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Through The Lens of Dharma-Ethics

Through The Lens of Dharma-Ethics
Item Code: NAN423
Author: Indrani Sanyal
Publisher: D. K. Printworld Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2016
ISBN: 9788192611426
Pages: 327
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 8.5 inch x 5.5 inch
weight of the book: 585 gms
About the Book

Notwithstanding the profound and vast dimension of the concept of Dharma as such, Through the Lens of Dharma-Ethics, the author has endeavoured to put forward some of the metaphysical affirmations on which the feasibility of Dharma-Ethics as a discipline reposes. This volume primarily concerns itself with the elaboration and analysis of the Vaidika ethics as one of the exemplars of Dharma-Ethics, to answer the basic question as to why should one be moral.

An attempt has been made in this volume to rearrange and reformulate the answer by discussing the concepts of Dharma and its allied concepts, different kinds of karmas-prescribed for the individuals, the fourfold scheme of purusartha, psychology of human volition, roles of different psychological traits, nature of motivational force conveyed through the imperative statements and many other relevant issues.

A sustained analysis has been carried out to explain the sense of transcendence of the empirically existent, in terms of abhyudaya, mukti for which this Dharma-Ethics is a supportive ladder. "If there is hope for man, why should there not be hope for mankind?"-possibility of this sort has also been addressed. The human-centric Dharma-Ethics has been deciphered as a description and also as a prescription for the embodied humans with their various sort of indebtedness, about how they live and how they ought to live in the truth of Dharma.

About the Author

Prof. Indrani Sanyal is teaching philosophy at the Department of Philosophy, Jadavpur University for nearly thirty years and prior to that taught at Netaji Nagar College, Kolkata. She is also actively engaged in research in areas of Ethics, especially Indian Ethics, Philosophy of Sri Aurobindo, and Western Analytic Philosophy. She has brought out various publications in the form of books, anthologies and research papers in journals. She had been the founder coordinator of the Centre for Sri Aurobindo Studies at the Department of Philosophy, Jadavpur University, Kolkata. Some of her important publications include On Essentialist Claims and Modality, Essence and Possible Worlds. Prof. Sanyal has edited anthologies jointly with others such as Understanding Thoughts of Sri Aurobindo; Sri Aurobindo and His Contemporary Thinkers; Dharmaniti O Sruti; Ethics and Culture: Some Indian Reflections; Education: Philosophy and Practice; The Refugees, Asuras, Marriage and Varied. Some other anthologies edited by Dr Sanyal are Sri Aurobindo: The Poet, Philosopher and Yogi; A Collection of Essays by Arabinda Basu; Ethics and Culture; and Some Contemporary Indian Reflections, vol. 2


Through the Lens of Dharma-Eihics is the fruit of many years labour. Nearly thirty years back when I joined Jadavpur University as a lecturer in philosophy, among other subjects I was also entrusted with the task of teaching the postgraduate course on Hindu Ethics. Initially I was not quite happy with that particular subject allotment, for as a student I had not developed much liking for the course on Hindu Ethics. Out of utter naivete and ignorance, I was then nourishing the idea that Hindu Ethics is very doctrinal and it dogmatically seeks individual's actions to comply with the prescribed schedule of dharma (duties). But at the same time I knew being a juniormost faculty and an entrant to the Department I have no option but to bear the burden of responsibility. So my journey begun with The Ethics of the Hindus by Susil Kumar Maitra, University of Calcutta Publication (1963) and I most gratefully acknowledge my indebtedness to the author of this text, for without the guidance of this particular text it would never have been possible for me to enter into the vastness and intricacies of this kaleidoscopic discourse of Hindu Ethics.

In this volume I have made a modest attempt to express some aspects of the Vaidika Dharma-Ethics without being guided by any preconceived belief or bias. In all cases I have tried to follow some texts to bring out the main contentions of major contributors to this domain. The materials collated, explained and analysed in this volume however are not claimed to be an outcome of exhaustive reflection on the subject matter. This volume Through the Lens of Dharma-Ethics itself may be considered as a preface to the whole discourse of Vaidika Dharma-Ethics. I have realized how difficult it is to paint a complete picture of this prototype of Dharma-Ethics; of whatever infinitesimal I am convinced to be the genuine spirit of Dharma-Ethics, I tried my best to impart to the readers. None the less, my limitations in all respects-in matter of competence on the subject, in selection of texts, in command over language. in skilful construal of arguments and counter-arguments, in communication skill to reach the readers-need to be excused.

I very sincerely remember all my research scholars who did MPhil dissertations or PhD dissertations on areas of ethics especially Hindu ethics under my supervision for giving me ample opportunities to sharpen my understanding of the subject. I express my gratitude to Ms Rama Mondal, Ms Barnita Bandyopadhyaya, Dr Aparajita Mukhopadhyay, Ms Mandira Pal, Ms Susmita Saha, Ms Doyel Mukherjee, Ms Sucharita Mitra, Ms Tamalika Pal, Mr Balaram Karan, Dr Aditi Patra, Dr Meena Arora Nayak and Dr Tamasa Chattopadhyay. I would also like to put on record my indebtedness to my present research scholars namely Ms Gargi Goswami, Ms Susmita Saha and Ms Doyel Mukherjee for academic benefits accrued to me through my regular interactions with them in course of ongoing PhD research supervisions. My thanks are also due to those MPhil scholars who opted for MPhil classes on optional courses offered by me on the Ethics of the Hindus and the Nyaya Philosophy of Morals during different phases of my career.

I have already some publications in anthologies, both in Bengali and in English on the discourse of Vaidika Dharma-Ethics. The following are to name a few: "Vidhir Artha Visaye Anunaitika Paryalocona" in Bharatiya Dharmaniti (ed. Amita Chatterjee, Allied Publishers, Calcutta and Jadavpur University, Calcutta, 1998), "The Just War or the Dharmayuddha", in Ethics: An Anthology (ed. Madhumita Chattopadhyay and Tirthanath Bandyopadhyay, Jadavpur University, Kolkata and Allied Publishers, Kolkata, 2002), "The Nature of Human Motivation", in On Mind and Consciousness: Selected Papers from the MiCon 2002 Conference (ed. Chhanda Chakraborti, Manas K. Mandal and Rimi B. Chatterjee, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla and Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT, Kharagpur, 2003), "Mahabharata Abalambane Dharmayuddhatattva", in War: A Threat to Civilisation and Human Progress, Proceedings of the UGC Sponsored State Level Seminar (Basirhat College, 2005), "Prabhakara Mimamsa sammata Niyoger Dharana" in Dharmaniti O Sruti (ed. Indrani Sanyal and Ratna Dutta Sharma, Jadavpur University, Kolkata and Mahabodhi Book Agency, Kolkata, 2009), "Varna and Jati", in Ethics and Culture (ed. Indrani Sanyal and Sashinungla, Jadavpur University, Kolkata and Decent Books, New Delhi, 2010). In the preparation of the present volume, the ideas expressed through these articles have recurred in some cases with additions, alterations and revisions as deemed necessary. Chapter 5 entitled "The Fourfold Scheme of Purusarthas" has grown out of the keynote address delivered by me on the occasion of the seminar entitled "Bharatiya Darsane Purusartha" organized by the Radhakrishnan Study Centre, Department of Philosophy, Rabindra Bharati University in 2012. I express my thanks to the Radhakrishnan Study Centre, Rabindra Bharati University and specially to Dr Sarbani Banerjee, the co-ordinator of the Centre for giving me an opportunity to share my ideas with the august gathering.

I express my deep gratitude to the Department of Philosophy, Jadavpur University, which also happens to be the Centre of Advanced Study in Philosophy, Phase IV, for giving me this opportunity to publish this volume. Without the active encouragement of my friends and colleagues, I would not have dared to publish this volume. I sincerely acknowledge my gratefulness to Professor Gangadhar Kar, present Head of the Department and to my colleagues Professor Sadhan Chakraborty, Professor Madhumita Chattopadhyaya, Professor Saumitra Basu, Dr Aparajita Mukhopadhyay and to my friend-cum-colleague Professor Ratna Datta Sharma for their active encouragement and inspiration. I am indebted to Ms Srabani Biswas and Ms Sucharita Dutta Mitra, two of the most sincere and diligent project fellows attached to the Centre for Sri Aurobindo Studies, Department of Philosophy for their assistance in the preparation of the manuscript of the present volume. My thanks are also due to the respected referees of this book-project, Dr Roma Chakraborty, Former Professor of Philosophy, University of Calcutta, and Dr. Nirmalya Narayan Chakraborty, Professor of Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata. I acknowledge my gratitude to the University Grants Commission, New Delhi for financial assistance and to Jadavpur University for all sorts of administrative assistance. My special thanks are due to Mr Susheel Mittal for without his cooperation and always ready-to-help attitude this publication would not have materialized. My thanks are also due to Mr Rajendra Agarwal, Suryodaya Books, New Delhi for carrying on the whole process of publication meticulously with utmost dedication. Finally, there are many people who helped me in one way or other, whom I do not mention by their names; to all of them I express my gratitude.


Through the Lens of Dharma-Ethics offers reflections upon the vast and enigmatic Dharma-Ethics discourse exemplified in the Vaidika Dharma-Ethics, one of its prototypes. The present Dharma-Ethics study delineates a philosophical way of thinking upon the Vaidika scheme of morality. Characteristically, this meta-ethical approach to Vaidika Dharma-morality as distinguished from normative ethical approach does not seek to weigh up pros and cons of actions in terms of their goodness or badness. Ethics is the branch of philosophy that informs us about what is right, what is good or what is duty. Indian philosophical texts and literatures are also engaged with such concepts as duty, right and good. These discussions would indeed provide the basis for furnishing the details about the salient features of morality from the perspective of Indian philosophy. Unlike a normative moral theory focusing upon what is right or what is wrong, the present meta-ethical approach chooses to focus upon what this Vaidika Dharma-morality is all about. This is a second-order approach to morality through constructive imagination based upon some first-order beliefs about dharma-morality. As a meta-ethical approach to morality, this book, in its attempt to understand Vaidika Dharma-morality, finds it impossible not to respond to the metaphysical, epistemological, semantic and psychological presuppositions and commitments of such moral thought and practice. With a view to decipher its essential meta-ethical features the present philosophical and conceptual account of Dharma-Ethics proposes to be prudent in its exploration. The Dharma-Ethics covers, broadly speaking, three major ethical traditions of India, namely the Vaidika Ethics, the Buddhist ethics and the Jaina ethics under its fold. The title "Dharma-Ethics", yet not a trendy terminology for the discourse under consideration, was introduced by Bimal Krishna Matilal in the recent past, has captured my imagination as one of the best coinages for conveying the spirit of the subject matter. Dharma is an essentially debated concept with enormous complexity and diversity, but the idea remains persistently ingrained within the vast portions of Indian culture. But the very question of ethics or moral philosophy in India has given rise to suspicion from different quarters. The grounds on which such doubts and suspicion have crept up are not same in all cases. There are various reasons that give rise to disappointment and in some quarters lead to malign the prospect of Dharma-Ethics. The major difficulty with Dharma-Ethics is the problem of identifying anyone particular literary source or any particular author or at least few authors dealing exclusively with this ethical discourse.

In Indian texts all deliberations relating to morality are found as inalienable part of philosophical discussions. Any search into the source materials of Dharma-Ethics is hardly separable from the source materials of all schools of darsana excepting the Carvakas. It is a Herculean task indeed to identify and enumerate the huge corpus of knowledge spanning over many thousand years which are sources of Dharma-Ethics. In this volume, as it has already been pointed out, an attempt has been made to concentrate upon only the Vaidika Dharma-Ethics, concerning which literary materials lie scattered in different texts of different periods covering a period of at least 4,000 years. The Vedas and Upanisads provide a strong foundation to the Hindu view of life. The Vedas are the earliest available records of Indian literatures, which comprise of four sections, Samhita, Brahmana, Aranyaka and Upanisad. Of which the Samhitas are dated back to 1700-1100 The texts designated "Vedic" in the sense of subsidiaries of the Vedas is less clearly defined and may include numerous post-Vedic texts such as the later Upanisads, all total comprising of 1,180 branches' and various other Sruti literatures. Texts which are not considered to be Sruti are known as Smrti or texts of remembered traditions. Schools of Indian philosophy which cite the Vedas as their scriptural authority are classified as "orthodox" (astika). In Yajnavalkyasmrti 1.3 fourteen sources of knowledge (vidyasthanas) have been enumerated. Madhusudan Sarasvati in his Prasthanabheda cited eighteen subjects as comprising of the total scheme of Sastra, including four Vedas, four Upavedas (subsidiary Vedas), six Vedangas (accessories to Vedas) and four Upangas (sub-accessories to Vedas). The four Upangas include Puranas, Nyaya-Vaisesika Darsana, Mimamsa Darsana including both (Karma-Mimamsa and Brahma- Mimamsa), and the whole compendium of Dharmasastras including Smrti literatures, Mahabharata, Ramayana, Samkhya Darsana, Patanjala Darsana, Pasupata Darsana, Vaisnava Darsana and others. The sources of moral knowledge has been summed up by Manu, according to whom Vedas, Smrtis, principles exemplified in the behaviour of the moral exemplars (mahajanas) and one's own conscience (atmatusti; are generally regarded as the sources of morality.

Though no attempt has been made to cover other exemplars of Dharma-Ethics in this volume, I would also like to draw attention to the vastness and intricacies of literary materials of each of these exemplars. According to the available historical evidences, two other indigenous sources of religious traditions prior to the Vedas and independent of the Vedas in the sense of not owing any allegiance to the Vedas, are the heterodox systems (nastika) namely, Ajivakas and the Jainas. The Jaina Dharma-Ethics is also another important component of Dharma-Ethical studies. The expression "Jaina" is derived from the Sanskrit term jaina (conqueror). The Jaina tradition always upholds its principle of ahimsa (non-violence) as the basic principle of morality and also of metaphysics. The jina from the Jaina perspective is a special human being who has been able to conquer the bonds of passion through strict observance of different vows or practices, which come close to what we call nowadays as moral practices, from the bondage of worldly life and values. Jainism though predates the Vedas scholars ascribe historicity to Mahavira, the last twenty-fourth jina, a contemporary of Gautama Buddha, sometimes between the sixth century and fourth century and to his predecessor Parsva, whose period has been calculated to be at least 250 year before Mahavira. Umasvati (Umasvami) deserves the credit for being the first to try to systematize basics of Jainism through his text Tattvarthasutra (also known as Tattvarthadhiganasutra). In Prakrt language, attempts to deal with Jaina philosophy were done by Kundakunda and Siddhasena Divakara. The conclusive dates of these thinkers are not available though Siddhasena Divakara is presumed to belong to fifth or sixth century Another Jaina philosopher Pujyapada, who made commentaries entitled Sarvarthasiddhi on Umasvati's Tattvarthasutra, belonged to the Digambara tradition. Umasvati was held with respect by both the Digambara and Svetambara sects of Jainism. In the tradition of the Jainas and the Ajivakas the emphasis is upon purification of the soul and for attaining such purification they duly prescribe certain practices, called moral practices.


  Preface vii
  Introduction 1
1 What is Dharma-Ethics and Why It Has Been Entitled Dharma- Ethics 18
  Sources of Moral Knowledge 26
  Vedic Period 27
  Post-Vedic Period 27
  Some Basic Metaphysical Presuppositions of Dharma-Ethics 37
2 Basic Concepts of Dharma-Ethics and Their Interconnectedness 52
  Vedic and Upanisadic Concept of Dharma 53
  Rta: The Cosmic Order 60
  The Concept of Dharma in Jainism and Buddhism 62
  The Concept of Yajna 65
  Dharma, Rta and Yajna 82
3 Dharma as Universal and Specific Duties 84
  Varna-dharma 89
  Asrama-dharma 117
4 The Fourfold scheme of Purusarthas Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksa 131
5 The Nature of Human Motivation and Agency 160
  The Prabhakara Account of Volition 171
6 Decoding Prescriptions for Work 177
  The Analysis of Vidhivakya 177
7 Mitigating Qualms about Dharma-Ethics 220
  How May an Individual Attain Moral Elevation or Acclivity? 242
  What for Does an Individual Endeavour to Attain Moral Elevation or Growth? 261
  Does God Need to Intervene in the Context of Morality? 261
8 Conclusion 271
  Bibliography 285
  Index 291


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