Ethics in Indian Tradition – UPSC Ethics

  • Ethics is the indispensable part of Hindu religion and other religions of Indian origin. Indian ethical ideals and principles are very much found in the Vedas and in other Indian literatures and in other teachings of the Indian religions.
  • The Indian term for morality and ethics is ‘dharma’. The dharma in Hinduism is coextensive with morality. Dharma in the Vedas refers to the highest truth and power and it is very much understood as the performance of Vedic sacrifices and other rituals in the Vedas and Dharmasastras. So Dharma is understood in Vedas as duty par-excellence.
  • Dharma is also generally understood as the duties of humans according to one’s own caste and stage of life (Varnasrama Dharma). Thus the Hindu concept of dharma has been recognized by its very close association with ritualistic and caste-oriented duties. And the purely moral sense of duty is overshadowed.
  • The Hindu thinkers advocate and recommend the practice of moral virtues and moral norms, which make a man as man. These moral virtues are called Sadharana Dharma or universal duties. Hence the term dharma in Hinduism has two connotations:
  1. Performance of ritual sacrifices and duties according to one’s own caste andThe practice of moral virtues and norms.
So when we speak of dharma as morality, it includes all the duties one ought to perform and all the virtues he ought to practice to attain moksa or liberation.
Way of Righteousness in the GITA
  • The realization of the Supreme Reality through a life of righteous actions is the central well-knit theme of all the eighteen chapters of the Gita. Actions are to be performed with the realization of Brahmajnana. To attain the Brahmajnana one is advised to make a diligent search through devotion, renunciation and self surrender.
  • From attachment desire springs from desire wrath arises, from wrath comes infatuation, from infatuation loss of memory and mind and finally from loss of mind he perishes. So liberation from all kinds of bondages is possible only by the realization of the Brahman or surrender unto the Lord and vice versa, the realization of the Brahman is only through the liberation from all kinds of bondages.
  •  Actions are to be performed without any attachment to the fruit of the actions. This is one of the means of attaining Brahmajnana. Thus Gita emphasizes both on Karma Yoga and Gnana Yoga for the attainment of the Supreme Bliss, but yet Karma Yoga is superior to Gnana Yoga.
  •  Karma Yoga simply means a mode of realizing the Brahman through devotional meditation on the name of God, and the practice of one’s own duties without any attachment. One will be blessed with Brahmayoga, which will lead him not only to moral success but also to the infinite spiritual joy and peace.
  • There is another way promoted by the Gita to attain the ultimate realization in life and liberation from the cycle of births and deaths, which is known as Karma Yoga (Path of activity). The Gita has described this way as the method of disinterested action (NishkamaKarma).
  • To attain moksa one has to be freed from the bondage to one’s own actions. So the Gita suggests the golden rule that actions should be done with the spirit of non-attachment to their fruits.
Doctrine of Karma
The doctrine of Karma states that whatever a man suffers or enjoys is the fruit of his own deed, a harvest sprung from his own actions, good or bad committed in his previous life. Karma is of four categories:
  1. Sanchita Karma, which means the accumulated past actions
  2. Prarabdha Karma, which means the part of Sanchita Karma, this results in the present birth itself. This is also called predestination
  3. Kriyamana Karma, which means present willful actions or free will
  4. Agami Karma, which means the immediate results caused by our present actions.
Karma simply means action. And this Karma must remind us that what is called the consequence of an action is really not a separate thing but it is a part of the action and it cannot be divided from it. The consequence is the part of the action, which belongs to the future but yet the part is done in the present. Whatever a man sows he shall reap.