarily bestowed, but that is to be obtained through the observance of conditions intellectual, moral, emotional, and ceremonial. Knowledge, as thus under-stood, is extremely pleasing to God. It destroys the effect of past sins, and even of good works, but as the latter help one in the attainment of knowledge, it is not till death that their effects are destroyed. The soul which has attained this experience enters at the death of the body into that state in which he is most truly himself. Individuality remains, consciousness widens out into omniscience, and there is made possible for the soul the fullest realization of all its wishes. But most important of all is the communion that the soul enjoys with God, with whom it is bound by ties of the most intimate love.

This brief summary will serve to show that we have in the teaching of Ramanuja a very different interpretation of the classical texts from that which we have in Sankaracharya. Whether it is as faithful to the sense of these texts is a question which we cannot here discuss. It certainly is an interpretation which is more in keeping with the needs of ordinary men, furnishing them with a philosophy of religion and of life that gives some meaning and direction to the purposes which govern their daily activities. How far it provides the basis for a really satisfactory ethic is the question to which we must now direct our attention.

It is obvious that some of the main objections which were offered from the ethical side to the philosophy of advaitism have no application here. There is recognition of the worth of individuality which gives to the activity of the individual a significance infinitely greater than it could have in that system. There is the denial of the doctrine of maya, with the determinism which this doctrine involves, viewed from the ethical standpoint. The question of freedom in the sense in which it has been raised in modern ethical discussions hardly arises in Indian philosophy, but there is in the writings of Ramanuja some recognition of individual freedom. And there is the clear presentation of the idea that the knowledge which is deliverance is not merely an awakening to the nature of reality to which one was blinded by ignorance, but that something is actually accomplished through activity on the part of the individual, and that activity enters essentially into the process by which he is led to the attainment of the true end of his being. In short, the individual finds himself when deliverance is attained, not in a state in which individuality is transcended, but in a state in which the limitations by which in normal human life it is restricted, are removed. Recognition is accordingly given to the importance of certain distinctively ethical qualities. Such are evenness of temper, absence of pride, self-control, and the like. These, it is true, had a place in advaitist teaching, but they have a deeper meaning and greater value when thought of as in some way contributing to the shaping of an indestructible individuality.

Where the philosophy of Ramanuja is weakest is in its failure to provide a place for society. Like the other systems of philosophy it has the individual and his deliverance in view, and the idea of a city of God does not seem to have been conceived. We shall have occasion to remark in later parts of our discussion that this is one of the great weaknesses of Hindu ethical thinking generally, that it has left society unphilosophized, tradition being the guide in a realm of human experience which should have been related to reality as a whole. The outcome in Ramanuja is that his lofty teaching regarding the relationship of the soul to God has not as its counterpart any adequate teaching regarding the relation of individual to individual. It is a relationship which is incompatible with worldliness and self-seeking, and as such it is a purifying influence in the life of the individual, but it does not give to man a principle which will guide him in his social relation-ships. Indeed, if we are to accept the accounts which have been given of the actual religious devotion which the influence of Ramanuja inspired while he lived, we shall find that it expressed itself at times in acts morally reprehensible. The story is told, to take but one example, of how a woman sold her honour that she might obtain the means of entertaining Ramanuja. Here is her line of reasoning :

To honour a guest like Ramanuja, I will even sin. St. Parakala, in the old days, robbed and cheated people in order to serve God. He ensconced himself in fastnesses, waylaid men, stripped them of their goods, and offered them to God. Even Lord Ranga himself was once eased by him of all his precious jewels; and with them feasts were given to the faithful. Creatures whirl round the wheel of Samsara, but the Guru comes with his teachings, and extricates them from this ; and gives them God. To repay the Guru for this is impossible. Hence I will even sell my body and worship him therewith. For God himself has said :—` If for My sake thou sinnest, it becometh merit; all merit without reference to Me becometh sin.

Let it be observed that here we are far from the idea of an impure worship of God, but we have a worship which can be followed at the expense of the neglect of social duty. A couplet from Whittier comes to ones mind in this connexion :

Thou well canst spare a love of Thee That ends in hate of man.

This does not indeed end in hate of man, but it puts devotion to God, and to the Guru as the representative of God, in a false relation to duty to man.



Home | More Articles | Email: info@oldandsold.com