The Place of Ethics in Hinduism.


Satish Kumar

Department of Philosophy, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh




Ethics as a discipline which mainly concerned itself with the study of human conduct. However, in Hindu ethics it is derived from certain spiritual and devotional way, which is to be observed consciously or unconsciously as long as man lives. Since, in the history of Hindu thought, ethics played an important role. It is practically impossible for anyone to imagine that Hindu religious system is apart from ethics. A calm and dispassionate studies about Hindu scriptures like the Gita, the Puran and the Ramayana and other sacred scriptures. will be convince to anyone that Hindu religion is full of Ethical values of life and it is practically inseparable from them, ultimately both are one. Several Hindu institutions were built upon the foundation of purely ethical values of life.


In the long run religion as an encounter of man with something in higher order of existence, in fact, philosophy as a reflection of phenomenon as a whole, and morality as a reflection of the phenomenon in social and personal code of conduct are deeply inter-connected. However, in Hinduism that ultimate goal of moral philosophy and religious activities is one. According to a true believer, the true progress in the domain of spirituality, the ethical conduct and philosophical knowledge are pivotal. Without ethics, religion become empty and ineffective. Conversely, without religious guidance the ethical endeavor are become meaningless.1 Thus, ethics and religion both go together.


Thus, the study of Hindu, ethics is paramount important, not only in Hinduism; but also to different race, creed he may belong. The real fact is that divine truth of our religion comes to us through human channels. However, our custom hobbit of  the age, the scientific idea of time and the influence of modern culture and its practice, we are all forget them the social way of life. In view of this, we are injustice to our religious scripture; clinging to the imperiable part of it, and himself, creating a problem of our societies, state and nation.


The ultimate question in Ethics is what is the aim of morality? What are its sanctions? The Hindu sages consider this question is its very root levels. In views of them, a true progress in worldly affairs of life, it is essential for us, to follow steps in the directions of God. It was the wonderful stories of Rama in Ramayana Arjuna and Youdhistra in Mahabharta. They are exemplified in the ideal character of man, which are all Hindus love and venerated.


Thus, Hindu philosophy of action operates at two levels:

(i) Personal and (ii) Social, on the one hand they enunciates a certain code of conduct which are necessarily follows from moral nature. On the other hands it provides a moral duties are needed to maintain social harmony. These two-fold tasks of Hindu ethics are determined from the concept of dharma.2


The power of dharma has been marvelous from the Hindu point of view. According to him, the world is built on moral foundation alone. In the long run Truth and Justice Triumph and injustice and false hood are perishable. When the poet song.

/keZ ,oa grks gfUr

/keks j{kfr j{kr


His meant that kill dharma and kill you, save dharma save yourself.3 Etymologically the word dharma is derived from the root word ‘dhri’ which means ‘to support’. Infact, this words used in three different senses. In the metaphysical point of view is that ‘the essential nature of things’ as for example, ‘fire is burn’. Secondly, the dharma means those duties which are follows from one station in life (Varnarsarana dharma). Thirdly, Dharma means those action and duties which are intrinsic to moral nature of man. The second and third meaning is important in ethical context; however, the third meaning is an extension of the first, in order to a realm of morality is part and parcel of life. In this way Hinduism advocates the two-fold character of man. They point out that all men have a common nature to which they should conform in their moral behavior, secondly, view point is that different individual have different peculiarities of temperaments and character to performed different kind of duties in society’4. How these dharma performed and working in society?. We shall be disusing in forth coming paragraph.


Basically, Hindu ethics is mainly emphasized on subjective or personal code of conduct. It is different from modern scientific and utilitarian ethics, whose purpose is to secure the maximum utility to maximum happiness of person/society. Hindu’s ethics is merely a code of conduct for divine realization and its purpose is to eliminate such mental purities as greed, selfishness and realization for the attainment of highest good. Objectively, the Hindu thinkers encourage the performance of duties. They believed that man performed duties not for a sense of compulsion but through love. This love should be spring from the perception of God in all human being.


Before we explain the subject matter for the ideal character of Rama in Ramayana, Arjuna, Youdhistra in Mahabharta and ethical ideas of Rg- vedas. It is essential to explain the varnasrama dharma which is intimately connected with Hindu Ethics. The first reference to the Caste system (Varna) occurs in the Purusa-Sukta hymn in Rg.-veda. It is described that four classes have been divinely created; “Brahmana spring from the mouth (Divine Creator), the Kstriyas from His arm the vaisya from his thigh and sudra from his leg”5 Though it latter underwent much transformation in Hindu of Hindus lawgiver. In the epic of Bhagratigita Lord Krsna says, The order of four varna created by me according to their different guna and Karma of each:


pkrqoZ.; e;k l```"V xqde~Z foHkkxjk% A

rL; drfjefi eka foâ;drfjHk";;e~ %AA6

These four varna have been called Brahmama, Kistriya, vaisya and Sudra and their duties are fixed in accordance with their natural qualities. The second element are the organization this caste-system (varna)  colour. It is the colour of one character for assign to be nature of man. Every human being has possessed of three different qualities (gunas) such as purity (sattva), venality (Rajas) and dullness (Tamas). These three elements found in each and every individual in varying proportion. Sattva is predominant qualities of Brahmin, He is custodian of spiritual culture of the race, and his first duty is to have through spiritual guidance and leader of humanity. Rajas is the qualities of Kstriyas. He is the guardian of society and his duties to fight for the freedom of race, and maintained peace and order in land. Tamas is the qualities of vaisy,. his profession are agriculture and trade, Sudra is the manually labour class his place in society is no less important than that of other threes. By his manual labour he places the entire community under the debt of gratitude.7


For the centuries, the caste-system worked in a propper manner, creating and consolidating the Indian culture. However, this system was not to design to promote the harmonious working of the society. The weeks being as aroused of the protection from strong. however, we should be forgotten that the main philosophical idea of this caste-system. Even in it’s taken from the rigid sense in higher or lower rank. The masses become weak and the country feel on easy pray to powerful invader from outsider. Infact, Islam and Christianity took advantages that injustice prevailed in the Hindu laws and order, as a result, Hindu society made easy converts. Thereafter, it render good service to Hindu society when they contact with the west and made them aware of the need of drastic changes in society. Latter, the contrasts between colour toned down by inter-marriages. A tolerant of Hindu society allowed the new-comer preserve, as far as practicable, their own racial preference of social and religious customs. In the view of this the lower caste being the greater facilities for education and no one is being debared from government job on account of his caste. In this view way, a composite Hindu society gradually comes into being. Whose watch-words were unity in diversity and friendly co-existence. It is to be hoped that this unique social system which has in the part decisively contributed in Indian spiritual life, will again create a new environmental in which men and women will be able to practice the virtues stressed in Hinduism for the realization of the final goal of human evolution for peace and prosperous life conduct.8


Over and above discussion about the varma system and its corresponding privileges, duties and responsibility It is also mentioned in Hinduism, the division for stages of life. The first one is education (Brahmacasin), house holder (Grahastha) retire in forest (Vanaprastha) mendicant (Sanyase). Each of these had its own prescribed duties. This division of human being according to different stages of their life, however in one way this division is corresponds according to their caste. But here i am not going in detailed description of the stages of life (asrama) became everybody is well aware about these. But the concept of varna, I have discussed to clarify that what was actual duties of  each class.


The Foundational Ethic of Vedas:

Vedas are the oldest literature of the world. It has been a perennial source of Indian thought. An impartial analysis of the Vedic hymn, would reveals the two-fold ethical theories i.e duty of action (karma) and devotion (Bhakti) as the ideal followed by man for success in life and for bliss hereafter there is no point of moral end and conflicting duties, but we seem that there is spring of ethical thinking as well as the religious thought of Hindu people.


The concept of God (Deva) in the Vedas is very peculiar, it can’t be compared with other religion, and Vedic gods are not the gods of mythology, however there are numerous manifestation of central reality.9 In Rig-vedas says: The one reality is called by wise in different ways: “Agni yama. Matasisvan10 But a transitions from polytheism to Henotheism and from henotheism to monotheism gradually take place. Even in the Vedic age God is conceived to one; the plurality of gods is mere manifestation of the one supreme God. Beside, the Vedic seers hold that unity of all existence – the earth heaven; planets, gods etc. are regarded as the part of the (Pursottama) the supreme God; pervades the world and also remain beyond it. Yet he is not exhausted, His manifestation through nature has different gods. In fact Vedic faith in many gods in often called polytheism, each of man gods, when praised, is extolled by the hymn as the supreme God and the lords of gods. According to Rg. Veda-gods have the power to judges the merits of thought, speech and action of Individual internally that they alone give them reward, or punishment in their deeds.11 Vedic ethics is not merely religious although it is inspired by the gods who are representation of their divine power of God. Thus, they paves the ways for the path of devotion (Bhaktimaga).


Hindu communities believed that gods have an intimate relation of love with human beings. Every individual has the right to be loved by the gods and love returned by Him through Human duty.12 According to them, there are some elements found in the Vedas to fear gods. If the person fear of Gods. It’s meant not harm to anyone they are  away from bad intention, falsehood egoistic, enjoyment, cruelty, theft, injury and sinful action.


Thus, in the Holy Scripture sublime thoughts and suggesting purity of ideas like truthfulness of speech and nobility of action are embodied in Vedas gods is viewed as repository of all virtues, as truth, justice, kindness and mercy and human being in their prayers are required to think over and  over again and then conformed their actions to their dictates. We quote below some Vedic verse in support of the statement, we have made above. Herein lies the significance of Vedic prayers:


Do you walk together is the path of duty, do you think of measures peacefully for your welfare do you unite to add to your knowledge. Do you treat (treed) in the foot-steps of learned men.    ( Rig. 1.134,4.)


May we all be happy may we secure the happiness of all by conforming our actions to the principles of discipline   .( Rig. 5.51,14.)


Lord in order o make men walk along the straight path of Dharma and to develop men’s faculties harmoniously thou subjected the undutiful to discipline. Let us obey the law and commandants/13  (R.g. 1.51, 9).


In the above verse of the Rg. Vedas which drew all possible shade of the ethical ideals on human mind through their natural reflection.


Ethical idea of Ramayana:

In the whole work of Sanskrit literature, if there any work, a thrilling of joy and sensation in the reins of Indian thought is called Ramayana, the hero of Ramayana was Sri Rama, represent the ideal man in many respect. Sri Ram a name is a household, when a man after hard work done, returned to home and stretches himself on bed to enjoy his hard-earned rest, he unconsciously utter ‘Rama Rama’ all his trouble to an end. On the other hand, a dead body of relative and friends being Carried to funeral ground the people utterly are ‘Ram-nam-sat-hai’ it believe that a mere repetition of name in several time a day, his soul are purifies of all sins and leads it on to a beatitude. Beside, the many talisman with the name written on him. In generally Hindu community believe that Rama is incarnation of Vishnu, the all pervading Deity, who come this world, to re-established the region of justice and uprightness. Even in the modern day revivalist and rationalist too, who are not prepared to accept the theory of incarnation, they believed that Rama was a great personage. Prof. Weber is of the opinion that the principle character of Ramayana is not historical personage however a mere personification of certain event, the sita (Furrow) he says occur bots in the Rg.-veda and Grihya-Sutra. But here I am not going to discuss the historical fact of Ramayana. Inspite of this, Sri Ram memory disserve to be kept evergreen, My endeavour is only to highlight the ethical aspect of Ramayana.14


Man is a social being and his everyday life is associated with the paid and unpaid service of his fellow creatures. If we know our  first and foremost duty  how we ought to conduct ourselves towards our relative friends and subordinates. However, In Ramayana both by the sound precepts and noble example is an under. The ethical character of Rama could be seen from the very question that Valmiki asked Narada “At the present movement who is there on earth, who has both virtues of character and physical power ? who is person knowing dharma, possessing the virtue of gratitude, truth fullness and fixed purpose ?”15 In reply Narada refers to Rama, possesses all the qualities and attributes to him. Yet the true dharma of Ramayana is typical. The hero (Rama) suffers many hardship and in moral dilemma but he uphold the highest principle of morality with the full of determination. When Rama father (Dasaratha) was died. The materialist philosopher,  Jabali who urges him to return to Ayodhya.


The great moral determination of the Rama says only conduct declare him to be pure or impure … if I go on abounding my solemn assurance (of obeying my father) whom shall I be following and how shall I expect to attain heaven? It ( I follow the advice tendered by Jabali) I shall be following only an inclination in which I shall be followed by all my subject; for as are king disposed to do, so are their subject-Tradition enjoins upon king. The duties of abserving Truthfullness avoiding cruelty. The Truth is the main basis of a kingdom; and the lives of their people depend on truth. People get affliction all Trouble from a liar as from a serpent; righteousness or dharma consists chiefly is Truthfulness which is root of every good things.16


Inspite of this, when Bharta his younger brother approached to him, with a request to returned to Ayodhya.

Rama remarked

;nczohUeka ujyksdlRd`r

firk egkRek foc/kf/kiksie%

rnso eU;s ijekReuks fgr

Uk lcZyksds /kjekoeO;;eAA 17


Whatever, my father, who is loved and respected by the person, who is noble minded and wise commands. That I consider being conducive to my welfare… Simply to obey his father, similarly, Hindu youth there is certainly a Rama an ideal son, who abducted his throne and scarified all the comfort of his life and realized that obedience is the virtue of virtues.


No doubt, Rama had played an important role, But lakshman, Bharta and Sita are also one of the most remarkable character in Ramayana. Lakshmana accompanies his brother (Rama) in exile, suffer all privations for his sake, the character of Bharta too is equally noble. He was not at all anxious to be ruler when his eldest brother had better claims. All the way he went to forest, begged of his brother to returned Ayodhya and when he found his obdurate he brought his brother sandals, places them on the throne and governed the country in his name. In the history of India the two noble princely brother character are remembered forever.18 Apart from this, Sita character in Ramayana as a sincere, faithful wife of Rama, when Rama goes to exile, her mother in-law and house band to dissuaded her from leading the life of hermit in the forest. She uternly suffused to do so; and told that “I shall follow my house band, may I shall lead the way in dense forest, removing the thorn in the way of my Lords”19 and her second role is very influential when Sri Lanka king Ravana Kidnap Sita,  and he affair her temptation and promises to make her queen, she becomes cries out ‘Oh you villain bear in mind that Chastity is very strong amour of mine and it is proof against you vain glory and mean power. You cannot do me any harm I don’t care for your pelf and power”20


In above arguments we assume that different ideal character preached the sublimes and most practical principle which Hindu religion followed in every step of life in success and harmony.


In the epic of Mahabharata. The action of Youdhistra who is an apostle of truth, when he pained at the havoc caused by Kurushetra war expressed a desired to retire to forest, but he remained that first and foremost duty of King is to preserve the social order (Varma dharma and asrama). These social orders can’t be considered for one alone, all to aspire after them.21 There are also interesting dialogues between Youdhister and serpent when serpent evoked who is Brahmin, Youdhistra replies “Know him to be Brahim who is truthful, charitable, forgiving, gentle soft, merciful and who behave according to dharma.22 Thus, the central theme of Mahabharata is the necessity to fight evil and established the kingdom of justice


Ethical ideals of Gita, It represent on single thought in the history of Hindu ethics. It gives us a new direction grater harmony and extension of meaning. The central teaching of Gita is non-attachment it combine the basic factor of human activity produces a synthesis conducive to spiritual progress. When Arjuna dejected at the task of fighting evils his own kins aad kith. Thereafter, Sri Krishna urges:


Arjuna it is you duty to fight in the battle there was nothing greater than loyalty to svadharma and nothing more propositions for a man of the wassail clean (Kstriyas) than righteous war. If you don’t fight is the righteous war people will only lightly think of you and they will defame you and you now that dish our for one who enjoys popular esteem is verse than death and suppose for a moment that you and yourself killed you shall go to heaven: If you be victorious you shall enjoy on the east. Treating alike pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat, the get ready for battle. Thus thou shall not in our Sin”23


There is no couse for grief, you just fight against evil. But Arjuna could not back to the normalcy, Sri Krishna emphasized no individual can persihable absolutely “soul continue to exist eternally the soul never born nor dies; nor does exist on coming into being. For it is un-born eternal to primordial even though the body is slain the soul is not it is bound by the law of karma. Death is nothing but change an avastha a state of human existence.24 In view of  above arguments between srikrishna and Arjuna we deduced that  one should purify oneself through the Cultivation of complete detachment. However, this should be not done through a total withdrawal from duties, which as a member of community to discharges. In short form the theory of Gita guggested that if an action are performed with a detached mind their consequences cannot bind the performance. It distinctly implies that morality of an action depends not on the external consequences, but upon inner motives.


Finally, the above stories and silent features of Hindus ethics like the ideal character of Rama, Arjuna and Youdhisra, all of them had  done a very good job from ethical and  pragmatic point of view and kept the morality as part and  parcel of  life. They gave the moral  lessons  for all human beings to keep themselves  away from bad intention, and follow  by the norms and morals, as described in their own scriptures.  The Concept of Dharma is pivotal. However, the modern ethical concepts in Hinduism, vindicates the relevance of basic Hindus ideas, that Varna in its genuine form has still significance and meaning in the lips of man today. We all should treat human being equally and should ethically and psychologically make strong effort to bring equality in our thought and action.



1.       Sundararajan, Dr. K.R., Hinduism, Everest Press, Delhi, (1969), p. 40.

2.       Ibid., p. 41.

3.       Chandavarkar, Manual of Hindu Ethics, (N.D.)./ p. 9 (ix)

4.       Sundarajan, Dr. K.R., op.cit., p. 42.

5.       Rg. Veda X.90.12, c.f. Ibid., pp. 47-48.

6.       Bhagvatigita, I, 13., C.f. Sharan, Mahesh Kumar, The Bhagvatgita and Hindu Sociology, Mamala Nagar, Delhi, (1977), p. 24.

7.       Karna, K.K. Lal, Mahatma Gandhi Contribution to Hinduism, New Delhi, (1981), p. 32.

8.       Ramakrishna, Swami Nikhilanda, Article in “An Essay on Hindu Ethics” Vivekananda Centre, New York, p. 3.

9.       Sharma, I.C., Ethical Philosophies of India, George allen and Unwin. Ltd., (1965), p. 71.

10.     Rg. –Veda -1, 164.46., c.f. Karna, K.K. Lal, op.cit., pp. 2-3.

11.     Karna, K.K. Lal, Ibid., p. 3.

12.     Sharma, I.C., op.cit., pp. 72-73.

13.     Chandavarkar, op.cit., p. 6.

14.     Ibid., 47-49.

15.     Sundarajan, Dr. K.K. op.cit., pp. 46-47.

16.     Ramayana, ‘Bal Kanda’, 1.2-4,

17.     Chandavarkar op.cit., p. 51.

18.     Ibid., pp. 52-53.

19.     Ibid., p. 53.

20.     Ibid., p. 54.

21.     Sundarajan. Dr. K.R. op.cit., p. 46.

22.     Ibid., pp. 49-50.

23.     Bhagvatgita, 31-38, c.f. Mishra, Umesh History of Indian Philosophy, Allahabad, (1957), pp. 134-535.

24.     Bhagvatgita 2.13, c.f. Zimmer, Heinnich, Philosophy of India, Routledge and Kegan pal, London, (1951), pp. 384-85.



Received on 30.03.2011

Accepted on 16.04.2011

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