The author has tried to trace out the ethical thought of the ancient Hindus from the early Rig-Vedic period down to the age of the Mahabharata and the Dharma –shastras. The period covered here witness indeed the rise and a fall of Hindu culture, it very interesting evolution in successive periods under evolution in successive periods under diverse historical conditions. Yet while there is a rich diversity of moral ideals, presented to us during these periods of Hindu history, a clear thread of unity runs through all these. At no period can we say that there is a sudden break or charm in the continuity of our civilization; and an unmistakable attempt was made at every new turn to trace the changes of thought or practice to some old authority. The hindu ethical theory has therefore an organic coherence about it; its childhood, its period of adolescence and its old age were all definitely connected with each other.
Thus the unchanging East went on perpetually changing; and yet at every slept forward it cast a constant glance at the past and thus preserved the unity of the Hindu social organism. The Hindu of today, though differing widely from the Vedic Aryan in almost every incident or accident of his position. The greatest task of the p resent age in the East is the discovery of the soul of Asia.’
The authors also hope that a systematic study of the Hindu ethical thought will have an interest of its own for foreign scholars. It will help them to formulate a precise ethical theory comprehensive enough to meet all possible facts. Every people has an ethics of its own; its precise presentations necessary in a vast, inductive study of ethical ideas of all times and all ages.
I have ventured in this small volume to take a systematic survey of the Hindu ideas on morality. The wealth of ethical reflexions scattered all over the ancient sacred writings of the Hindus always proved a tempting field to my humble ambitions; and I have here endeavored to present them in a connected form. So far as I know very few writers have cultivated this field. Scholars are generally attracted by high metaphysical ideas on the one hand and political thought on the other hand; but the unpretentious and yet all too precious work of the Hindu Rishis on subjects of morality remained largely unexplored. I have tied to trace out the ethical thought of the ancient Hindus from the early Rig-Vedic period down to the age of the Mahabharata and the Dharma-shastras. The period covered here witness indeed the rise and fall of Hindu culture, its very interesting evolution in successive periods under diverse historical conditions. Yet while there is a rich diversity of moral ideals, presented to us during these periods of Hindu history, a clear thread of unity runs through all these. At no period can we say that there is a sudden break or charm in the continuity of our civilization; and an unmistakable attempt was made at every new turn to trace the changes of thought or practice to some old authority. The Hindu ethical theory has therefore an organic coherence about it; its childhood, its period of adolescence, and its old age were all definitely connected with each other. The Hindu sages always tried to unite reason with experience; and while they continuously introduced new modifications necessitated by changes in environment, they never thought were departing from the ancient Vedic practice. Thus the unchanging East went on perpetually changing; and yet at every step forward it cast a constant glance at the past and thus preserved ht e unity of the Hindu social organism. The Hindu of today, though differing widely from the Vedic Aryan in almost every incident or accident of his position, still claims to be-and not quite unjustly, -the heir of all the ages,-the child of that great race which was the pioneer of a mighty civilization in the world.
This long evolution has a manifold interest for us. To a Hindu, it is almost a necessity of his position to understand the precise significance of his culture. The greatest task of the present age in the East is the discovery of the soul of Asia. The whole Asia is struggling to discover the fundamentals of its position-the bed-rock of its culture,- the unity of thought and experience behind all a accidents or Upanishad. India is similarly challenged by the outside worked to give expression to its own soul. The world is waiting to listen to the right worked from the people who say they represent what was once a unique civilization. Has Indi any message for the world? It is the earnest attempt of the greatest geniuses of our age to help India to utter the eight word. Dr. Tagore ht great Asiatic poet laureate.- Shrijuta Arabinda Ghose, the great Asiatic scholar and philosopher, Mahatma Gandhi, the Karma-yogin, the archexponent of the creed of the East-the perfect non –violence inn thought, word, an deed; all are engaged in this supreme work of the interpretation of the East. It is for the humbler workers to do their little bit in this task of tasks.
I also hope that a systematic study of the Hindu ethical thought will have an interest of its own for foreign scholars. It will help them to formulate a precise ethical theory comprehensive enough to meet all possible facts. Every people has an ethics of its own; its precise presentation is necessary in a vast, inductive study of ethical ideas of all times and all ages. Ethics may be either idealistic, presenting the standards of action, the various ideals domainating various people; or empirical, presenting ethical facts,-virtues and vices. A systematic study of Hindu ethics in the way done here is above all a contribution to sociological literature. Morality has an important bearing on the relations of man and man in society; and a study of ancient Hindu society from this standpoint is not without its own value in the science of society.
No one can be more conscious of the limitations of the work than the author himself. Hindu ethics is a vast subject: its satisfactory, all-round treatment will be the work of many minds. The present volume is merely a beginning in this hithertio not much-explored field. Persons of grater equipment may take up the work and attack it from various points of view. There are a dozen books on Christian Ethics; why should we not have a dozen books on Hindu ethics? I intend here to make a descriptive survey; and avoid the work of interpretation as far as possible. I have therefore tried to avoid my own comments. An accurate rendering of the ideas of the ancient Rishis requires that they should be presented in their own words. It is the ethics of the ancient thinkers I have to explain; and in the interests of impartial exposition, the author’s personality should be in the background. The precise force of the sentiments cannot be brought out except by a reproduction of the passages. The exposition becomes more concrete, more vigorous, more picturesque, as more accurate and faithful if the original texts are allowed to point their own moral in their own way.
Colligation, interpretation, systematization: such is the work of the application of the scientific method to the data presented before us in the ancient scriptures. Passages recur continuously emphasizing the importance of truthfulness; passages also recur where exceptions to it are pointed. It is in such cases that the work of systematization is so interesting and fruitful. The doctrine of Ahimsa emphasis the morality of love and forbearance; but what are the limitations to this fundamental principle? In this way it becomes more easy to find out the ultimate principles of the science of morality. If ever a subject gained by systematic co-ordination it was the subject of ethical thought of the Hindus. Variety of reflections is the characteristic of every Hindu moral position : conflicting ethical judgments are delivered on every occasion. However, it is quite clear that there is a perfect order, harmony, system in all these. A little reflection serves to bring out this.
A work of this type has both theoretical and practical value. Its value from the point of view of thought is sufficiently clear. It has interest for the student of Hindu thought, for the student of ethics, for the student of sociology. Its practical value lies in the fact that it enables the statesmen and people of other countries as well as of India to understand the Hindu mind, to measure its strength and limitations, to judge properly its mental attitude. But above all, it enables social reformers to strike out proper lines of social evolution. Every society must build upon its past: its progress to be sound and permanent must be evolved from its own national temperament. A comparative study of the Hindu thought and practice of different ages serves to show that the Hindu thought had a wonderful principle of development within itself. Its most striking characteristic was elasticity. Its adapatability enabled it to stem every new tide and to conquer every attack from within and without. The greatest upheaval from within was the great Buddhist awakening; yet Hinduism showed wonderful vitality by absorbing all the best elements of Buddhism and thus enriching itself in the end. Similarly it proved victorious over various rival alternatives, Islam or Christianity. Its social organization of caste and its religious tolerance enabled it to assimilate the best in every system of thought. Buddha was accepted as an incarnation: Kapila who denied Godhead was himself made an incarnation of God; and who knows whether Mahomet would not have been worshipped by the Hindus, had he been born in India? If such was the case with the past Hinduism, will Hinduism fail to show the same elasticity in the face of the portentous phenomenon of modern civilization? It is ferventiy hoped that the reconstruction of Hindu beliefs and practices may take place in near future, which discarding its agelong excrescences may re-establish in all their pristine strength some of ht best ideas of the ancient Rishis. For such a reconstruction, a strictly scientific study of our past is an indispensable prerequisite. An impartial weighing and balancing both sides of every question in the dry light of reason is, I believe, one of the features of the present attempt. Facts are not studied with a view to support any a prior theory or preconceived view of the author. The personal bias is kept apart as far as possible: the interests of truth are considered paramount. And the result is system of morality as rich, as varied, as full of complexities as life itself. There is no reason why we should be ashamed of any part of this ancient legacy. Kalidas expresses the idea of a true scientific sprit in a pointed way: “All that is old is not necessarily good; nor all that is new, faultless. The wise therefore accept one or the other on a proper examination of both.”
It remains for me to acknowledge my obligations to a few kind and liberal friends. My thanks are due to the Divan Sahib for his blessings on of my humble work and acceptance of my dedication. I hope the readers and critics of this book will kindly excuse the unfortunate typographic errors which have crept into the book owing to ht hurry with which the book has been printed.
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