( Originally Published 1922 )
IT might, at first sight, seem reasonable, from the point of view of history, to pass next to the great speculative movement, the chief records of which are preserved in the Upanishads ; since that movement clearly appeared before the Hindu law of conduct—dharma, was codified in the existing Sutras ; but the truth is that the dharma took shape at an earlier date than the philosophy of the Upanishads ; and that it was side by side, and in a long process which lasted some three centuries, that the body of law and the body of thought and conviction gradually won their way to adequate expression in literature. The actual working out of the constituents of Hindu dharma took place in the minds of Brahman priests and teachers in the age of the Brahmanas.
Further, we are still in the realm of authority, and it is to authority that appeal is continually made in the literature which we propose now to study. Action precedes reflection, and the great mass of the rules which we shall find to have grown up in India are not the expression of ideals conceived by speculative thinkers, but, in the main, the outcome of custom, caste, and karma. At the same time, it is not pretended that speculation exercised no influence in their development. All that is maintained is that the actual social life of India took the form in which we propose now to study it in great measure independently of the currents of philosophical thought which were then in process. At all times speculation has been for the few. The multitude have been content to accept authoritative guidance for the conduct of their lives.
We have seen how willingly the people have submitted to the imposition of sacrificial and magical customs. It has not been necessary for our purpose to deal with that subject except in a general way. Nor is it necessary for us to deal in detail with the developments that took place in connexion with such practices in later times. But there appeared in post-Vedic times a whole department of literature in which is gathered up all that had been taught and accepted in Vedic times regarding sacrifice, ritual, and practical life generally. For the expression of all this in concise form, so that it might be as little burdensome as possible to the memories of those who had to remember it, a new literary form was invented—the sutra. This is a literary form to which we have nothing parallel in our literature. The word itself is derived from the root siv = to sew, the word sutra itself meaning a thread. The term sutra is applied to a particular kind of short aphorism or rule, or to a book of such aphorisms, and the name may have come to be so applied either because each aphorism is a short line, or because the whole forms a string of aphorisms. In any case we have in the sutra-literature an example of extraordinary brevity in expression ; into each single line there is compressed what would require a long sentence for expression in ordinary literary form. As Professor Macdonell has put it, the sutra ` is so compressed that the wording of the most laconic telegram would often appear diffuse compared with it. And he also refers to an aphorism, according to which the composers of grammatical Sutras delight as much in the saving of a short vowel as in the birth of a son.
The sutra-form may have appeared about 500 B. C., and the first great class of sutras is the Srauta Sütras, so called because based on sruti or revelation, in which are gathered up what is taught in the Brahmanas regarding the performance of the greater sacrifices. Then, also dealing with ritual, but with the ritual of the rites to be performed in the household from day to day, we have the Grihya Sutras. These are based on smriti or tradition. Then there is the great class of sistras, which will demand our closer attention, those known as the Dharma Sutras, dealing with dharma, a term to be explained presently. These too are based on smriti. Various other classes of works were produced in the sutra form, but these we may pass over for the present.
We may pass over the Srauta Sutras, and there is not much in the Grihya Sutras that need detain us ; and what there is that has any significance for our study may be taken in connexion with other aspects of dharma. In the Grihya Sutras and the Dharma Sutras together we have an extraordinarily interesting and valuable source of information regarding the practices, ritual and ethical, followed by the people of ancient India in their daily lives. These works show but little evidence of the philosophical speculations that were agitating many minds at the time. Not that their authors were necessarily ignorant of, or uninfluenced by, the philosophical thought of their time ; but these speculations were for the few, not for the many. For the many the old polytheistic faith, with all its rites and sacrifices and all the rest, had its value and its truth.
Passing from this general view of the character of the Sutra literature, we may now try to define the term dharma, which is the subject of the class of sutras with which we are now specially concerned. It is a word which is exceedingly difficult to translate, and one of the consequences of this has been that unscholarly and unscrupulous writers have sometimes used misleading English equivalents in their endeavours to establish their own theories. A recent writer, for example, says that dharma means the Law of Being, and that a mans dharma is his Ideal. The term has again been variously translated as Religion, Virtue, Law, and Duty. Now, all these words convey something of the meaning, but to use any one of them as an equivalent for it is highly misleading. Much confusion might be avoided if it were recognized once for all that the term dharma, as used at any rate in the Dharma Sutras, was applied to a condition of things to which modern terms like religion, virtue, and law are strictly speaking inapplicable. In India in those days no clear distinction was drawn between moral and religious duty, usage, customary observance, and law, and dharma was the term which was applied to the whole complex of forms of conduct that were settled or established. This is a fact which should contain no difficulty for those who have made even the slightest and most superficial study of the origin of moral ideas ; yet it is one of those *facts that many of those who have undertaken to expound Indian thought have failed to apprehend.
Various Vedic schools had their own bodies of sutras, of which the Srauta Sutra formed the first and largest part ; then came the Grihya Sutra, and then the Dharma Sutra. The whole body of Sutras connected with religion belonging to a particular school was called the Kalpa Sutra of that school. The Dharma Sutras of only three Vedic schools have been preserved to us, viz. those of the Apastambas, Hiranyakesins, and Baudhayanas. These all belong to the Taittiriya division of the Black Yajurveda. Along with these we must take the Dharma Sutra of Gautama and the Dharma Sutra of Vasishtha ; they are not connected with other sutras in a Ka pa Sutra, but they must have belonged to a Vedic school. Then more important perhaps than all the other writings that deal with dharma is the Manava Dharma Sastra, which has furnished scholars with a problem of very special interest. Before the introduction into India of the methods of Western scholarship, Hindu scholars universally regarded this work as containing the teaching of Manu, ` the son of the Self-existent, who received it direct from the Creator, Brahman. Modern scholars are now agreed that the Manaval Dharma Sastra is a recast of an old Manava Dharma Sutra, a lost law-book of the school of the Manavans, one of the families which gave themselves to the study of Vedic science. This Dharma Sastra has been given a position of special authority by Hindus.
It must not be supposed that this short list exhausts the catalogue of legal literature, which is very extensive. There is, for example, the very important Vaishnava Dharma Sastra or Vishnu Smriti (The Institutes of Vishnu), which attained its present form probably about A. D. WO ; and many other Dharma Sastras of later date. A full discussion of the legal literature is to be found in the first part of Jollys Recht und Sitte.
There are many problems of a literary and critical kind connected with this dharma literature. These need not detain us here, for in discussing the ethical ideas embodied in it, within the limits which must here be observed, it will be impossible to do more than draw attention to certain features that characterize this whole class of literature, without entering into details in which different writings reveal peculiarities or inconsistencies with each other. In any case, it is important to note that the various Dharma Sutras, while teaching much that would be generally accepted, in many details set forth teaching that would not be accepted outside their own school, or at any rate, which would not be universally accepted. In matters of detail each school freely criticizes the others. The Manava Dharma Sastra probably owes its authority partly to the fact that the compiler contrived to combine in it elements taken from other Dharma Sutras besides that on which it is directly based, so producing a very compendious though not always self-consistent work on dharma. Its authority was still more strongly established as an outcome of the fiction by which it came to be connected not with the Manavans but with Manu, the father of the human race.
The Law Books are among the most remarkable witnesses to the place that has been occupied by authority in the direction of the Indian mind. The same might be said in a sense regarding the Brahmanas, but there we have seen authority operative in a more limited sphere. The Grihya Sutras and the Dharma Sutras presuppose the development, largely under the direction of the priests, of an extraordinary complex of ritual and ethical forms to be observed in the daily life of the people. From the ethical point of view this is perhaps the most important aspect of this whole class of literature. So it is well that we should consider the peculiar character of this authority and the ways in which it is supported and maintained. These are two tasks which cannot be clearly separated from each other, but we shall endeavour as clearly as possible to indicate (1) the way in which the conduct of the individual was determined by authority, and (2) the means by which that authority was maintained.
Looking first at the peculiar character of the authority which determined the coursé of conduct, even the most casual reader must be impressed by the way in which the individuals course is mapped out for him. It may be doubted whether any other religious system has ever provided instructions for the conduct of life that have been so full and so detailed. The task that was set the individual may not unjustly be likened to that of the child who is given line pictures which he may colour for himself. He may vary the colouring according to his fancy, but the outline is provided. Perhaps this figure errs on the side of exaggerating the extent to which the individual is free. For on all sides and at every point the individual finds prescriptions of which he is the subject or the object. Before he is born, dharma has taken to do with him. Of the forty samskaras or sacraments which are prescribed in connexion with the more important changes in ones life, there are some that are prescribed for performance before ones birth and others after ones death. The ethical significance of this in itself is not great, but it is symptomatic of the way in which life has been overlaid with ritual. Then there is caste, with all the restrictions that it involves in so many different ways—in matters of food and social intercourse, occupation, and indeed in almost all departments of human activity. Then there are the four asramas, now very definitely fixed. Life has become definitely divided into stages, each with its own complex of duties, and indeed there are few situations in any stage of life in connexion with which the duty of the individual is not prescribed. It is particularly in the teaching regarding caste and the a. ramas that the static character of Indian society is manifested. It is unnecessary for us here to examine the details of these prescriptions, for that would carry us into spheres that have no directly ethical significance, but it is desirable that we should give some attention to the ways in which through the operation of these institutions the activity of the individual was limited.
Taking caste first, we find that the peculiar position and functions of each of the four caste divisions are frequently explained with great fullness. The Manava Dharma-sastra, in the form in which it has come down to us, prescribes the forms of livelihood to be followed by the members of the different castes, and to this account there are parallels in other Sastras.
But in order to protect this Universe, He, the most resplendent one, assigned separate (duties and) occupations to those who sprang from his mouth, arms, thighs, and feet.
To Brahmans he assigned teaching and studying (the Veda), sacrificing for their own benefit and for others, giving and accepting (of alms).
The Kshatriya he commanded to protect the people, to bestow gifts, to offer sacrifices, to study (the Veda), and to abstain from attaching himself to sensual pleasures.
The Vaisya to tend cattle, to bestow gifts, to offer sacrifices, to study (the Veda), to trade, to lend money, and to cultivate land.
One occupation only the Lord prescribed to the Südra, to serve meekly even these other three castes.
But this is merely an outline prescribing in general terms the kinds of occupations which the different classes are to follow. There is an almost infinite number of regulations providing for the behaviour of the individual, prescribing the conduct which he is to follow in many relations within the caste, specifying offences which are to be punished by expulsion from the caste and penances that are to be performed with a view to readmission, showing the worth and standing of the different castes in relation to each other and the respect due by the lower to the higher. In a great multitude of subtle ways the place of the individual in the social organism is defined for him. Let us note only a few points by way of illustration.
The Brahmans stand at the head of the organization, and the position and authority accorded to them are very remark-able :
Know that a Brahman of ten years and a Kshatriya of a hundred years stand to each other in the relation of father and son ; but between these two the Brahman is the father.
The Kshatriya class, as the class which protects the world, is also to be held in high honour, though in honour much inferior to the Brahman.
A king and a Brahman deeply versed in the Vedas, these two uphold the moral order in the world.
The almost immeasurable superiority of the Brahman even to the Kshatriya is partly expressed in the marvellous powers attributed to the Brahman :
Let him (the king) not, though fallen into the deepest distress, provoke Brahmans to anger ; for they, when angered, could instantly destroy him together with his army and vehicles.
The Vaisyas, the workers and traders, come next to the Kshatriyas. Their duties are of a humbler, though necessary kind, and as the performers of these duties they are sometimes classed with the Sudras. If these two castes swerved from their duties the whole world would be thrown into confusion. But there is this vital distinction between the Vaisyas and the Sudras, that the former are classed with the Brahmans and Kshatriyas as twice-born, i. e. they may undergo the ceremony of initiation which marks what is called the second birth, with all the social and religious privileges for which it qualifies one ; while the Sudras are cut off from these privileges. Only certain parts of the sacred law are to be fulfilled by them ; they may not hear, learn, recite, or teach the Veda ; and they are subjected to all manner of other disabilities. They are a despised, worthless, and unlucky class, created by the Self-Existent to be the slave of the Brahman .
That Kingdom where Sudras are very numerous, which is infested by atheists and destitute of twice-born (inhabitants), soon entirely perishes, afflicted by famine and disease.
These few quotations will perhaps serve to convey some meagre idea of the extraordinary way in which by caste the position and functions of the individual are determined for him.
Take all this in connexion with the rules prohibiting the mixing of castes, threatening terrible punishments and judgements to persons having marital intercourse with persons of other castes, and covering with shame the offspring of such mixed unions, and we realize how extraordinarily organized is the society which the Law Books represent. In any kind of society it is obviously essential that there should be some sort and degree of fixity in the matter of institutions and forms of social behaviour. But in any progressive society there must be liberty of action on the part of the individual, within limits ; there must be for him the possibility of escape from the circle into which he is born into another and wider one. In all social life, as in all social theory, we see the struggle between the two tendencies, the tendency to change and the tendency to con-serve, and it is always difficult to give to each that measure of influence which shall be best for society. The spirit of change run riot means social chaos, while the spirit of conservatism in its extreme expression means the suppression of most of the highest capacities of human nature. The latter is of course the less dangerous tendency in its extreme expression. Any kind of order is better than no order. More than that there is something comfortable in having ones position exactly defined for one and ones work marked out ; and so far as this work is of a mechanical kind there is the possibility of acquiring great perfection in the performance of it. It may be only after the lapse of centuries that such a society may wake up and realize that while it has stood still the world has marched on, and that it is not abreast of the conditions now existing in the wider world.
But we have still to consider another very important feature of social organization. In the later Law Books the course of the individual is further marked out for him in the definiteness that now belongs to the stages of human life which had been laid down in less definite form in the Upanishads. This is one point in which Manu and the later Law Books represent a more advanced development than the Upanishads and the Sutras. These stages or asramas are now definitely four, and much space is devoted to accounts of the duties belonging to each.
After initiation the boy goes to a guru from whom he receives instruction for a period which in different cases varies considerably.
The vow (of studying) the three Vedas under a teacher must be kept for thirty-six years, or for half that time, or for a quarter, or until the (student) has perfectly learned them.
During the period of this study the student lives with his teacher in a position of subordination to him, which has the greatest importance for the fixing of the boys character. To this more strictly moral aspect of the education given in these schools we shall return presently.
When the young man has finished his course of studies with the guru, he becomes a snataka, one who has bathed, and he is ready to enter the next asrama, that of grihastha or householder. The duties of the householder are expounded in great detail. In the Upanishads, as we shall see, there seems to be reason for holding that the position of the house-holder was recognized by way of concession to actual fact, it being always made very clear that the life which he lived was of a lower kind, and of value only as a stage through which one might pass on his way to a higher condition of life. The point of view of the Law Books is different. They offer directions for the conduct of life in the world in all its stages, and it is not strictly their business to discuss the relative values of the various stages. But at the same time we note a tendency to ascribe greater value to the life of the householder than in the case of the Upanishads. Sometimes it is boldly declared that the order of householders is the best.
As all creatures subsist by receiving support from air, even so the members of all orders subsist by receiving support from the house-holder.
Because men of the three other orders are daily supported by the householder with gifts of sacred knowledge and food, therefore the order of the householder is the most excellent order.
So also :
The householder offers sacrifices, the householder practises austerities, the householder distributes gifts ; therefore is the order of householders the first of all.
In the light of such statements it might seem that the value of the other two i ramas has become seriously impaired. But we make a great mistake if we look for consistency of thought in these ancient Indian writings. In the Law Books the subject is the conduct of life in all the variety of conditions under which life is lived. The student in his preparation for life, and the householder in his actual performance of the duties of life demanded most attention. But the hermit and the ascetic had also been given a place in the Indian scheme of things, a place determined very largely by a philosophy which relegates the worldly life to a position of comparative worthlessness. Yet these orders were there, and the exponents of dharma legislated for them as for the other orders. They seem to have departed very largely from the idea that the last of the four orders has any exclusive value as a means to the attainment of deliverance. The idea is rather that deliverance is the outcome of the observance of all the duties belonging to the four orders.
If he lives in all these four according to the rules of the law, without allowing himself to be disturbed by anything, he will obtain salvation.
On the other hand there are still evidences of belief in the greater value of the ascetic life as a means to the attainment of deliverance. It is laid down, for example, that, immediately on the completion of his studies, a man may become a sannyasi, without having passed through the stages of the grihastha and the vanaprastha. Apastamba says :
Only after having fulfilled the duties of that (order of students) he shall go forth as an ascetic, remaining chaste.
On the contrary, it is said in the Manava Dharma Sastra:
When he has paid the three debts (i. e. to the sages, the manes, and the gods), let him apply his mind to the attainment of final liberation ; he who seeks it without having paid his debts sinks downwards.
Having studied the Vedas in accordance with the rule, having begotten sons according to the sacred law, and having offered sacrifices according to his ability, he may direct his mind to (the attainment of) final liberation.
This contradiction reveals the confusion of mind that existed and that still exists in India regarding the value of the ordinary round of human life. But it seems to be clear that the tendency in the Law Books is to push the last two orders into a position of less importance. At the same time, they are two of the four orders, and their duties have to be defined, and at times language similar to that of the Upanishads is used regarding the value of the life lived in the fourth order.
We shall not here enter into the details of the life lived in the third and fourth orders, which is expounded with great fullness in the Law Books. It is of importance, however, that we should note the significance of the fact that the ascetic ideals which are embodied in the life of these orders have so important a place assigned to them. Whether or not the life of the householder is the best, the individual comes at least at the end of his life to a stage when he should forsake it for another form of life free from worldly ties.
We have thus seen in a general way how through the institution of caste, and, in a less marked way perhaps, through the institution of the asramas, the course of the individual is defined for him. In all this the idea of authority is fundamental. The details of conduct are not organized by reference to any end in the pursuit of which the individual can exercise freedom. There is an end, the same end as we find to be given intellectual formulation in the Upanishads, but the individual does not by reference to it judge the value of forms of conduct or discover new duties. These are laid down for him once for all, and his business is unquestioningly to fulfil them. When the voice. of authority is silent there is no other principle of guidance except the inclination of the individual. This comes out in various of the Law Books, and may be quoted in the words of the Manava Dharma Sastra in the form in which we now have it :
The whole Veda is the (first) source of the sacred law, next the tradition and the virtuous conduct of those who know the (Veda further), also the customs of holy men, and (finally) self-satisfaction.
We come now to the second part of the inquiry which we proposed, viz. the means by which this authority was maintained. This involves a discussion of the system of education described in the literature which we are now studying. The early Indian thinkers realized as clearly as Plato did the importance of education as an instrument for the moulding of the minds and characters of the guardians of the social order, though unlike Plato they busied themselves more with the practice than the theory. While we are concerned here with the ethical significance of this system of education, we must not imagine that it was only in this aspect of it that it was important. In the Upanishads we shall see how the intellectual acumen of youths of ability was developed, and into what amazing flights of philosophical speculation they were fitted to soar. But criticism was not turned upon life or upon current morality as in the case of so much of the speculation of ancient Greece and modern Europe. It was turned upon life in the sense that the illusoriness of it was the constant theme of their thoughts, and it was turned on current morality in the sense that it was held that it had no longer any validity for him who had attained the goal. But it was not questioned whether the current morality was valid for those who live in the world. For them the Vedas as expounded in the words and lives of holy men was all the guide they needed.
Looking then at the ethical significance of this system of education, we cannot fail to be impressed with the wonderful way in which it was fitted to maintain the existing order. This is seen above all in the place that was given to the Guru. No teachers were ever invested with such authority or regarded with such reverence. The Guru is to be venerated above all other men.
Of him who gives natural birth and him who gives the knowledge of the Veda, the giver of the Veda is the more venerable father; for the birth for the sake of the Veda ensures eternal rewards both in this life and after death.
In all his behaviour in the presence of the Guru the pupil is to show to him the greatest deference. He is to come near to his teacher with the same reverence as to a deity, and many instructions are given as to the manner in which he is to bear himself in his presence. He must not speak to him first, and in addressing him he must always use some designation of honour. He must not sit when the Guru is standing ; he must not sit in such a position that the wind blows from him towards the Guru ; even when the Guru is not looking towards him, he must keep his face turned towards the Guru. He must in all things be obedient to the Guru. He must never sleep when the Guru is awake, and his first duty in the morning after he has performed his devotions is to go to the Guru and embrace his feet. . . These are but some of the many injunctions laid upon the student touching his relation to his teacher. To the Gurus wife an honour and deference also very profound are to be shown. In other ways also he is subjected to rigid discipline. Chastity and abstention from various kinds of food are imposed upon him. So also he must avoid various kinds of amusement. He must not injure any living creature, he must be truthful, and he must refrain from strife. He must sleep on the ground and he must beg his food, eating only what the Guru leaves for him of what he collects. The youth was thus subjected to a discipline extending over many years, the importance of which as a means of rendering him amenable to authority it is impossible to exaggerate. We are all familiar with the principle involved in this kind of education. The idea is the same as that which is expressed in the education which is still given as a preparation for service in some religious orders, and we know how through such a system of education the mind and character of a youth can be moulded. But it is a training not in self-reliance and independence of judgement, but in subservience to authority and reverence for what is established just because it is established.
Plato says in the Republic that recourse must be had to fables in the training of the youth of his ideal state in order that they may be brought to realize that the social class in which they find themselves was not arbitrarily chosen for them but was theirs before birth. It is interesting to observe how what Plato recommends in theory was followed by the Indians in practice. Citizens, says Plato, ` we shall say to them in our tale, you are brothers, yet God has framed you differently. Some of you have the power of command, and in the composition of these he has mingled gold, wherefore also they have the greatest honour ; others he has made of silver, to be auxiliaries ; others again who are to be husbandmen and craftsmen he has composed of brass and iron.
He little knew that in a distant part of the world a similar tale was actually being taught and was being believed. The account of the origin of the four caste-divisions given in the last book of the Rig Veda is repeated in the Manava Dharma Sastra and in many other places.
For the sake of the prosperity of the worlds, he caused the Brahmana, the Kshatriya, the Vaisya, and the Sudra to proceed from his mouth, his arms, his thighs, and his feet.
The fixity of caste distinctions does not, however, depend solely on the acceptance of such a fable. In the Law Books the belief is held with the greatest firmness that the order into which one is born is determined by ones conduct in former states of existence. The fable served only to explain a system now deeply rooted in the social habits of the people and in their ways of thought, and through the discipline to which the youth was subjected by his Guru, more than through any other single means, the habit of submission to the established order of things was developed and maintained.
We have already said that the term dharma covers not only ethical conduct but the whole conglomeration of forms of conduct that were settled or established. As a rule ethical injunctions are interwoven almost inextricably with others that have no ethical value. Let us look at some of the ways in which this is seen. We may draw attention in the first place to the way in which moral distinctions are distorted by considerations connected with caste. Apart altogether from his moral character the Brahman is put on a pedestal, while the low caste man on the other hand is despised.
A Brahman, be he ignorant or learned, is a great divinity.
The very name of the Sudra, on the other hand, must indicate contempt. Again, the value attached to knowledge of the Vedas as bringing merit to the Brahman serves to emphasize the unethical position which is assigned to him. The study of the Vedas is said to destroy guilt ; it leads to greatness and fame ; and the neglect of such study is followed by many evil consequences. Again, if we turn to some of the great numbers of actions that are forbidden, we shall find that the lists of such forbidden actions contain some that have no moral value mixed indiscriminately with others which are truly ethical. The ground for the prohibition in many cases is simply a magical one. It must be admitted that it is difficult to draw lines of distinction. We are all agreed that truth-speaking, for example, is an ethical duty. Most are agreed that honour to parents is also an ethical duty, though there might be considerable difference of opinion as to the ways in which such honour should express itself. Do we pass into another sphere when we are told that a younger brother must not marry before an elder brother? It is hard to say. Every statement of moral duty implies at least presuppositions of a metaphysical or theological kind, and the barely ethical is something that does not exist. In such a case the student of morals has to proceed beyond the ethical to the foundations on which the ethical rests. Yet it does seem that whatever difficulties may arise out of the implication of ethical with metaphysical ideas, we are in a different sphere when the problem arises of disentangling ethical from magical conceptions. Take, for example, the strange catalogue which Manu gives us of people who are to be avoided. It includes not only drunkards, adulterers, gamblers, and hypocrites, but also persons with black teeth, lepers, epileptics, and consumptives, makers of bows and arrows, and trainers of sporting dogs. We have jumbled together here prohibitions some of which have an ethical motive, others a hygienic, and others the only motive for which must be simply magical. The ethical becomes hopelessly distorted when it is so confused with the delusions of magic.
All this may be made somewhat clearer if we return to a subject which has already been referred to in the section dealing with the Atharva Veda. It was there said that sin tended to be regarded as a quasi-physical substance, and, generally speaking, the same statement would hold true regarding the conception of sin in the Law Books. The words that have been translated sin are very numerous and they represent various shades of meaning. Jolly asserts that there is no part of the Brahmanical code of laws, the roots of which reach so far into the highest antiquity as the teaching regarding sins and the penances for them. In any case there still persists the same quasi-physical conception of sin which we noted in the Atharva Veda. This is seen notably in the penances which are prescribed, especially in the bathing and sipping of water and other physical exercises that are prescribed as means to cleansing.
In the late Institutes of Vishnu there is an interesting classification of sins, the main principles of which no doubt come down from much earlier times. They are divided into nine classes:
1. Deadly sins—atipataka. These are certain forms of incest, to be atoned for only by burning.
2. Great sins—manapataka. These are killing a Brahman, drinking spirituous liquor, stealing the gold of a Brahman, connexion with a Gurus wife ; also social intercourse with those guilty of such sins.
3. Minor sins of a similar character—anupataka. These include the killing of certain other classes of persons, giving false evidence and killing a friend, stealing lands or deposits of a Brahman, certain forms of incest and adultery.
4. Minor sins—upapataka. Sins of false statement, neglect of certain religious duties, adultery, unlawful occupation, offences connected with marrying before an elder brother; &c., not paying ones debts to the gods, rishis, and manes, atheism, &c.
5. Sins effecting loss of caste jatibramsakara. Causing bodily pain to a Brahman, smelling things which should not be smelt, dishonest dealing, certain unnatural crimes.
6. Sins which degrade to a mixed caste—samkarikarana. Killing domestic or wild animals.
7. Sins which render one unworthy to receive almsapatrikarana. Receiving presents and alms from despicable persons, trade, money-lending, lying, serving a Sudra.
8. Sins causing defilement—naalavaha. Killing birds, amphibious animals, and aquatic animals, worms and insects; eating nutmegs or other plants similar in their effects to intoxicating liquors.
9. Miscellaneous sins prakîrnaka. Those not already mentioned.
This list is by no means exhaustive, nor indeed is it pretended that it is so. In the same work there is another long list of offences, including manslaughter, the killing of various kinds of animals, the destruction of certain plants, stealing, &c. But enough has perhaps been said to enable us to realize the general character of the kinds of actions that are regarded as sinful.
Many cases are mentioned in which the guilt of sin is transferred from one person to another. This is so particularly in the case where a king judges unjustly. It is said that where justice, wounded by injustice, approaches and the judges do not extract the dart, they too are wounded by the same dart. And we have extreme examples of the way in which the contagion of guilt is passed on in such a passage as the following :
The killer of a learned Brahman throws his guilt on him who eats his food, an adulterous wife on her (negligent) husband, a (sinning) pupil or sacrificer on (their negligent) teacher (or priest), a thief on the king (who pardons him).
Many more passages might be quoted illustrating the same principle. Sin is not a disease of the soul or an evil state of the soul. It is something that is as separable from the individual as the coat he wears. It seems to be implied that it is indestructible and that release from it is to be attained through the passing of it on to another. The same is true of merit which one acquires. Even he who becomes free from the bonds of karma does so not through the annihilation of his karma but through escape from it.
Making over (the merit of his own) good actions to his friends and (the guilt of) his evil deeds to his enemies, he attains the eternal Brahman by the practice of meditation.
These conceptions are crude but they have been very persistent in the Hindu conception of sin.
We must always bear in mind that in general in classical Hindu literature wrong-doing is regarded from a point of view very different from that of the modern European. In the point of view of the average European there is doubtless often confusion enough, but there is reference to some kind of a standard more or less clearly apprehended, with the result that there is some kind of consistency in the various moral judgements which he passes. In the case of the Hindu, as we have seen, the ordinary duties of life are discovered by reference to authority. If we press the matter further and seek to find a basis for this authority, we find that prominent in the minds of the law-givers at any rate is the thought of sin as what causes one to fall from caste. This is the root idea in the term pataka. Now this is only one of the very numerous words that are used to designate offences against dharma, but perhaps most of these words express ideas which stand .in fairly close relation to this. The ideas contained most commonly in them are those of going astray and of impurity—departure from the way of dharma, and being defiled. And defilement again is conceived quasi-physically. It is not the spiritual defilement which one incurs in the harbouring of evil thoughts and purposes, but something that may be incurred through means purely physical, which, when incurred, by its contagion maybe a source of impurity to others, and which may be removed in many cases by purely physical processes. In these facts in themselves there is nothing remarkable, for a study of the origins of morality shows that the moral has been gradually differentiated from a mass of conceptions chiefly connected with ceremonial. The remarkable thing is that in India, at a time when the capacity for speculation had reached such a high stage of development, teaching so crude should have been regarded as authoritative.
Closely connected with all this is the fact that the offences enumerated are all overt acts. Judgement is passed not on the inner but on the outer side of the act. No doubt a distinction is sometimes drawn in point of gravity between an offence committed intentionally and one committed unintentionally, but the unintentional offence has to be expiated equally with the intentional one, the penalty being only less severe.
But this teaching regarding offences that cause one to fall is far from furnishing us with the complete content of the ethical teaching of the Law Books. There are many other actions prohibited or enjoined, which it is important for us to consider. First we may look at certain duties, some of which have been touched on in previous chapters, connected with primitive ethical conceptions.
No duty is inculcated more frequently than that of hospitality. With hospitality to ones fellow-men there is still coupled that which is due to supra-terrestrial beings— to Brahmans, the Manes, the gods, and the Bhutas. According to Manu, ` He who does not feed these five—the gods, his guests, those whom he is bound to maintain, the Manes, and himself, lives not, though he breathes. On the other hand, the hospitable reception of guests procures wealth, fame, long life, and heavenly bliss. By honouring guests, according to the Institutes of Vishnu, he obtains the highest reward. The ways in which the duty of hospitality are to be fulfilled are laid down with considerable detail. A Brahman who stays for one night only is to be called a guest (atithi), certain restrictions being laid down to prevent the abuse of hospitality. Members of other castes, even Südras, are to be entertained, but they have not the position of guests (atithi). The guest is to be honoured by sharing in the best of the food provided, and by receiving a seat, a room, and other accommodation in accordance with his standing. There are certain classes of people who are not to be received, viz. ` Heretics, men who follow forbidden occupations, men who live like cats, rogues, logicians (arguing against the Veda), and those who live like herons . We have already drawn attention to the fact that the duty of hospitality has been recognized in primitive ethical thought and practice generally. Westermarck gives many illustrations from the customs of very diverse peoples which go to show how widespread is the recognition of this duty. In primitive culture those forms of conduct in which are expressed the principle of tribal exclusiveness give place to the duty of entertaining strangers. He raises the question as to the ground for such an attitude to strangers, and suggests two possible explanations. (I) It may be that even among savages the altruistic feelings, however narrow, can be stirred by the sight of a suffering and harmless stranger, or (2) the host himself may expect to reap benefit from the act of showing hospitality. He holds that the rules of hospitality are in the main based on egoistic considerations. There seems to be little doubt that in the minds of primitive peoples there is fear of the occult powers that may belong to the stranger. His influence is potent for good or evil.
A guest comes to the house resembling a burning fire.
This means, according to Bühler, that if offended he might burn the house with the flames of his anger. The blessings to which we have referred above, which are supposed to come from the exercise of hospitality, are selfish blessings—wealth, fame, life and the like. We must not, however, rule out the possibility of the presence of altruistic motives. The fact of the association of the duty of hospitality to living men with the duties that must be performed to the departed would point to the presence of such motives. For the offerings made to the spirits of the departed were not the outcome simply of fear of the consequences which neglect would involve to him from whom the offerings were due, but at least as much of an unselfish desire for the welfare of the departed. And, even if the duty of hospitality to ones fellow-men were at first dictated by motives largely selfish, the habitual fulfilment of the duty would lead increasingly to the development of the spirit of disinterested kindness. Many a duty that is performed at the beginning with a view to the attainment of selfish ends comes in time to be performed because it is good in itself or because it brings good to others.
The duty of liberality does not occupy so large a place as in some of the other writings which we have studied, but high importance is still attached to it. The objects of this virtue are specially the twice-born. It is noteworthy here again that the giving of gifts is enjoined not primarily with a view to the good of him to whom they are given, but with a view to the good of the giver. The merit accruing from the gift is in accordance not with the need of the recipient, but with his position. Sometimes the reward comes to the giver along the lines of his gift, as the following passage shows :
A giver of water obtains the satisfaction (of his hunger and thirst), a giver of food imperishable happiness, a giver of sesamum desirable offspring, a giver of a lamp most excellent eyesight, &c.
Sometimes the reward is represented in a more general way, but what is essential is the thought that the giver of gifts by his liberality acquires merit to himself. Accordingly gifts are frequently mentioned as freeing from sin. For example :
The digger of a well has the consequences of the half of his evil acts taken from him as soon as the water comes forth from it. By confession, by repentance, by austerity, and by reciting (the Veda) a sinner is freed from guilt, and in case no other course is possible, by liberality.
Niggardliness, on the other hand, is a heinous sin.
He who cooks for himself only, eats nothing but sin ; for that alone is considered as fit food for the virtuous which is left after the (customary) oblations have been offered."
Here we have a connecting link between the virtue of liberality and the kindred virtue of hospitality.
As has been said, the objects of meritorious liberality are specially the twice-born, and in all cases it is important that gifts should be given only to worthy persons, while it is equally important that only worthy persons should receive them. Otherwise they lose their efficacy ; indeed they become positively harmful. And the danger is greater to the receiver than to the giver. In a sense different from the New Testa-ment application of the saying, ` it is more blessed to give than to receive.
As a husbandman reaps no harvest when he has sown the seed in barren soil, even so the giver of sacrificial food gains no reward if he presented it to a man unacquainted with the Riks.
(If no learned Brahmana be at hand), he may rather honour a (virtuous) friend than an enemy, though the latter may be qualified (by learning and so forth) ; for sacrificial food eaten by a foe bears no reward after death.
The dangers involved in the receiving of gifts is the subject of the following quotation
Though (by his learning and sanctity) he may be entitled to accept presents, let him not attach himself (too much) to this (habit) ; for through his accepting (many) presents the divine light in him is soon extinguished.
Hence an ignorant (man) should be afraid of accepting any presents ; for by reason of a very small (gift) even a fool sinks (into hell) as a cow into a morass.
These quotations will serve to bring out some of the main ideas gathering round the virtue of liberality as it is inculcated in the Law Books. The passages which deal with- the -giving of food to others express ideas in line with those found in connexion with many religions regarding the necessity of sharing all ones blessings with the gods. The same sacrificial idea lies at the root of the practice of giving to others for the god does not consume the material part of the sacrifice, but only the spiritual part, and so food shared with others may fulfil the sacrificial idea. But this touches only one aspect of the giving of gifts. Gifts are of many kinds, and in the Institutes of Vishnu we are given a list of propitious gifts. Underlying the whole mass of belief regarding the efficacy of gifts there is undoubtedly the ancient magical conception that through a gift offered to a being endowed with supernatural power one may become a sharer in that power or in the benefits of it. This is the meaning of the offering of gifts to Brahmans learned in the Vedas, for their position and learning put them in possession of marvellous powers. Similarly ascetics are credited with supernatural powers, and to them too gifts are offered. But as we have seen it is not the giver alone who is affected by the gift. There are gifts which carry with them good or ill to the receiver. The gift of an evil or low-caste man, for example, may bring injury to the receiver. We thus see how deeply the virtue of liberality in the form in which we find it here is penetrated by ideas of magical origin. But let us once more add the caution that we are not therefore bound to assume that more truly ethical and unselfish ideas played no part in the development of habits of generosity among the people.
The duty of ahiinsa is given a conspicuous place in the Law Books. From the time of Mahavira and Gautama this idea has had a place in Indian ethical thought and practice that is almost unique. The content of the idea varies somewhat in different quarters and at different times, but throughout the history of Hinduism the general principle of refraining from injuring living creatures has been adhered to. Let us look at the form which the idea takes here. The killing of various animals is forbidden. In particular the killing of cows is forbidden, but many other animals are mentioned along with it. We are told that to slay a donkey, a horse, a camel, a deer, an elephant, a goat, a sheep, a fish, a snake, or a buffalo, degrades one to a mixed caste. To kill insects, large or small, or birds, makes one impure. The eating of flesh is forbidden, and more than one ground is given for this prohibition. He who injures innoxious beings from a wish to give himself pleasure never finds happiness either living or dead. He who does not seek to cause the sufferings of bonds and death to living creatures, but seeks the good of all living beings, obtains endless bliss ; he who does not injure any creature attains without an effort what he thinks of, what he undertakes, and what he fixes his mind on. Once more, according to Manu :
There is no greater sinner than that man who, though not worshipping the gods or the manes, seeks to increase the bulk of his own flesh by the flesh of other beings.
But the strictness of the principle is qualified in various ways. No animal is to be destroyed without lawful reason, and a lawful reason is provided by the purposes of sacrifice. Again, there are many qualifications to the laws forbidding the eating of flesh. Let us quote only one or two of them :
One may eat meat when it has been sprinkled with water, while Mantras were recited, when Brahmanas desire (ones doing it), when one is engaged (in the performance of a rite) according to the law, and w hen ones life is in danger.
He who eats meat, when he honours the gods and manes, commits no sin, whether he has bought it, or himself has killed (the animal), or has received it as a present from others.
Again, the doctrine of ahiinsa does not apply to the taking of the lives of enemies in battle, or to the infliction of capital punishment on a criminal. By qualifications such as these the force of the doctrine is very considerably weakened. The exceptions to the general principles that life should not be taken, and that the flesh of animals should not be eaten, were so many and of such diverse kinds, that we can believe it would often be exceedingly difficult to determine whether a particular act was a breach of the law or not. We know that hunting and the eating of flesh continued in spite of all laws.
It will help us to understand the curious ramifications of this doctrine if we turn our attention to the psychological root from which it sprang, and try to follow the main lines of its growth. The real principle underlying it has frequently been misunderstood, as when unscientific writers have suggested that it has a close connexion with transmigration, the Hindu fearing that in eating flesh he may be eating the bodies of his own kind. For a true explanation we have to go back to the mind of the primitive man, and to the awe with which he regards life in all its forms. It is only a step from this to the belief which we find at an early stage in Indian thought that the injuring of life is a hindrance to the attainment of the highest religious life. It was among the Vanaprasthas that this belief first took definite practical shape. Each group of Vanaprasthas had its own rules on this subject, but they were the expression in different ways of the primitive belief that it was wrong to injure either plant or animal life. The sin lay not in eating flesh, but in destroying life. It is important to bear this in mind, for in modern times attention has been directed by many writers to what is a secondary and later development of the doctrine as if it were its essential feature.
With the development of the philosophy of the Atman and of the practice of renunciation of the world with a view to the attainment of release, the doctrine of ahimsa became more firmly established. It became the first rule of life of those who so renounced the world. There was still no distinction drawn between plant and animal life, and strict obedience to the rule was possible because these men begged their food. It may strike us as a very casuistical way of observing the rule, which made its observance dependent on its non-observance by others, but it has to be remembered that at this stage it was a rule which did not hold for the householder. It was only gradually that it came to be extended to house-holders, and it is clear that when it was so extended it could not be followed by them in the same complete way. It could not for obvious reasons be applied to plant life. We can well understand how in general its application to animal life would be considered more important, and how attention would tend to be diverted from its other aspect. We have early evidence of the development of the idea on these lines in the Bhagavadgita, where we find vegetarian offerings taking the place of the animal sacrifices which had been offered in the Vaishnava temples.
In the Law Books, though much is made of the duty of abstaining from animal food, and from it alone, the chief motive is perfectly clear. We have it in the following passage in Manu
Meat can never be obtained without injury to living creatures, and injury to sentient beings is detrimental to the attainment of heavenly bliss ; let him therefore shun the use of meat.
Having well considered the disgusting origin of flesh and the cruelty of fettering and slaying corporeal beings, let him entirely abstain from eating flesh.
We have treated at some length three virtues which have a special interest because of their origin. These must not, however, be allowed to overshadow the more commonplace everyday virtues, the observance of which is almost a condition of the maintenance of the social organism. The duty of truthfulness is continually enjoined ; honesty is inculcated, and theft in many forms is condemned ; the purity of family life is guarded, and in certain cases of its violation, penalties, some of them very terrible, are prescribed. Various forms of dissipation are condemned, notably indulgence in spirituous liquors, gambling, and other forms of vice.
In all that has been said up to this point there has been little indication that there has been represented in the Law Books anything but a very external view of life and conduct. Social life, so far as we have treated it, seems to have been regarded almost exclusively from without. The emphasis has been on overt acts and not on the motives from which they have sprung. Sin has been feared as an evil substance that clings to one, bringing defilement, and its removal may be effected through physical means. But it is right that we should give attention to some signs of a deeper and more spiritual view of morality which are to be found here and there. In spite of the confusion which generally prevails of the non-ethical with the ethical aspects of dharma, there are a few passages which stand out markedly as revealing the fact that even where the human mind is most steeped in ritualism there may be present a truly ethical sense which will sometimes express itself. Gautama, for example, deals much in the orthodox way with the samskaras or sacraments, but that he recognizes that the inner ethical virtues of the soul stand on a different and higher plane is manifest from the following passage :
Now follow the eight good qualities of the soul,
Compassion on all creatures, forbearance, freedom from anger, purity, quietism, auspiciousness, freedom from avarice, and freedom from covetousness.
He who is sanctified by these forty sacraments, but whose soul is destitute of the eight good qualities, will not he united with Brahman, nor does he reach his heaven.
But he, forsooth, who is sanctified by a few only of these forty sacraments, and whose soul is endowed with the eight excellent qualities, will be united with Brahman, and will dwell in his heaven .
A similar ethical sense is to be seen in Apastamba 2 in the account which he gives of the faults `which tend to destroy the creatures. These are chiefly faults not of external behaviour but of inner spiritual disposition.. They are :
Anger, exultation, grumbling, covetousness, perplexity, doing injury, hypocrisy, lying, gluttony, calumny, envy, lust, secret hatred, neglect to keep the senses in subjection, neglect to concentrate the mind.
There is also a passage of very great interest in Manu, where the watchfulness and just judgement of conscience are emphasized. The statement is part of the exhortation which the judge addresses to witnesses in court before they give their evidence, and in its main outlines is no doubt very ancient. But it is significant that it should have a place in the Law Books.
The wicked indeed say in their hearts, ` Nobody sees us ; but the gods distinctly see them and the male within their own breasts.
If thou thinkest, O friend of virtue, with respect to thyself, ` I am alone, (know that) that sage who witnesses all virtuous acts and all crimes, ever resides in thy heart.
If thou art not at variance with that divine Yama, the son of Vivasvat, who dwells in thy heart, thou needest neither visit the Ganges nor the (land of the) Kurus.
The significance of such expressions will become clearer if we reflect on the nature of the literature which we are now studying. It is as has been already said not properly concerned with morality, but with many aspects of human conduct and relationships. From the very nature of the case it is to a large extent the externals of conduct that are treated. There is nothing surprising about this, but we do feel surprised that at a time when philosophical thought was so far advanced conduct and character should be regarded on the whole in so crude a way. The occasional appearance of passages like those to which we have referred proves the existence of an under-current of thought of a purer kind, which saw conduct in the light of the ideal towards which the minds of thoughtful Hindus have been directed since the days when the Upanishads were composed. The highest virtues then are such as self-control, calm of mind, abstinence from sensual indulgence, and such other qualities as mark the freedom of the mind from the fetters of desire and of sense. And the greatest sins are such as anger, hatred, lust, and the like. It is not only in the few passages to which reference has just been made or in others of the same character that these virtues and vices are recognized. They have their place and influence throughout the Law Books ; but that place and influence are comparatively small. The atmosphere of the Law Books is charged with ideas of a lower kind. We shall have occasion to make some remarks at a later stage regarding the underlying conceptions of Hindu ethical thought at its highest. But for the present it will suffice to say that, speaking generally, we do not have Hindu thought at its highest but at a level at which it shows the deep influence of forces which have marked ethical thought everywhere at an early stage in its development.