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NaturalLawandHinduism

Introduction
Asacontributiontotheunderstandinganddevelopmentofcomparativelawthe
naturallawtraditionholdsoutthepossibilityofauniversalitybasedonthe
considerationofwhatnormsshouldfollowhumannature,whichisalsoabletoadmit
avarietyofexpressionsreflectingthediversityofhumancultures.TheWestern
naturallawtraditionfindsitsclassicexpressioninThomasAquinastreatiseonlaw
andcontemporarysupportfornaturallawismostfrequentlyfoundinCatholic
ChristiantheologicalandethicalwritingforwhichAquinasisamajorauthority.A
goodexampleofanattemptincontemporaryCatholicreflectiontocombine
adherencetotheThomisttraditionwiththeconcernforuniversalitywithinaplurality
ofculturesisthedocumentproducedin2009bytheCatholicInternational
TheologicalCommission,InSearchofaUniversalEthic:ANewLookatNatural
Law.ThisdocumentseekstoconsiderwhetherandhowwelltheWesternChristian
traditionofnaturallawresonateswithotherreligiousandphilosophicaltraditionsin
thecontemporaryworld.Moreover,itclaimstobeabletoidentifyuniversalcommon
groundacrossanumberofreligioustraditions,includingHinduism.
Hinduismisagoodcasestudyforexploringnaturallawanditsimplicationsfor
comparativelaw.Apartfrombeingoneofthemajorreligiousculturesoftheworld,
adheredtobyafifthoftheworldspopulation,Hinduismalsocontainsanancient
legaltradition,classicallyarticulatedinthesophisticatedandsystematictextsofthe
Sanskritdharmastraliteratureaswellasinavarietyofotherdharmatexts,
especiallythosefoundintheHinduepicliterature.Thislegaltraditionis,like
Westernnaturallaw,concernedwiththegeneralprinciplesofhowhumanbeingsqua
humanbeingsshouldliveandinteract.Yetitalsodealswithpositivelawintheform
ofspecificrules,penaltiesandtheirenforcement.Thislegaltraditionhasfor
centuriesbeenofcentralimportanceforBrahmanical(orhighcaste)Hindus,whose
religiouscultureisoftencharacterisedasanorthopraxymanifestinthestructuresand
normsofthesocialhierarchyofthecastesystem.ForsuchHindus,thefundamental
makerofaHinduisoftensaidtobeprimarilyadherencetotheorthopraxyofthis
legaltraditionofdharmaandtoitssources,ratherthantoanyorthodoxy,inmarked
contrasttocreedalreligionssuchasChristianityandIslam.Thus,itisclearhow
importantthelegaltraditionofdharmaisinHinduism.However,theclassicaltexts
ofthistradition,thedharmastra,haveoftenrepresentedapuzzleforthoseseeking
tounderstandthenatureoflawandthepracticalapplicationoflegalsystemsin
Hinduism,sinceitisnotcleartowhatextentthedharmatextsthemselvesweretaken
historicallyaslegalcodestobeappliedstraightforwardlyaspositivelawinHindulife
inanygivenperiod.
InthisarticleIwouldlikefirsttoconsiderhowtheHindudharmatraditioningeneral
relatestotheWesternnaturallawtraditionandthesearchforuniversalityacross
cultures.Mycontentionhereisthatsuchcomparativestudyactuallytellsagainst
contemporaryclaimsfortheuniversalityofnaturallawindifferentcultures,since
Hinduismhasratherdifferentviewsofwhathumannatureisandresultanthuman

goalsare.Second,Ishallmorenarrowlyconsiderwhatacomparisonofoneofthe
mostimportantdharmastratexts,theLawsofManu(Mnavadharmastra)and
theclassicaltreatiseonlawinAquinasSummaTheologiaetellusaboutthetextual
characterofnaturallawaccounts,aswellastherelationbetweensuchtextsandthe
naturallawaccountstheycontainandthehistoricalrealityoflegalenactmentin
differenttraditions.HereIcontendthatwecanidentifycommonstructuralelements
andcommonissuesindifferenttraditionsofreligiouslaw.Bothareworksof
scholasticjurisprudence,inwhichlawisrelatedtothediscussionofwhatmakesfor
fullhumanflourishingandhappiness.Bothlocatenaturallawwithinawider
religiouscontextofeternalanddivinelaw.Bothexemplifythegapsandtensions
betweensuchnormativetheoreticalaccountsandthecontingent,contextualisedand
concreterealitiesofpositivelawintheculturesoutofwhichtheyemerge.
Part1:TheUniversalityofNaturalLaw
Identifyingcommontruthsorvalues,letalonesystemsoflaw,acrossculturesis,
however,aperilousbusiness.Whatappearstobecommongroundcanturnouttobe
meresuperficialsimilarity,whenthetruthsorvaluesinquestionaresetwithintheir
differentculturalcontexts.Howwell,then,doesthesearchforsomethingmatching
thenaturallawaccountworkedoutintheWesternChristiantraditionfareinthe
contextoftheverydifferentreligiouscultureofHinduism?
Inansweringthisquestion,Iwanttoengagemorefullywiththedocumentproduced
in2009bytheCatholicInternationalTheologicalCommission,InSearchofa
UniversalEthic:ANewLookattheNaturalLaw.1Itstartswiththequestionof
whetherthereareobjectivemoralvaluesthatcanunitehumanbeingsandbringthem
happinessandpeaceandthenitsfirstchapteridentifiesconvergencespresentinthe
differentculturesofhumanity,whichtestifytotheexistenceofapatrimonyofvalues
commontoallhumanbeing,nomatterhowthesevaluesarejustifiedwithina
particularworldview,manifestnotleastinthegoldenrule(Andwhatyouhate,
donotdotoanyone[Tob4:15]asfoundinoneformoranotherinthemajorityof
wisdomtraditions.2
InthecaseofHinduism,thedocumentmakesanumberofsuggestionsaboutwhere
suchconvergencesmightbefound.Aspreparationfortherestofthepaper,itis
usefulatthispointtosettheseoutinsomedetail.Firstthedocumentidentifiesa
generalconceptinHinduismthatmightserveasanequivalenttothatofnaturallaw:
IntheHindutraditions,theworldthecosmosaswellashumansocietiesis
regulatedbyanorderorfundamentallaw(dharma),whichonemustrespectin
ordernottocauseseriousimbalances.Dharmathendefinesthesocio
religiousobligationsofman.3

LibreriaEditriceVaticana,CittadelVaticano,2009;Englishedition:London:CatholicTruthSociety,
2012
2
Ibid.section12.
3
Ibidsection13.

Thedocumentthentalksofspecificmoralteachingfoundinthesacredtextsofthe
Upaniads,whicharisesfromthefundamentaldoctrinesfoundthereaboutthenature
ofhumanlife,suchasthedoctrinethatthereisacycleofrebirth(sasra)andthat
humanactionshavegoodorbadconsequences,determiningsubsequentbirths
(karma).Thesedoctrines,thedocumentsays,determineonesbehaviourtowards
othersandentailahighdegreeofgoodnessandtolerance,asenseofdisinterested
actionforthebenefitforothers,aswellasthepracticeofnonviolence(ahis).
ThedocumentfurtheridentifiesamajorlocationforfindingHinduaccountsofethical
prescriptionsasbeingthedharmastras,especiallythatofManu(the
Mnavadharmastra,oftentranslatedasLawsofManuorManuforshort),in
which,thedocumentstates,wecanfindanumberofparallelsfortheDecalogue.It
pointsalsotoaccountsofdharmaintheepicliterature,pointingtoapassageinthe
MahbhratawhereaversionoftheGoldenRulemightbediscerned:
Iwilltellyouwhatistheessenceofthehighestgoodofthehumanbeing.
Themanwhopracticesthereligionofdonoharmtoanyonewithout
exceptionacquiresthegreatestgood.Thismanisthemasterofthethree
passions:cupidity,angerandavarice,andrenouncingtheminrelationtoall
thatexists,acquiressuccessThismanwhoconsidersallcreatureslike
himselfandtreatsthemashisownself,layingdownthepunishingrodand
dominatinghisangercompletely,assuresforhimselftheattainmentof
happinessOnewillnotdotoanotherwhatoneconsidersharmfultooneself.
This,inbrief,istheruleofvirtueInrefusingandingiving,inabundance
andinmisery,intheagreeableandthedisagreeable,onewilljudgeallthe
consequencesbyconsideringonesownself.4
Thedocumentsuggests,then,thatinthegeneralHinduconceptofdharma,
exemplifiedbytheparticularinstancesgiven,wecanfindevidenceforauniversal
ethic,acommonpatrimonyofvalues,presentinHinduismaselsewhere.Intherest
ofthispaper,withoutwantingtorejectthesearchorevenidentificationof
convergencealtogether,Idowanttointroduceanumberofqualificationsthatneedto
betakenonboard,ifsuchanendeavouratidentifyingcrossculturalcommonground
isnotjusttoseemsuperficialandevennaive.
ThefirstqualificationIwanttomakeisthereareanumberofethicaltendenciesin
Hinduismandthatthedocumentpicksoutjustone.Hinduismisnotonereligion,but
areligiouscultureinwhichnumberoftraditionshavedeveloped,distinctfromeach
otherandofteninmarkedtensionwitheachother,thoughinteractingwitheachother
overthecourseofmillennia.5Ingeneraltermsweneedtodistinguishbetweenaform
ofethicsknownassvadharma(onesowndharma),wheretheemphasisison
particulardutiesofdifferentgroupswithinthesocialhierarchyofthecastesystem,
andanotherformofethicsinwhichmoreuniversalethicalpreceptsareadvocated,
sdhraadharma(generaldharma). Foritspart,thedocumentfocusesalmost
entirelyonthesecond,inwhichitistruethatatypeofuniversalethicsisadvocated.
However,theethicsofsvadharmaisalsoacentralfeatureoftraditionalHindu
4

Ibidsection13quotingMahbhrata,Anunaparva,113,39.
ForadiscussionofthedifferentethicaltendenciespresentinHinduismseeWendyDoniger
OFlaherty(1976)TheOriginsofEvilinHinduMythology.Berkeley:UniversityofCalifornia.
5

religiouscultureasawholeandabalancedconsiderationoftheextenttowhicha
universalethicsismanifestinHinduismshouldtakenoteofthisotherethical
tendency.Asweshallsee,theethicsofsvadharmaisbasedonaworldviewthathas
manygeneralfeaturesincommonwithaChristiannaturallawaccountandyetresults
inaschemeofethicsthatisverydefinitelynotaformofuniversalethicsnor
compatiblewithsomeofthefundamentalconcreteteachingofsuchChristiannatural
law.
ThesecondqualificationIwanttomakeisthattheethicsofsadhraadharmaitself
iscloselylinkedtoanasceticaltendencyinHinduismfocusedonworldrenunciation,
asevidencedinthedifferentworksthedocumentcites.Theasceticaltendencyalso
representsamajorfeatureofHindureligiousculture.Herethemotivationsformany
oftheethicalpracticesidentifiedaspointsofconvergenceareratherdifferentfrom
Christiannaturallawethics,sincetheyarebasedonanaccountofthehumanperson
andofthehumanconditionwithintheworldthatisradicallydifferentand
incompatiblewithChristianteaching.Thattheresultantethicshaspointsof
convergenceintermsofparticularexternalactsshouldnotobscurethefactthatthere
aredifferentmotivationsandgoalsbehindthem,whicharisefromdivergent
worldviewsandsoteriologies.Canwereallytalkaboutacommonpatrimonyof
valueswhenthisisthecase?
1.1:TheEthicsofSvadharma
TheethicalsystemofsvadharmarepresentsinmanywaysthedistinctiveHinduform
ofnaturallaw.ItemergesfromtheheartofthatformofHinduismotherwiseknown
asVedicorBrahmanicalHinduism,whichdevelopedfromthesecondmillennium
B.C.andgraduallybecamethedominantreligiousculturewithinHinduismasa
whole.BrahmanicalHinduismreferstotheHindutraditionsdevelopedand
promotedbytheBrahminsandotherhighcasteHindus.SuchHindusacceptthe
authorityofabodyofsacredliteraturecalledtheVedas,composedinSanskrit,
reveredasrevelationandheldtobetheprincipalsourceofdharma.Asthedocument
pointsout,abodyofliteratureexpoundingthenatureofdharmadevelopsinlater
BrahmanicalHinduism,includingtheDharmaStras(theextantonesmostlydating
fromaboutthesixthtothethirdcenturyB.C.)andDharmastras(fromaboutthe
endofthethirdcenturyB.Conwards),textsthatsetoutritualandsocialdharmain
greatdetail,amongwhichtheLawsofManuhasapreeminentpositionasa
sustainedaccountofthetheoryofsvadharma.
Theterm,dharmaitselfcomesfromaverbalroot,dh,whichmeanstoupholdor
tosupport.Byextensionitcomestomeanthepropernatureororderthingshavein
general,eitherwhichtheyactuallydohaveorwhichtheyshouldhavebyvirtueof
rightaction.Dharmaisthustheproperorderthatupholdsboththenaturalworldand
inhumansociety.Thedharmaoffire,forinstance,isitsnaturalcapacitytoheat
otherthingsup;thedharmaofhumansocietyisfoundinthesocialnorms,ethical
practicesandritualactivitiesthathumanbeingsshouldfollow.
Thefoundationaltextforthisaccountofdharmaandfortheethicsofsvadharmais
thepuruasktahymnofthegVeda(gVedaX.90),whichdescribesthe
productionoftheworldintermsofthesacrificeoftheCosmicMananddepictsthe
4

differentelementsinthenaturalworldaswellasofhumansocietyasmadefromthe
differentpartsofhisdismemberedbody.Thehumansocialsystemisthuspartofthe
originalstructureoftheworldfromitscreation.Thishumansocietyismadeupof
fourbroadclasses(vara)ofpeoplewithdifferentnaturalcharacteristicsthatresult
fromthattheirhavingdifferentoriginsfromtheCosmicMan:theBrahmins(priests),
whoemergefromtheheadortheCosmicMan;theKatriyas(rulers)emergingfrom
hisarms;theVaiyas(commoners)fromthethighsandthedras(servants)fromthe
feet.
Thevaraschemethatemergesfromthisisaritualandsocialhierarchywiththe
Brahminsatthetopandthedrasatthebottom.Thetopthreevarasarealsosaid
tobetwiceborn(dvija),meaningthattheyarerebornthroughcertainliferituals.
ThetopthreevarasandtheyaloneareentitledtoknowtheVedasandtohaveVedic
ritualsperformedforthem.Withinthisscheme,drasandothersareexcludedfrom
Vedicreligionandsotendtohaveotherformsofreligionandritualandtohavenon
Brahminritualistsservingtheirneeds.
InthefirstchapterofManuinwhichtheoriginsofhumansocietyaresetwithinthe
contextofthecreationoftheworldandinclearallusiontothisVedichymn,thefour
classesandtheirdistinctiverolesaredepictedintermsofthedifferentinnate
activities,whichalllivingthingscarryoutaspartoftheirverynatureandplace
withintheorderoftheworld:
AndwhateverinnateactivitytheLordyokedeach(creature)toatfirst,that
(creature)byhimselfengagedinthatveryactivityashewascreatedagainand
again(1.28).6
Justastheseasonsbythemselvestakeonthedistinctivesignsoftheseasons
astheychange,soembodiedbeingsbythemselvestakeontheirinnate
activities,eachhisown(1.30).
Thusthemembersofeachclasshavedistinctrolesfrombirthandthecarryingoutof
theseispartofthefundamentalfabricofgoodorderintheworldasawhole:
Buttoprotectthewholecreation,theLustrousOnemadeseparateinnate
activitiesforthosebornfromhismouth,arms,thighsandfeet.Forpriestshe
ordainedteachingandlearning,sacrificingforthemselvesandsacrificingfor
others,givingandreceiving.Protectinghissubjects,giving,havingsacrifices
performed,studyingandremainingunaddictedtothesensoryobjectsarein
summaryforaruler.Protectinghislivestock,giving,havingsacrifices
performed,studying,trading,lendingmoney,andfarmingthelandarefora
commoner.TheLordassignedonlyoneactivitytoaservant:servingthese
(other)classeswithoutresentment(1.8790).
Upholdingthedharmaofsocietyisthusanintegralpartofupholdingtherightorder
oftheworldasawholeandthedharmaofsocietyisupheldwhenthemembersof
6

All quotations are from the translation of Manu by Wendy Doniger (1991) TheLawsofManu.
London:Penguin.

eachvaradotheworkappropriatetothem,theirsvadharma(owndharma),the
actionsthatarerightforanindividualwithintheparticularstageoflifeandgroupto
whichheorshebelongs.Theethicsofsvadharmaarethusfundamentallycontext
specificandrelativeinitsethicsratherthanuniversalincharacter.Moreover,this
formofethicsisfirmlyopposedtomembersofoneclasscarryingoutthedharmaof
anothergroup,evenifinemergenciesthisisallowedtosomeextent.Anotherwidely
reveredsacredtext,theBhagavadGt,affirmstheideaofsvadharmainthesemuch
repeatedwords,Itisbettertopractiseyourowninherentdutydeficientlythan
anothersdutywell.Itisbettertodieconformingtoyourownduty;thedutyofothers
invitesdanger(BG3.35).
Theethicsofsvadharmaisfurtherexpressedwithintheschemeof
varramadharma(thedharmaofclassandstageoflife).7Wehavealready
consideredwhatismeantbyvara.Therearealsosaidtobefourramas:thatofthe
celibatestudentinVedicstudy(brahmacarya),thatofthemarriedhouseholder
(ghasta),thatoftheforestdweller(vnaprastha),andthatoftheasceticorrenouncer
(sanysa).Thelasttwostagesrepresentincreasingdegreesofwithdrawalfrom
ordinarysocialandrituallife.Thisisanidealisedschemeofthelifeofahighcaste
Hinduandtheinclusionofthefourthstageofasceticrenunciationisitselfanattempt
tointegratetheethicsofsvadharmawithanasceticformofethicsbasedon
detachmentfromtheworld.Andtheemphasisinthedharmastraliteraturelike
thatofManuisonthevalueofbecomingandremainingamarriedhouseholderrather
thanrenouncingsocietyasanascetic.Themarriedhouseholdermaintainsthe
dharmaoftheworldandhumansociety,throughtheperformanceofproperrituals,
theproductionofoffspringandthecarryingoutoftheoccupationspropertothe
differentsectionsofsociety.
Thisformofethicsisworldaffirmingandconcernedwithinvolvementinactions
withaconcernfortheworldlysuccesstheyshould.Itisanethicsofengagement
(pravtti).Thisisfurthermanifestinanotherimportantscheme:thatofthefour
legitimategoalstobepursuedbyhumanbeings(pururtha).Theseare:honestly
gainedwealth(artha);pleasurewithintheboundsofsocialnorms(kma);ritualand
socialobligations(dharma)andliberationfromtheworld(moka).Thefinalgoalof
liberationagainlinkstothefourthstageoflifeandliberationfromtheworldcycle.
However,thefirstthreegoalsfitintotheethicsofsvadharmaweareconsideringand
emphasisethelegitimateenjoymentofmundanegoodsandasuccessfullife,justasit
valuesthefamilylifeofthehouseholderasthenormativemodeofhumanliving.
Theethicalsystemofsvadharma,then,isaformofHindunaturallaw,manifestinthe
theoryandpracticeofthecastesystem.Ontheonehand,itdoeshaveitsownpoints
ofgeneralconvergencewithChristiannaturallawaccounts.Theactivitiesofany
individualareorderedtothecommongoodofsociety.Moreover,adherencetoones
svadharmaisthehumanparticipationintheeternalanddivinelawthatarepresentin
theworldasawhole.Theemphasisofsvadharmaisalsoonthepreservationof
ownslife,onthepropagationoffamilyandonsocialliving.Ontheotherhand,this
isverydefinitelynotasystemofuniversalethicsbasedonanideaofwhatisproperto
7

Manu,Chapters24,6.

allandanyhumanbeingsbynature,whereasingleethicalcodeofbehaviouris
prescribedfortoallhumanbeings.AstheleadingAmericanIndologist,Wendy
DonigerOFlahertyhasputit,ThesvadharmasystemoforthodoxHinduismisan
ethicalsystembasedontheinherentpluralismofcaste(whosegoalisthepreservation
ofsocialandmoralbalance).8InherintroductiontoherowntranslationtoManu,
DonigerOFlahertyreferstotheIndianIndologistA.K.Ramanujanscommentson
thetypeofethicsfoundinManuandotherdharmatexts:
OnehasonlytoreadManuafterabitofKanttobestruckbytheformers
extraordinarylackofuniversality.Heseemstohavenoclearnotionofa
universalhumannaturefromwhichonecandeduceethicaldegreesTobe
moral,forManu,istoparticularizetoaskwhodidwhat,towhomandwhen.
Shawscomment,Donotdountoothersasyouwouldhavetheydountoyou.
TheirtastesmaynotbethesamewouldbeclosertoManusview,excepthe
wouldsubstitutenaturesorclassesfortastes.9
Moreover,thereisnofullycommonhumandignityamongpersonswithinthis
scheme,especiallybetweenthetwicebornanddrasorbetweenthemembersof
anyofthefourvarasandthoseheldtobeoutsideit,theoutcastes.10Thevara
systemisahierarchyrootedinthedifferentnaturaloriginsandstatusofthedifferent
groups.
1.2:TheEthicsofSdhraadharma.
Sofar,then,wehaveconsidereddharmaasitismanifestedintheparticularisedor
contextspecificcontextofsvadharma.However,certaintypesofbehaviourarealso
saidtoberightforallpeopletodo(sdhraadharma,commondharma).Aswe
noted,itisthistypeofdharmathatInSearchofaUniversalEthicdealswith.That
thedocumentcitesinthefirstplacetheUpaniadsisappropriatebecauseitisfrom
thekindofworldviewfoundintheUpaniadsthattheethicsofsdhraadharma
drawsmuchofitsrationaleandemphasis.
TheworldviewoftheUpaniadsisthatofworldrenunciation.Withinthisworldview
thenatureofhumanbeingsisunderstoodtobeatwosubstancedualism,withanon
materialorspiritualcore,theself(tman),whichhasanintegralexistenceofisown
andistherealme.Theselfacquiresamaterialbodyasaresultandinaccordance
withtheconsequencesofitsgoodorbaddeedsundergoesrepeatedrebirth.
However,withintherenunciantperspectivetheprocessofrebirthisanegative
experienceandthedesiredgoalistobecomefreeofitaltogetherandenjoya
transcendentexistence,eitherincompleteidentitywith,orinaformofcommunion
with,theultimaterealitybehindtheworld,Brahman.Thistranscendentexperienceis
characterisedasknowledge(jna).Theethicsofworldrenunciationarethus
motivatedbyaconcerntowithdrawfromattachmenttoactionsandtheirresultsand
8

OFlaherty,1976,p.378.
WendyDoniger(1991)TheLawsofManu(London:Penguin,1991)p.xlvi,fromA.K.Ramanujan,
IsthereanIndianWayofthinking?Aninformalessay,ContributionstoIndianSociology(n.s)2:1
(1989),pp.458.
10
Forinstance,ManuChapter10.
9

togetfreefrommaterialrebirth.Thisisanethicsofnonengagement(nirvtti).And
theparticularethicalnormsthatareemphasisedarethosethatpromotesuch
detachmentandwithdrawal,suchasnonviolenceandequanimity.
Inaradicalform,theethicsofworldrenunciationhavegonehandinhandwitha
rejectionofthesocietyofsvadharmaaltogetherandthepursuitofliberationasan
asceticorworldrenouncer(sanysin).However,thesesameethicshavealsobeen
incorporatedintothedharmaandepicliteratureindifferentdegreesoftensionwith
andaccommodationtotheethicsofsvadharma.Thus,eventhoughtheprimary
emphasisofManusdharmastraisonupholdingthesvadharmaofthecaste
system,sdhraadharmaalsomakesanappearance.Sdhraadharmaethicsare
certainlyputforwardasapplicableforall,thoughwithinManuitisprimarilythe
Brahminmale,whoisdepictedaslivingthemoutandwhoisthusdepictedasbeinga
kindofrenunciantlivinginsociety,thusaffirmingBrahminsuperiorityovertheother
varas.
Thus,inManuwefindthefollowingrecommendation:
Manuhassaidthatnonviolence,truth,notstealing,purification,andthe
suppressionofthesensorypowersisthedutyofthefourclasses,inanutshell
(10.63)(cf4.246,5.107,6.914)
Thisisauniversalethicsofasort.However,itisnotsimplythedharmaofthecaste
systemputinamoregeneralform.Ratherthisistheasceticalethicsofworld
renunciation,wherethedifferentethicalnormspromotewithdrawalfromattachment
toworldlygoods,toactionsandtheirconsequences,andhencetorebirth.
Wecanseethisifweconsidertheethicofnonviolence(ahim)whichformsa
centralemphasiswithinrenunciantlifeandacentralethicofsdhraadharma.
Manurecommendsnonviolenceaboveallastheethicthatleadstohumanhappiness:
Amanwhodoesnoviolencetoanythingobtains,effortlessly,whathethinks
about,whathedoes,andwhathedelightsin(5.47)
However,ageneralethicofnonviolencecreatesanumberofproblemsfor
Brahmanicaldharmastra,bothbecausetheVedicritualsystemdoesinvolvethe
killingofanimalsinsacrificeandbecausethesvadharmaofwarriorsandofkingsis
tofightandkillinbattleortoexecutecriminals.InManuthisisresolvedbythe
grantingofexceptionstothegeneralethicofnonviolence.Thekillingofanimalsin
sacrificeisdepictedasnotreallyanactofviolencebecauseitisitselfdharmic,
enjoinedbytheVeda:
TheSelfexistentOnehimselfcreatedsacrificialanimalsforsacrifice;
sacrificeisforthegoodofthewhole(universe);andthereforekillingina
sacrificeisnotkilling(5.39).

Theviolencetothosethatmoveandthosethatdonotmovewhichis
sanctionedbytheVedaandregulatedbytheofficialrestraintsthatisknown
asnonviolence,forthelawcomesfromtheVeda(5.44)
Likewisetheviolenceofwarriorsandkingsisalsodharmicbecauseitaccordswith
theirinnatenatureandroleofprotectingsubjects:
Notturningawayfrombattle,protectingsubjects,andobediencetopriestsare
theultimatesourcesofwhatisbestforkings.Kings,whotrytokillone
anotherinbattleandfighttotheirutmostability,neveravertingtheirfaces,go
toheaven(7.8889)
However,withinManusaccountitisstillnonviolencethatispromotedastheethic
thatleadstoultimatehappiness.Withinthedharmaandepicliteraturewefind,tobe
fair,differentaccountsgivenofthereasonswhatnonviolenceissuchagoodthing.
Ontheonehand,thereisaproperlyasceticalethicalaccountthatviolenceisharmful
fortheperpetratorandthattheconsequenceofviolentactionsisfurtherandverybad
enmeshmentinthecycleofrebirth.Nonviolenceontheotherhandishelpfulto
gettingfreefromactionsandtheirconsequencesandworldtranscendence.Alongside
thisamorealtruisticaccountisgivenconcernedwiththeharmdonetothevictimsof
violenceandconsequencesforthem.Nonviolenceisthereforemotivatedfroma
concernforthewelfareofothers.Thepassageschosenbythedocument,not
surprisingly,selecttextsinwhichthesecondmorealtruisticmotiveispresent,since
thisshowsgreaterconvergencewithapositiveformoftheGoldenRule.Yetthis
morealtruisticaccountdoesnotreplacetheasceticalonenordoesitoutweighthe
importanceoftheasceticalethicinHinduethicaltexts.
Thus,inManu,asinmanyothersuchworks,theemphasisisfirmlyontheascetical
ethic.11Intheparticularcaseofnonviolence,themotivationfornonviolenceisnot
primarilythewrongdonetothevictimofviolence,butthedamageviolencedoesto
oneself.Violenceenmeshestheperpetratorintothecycleofrebirththatkarmic
actionsbringaboutandinthiscasetheconsequencesareparticularlynegative:
Asmanyhairsasthereareonthebodyofthesacrificialanimalthathekillsfor
no(religious)purposehereonearth,somantimeswillbe,afterhisdeath,
sufferaviolentdeathinbirthafterbirth(5.38).
Suchanasceticalaccountofnonviolenceis,thus,ratherdifferentinemphasisfroma
Christiannaturallawaccountofwhatiswronginkillinginnocenthumanbeingsin
termsofthesovereigntyoftheCreatoroverhumanlife,thenaturalgoodofother
humanbeingsandthejusticeduetoafellowhumanbeing.
InthefinalchapteroftheworkManuconsidersmoregenerallythenatureofgoodand
baddeedsandthelawofkarma.HereheidentifiestwokindsofVedicactivity:that
ofengagement(pravtti)andthatdisengagement(nirvtti).Thefirstisthatof
11

NotleasttheBhagavadGt,whichadvocatesanethicofdesirelessaction(nikmakarma),where
affirmationofsvadharma,includingtheviolenceofwarfare,isintegratedwiththeasceticalethicof
detachment.

involvementinonesduties(svadharma)accordingtothecastesystem,seekingand
enjoyingtherightfulfruitsofsuchactions.Theotheristhatofwithdrawalfrom
attachmentfromthemasinasceticalethicsandworldrenunciation:
Theactivityofengagementissaidtobedrivenbydesireinthisworldandthe
worldbeyond;buttheactivityofdisengagementissaidtobefreeofdesireand
motivatedbyknowledge.Themanwhoisthoroughlydedicatedtotheactivity
ofengagementbecomesequaltothegods;butthemanwhoisdedicatedto
disengagementpassesbeyondthefiveelements(12.8990).
Themanwhosacrificestotheself,equallyseeingtheselfinalllivingthings
andalllivingthingsintheself,becomesindependent.Apriestshouldgiveup
eventheactivitiesdescribedaboveanddevotehimselfdiligentlytothe
knowledgeoftheself,totranquillity,andtotherecitationoftheVeda(12.91
92)
Whoeverthusseestheselfthroughtheselfinalllivingbeingsachieves
equanimitytowardsallofthemandreachesthesupremecondition,the
ultimatereality(12.125)
Wecansee,then,hereareflectionoftheethicallanguagefoundintheUpaniadsand
otherasceticalliteratureadvocatingworldrenunciation.EventhoughtheBrahmin
whoembodiestheminManuremainsinsociety,therewardsgivenarethoseofworld
renunciation:liberationfromthecycleofrebirthandtherealisationofatranscendent
state,thesupremecondition,theultimatereality,mentionedinthelastpassage
quotedfromManu,somethingcharacterisedasknowledge(ratherthanaction).The
activityofengagement,ontheotherhand,leadstoaheavenlystate,thetraditional
goalofsvadharma,butwhichisimpermanentandendsinanotherrebirth.
Thus,theethicsofsdhraadharmadoofferanalternativeparadigmofnaturallaw
inHinduismtothatofsvadharmaandonethatdoespresentaformofuniversalethics
thathasmuchincommonintermsofexternalactionwiththepreceptsofChristian
naturallaw.However,despitethepresenceofamorealtruisticaccountofsuch
ethics,asimportant,andoftenmuchmoreimportant,istheasceticalaccountthat
informswhatmotivationsandgoalsareatwork.Thus,theneedforthesecond
qualificationImentionedatthebeginning:theidentificationofcommongroundin
termsofexternalactsneedstobequalifiedbyrealdifferencesintermsofworldview
andresultantmotivation.
TraditionalHinduismis,then,arichreligiouscultureinwhichthereareanumberof
ethicaltendencies,withdifferentschemesandmotivationsatwork.Whatwefindin
thedocument,InSearchofaUniversalEthic,isactuallyaveryselectiveandlargely
decontextualisedapproachandanumberofimportantqualificationsdohavetobe
madetothecommongrounditsuggestsisthere.Attheveryleast,anydesireto
affirmsuchconvergenceacrossculturesalsohastobebalancedwithrecognitionof
whatisnotconvergentandevencontrary,ifitistobetruetothefullrealityofthese
cultures.

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Part2:TextualTraditions
2.1:DharmaTextsandAquinasTreatiseonLaw.
SofarwehaveconsideredhowthestudyofclassicallegaltraditionsinHinduism
relatestothemodernclaimfortheuniversalityofnaturallawwithinadiversityof
cultures.Wehavearguedthatwhereaswecanidentifyformsofnaturallawaccount
withinthedharmaliterature,WesternandHinduconceptsofwhatisnaturalfor
humanbeingsaredivergent.Thisismorethanjustadivergenceofcultural
expressionofthesamenaturallaw.However,itisalsoofconsiderablecomparative
interesttoconsiderhowHinduandWesternlegalworkswhichembodynaturallaw
relateastextualtraditions.IfwetakeManusdharmastraandsetitalongside
AquinasSummaTheologiaewefindconsiderablestructuralparallelsbetweenthem.
Aquinasaccountofnaturallawisonlyasmallelementinpartamuchgreatertreatise
onlawandshouldbeunderstoodwithinit(ST1a2ae90108).Moreover,thistreatise
onlawisitselfmeanttobereadwithintheSummaTheologiaeasawhole,whichisan
extendedexpositionofthescienceofsacradoctrina,orthereasonedandsystematic
explorationofdivinerevelationandofitsroleinleadinghumanbeingstofullhuman
flourishingandhappiness,whichisfinallytoberealisedinthebeatificvisionofGod.
ThetreatiseonlawcomesinthesecondpartoftheSummawhereAquinasconsiders
humanactsandhowthesemaybeorderedtoordepartfromtheproperhumangood.
ForAquinaslaw(lex)isfirstdefinedastheacertainruleandmeasureofacts,
wherebysomeoneisledtoactorheldbackfromacting(ST1a2ae90,1).Ashe
considersthedifferentaspectsoflawthefollowingdefinitionemerges:
Lawisnoughtelsethananordinanceofreasonforthecommongood
promulgatedbytheonewhohascareofthecommunity(ST1a2a2e90,4).
ForAquinasnaturallawisonlyonevarietyoflawandisintegratedintoawider
schemethatincludeseternallaw,humanlawanddivinelaw(ST1a2ae91,14).The
eternallawisGodsprovidence,theruleandmeasureofallthingsforthegoodofthe
universeasawhole.Naturallawisaparticipationinthiseternallaw,representing
divineprovidenceforhumanbeingsquahumanbeings.Humanlaws,ontheother
hand,representthepositivelawsthataredevelopedinordertoexpressthenaturallaw
inpracticeandfurtherthecommongood.Moreover,Aquinasaffirmstheneedfor
divinelawoverandabovereasonedexplorationofnaturallaw.Divinelawhasthe
functionbothofrevealingwhatisstrictlyspeakingunobtainablebyhumanreason,
butalsorevealswhatnaturalhumanreasonmightdiscover,buttendsnottobecause
ofthefallibilityofhumanjudgmentsinmakinglawsabouthumanconduct(ST1a2ae
91,4).Inthisregardtherelationbetweendivinelawandanynaturallawaccountis
partofthewiderrelationbetweenrevelationandhumanreasonintheSummaasa
whole(ST1a1,1).
InhismoredetailedtreatmentofnaturallawinST1a2ae94,Aquinasdefines
reflectiononnaturallawastheoperationofpracticalreasoning,whichworksfrom

11

thefirstprinciplesgoverningallhumanconductinpursuitofhumangoodtomore
particularconclusions,whicharethenexpressedashumanlaws.Themost
fundamentalprincipleofallisthecommandtoseekthegoodandavoidtheevil:
Nowsincethegoodhasthemeaningofanend,butevilthemeaningofits
opposite,itfollowsthatallthosethingstowhichahumanbeinghasanatural
inclinationreasonnaturallyapprehendsasgoods,andasaconsequenceas
thingstobepursuedinaction,andtheiroppositesasevilsandtobeavoided
(ST1a2ae94,2).
Theworkingoutofthisprincipleismanifestinhumanbeingspursuinganumberof
basicgoods,whichmanifestindifferentwayswhathumanbeingsandtheirgoodhave
incommonwithothercreatedthingsintheuniverse:incommonwithallsubstances
theyseekpreservationoftheirownnaturalbeing;incommonwithanimalstheyseek
reproductionandthebringingupoffspring;andincommonwithrationalbeings,they
seekknowledgeofthetruthaboutGodandaboutlivinginsociety(ST1a2ae94,2).
ThestructureofthisapproachisparalleledintheLawsofManu.Inthelastsection,
wesawthatdharmaisdepictedastherightwayoftheworldasawhole,thenatural
lawsandorderthatshouldbemanifestintheworld.Thedharmaofhumansocietyis
determinedbywhatisthenaturalgoodforthedifferentclassesofhumanbeingsas
partoftheworldproducedfromthesacrificeoftheCosmicMan.Itisthusa
participationinthedharmaoftheworldasawholeandsoupholdingofthedharma
ofhumansocietyisintegraltothemaintenanceoftheuniversaldharma.The
relationshipbetweenthedharmaofhumanlifeandthedharmaoftheworldisparallel
tothatbetweennaturallaw,humanandeternallawinAquinasaccount.12Moreover,
dharmaissaidtobederivedfromthedivinelawcontainedinVedas:
WhateverManuhasproclaimedforwhateverperson,allofthatwasdeclared
intheVeda,foritcontainsallknowledge(2:7)
Moreover,thedharmatextaresetoutassystematicworkswhichembodypractical
reasoning.TheLawsofManuisarrangedasaseriesoftopics,workingfromthe
generaloriginofdharmaintheproductionoftheworldandofhumanbeingswithin
it,thendealingwiththeclassesandstagesofhumanlife,thenatureofkingship,and
finishingwithgeneralreflectionthefinalendsofhumanlifeandhowtoreachthem.
Thisstructuremanifestthenatureofthedharmatextsasconcernedtothink
systematicallyaboutthenatureandaspectsofdharmaandsoorganiseandexplainthe
particularrulesgoverninghumanconductfoundwithinthetexts.Withineachtopic,
moreover,legalreasoningdealswithparticularquestionsthatarise.Thus,aswehave
seen,theproblemofhowtoreconcilethekillingofanimalsinsacrificewiththe
ethicalnormofnonviolenceisdealtwithbyreasoningusingthesourcesforlawthat
sacrificialkillingisnotaformofviolence(5.3849).
Structurally,then,thetextsofthesetwotraditionshavemuchincommon.A
comparisonoftheManuandAquinasshowhowdifferenttraditionslocatetheir
12

AsinST1a2ae91.2

12

conceptionsofnaturallawwithinawiderunderstandingofthenatureoflaw,inwhich
naturallawisaparticipationineternalanddivinelaw,whichisthenmanifestin
particularlaws.Reasoningabouthumannatureserves,moreover,inbothtraditionsas
awayofmakingsenseofwhatisknownthroughrevelationandofdealingdifficult
questionsastheyarise.
2.2:HinduDharmaandthegeneralrelationshipbetweennaturallawand
positivelaw.
Finally,theHindudharmastratextsprovideaparticularlystrikingexemplification
ofthegapsandtensionsthathistoricallyexistbetweennaturallawaccountsandthe
positivelawoperatingindifferentcultures.AlthoughinthemodernperiodtheBritish
didtakethemaslegalcodestobeappliedasthepersonallawforHindus,itisfar
fromcleartowhatextenttheywereusedassuchinearlierperiods.Scholarlyopinion
hasrangedfromthinkingthattheywerelegalcodesofpositiveaswellasnaturallaw
totheviewthattheyarepurelytheoreticalorrhetoricalincharacter,representations
ofanidealviewofhumansocietyconceivedbyBrahminsandintendedtofurther
theirclaimstosuperiority.
Thus,anoldergenerationofscholarsintheareaofcomparativelawsuchasDerrett
andLingatworkedwiththepresuppositionthatthesetextsdoembodythepositive
lawinoperationatsomeperiodinancientHindusociety.13However,thishasbeen
subjecttoconsiderablechallenge.Menski,forinstance,arguesthatwehavelittle
reasontothinkthatthedharmatextstraditionallyservedaslegalcodesinthesenseof
actuallyappliedpositivelaw.Instead,hearguesthattheevidenceofinscriptionsand
records,aswellaslivingexperience,pointstotheprimaryimportanceofcustom
(cra),goodexample(sadcra)andjuridicaldisputesandprocedures(vyavahra)
inavarietyofjuridicalcontexts,oftenofaverylocalisedsort,suchasthefamily,
castegrouporlocaltemple.14
ContemporaryIndologists,suchasOFlaherty,RocherandOlivelle,tendtosuggesta
mediatingposition,arguingthattheclassicaldharmatextstakenaswholesare
theoreticalworksaboutthenatureofdharma,butwhichalsocontainlistsofrulesand
commands,oftenwithavarietyofpenaltiesgivenforparticularcrimes,andherethe
textsmightwellcontainarecordofthepositivelawthatwasinoperationinsome
groups.15Thedharmatextsthemselvessuggestthiscomplexcharacter,sincewhen
theytalksboutthesourcesofdharmatheypointnotjusttotheVedasandtothe
traditionofreflectionsaidtoderivefromtheVedas,butalsotothemorecontingent
sourcesofcustom,exampleandconscienceaswaysofdeterminingrulesforhuman
conductinpractice(e.g.Manu2:6;2:12).
13

Duncan Derrett (1973) History of Indian Law (Dharmastra). Leiden: Brill; Robert Lingat (1973)
The Classical Law of India. Berkely: Univeristy of California Press. English Translation.
14
Werner Menski(2003)HinduLaw:BeyondTraditionandModernity.Delhi:OxfordUP,pp.204
234.
15
Wendy Doniger (1991), TheLawsofManu.London:Penguin,ppxvlxi
Patrick Olivelle (1999) The Dharmastra: The Law Codes of Ancient India. Oxford: Oxford University
Press, pp. xxxvii-xliii; Ludo Rocher (2003) The Dharmastras in Gavin Flood (ed) Blackwell
Companion to Hinduism. Oxford: Blackwell, pp.102-116

13

AsDavishassuggested,theclassicaldharmatextsareperhapsbesttakenasreligious
law,worksofscholasticthinkingorjurisprudenceconstructedsystematicallyfrom
bothpositivelawandfromthetheoryofnaturallawwithintheHindutradition.16
Thesetextshaveinthecourseofthecenturiesservedasareferencepointforasserting
theauthenticityandauthorityofanypositivelaw,howeverderived.Asheputsit:
InpremodernIndia,thepracticallegalsystemsofanytwogivenHindu
communitiesmayhaveoperatedquitedifferently,buttheywerebothlikelyto
respectthespiritofDharmasastraandincorporateitintotheirlegalrules,
processes,andinstitutions.Thedegreeofcorrespondencebetween
DharmasastraandpracticallawmadeasystemmoreorlessHindu.17
Asaformofreligiouslawthesetextsrepresent,asheputsit,lawasthetheologyof
ordinarylifeorthetheologyofthehouseholdrealisedaslaw.18
ThiscomplexrelationwithinHindulegaltraditionsbetweenthedharmastratexts
andthehistoricalrealityofpositivelawhasitsparallelintherelationbetweenthe
accountoflawsetoutinhistreatiseonlawbyThomasAquinasandtherealitiesof
legalsystemsintheWest.Aquinasaccountlikewiserepresentsaworkofscholastic
thinking,ofjurisprudence,whichpromotesnaturallawwithinawidertreatisethat
mightalsobecharacterisedasreligiouslaw.Initselfitisnotalegalcodealthoughit
doesincludeaspectsofpracticallaw.Asasetofprinciplesitalsohashadavery
considerableinfluencehistoricallyandprovidedanauthoritativereferencepointinthe
developmentofpositivelawintheWest.Atthesametime,ithasalwayshada
complexrelationshipwiththerealitiesoflawinWesterncountries,sincesomuchof
positivelawhasbeendeterminedonthebasisofotherprinciplesandindeedtheories
ofpositivelawhavebeendevelopedthatrejectnaturallawitselfasthebasisforlegal
codes.
Conclusion:Hinduism,naturallawandcomparativelaw.
ComparativestudyoftheHindudharmatraditionandtheWesternChristianand
Thomisttraditionsdoes,then,pointtothepresenceofanaturallawthinkingwithin
differentculturesandtothedevelopmentofasimilargenreoftextuallegalreflection
intheformofscholasticandreligiousjurisprudence.Italsoshowsthecomplex
relationshipandtensionsthatarepresentbetweennaturallawaccountsandthe
historicalrealitiesofpositivelegalsystemsindifferentcultures.Theidentificationof
correspondenceshasmuchtocontributetothecontemporaryunderstandingof
comparativelaw.
However,ntermsofthequestionofwhethernaturallawcandeliverauniversaland
commonaccountoflawbutcapableofculturallydiverseexpressions,wehavetobe
moresceptical.Differenttraditionsofnaturallawdocommonlytalkofthepresence
16

Donald Davis, (2010),TheSpiritofHinduLawOxford:OxfordUniversityPress,pp.123


Davis 2010, p.13
18
Davis 2010, pp 6, 23
17

14

ofgeneralprinciplesorfundamentallegalnorms,wherebyhumanbeingsare
commandedtoseekwhatmakesfortheirnaturalflourishingandhappiness.
However,intheconcretedevelopmentofthetwoethicaltendenciesintraditional
Hinduismweconsideredinpartonewehaveseenthatthereisnoconsensuswiththe
Christiantraditiononwhathumannatureisandthereforeaboutwhatnaturalhuman
flourishingandhappinessare.AcomparativestudyoftheChristiannaturallaw
traditionandthatofHinduismsuggests,then,thatwelocatewhatisuniversal
considerablyfurtherbackthaneitheranyconcretepatrimonyofvalues(i.e.concrete
ethicalvalues)orevenviewsofwhathumannatureis.Instead,theuniversalcan
onlybesaidtobepresentintheverygeneralfirstprinciplesthemselvesofseeking
whatleadstohumanflourishingquahumanbeings.Hereisthetrulycommonground
presentinthedifferentculturesandwisdomtraditionsoftheworld,butwhetherthis
isenoughtodevelopanyuniversallyagreedlegalcodeisfarfromevident.
Dr Martin Ganeri O.P.
Heythrop College
University of London
11.07.2012

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