Hinduism Ethics
by
Amod Lele
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 August 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0155

Introduction

All attempts to discuss “ethics in Hinduism” should proceed with caution, because neither of these terms had any indigenous Indian equivalent before relatively recent times. While the term “Hindu” was used by some non-Muslim Indians in the medieval period, the idea of a single entity called Hinduism dates only to the 19th century. And while there are some premodern Indian terms (such as dharma) whose semantic range overlaps with “ethics,” their meanings are very different. So any bibliography on the subject needs to specify its own range. Here, “Hinduism” refers merely to the set of Indian traditions (such as Vaishnavism and Advaita Vedānta) that are not widely recognized today as separate “world religions” in their own right (such as Islam, Sikhism, Buddhism, or Jainism); we should not suppose without evidence that that set constitutes a single tradition with any greater unity. The English term “ethics,” often used interchangeably with “moral philosophy,” typically refers to the subfield of philosophy concerned with good lives and right action for individual human persons (as opposed to political theory, which examines the good for a state). As a form of philosophical inquiry, ethics requires reasons to be provided for one’s claims about what is good and what is bad; bare assertions that a given action is good or an emotion bad do not involve sufficient reflection to be called “ethics,” any more than an assertion about gravity with no theoretical or empirical backing would be sufficient to be called “physics.” Given the rich tradition of rational thought in India, it is worth keeping a bibliography on Hindu ethics focused on those texts and traditions which involve reasoning about good and bad human lives,—while noting that that reasoning can, and very often does, take the form of stories, which show rather than tell the reasons involved.

General Overviews

Perhaps because of the field’s amorphous nature, Hindu ethics is not an area that has many clear introductions covering its scope. The works listed here typically have significant limitations (dated, oversimplified, or overly partial or speculative) and should not be taken as definitive, but each has its value as a starting point for thinking about what Hindu ethics is or could be. Dhand 2002 is a short, article-length starting reference. Crawford 1974 is of interest for those interested in reconstructing the early historical development of Hindu ethics. Potter 1972 and Ranganathan 2007 take more analytical approaches to spelling out the nature of Indian ethics and philosophy more generally; Ranganathan defends the idea of Indian philosophy as ethics by defining ethics in terms of an “anger inclination,” while Potter situates Indian philosophy as having ethical aims similar to those of Friedrich Nietzsche. Hindery 1978 offers detailed examinations of ethical themes and views expressed in selected classical texts, especially the Rig Veda (Ṛgveda), the Laws of Manu, the Rāmāyaṇa, and the Bhagavad Gita. Maitra 1925 and Sharma 1965 are rarely read today because of their age (Maitra 1925) or obscure publisher (Sharma 1965), but they remain valuable for the connections they draw between ethics and the remainder of Hindu philosophy.

  • Crawford, S. Cromwell. The Evolution of Hindu Ethical Ideals. Honolulu: University Press of Hawaii, 1974.

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    A speculative but interesting attempt to reconstruct the history of Hindu ethical ideas over time. The early chapters are particularly noteworthy for their bold attempt to trace the development of ethics in the Vedas across time—something rarely attempted.

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    • Dhand, Arti. “The Dharma of Ethics, the Ethics of Dharma: Quizzing the Ideals of Hinduism.” Journal of Religious Ethics 30 (2002): 347–372.

      DOI: 10.1111/1467-9795.00113Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

      The article is hindered by looking for ethics in “the tradition as a whole,” without attempting to establish what exactly the author means by that. Still, it provides a useful reference for passages dealing with categories of universal and particular selves within Indian ethical reflection, especially in the Rāmāyaṇa.

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      • Hindery, Roderick. Comparative Ethics in Hindu and Buddhist Traditions. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1978.

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        A sometimes dry introduction to ethical reflection across a variety of texts, from the Rig Veda to the modern day, with an emphasis on those in the classical period.

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        • Maitra, Sushil Kumar. The Ethics of Hindus. Calcutta: Calcutta University Press, 1925.

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          One of the earlier systematic attempts to map out “Hindu ethics,” this work remains valuable because it focuses on very different territory than later works—most notably the moral psychology of the Nyāya and Vaiśeṣika approaches.

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          • Potter, Karl H. Presuppositions of India’s Philosophies. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1972.

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            Potter interprets Indian philosophy in terms of the goal of increasing one’s personal power—not in a political sense but a spiritual sense, following an ethical worldview roughly comparable to Nietzsche. Technical and not a balanced introduction to Indian philosophy or ethics, but an important perspective.

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            • Ranganathan, Shyam. Ethics and the History of Indian Philosophy. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2007.

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              Attempts to argue that ethical reflection is central to the history of Indian philosophical reflection, against various arguments to the contrary. The work is hampered somewhat by an eccentric definition of “ethics,” but many of its arguments would be successful even by a more conventional definition.

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              • Sharma, I. C. Ethical Philosophies of India. Lincoln, NE: Johnsen, 1965.

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                A general introduction to Indian ethical thought, this volume has the virtue of exploring ethical thought among the various traditional darśanas (philosophical views), as well as in modern thinkers like Rabindranath Tagore, and drawing the often overlooked link between ethics and metaphysics.

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                Anthologies

                Again because of the wide range of the field, an anthology of different perspectives can sometimes serve as a better one-volume introduction than a single-author work. Schweiker 2005 does not focus on Hindu ethics, but its section on Hindu ethics collects four different articles from well-known scholars. Matilal 2002 collects the work of one scholar, but on a wide enough range of topics to give a sense of what is involved in Hindu ethics—moral dilemmas in the epics, the relation of dharma to rationality, interaction between cultures, and more. Bilimoria, et al. 2007 can be surprisingly hard to find, but it provides a good survey of the range of contemporary work in the field.

                • Bilimoria, Purushottama, Joseph Prabhu, and Renuka Sharma, eds. Indian Ethics: Classical Traditions and Contemporary Challenges. Vol. 1. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2007.

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                  A collection of essays on Indian ethics by well-known scholars, with a thoughtful introduction. This is a good place to dive in deep to the study of Indian ethics. Intended as the first of two volumes; the second volume, scheduled for 2015, is said to involve more work on feminist ethics. Reprinted in 2008 by Oxford University Press.

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                  • Matilal, Bimal Krishna. The Collected Essays of Bimal Krishna Matilal: Ethics and Epics. Edited by Jonardon Ganeri. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

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                    B. K. Matilal was known as one of the 20th century’s foremost scholars of Indian philosophy—mostly dealing with theoretical issues in epistemology and metaphysics. In this posthumous collection, the editor Jonardon Ganeri demonstrates Matilal’s keen interest in ethical topics by assembling his many short writings on ethics.

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                    • Schweiker, William, ed. The Blackwell Companion to Religious Ethics. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005.

                      DOI: 10.1002/9780470997031Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                      The four articles on Hindu ethics in this comparative volume make for a helpful introduction. They ask of Hindu ethics in turn: Does it exist? What are its origins? What different varieties does it take? What are its modern variations? This framework of four questions is the same as that used for other traditions in the volume, which facilitates comparison. The brevity of the essays is helpful for undergraduates and other beginning readers.

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                      Bibliographies

                      Holdrege 1991 is the main bibliography that came before this one. It can serve as a helpful complement as a more general guide to the study of elements of Hindu tradition related to ethics, especially with respect to primary sources. It divides available primary Hindu literature into the categories of sacrificial and ritual literature, legal literature, epic and mythological literature, political and pragmatic instruction, philosophical literature, and modern Indian thinkers, closing with a shorter section on modern Western studies.

                      • Holdrege, Barbara A. “Hindu Ethics.” In A Bibliographic Guide to the Comparative Study of Ethics. Edited by John Carman and Mark Juergensmeyer, 12–69. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

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                        This long bibliographic chapter provides longer descriptions of the sources than is appropriate here. It identifies many primary sources that make normative claims but say relatively little about the reasons for them. It can read like a bibliography more in “Hindu religion” or “Hinduism” than in “Hindu ethics” as such.

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                        Narrative Literature

                        Narrative literature occupies a prominent place in Hindu culture, and is undeniably central to Hindu ethical reflection of various kinds. The most prominent such stories are the great epics: the Rāmāyaṇa—traditionally viewed as the story of a perfectly moral god-king, though many through the years have questioned such a view—and especially the Mahābhārata, a more sprawling and ambivalent story whose lessons are less clear. The Bhagavad Gita, a discourse on dharma given by the god Krishna, is the most famous lesson on ethics in the text, but there is a wide array of other ethical reflection in the Mahābhārata as well. Beyond the epics, other stories provide a variety of reflection on how to life. Perhaps most notable are the cynical lessons of the Pañcatantra’s animal stories, of which Olivelle 2009 is a strong translation. Doniger O’Flaherty 1978 uses the Purana myths to analyze a problem central to ideas of dharma.

                        • Doniger O’Flaherty, Wendy. “The Clash between Relative and Absolute Duty: The Dharma of Demons.” In The Concept of Duty in South Asia. Edited by Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty and J. Duncan M. Derrett, 66–79. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 1978.

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                          This chapter addresses the relationship between svadharma (one’s own duty as determined by social station) and sanātana dharma (universal duty applying to everyone). The author explores this theme through a discussion of demons—beings considered intrinsically evil—in the Purana myths, where their svadharma involves acts that would be considered evil from a sanātana perspective.

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                          • Olivelle, Patrick, trans. The Pañcatantra: The Book of India’s Folk Wisdom. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

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                            If by “ethics” one requires injunctions to be altruistic or honest, the Pañcatantra is not ethics. But if one is willing to admit the works of Machiavelli as ethics, then it qualifies. Its stories of crafty and clever animals provide a cynical but influential and useful guide to living.

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                            The Bhagavad Gita

                            No text is more widely regarded as a source for Hindu ethics than the Bhagavad Gita, the episode of the Mahābhārata epic in which the god Krishna tells the hero Arjuna why he needs to fight against his cousins. Krishna offers Arjuna a wide array of reasons to act according to his dharma and fight, in the process expounding a larger system of metaphysics. Many modern Hindu readers (including Lokmanya Tilak, Aurobindo Ghose, and Mohandas Gandhi) have taken it as their primary guide for action. Premodern Indian philosophers, especially those in the Vedānta tradition, have paid it similar respect; when drawing out the ethical views of Śaṅkara or Rāmānuja, their commentaries on the Gita are often the clearest source. Unless one can read Sanskrit fluently, any study of the Gita’s ethics should involve reading the text in translation; listed here are only a small number of the available English translations. Miller 1986 is a straightforward and readable translation suitable for beginners; Sargeant 1984 allows one to approach the details of the original Sanskrit meaning alongside the English; and Zaehner 1969 provides a scholarly commentary on the text’s meaning. A great deal of secondary work on the text is also available, from a variety of angles. Johnson 2007 identifies the ethical relevance of source-critical scholarship finding layers within the text; Minor 1980 attempts to find a consistent ethical message; Gupta 2006 and Sreekumar 2012 discuss the text in the ethical categories of contemporary analytic philosophy; and Brodbeck 2004 makes a critical constructive reply. Any student of the Gita in ethics should also be aware of the attention paid to it in modern India, discussed under Modern Hinduism.

                            • Brodbeck, Simon. “Calling Kṛṣṇa’s Bluff: Non-Attached Action in the Bhagavadgītā.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 32.1 (2004): 81–103.

                              DOI: 10.1023/B:INDI.0000014005.76726.eaSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                              Makes a detailed analysis of the Bhagavad Gita to question its applicability as ethical guidance (in India and beyond). Brodbeck argues that based on the Gita’s own understanding of the nature of human psychology and action, the nonattached action that Krishna recommends is not generally a viable option.

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                              • Gupta, Bina. “Bhagavad Gītā as Duty and Virtue Ethics: Some Reflections.” Journal of Religious Ethics 34 (2006): 373–395.

                                DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9795.2006.00274.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                Gupta highlights the importance of virtue in the Gita, pointing out its claims about what we should be as well as what we should do. She identifies a list of the many character traits praised in the article, categorizing them and arguing for the highest importance given to samatva (equanimity).

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                                • Johnson, Kathryn Ann. “The Social Construction of Emotions in the Bhagavad Gītā: Locating Ethics in a Redacted Text.” Journal of Religious Ethics 35 (2007): 655–679.

                                  DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9795.2007.00325.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                  An interesting attempt to use recent source-critical scholarship on the Gita with an eye to their ethical implications. The article identifies three key layers of ethical teaching related to emotion. This identification of layers in the text is more controversial than the article implies, however, and it is on still shakier ground when it attempts to match each layer to a moral code identified by anthropologists among modern Indians.

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                                  • Miller, Barbara Stoler, trans. The Bhagavad Gītā: Krishna’s Counsel in Time of War. New York: Bantam, 1986.

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                                    Miller’s widely read and easily available translation of the Gita remains one of the most readable. It helps orient a reader toward the Sanskrit original by using a single translation for key terms throughout the text, and by including a glossary at the end that explains those words.

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                                    • Minor, Robert N. “The Gītā’s Way as the Only Way.” Philosophy East and West 30.3 (1980): 339–354.

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                                      A close reading of the Gita examining each of the three paths it teaches (karma yoga, jñāna yoga, bhakti yoga) and arguing that there is a single path (“Gītā-yoga”) that puts the three all together.

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                                      • Sargeant, Winthrop, trans. The Bhagavad Gītā. Edited by Christopher Key Chapple. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1984.

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                                        This edition is helpful for any serious student of the Gita not completely fluent in Sanskrit—not for Sargeant’s own prose rendering (full of leaps and misinterpretations), but for its apparatus: the text is presented in Devanagari, in transliteration, and with translations of individual words and grammatical forms.

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                                        • Sreekumar, Sandeep. “An Analysis of Consequentialism and Deontology in the Normative Ethics of the Bhagavadgītā.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 40 (2012): 277–315.

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                                          A close and precise analysis of the arguments made by Krishna and Arjuna in the Gita. Sreekumar makes the controversial claim that the Gita advocates not a form of deontological ethics, as typically understood, but a rule-consequentialism.

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                                          • Zaehner, R. C., trans. The Bhagavad Gītā: With a Commentary Based on the Original Sources. Oxford: Clarendon, 1969.

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                                            A translation and commentary on the Gita including the original Sanskrit, with a long introduction. Zaehner’s introduction and commentary help the reader to see the text’s ethical import.

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                                            The Mahābhārata

                                            While the reflections of the Gita are the most famous ethical teaching in the Mahābhārata epic, they are far from the only ones. The Mahābhārata is full of ethical ideas. Its twelfth and thirteenth books (the Śāntiparvan and Anuśāsanaparvan) consist entirely of a sermon on how human beings should live and govern, delivered by the hero’s teacher Bhīṣma on his deathbed; the Śāntiparvan is the longest book in the whole epic. (Fitzgerald 2004 translates a portion of it.) But more broadly, there is a great variety of celebrated ethical lessons and moral dilemmas embedded in the story itself. Many retellings and abbreviated versions of the story exist, but they typically lose the subtlety of the original. For gleaning the text’s ethical lessons, a more helpful approach is typically to start with secondary work and then consult a full translation like Ganguli 2004 for the original version of that episode (or the Sanskrit itself). Das 2009 provides a helpful overview for beginners. Hudson 2013 makes an ambitious attempt to discern the ethical worldview of the entire text; Sutton 2000 makes a more wide-ranging attempt to draw out different themes. Ganeri 2007 and Biardeau 1982 focus on two significant ethical themes in the text (deceit, and the good life for a king, respectively) and Matilal 1989 collects articles on a variety of topics.

                                            • Biardeau, Madeleine. “The Salvation of the King in the Mahåbhårata.” In Way of Life: King, Householder, Renouncer. Edited by T. N. Madan, 75–97. New Delhi: Vikas, 1982.

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                                              Investigates the Mahābhārata’s ideals of the good life for a king or kṣatriya. It presents the thesis that the three central Pāṇḍava brothers represent a spectrum of possible lives: Bhīma is not concerned enough with dharma, but Yudhiṣṭhira is too concerned with it, leaving Arjuna as the ideal kṣatriya.

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                                              • Das, Gurcharan. The Difficulty of Being Good: On the Subtle Art of Dharma. New York: Penguin, 2009.

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                                                A popular book that takes scholarly care, this work is a powerful exploration not only of the moral dilemmas and questions explored in the Mahābhārata, but also of the ways in which they are relevant to human lives today. An excellent source for introductory courses.

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                                                • Fitzgerald, James, ed. and trans. The Mahābhārata. Vol. 7: Book 11, The Book of the Women; Book 12, The Book of Peace, Part 1. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.

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                                                  Part of an ambitious attempt, begun by J. A. B. van Buitenen, to provide a modern translation of the entire Mahābhārata. In this large volume Fitzgerald translates only part of the Śāntiparvan, but the translation is the best available.

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                                                  • Ganeri, Jonardon. “A Cloak of Clever Words: The Deconstruction of Deceit in the Mahābhārata.” In The Concealed Art of the Soul: Theories of Self and Practices of Truth in Indian Ethics and Epistemology. By Jonardon Ganeri, 61–93. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

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                                                    Closely reads one of the most famous moral dilemmas in the Mahābhārata, when Yudhiṣṭhira falsely convinces his enemy Droṇa that his son Aśvatthāman is dead, and thereby makes Droṇa lose the will to fight. Ganeri analyzes this scene with reference to didactic portions of the text (the Gita and Śāntiparvan).

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                                                    • Ganguli, Kisari Mohan, trans. The Mahabharata of Krishna–Dwaipayana Vyasa. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 2004.

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                                                      Only the most dedicated of scholars will attempt to read the giant Mahābhārata in its entirety, but a translation of the entire text remains helpful for the ability to analyze less famous episodes that are rarely translated on their own. Only two complete English translations exist; this one is freely available online.

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                                                      • Hudson, Emily. Disorienting Dharma: Ethics and the Aesthetics of Suffering in the Mahābhārata. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

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                                                        A detailed study linking ethical to aesthetic themes in the Mahābhārata epic, focusing on suffering and its relation to dharma. Hudson argues that the text examines the question of suffering through rupture: setting its readers up to expect a view it then subverts, in order to help us appreciate complexity.

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                                                        • Matilal, Bimal Krishna, ed. Moral Dilemmas in the Mahābhārata. Delhi: Motalal Banarsidass, 1989.

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                                                          In the introduction, one of the most preeminent modern scholars of Indian philosophy argues that the Mahābhārata addresses some of the key problems of analytical moral philosophy—such as when one should lie in order to save a life. Other scholars cover a variety of topics, such as Draupadī’s plural marriage and whether the concept of moral dilemmas is applicable in the context of the Mahābhārata.

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                                                          • Strauss, Otto. Ethische Probleme aus dem “Mahabharata.” Florence: Tipographia Galileiana, 1912.

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                                                            One of the earliest Western scholarly attempts at a systematic examination of the Mahābhārata’s ethical outlook.

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                                                            • Sutton, Nicholas. Religious Doctrines in the Mahābhārata. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2000.

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                                                              Sutton aims to treat the epic as a unified work while remaining attentive to tensions within it. The book examines the relationship between a number of key competing views in the text, including those of worldly life and withdrawal, and of personal and universal dharma.

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                                                              The Rāmāyaṇa

                                                              Rāma and Sītā, the king and queen of the Rāmāyaṇa, have often been taken as images of the ideal man and woman, exemplars of dharma—though Rāma has frequently appeared as a problematic figure, especially in his treatment of Sītā. Goldman 1990–2014 allows a reader to encounter the text in the English language, while Goldman 1997 and Hindery 1976 explore ethical issues the text raises.

                                                              • Goldman, Robert P., trans. The Rāmāyana of Valmīki: An Epic of Ancient India. 7 vols. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990–2014.

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                                                                While still a long reading project, the Rāmāyaṇa is at least significantly shorter than the Mahābhārata. Goldman’s scholarly translation provides a useful window into the text; unlike the Chicago Mahābhārata translation, it is almost complete (after fifteen years!), with the key final volume scheduled to appear later in 2015.

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                                                                • Goldman, Robert P. “Eṣa Dharmaḥ Sanātanaḥ: Shifting Moral Values and the Indian Epics.” In Relativism, Suffering and Beyond: Essays in Memory of B. K. Matilal. Edited by P. Bilimoria and J. N. Mohanty, 187–223. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

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                                                                  Goldman argues that the epics’ claims about ethics shift and transform. While this point is commonly made about the Mahābhārata (as in Hudson 2013 and Sutton 2000, both cited under Mahābhārata), Goldman also makes it about the apparently more straightforward Rāmāyaṇa.

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                                                                  • Hindery, Roderick. “Hindu Ethics in the Ramayana.” Journal of Religious Ethics 4.2 (1976): 287–322.

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                                                                    An old and sometimes overlooked article that anticipates a key theme of much present work in Hindu ethics: arguing for the importance of narrative in ethics, it notes in particular that the Rāmāyaṇa has a much wider popular influence than the Advaita Vedānta, often presented as the “essence of Hinduism.”

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                                                                    The Darśanas

                                                                    The texts most often recognized as “philosophy” in India are those belonging to the various darśanas (“views”), such as Nyāya, Yoga, Mīmāṃsā, and Vedānta. The darśanas are often taken to be competing “schools” (and often numbered at six), but this conception is made problematic by the considerable overlap between them. Darśana texts typically focus on theoretical issues in metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of language, but they nevertheless consider ethical issues and have an ethical relevance. Ram-Prasad 2001 summarizes the ways in which such thinkers take their theoretical philosophy to provide a good, liberated human life. Dasgupta 1924 provides more details on the ethical implications of the Yoga school, and Patil 2012 is a recent attempt to identify the Nyāya school’s contribution to meta-ethics.

                                                                    • Dasgupta, Surendranath. Yoga as Philosophy and Religion. London: Kegan Paul, 1924.

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                                                                      The early 20th-century historian of Indian philosophy examines the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali; the second half of the book identifies itself as dealing with ethics and practice, examining the kind of life one would need to live to follow the sutras’ teachings. Available online from the Internet Archive.

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                                                                      • Patil, Parimal. “Motivation to the Means in the Philosopher’s Stone.” Podcast. Oxford: Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, 2012.

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                                                                        One of the few rigorous discussions of Nyāya ethics, or for that matter of meta-ethics in Indian tradition, is provided in this podcasted lecture. It focuses on a chapter of the most influential Navya-Nyāya texts, Gaṅgeśa’s Tattvacintāmaṇi, and its discussion of desire and motivation.

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                                                                        • Ram-Prasad, Chakravarti. Knowledge and Liberation in Classical Indian Thought. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave, 2001.

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                                                                          An investigation of several Indian philosophical schools, including Mīmāṃsā and Nyāya, on the question of the ultimate purpose of human life. Ram-Prasad notes that while these schools are all concerned with liberation in some respect, for some of them (especially Mīmāṃsā) it is not the ultimate end.

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                                                                          Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta

                                                                          The philosophical approach (darśana) known as Mīmāṃsā—meaning “desiring to know,” perhaps the closest literal equivalent in Sanskrit to the Greek word philosophia—has been viewed with some suspicion in modern times, because of its insistence on a way of life in accordance with the ritual prescriptions of the Vedas and Brāhmaṇas. But Mīmāṃsā is indispensable to any study of Hindu ethics; Mīmāṃsā literature is among the most clearly ethical sets of texts in Indian thought, since it explicitly concerns itself with the proper conduct of human beings, and makes rigorous philosophical arguments to justify that conduct. Halbfass 1991 attempts to explore the nature of Mīmāṃsā ethics through the example of ritual sacrifice; Junankar 1982 tries to explore how to characterize it in general; and Taber 1997 reflects on the lessons contemporary philosophy could learn from it. The Vedānta tradition builds on Mīmāṃsā (to the point that it is also known as Uttara Mīmāṃsā), but it puts much less emphasis on the importance of everyday conduct, as opposed to liberating knowledge. Still, Vedānta has been influential enough that some scholars have attempted to tease out the ethical elements of its thought, as in Ramachandran 1969.

                                                                          • Halbfass, Wilhelm. “Vedic Apologetics, Ritual Killing, and the Foundations of Ethics.” In Tradition and Reflection: Explorations in Indian Thought. By Wilhelm Halbfass, 87–130. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991.

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                                                                            A careful study of the ethics of the Mīmāṃsā philosopher Kumārila. The chapter takes off from the practical question of how ritual animal sacrifice could be compatible with ahiṃsā (nonharming), turning to a broader question of the way in which Kumārila justifies ethical claims in general.

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                                                                            • Junankar, N. R. “The Mῑmāṃsā Concept of Dharma.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 10 (1982): 51–60.

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                                                                              The author makes some noteworthy claims about Mīmāṃsā ethics, most notably identifying it as hedonistic—arguing that what is fundamental for Mīmāṃsā is that human beings desire happiness (niḥśreyasa), and they identify dharma as that which leads to happiness.

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                                                                              • Ramachandran, T. P. The Concept of the Vyavahārika in Advaita Vedānta. Madras: Radhakrishnan Institute, 1969.

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                                                                                Studies of Advaita Vedānta typically take up its own focus on knowledge of the ultimate, liberated self. This study takes a close look at how Advaitins (especially Śaṅkara) have approached everyday worldly reality, including ethical conduct within it.

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                                                                                • Taber, John. “The Significance of Kumārila’s Philosophy.” In Beyond Orientalism: The Work of Wilhelm Halbfass and Its Impact on Indian and Cross-Cultural Studies. Edited by Eli Franco and Karin Preisendanz, 373–393. Amsterdam and Atlanta: Rodopi, 1997.

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                                                                                  Since Mīmāṃsā justifies a ritual system rarely practiced today, it is rarely taken as relevant to contemporary life and thought. Taber argues otherwise: comparing Kumārila to Hans-Georg Gadamer and Alvin Plantinga, he argues that Kumārila’s thought gives us a powerful account of the role of tradition in ethical judgment.

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                                                                                  Vernacular and Regional Traditions

                                                                                  Much discussion of ethical thought in India has focused on Sanskrit literature, and to a lesser extent on modern English works. There are good reasons for this focus, since the corpus of Sanskrit work is so rich in insight. But it does not exhaust ethical reflection in India. Schweig 2002 explores ethical ideas in a medieval Bengali tradition, and Carman 1983 looks at one of the most common normative terms in everyday Hindu discourse.

                                                                                  • Carman, John. “The Ethics of the Auspicious: Western Encounter with Hindu Values.” In Foundations of Ethics. Edited by Leroy S. Rouner, 167–183. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983.

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                                                                                    An interesting exploratory article about a normative category widespread in contemporary India, the auspicious (maṅgala or śubha). It is a bare starting point for ethical reflection on this category, since it only identifies places in which the category appears in Indian culture, rather than examining reflection and thought about it.

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                                                                                    • Schweig, Graham M. “Humility and Passion: A Caitanyite Vaishnava Ethics of Devotion.” Journal of Religious Ethics 30.3 (2002): 421–444.

                                                                                      DOI: 10.1111/1467-9795.00116Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                      An examination of ethics in the Caitanya Vaishnava devotional tradition, deriving from medieval Bengal. Schweig argues that the central tension within this tradition is between the virtues of humility, involving a submission to established social norms, and passion, taking one transcendently beyond the social world.

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                                                                                      The Kuraḷ

                                                                                      A major revered non-Sanskritic classic is the Tamil Kuraḷ or Tirukkuraḷ. The origins of this work are difficult to pin down; the name Vaḷḷuvar or Tiruvaḷḷuvar was given to its author centuries after its composition. It is usually attributed to a Jain ascetic, but this cannot be ascertained, and non-Jain Tamils have found a wealth of ethical inspiration in it (to the point that it is often referred to as the “Tamil Veda”). The text is a poem structured into three parts, each identified with Tamil terms (aram, poruḷ and inpam) that correspond, respectively, to the three Sanskrit puruṣārthas: dharma, artha, and kāma. The first part is of particular ethical interest, providing moral guidance for both householders and renouncers. The second part turns to the proper conduct of a king, and the third part takes the form of a traditional Tamil akam love poem. Sundaram 1990 is a helpful English translation. Cutler 1992 and Manavalan 1990 help provide context for understanding its ideas and its place in Hindu literature; Manavalan situates the text in the context of Tamil didactic poetry, while Cutler explores its reception in commentary and politics.

                                                                                      • Cutler, Norman. “Interpreting Tirukkuraḷ: The Role of Commentary in the Creation of a Text.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 112 (1992): 549–566.

                                                                                        DOI: 10.2307/604470Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                        A key resource for understanding the Kuraḷ’s significance. Cutler provides one of the few detailed English-language discussions of the most influential commentary on the Kuraḷ (that of Parimēlaḷakar), and examines the role of the Kuraḷ in 20th-century Tamil politics.

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                                                                                        • Manavalan, A. A. “Didactic Literature in Tamil.” In Encyclopedia of Tamil Literature. Vol. 1. Edited by G. John Samuel, 230–251. Madras: Institute of Asian Studies, 1990.

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                                                                                          A general introduction to the Tamil poems that give their readers instruction. It gives particular attention to the Kuraḷ, examining its structure at length.

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                                                                                          • Sundaram, P. S., trans. The Kural. New Delhi: Penguin, 1990.

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                                                                                            A readable and poetic English translation of the Kuraḷ.

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                                                                                            Modern Hinduism

                                                                                            With respect to the colonial and postcolonial periods of Indian history—the 19th century onward—it becomes significantly easier to speak of “Hindu ethics.” In this era, Indian thinkers most often wrote in English, and this was the time when they not only first began to speak of “Hinduism” as a single and unified tradition, but also first began to use the word “ethics.” Many of the founding thinkers of modern Hinduism are also known for their activism toward Indian independence. The best known of these is Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi, whose ethical writings are collected in Iyer 1986. Ghose 1995 and Swami Vivekananda 1907 similarly pull together reflection on tradition and politics. The Gita is an important work for these and other modern thinkers in terms of how they imagined ethics; Minor 1986 and Sharpe 1985 explore the role it plays in their works and thought.

                                                                                            • Ghose, Aurobindo. Essays on the Gita. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus, 1995.

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                                                                                              Aurobindo Ghose (Sri Aurobindo) was one of the most creative and prolific philosophers of modern-day India, but ethics and human action (outside of politics and independence) were not a key focus of his thought. These commentaries on the Gita give some insight into his ethical views.

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                                                                                              • Hacker, Paul. “The Concept of Dharma in Neo-Hinduism.” In Philology and Confrontation: Paul Hacker on Traditional and Modern Vedānta. Edited by Wilhelm Halbfass, 257–272. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995.

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                                                                                                Surveys the ways in which reformers like Gandhi have reinterpreted the term dharma for the modern age. Originally published in German.

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                                                                                                • Iyer, Raghavan. The Moral and Political Writings of Mahatma Gandhi. 3 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1986.

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                                                                                                  This weighty three-volume set attempts to collect together the bulk of Gandhi’s many writings on ethics and politics, often expressed in short correspondence. To try and read them all would be daunting; fortunately, Iyer has arranged the writings topically (on topics such as nonviolence, the Bhagavad Gita, and the roles of truth and God), so that the reader may browse easily.

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                                                                                                  • Minor, Robert N., ed. Modern Indian Interpreters of the Bhagavad Gita. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986.

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                                                                                                    While the Gita was a prominent text for ethical reflection in medieval India, especially among Vedānta traditions, it has reached its highest preeminence in the modern era. This collection of essays explores how modern Indian thinkers came to take it as the centerpiece of Hindu ethical reflection.

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                                                                                                    • Sharpe, Eric J. The Universal Gītā: Western Images of the Bhagavadgītā. Chicago: Open Court, 1985.

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                                                                                                      A wide-ranging study of the ways in which modern audiences, mostly but not only Western, have read the Gita as carrying a message that speaks beyond its Indian context—a message both about a path of transcendence and about dharma understood as “duty.” Generally critical of these various audiences.

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                                                                                                      • Vivekananda, Swami. The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda. Kolkata: Advaita Ashrama, 1907.

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                                                                                                        Vivekananda played a key role in the transformation of Indian traditions and the creation of modern Hinduism. As the section Arguments for and against Hindu Ethics demonstrates, ethical questions played a key role in his thought, especially questions of the relationship between Indian traditions and social action and philanthropy.

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                                                                                                        Arguments for and against Hindu Ethics

                                                                                                        Parallel to the development of modern Hinduism, a number of scholars (Indian and otherwise) have seen fit to take positions in favor of and against the adoption of Hindu ethical ideals, in whole or in part. Such constructive approaches are not currently in vogue, but they are important for anyone who might wish today to treat Indian ethical thought as a live option in the contemporary world. A significant part of the debate has focused on a perceived tension between Advaita Vedānta monism and socially engaged action (with the Gita as a central point of controversy). Schweitzer 1936 argued that Indian philosophy was lacking because it could not motivate social action. Radhakrishnan 1939 replied with the “tat tvam asi ethic” previously articulated by Swami Vivekānanda: one should help others on an Advaita view because one’s self is, at its core, identical with theirs. Hacker 1995 responds, in turn, that this ethic is an invention of the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer: his work focuses on textual interpretation and misinterpretation, but it should be viewed in the context of polemics like Schweitzer’s (which Hacker approvingly quotes). Killingley 1998 and van Skyhawk 1993 show that Hacker’s claims are overstated, but the issues raised in this debate remain of significance. So too are the claims in Danto 1972 that Indian ethics depend on unacceptable factual presuppositions, claims refuted in Perrett 1998.

                                                                                                        • Danto, Arthur C. Mysticism and Morality: Oriental Thought and Moral Philosophy. New York: Harper & Row, 1972.

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                                                                                                          Danto examines concepts of karma, dharma, and mokṣa along with the teachings of the Gita, and argues that in each case moral and ethical views depend on factual beliefs that a contemporary Western audience cannot or should not accept.

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                                                                                                          • Hacker, Paul. “Schopenhauer and Hindu Ethics.” In Philology and Confrontation: Paul Hacker on Traditional and Modern Vedānta. Edited by Wilhelm Halbfass, 273–318. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995.

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                                                                                                            This 1962 article has achieved some infamy for its attempts to demonstrate that modern Hindus’ attempts at a Vedantic social ethic have their roots in Schopenhauer. While his conclusions are overstated, there remain few better introductions to the novelty of modern Hindu ethical thought. Originally published in German.

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                                                                                                            • Killingley, Dermot. “Vivekananda’s Western Message from the East.” In Swami Vivekananda and the Modernization of Hinduism. Edited by William Radice, 138–157. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998.

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                                                                                                              An important corrective to Hacker 1995. Killingley demonstrates that while Vivekananda’s attempted Advaita social ethic became a prominent theme in his thought after he encountered Schopenhauer’s ideas (as Hacker claims), the germ of the ideas had been forming in some of Vivekananda’s writings before that time.

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                                                                                                              • Perrett, Roy W. Hindu Ethics: A Philosophical Study. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1998.

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                                                                                                                This analytical work aims to show not the strong conclusion that Hindu ethics should be adopted by those familiar with Western thought, but the weaker conclusion that it they are compatible with Western thought—directed especially against the claims of Danto 1972, and with special reference to the Bhagavad Gita.

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                                                                                                                • Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli. “Mysticism and Ethics in Hindu Thought.” In Eastern Religions and Western Thought. By Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, 58–114. Oxford: Clarendon, 1939.

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                                                                                                                  A detailed response to Schweitzer, defending an ethical approach based on Advaita Vedānta. In it, Radhakrishnan articulates the “tat tvam asi ethic” challenged in Hacker 1995.

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                                                                                                                  • Schweitzer, Albert. Indian Thought and its Development. Translated by Mrs. Charles E. B. Russell. Boston: Beacon, 1936.

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                                                                                                                    A history of Indian thought that proclaims its unsuitability for the modern world on ethical grounds. Against Vivekananda, Schweitzer claims that Indian thought takes a stance of “life negation,” which prevents the development of social works. Originally published in German.

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                                                                                                                    • van Skyhawk, H. “Perceptions of Hindu Ethics in German Indology.” Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute 74 (1993): 85–99.

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                                                                                                                      Critiques Hacker 1995 without discussing Advaita Vedānta or modern India. Instead takes on Hacker’s claim that “it was unlikely” medieval Indians ever adopted anything like Vivekananda’s neo-Vedāntic ethics of self-other unity, by pointing to a medieval Indian thinker—the Marathi poet-saint Ekanāth—who did exactly that.

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                                                                                                                      Karma

                                                                                                                      The Sanskrit term karma (or karman) simply means “action,” but in English it has come to stand for the closely related idea of karmaphala: the “fruits” or consequences of action, which “ripen” and return the “good karma” (puṇya) and “bad kārma” (pāpa) to the agent. The idea suffuses many of the texts discussed elsewhere in this bibliography, especially the Mahābhārata. Some modern Arguments for and against Hindu Ethics have put karma at their center, and Western thinkers continue to engage the question of how karma could be relevant to modern thought. Potter 1964 is an early attempt at doing this, though hampered by insufficient distinction between historical exegesis and constructive application. Reichenbach 1990 and Burley 2014, by contrast, make a defense of karma that they clearly acknowledge is their own and not from the classical texts.

                                                                                                                      • Burley, Mikel. “Karma, Morality, and Evil.” Philosophy Compass 9.6 (2014): 415–430.

                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.1111/phc3.12138Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                        Surveys moral criticisms of the doctrine of karma: that it provides no real guidance for action; that it removes the blame from evildoers; and that it blames victims. Argues that these criticisms reflect deeper philosophical differences between the critics and the holders of the theory.

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                                                                                                                        • Potter, Karl H. “The Naturalistic Principle of Karma.” Philosophy East and West 14.1 (1964): 39–49.

                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.2307/1396753Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                          Argues that the principle of karma is justified because it is necessary for human beings to understand their own habituation from within (in comparison to the scientific principle of causation, which is necessary to understand the causal processes of the natural world).

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                                                                                                                          • Reichenbach, Bruce R. The Law of Karma: A Philosophical Study. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1990.

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                                                                                                                            An attempt to treat karma as (in the author’s words) “an interesting and important philosophical thesis” (p. 3). Aims to articulate logical connections among different aspects of the concept of karma, and reflect critically on its value for ethical reflection.

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                                                                                                                            Dharma

                                                                                                                            The importance of the dharma concept in Indian thought can scarcely be overestimated. A vast literature has been written about it in a separate Oxford Bibliographies article, “Dharma,” by Alf Hiltebeitel. Its wide semantic range covers topics beyond the scope of this bibliography—it can be and has been rendered “law” or “religion,” but also “morality” and “duty.” Here, I list works that are of particular relevance to ethical reflection (and which do not fall under a separate category). Hiltebeitel 2011 and Halbfass 1988 discuss the development of the concept through Indian history. Halbfass 1991 probes a key element of traditional dharma—varṇa or caste—and explores the reasoning behind it. Several of the other studies (Creel 1972, Hacker 2006, Koller 1972, Larson 1972) ask how English-speakers may best understand the implications of this complex term, and what follows for our general understanding of Indian ethical thought: Creel 1972 compares the category of dharma to the category of ethics; Hacker 2006 explores its relationship to concepts of “morality” and “religion”; Koller 1972 attempts to explores the relationship between its descriptive and normative aspects; Larson 1972 makes an analogy between dharma and proper linguistic usage.

                                                                                                                            • Creel, Austin. “Dharma as an Ethical Category Relating to Freedom and Responsibility.” Philosophy East and West 22 (1972): 155–168.

                                                                                                                              DOI: 10.2307/1398122Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                              The author makes the controversial claim that there is not ethical reflection as such in Hinduism, because the idea of dharma takes over its purview, and dharma is not something derived from universal principles, as (he claims) ethical reflection typically is.

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                                                                                                                              • Hacker, Paul. “Dharma in Hinduism.” Translated by Donald R. Davis. Journal of Indian Philosophy 34.5 (2006): 479–496.

                                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1007/s10781-006-9002-4Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                This clearly written discussion of dharma, composed in German in 1965, explores its connection to concepts of “morality” and “religion,” and the way it differs from those, through reference to a wide variety of texts from the Mīmāṃsā Sūtras to Aśoka’s edicts. Originally published in German.

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                                                                                                                                • Halbfass, Wilhelm. “Dharma in the Self-Understanding of Traditional Hinduism.” In India and Europe: An Essay in Understanding. Edited by Wilhelm Halbfass, 310–333. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988.

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                                                                                                                                  A now-classic study of this key term in Indian thought, exploring its development from earlier roots through the medieval period.

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                                                                                                                                  • Halbfass, Wilhelm. “Homo Hierarchicus: The Conceptualization of the Varṇa System in Indian Thought.” In Tradition and Reflection: Explorations in Indian Thought. By Wilhelm Halbfass, 347–405. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991.

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                                                                                                                                    A detailed exploration of the philosophical justifications offered for identifying different duties and positions between varṇas (castes). The chapter focuses particularly on the Mīmāṃsā thinker Kumārila, who made arguments for varṇa in greatest detail, but it also examines works in other major philosophical systems.

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                                                                                                                                    • Hiltebeitel, Alf. Dharma: Its Early History in Law, Religion and Narrative. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

                                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195394238.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                      An attempt to recover the early history (c. 300 BCE–200 CE) of the concept of dharma, often presented as ahistorical. Hiltebeitel traces conflicts over ideas of dharma through many different Brahmanical and Buddhist texts.

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                                                                                                                                      • Koller, John M. “Dharma: An Expression of Universal Order.” Philosophy East and West 22 (1972): 131–144.

                                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.2307/1398120Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                        Attempts to explore the meaning of dharma, drawing close connections between its normative meaning (that which humans should do) and its cosmic meaning as an order underlying the universe. Hampered by a focus on the Vedas, in which the operating concept is not dharma but the different (though related) ṛta.

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                                                                                                                                        • Larson, Gerald James. “The Trimūrti of Dharma in Indian Thought: Paradox or Contradiction?” Philosophy East and West 22.2 (1972): 145–153.

                                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.2307/1398121Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                          Attempts to find a commonality in the wide-ranging meanings of dharma, and suggests an analogy with proper linguistic usage—with the exception of the “extraordinary dharma” associated with mokṣa. Larson identifies five ways in which “ordinary” and “extraordinary” dharma could be related.

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                                                                                                                                          Dharmaśāstra and Dharmasūtra

                                                                                                                                          The Dharmaśāstra and earlier Dharmasūtra texts are widely viewed as the texts that codify dharma. While they sometimes rely on injunctions without reasoning (and are to that extent not ethical), one can sometimes find an underlying set of reasons if one looks closely enough, as in Glucklich 2011. Moreover, they inform a great deal of later Indian ethical reflection. Olivelle 1999 and Olivelle 2005 translate the early Dharmasūtras and the best-known Dharmaśāstra, respectively—the latter namely the Mānava-Dharmaśāstra, often known as “The Laws of Manu” or simply “Manu.” Heim 2004 explores later medieval Dharmaśāstra texts, in comparison with Buddhist and Jain texts, to highlight their approach to giving.

                                                                                                                                          • Glucklich, Ariel. “Virtue and Happiness in the Law Book of Manu.” International Journal of Hindu Studies 15.2 (2011): 165–190.

                                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1007/s11407-011-9102-ySave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                            Examining the ethical worldview underlying the Laws of Manu, Glucklich sees it as advocating a kind of ascetic self-discipline through which following the laws of dharma will lead to happiness.

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                                                                                                                                            • Heim, Maria. Theories of the Gift in South Asia: Hindu, Buddhist and Jain Reflections on Dāna. Oxford: Routledge, 2004.

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                                                                                                                                              An exploration of theories in gift-giving (dāna), considered a key virtue across multiple traditions in South Asia. Heim calls our attention to a key feature of Indian gift-giving ideas: that they praise the “upward” gift, made out of esteem for the recipient, over the charitable “downward” gift.

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                                                                                                                                              • Olivelle, Patrick, ed. and trans. Dharmasūtras: The Law Codes of Ancient India. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

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                                                                                                                                                The Dharmasūtra aphorisms are among the earliest Brahmanical attempts to codify dharma and prescribe in detail what human beings should and should not do.

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                                                                                                                                                • Olivelle, Patrick, ed. and trans. Manu’s Code of Law: A Critical Edition and Translation of the Mānava Dharmaśāstra. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

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                                                                                                                                                  The Manava-Dharmaśāstra is an often maligned source of moral ideals in Hindu tradition, with deeply hierarchical views of varṇa and of women. Nevertheless, it is likely the most widely read of the Dharmaśāstra texts. Olivelle’s translation pulls together current scholarship on the text.

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                                                                                                                                                  Liberation and Renunciation

                                                                                                                                                  The dharma of the Vedas and Brāḥmaṇas would be changed forever with the rise of anti-Vedic renouncer traditions, of whom the Buddhists and Jains are the surviving representatives. These traditions introduced mokṣa or nirvāna—liberation from worldly suffering—as an ultimate ideal of human life, and as part of this process urged a radically different approach to living, renouncing one’s family and traditional occupation to become a renouncer or monk. The Vedic traditions took these challenges seriously and typically attempted to incorporate their ideals within their own worldview. The Gita can be viewed in this light as a way of preserving the Vedic householder’s ideal as part of a quest for inner liberation, as can the addition of mokṣa to the list of three aims of life. Another is the āśrama system, which would treat the householder’s and renouncer’s lifestyles as different stages of life, though Olivelle 1993 notes that they were earlier viewed as separate and legitimate choices. Ingalls 1957 and van Buitenen 1957 offer contrasting positions on the relationship between dharma and mokṣa; Framarin 2009 explores the compromise position of desireless action. Madan 1988 explores the wider implications of this question.

                                                                                                                                                  • Framarin, Christopher G. Desire and Motivation in Indian Philosophy. Oxford and New York: Routledge, 2009.

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                                                                                                                                                    An exploration of the claim in many Indian ethical texts that one should act without desire—and the apparent paradox it implies. Framarin argues that the texts do indeed argue for action without any desires at all, by identifying desire as a narrow set of mental states analytically separable from a purpose or goal.

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                                                                                                                                                    • Ingalls, Daniel. “Dharma and Moksa.” Philosophy East and West 7 (1957): 41–48.

                                                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.2307/1396833Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                      A brief discussion of the origins of the concepts of dharma and mokṣa and their potential conflict. Against van Buitenen 1957, Ingalls notes how the two were typically harmonized.

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                                                                                                                                                      • Madan, T. N., ed. Way of Life: King, Householder, Renouncer. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1988.

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                                                                                                                                                        More difficult to find than it should be, this book contains some extremely insightful essays on the key Indian conflicts between householders and renouncers, dharma and mokṣa, some of which are cited elsewhere in this bibliography.

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                                                                                                                                                        • Olivelle, Patrick. The Āśrama System: The History and Hermeneutics of a Religious Institution. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

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                                                                                                                                                          The most extensive exploration of the common idea that there are four āśramas (occupations) proper to human life: celibate studentship, householding, forest dwelling, and renunciation. In later texts the āśramas are viewed as four stages in sequence, but Olivelle argues that in earlier texts they were viewed as a choice.

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                                                                                                                                                          • van Buitenen, J. A. B. “Dharma and Moksa.” Philosophy East and West 7 (1957): 33–40.

                                                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.2307/1396832Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                            Argues that Indian ethical or moral injunctions point to two very different realms of action: the embodied realm of dharma, and mokṣa as release from it. Takes the two as essentially opposed to each other.

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                                                                                                                                                            Debates over Renunciation

                                                                                                                                                            The practice of renunciation was arguably the most hotly contested ethical issue in early India. As a result, discussions of it are rich in ethical argument. Olivelle 1995 selects key excerpts to illustrate the case each side made for a way of life. Fitzgerald 2002 provides a key passage from the Mahābhārata, where a long argument for renunciation is put in a woman’s voice. A Vedic positive view of renunciation came to be articulated in the Saṃnyāsa Upaniṣads, which Olivelle 1992 translates and which Vail 2002 connects to the wider Upaniṣadic worldview.

                                                                                                                                                            • Fitzgerald, James L. “Nun Befuddles King, Shows Karmayoga Does Not Work: Sulabhā’s Refutation of King Janaka at MBh 12.308.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 30.6 (2002): 641–677.

                                                                                                                                                              DOI: 10.1023/A:1023533300354Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                              Translation (with summary, helpful introduction, and copious notes) of a fascinating episode from the Śāntiparvan, in which a female renouncer argues to a king that he cannot be liberated while still living the a householder’s worldly life—and especially not while living the political life of a king.

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                                                                                                                                                              • Olivelle, Patrick, trans. Saṃnyāsa Upaniṣads: Hindu Scriptures on Asceticism and Renunciation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.

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                                                                                                                                                                The Saṃnyāsa Upaniṣads made the case for renunciation in a Brahmanical (“Hindu”) context, and challenged traditional dharma in many ways. Olivelle’s long introduction explains ideas of renunciation in traditional India.

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                                                                                                                                                                • Olivelle, Patrick. “Ascetic Withdrawal or Social Engagement.” In Religions of India in Practice. Edited by Donald S. Lopez Jr., 533–546. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995.

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                                                                                                                                                                  An illustrative selection of early arguments between householding and renouncing traditions in India. It covers Buddhist as well as Vedic and epic texts to show the various cases that each side made about whether the monk’s or the householder’s life is preferable. An excellent short introduction to the debate.

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                                                                                                                                                                  • Vail, Lise F. “‘Unlike a Fool, He Is Not Defiled’: Ascetic Purity and Ethics in the Samnyasa Upanisads.” Journal of Religious Ethics 30.3 (2002): 373–397.

                                                                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1111/1467-9795.00114Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                    Explores the relationship of Brahmanical (“Hindu”) renouncers to the traditional moral dharma rules of the wider household society. Argues that the Upaniṣadic metaphysics of braḥman forms a foundation for the ascetic’s ritual practices of self-purification.

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                                                                                                                                                                    The Aims of Life

                                                                                                                                                                    There is a great deal said in India about the three, or four, puruṣārthas, or human aims: artha (worldly success), kāma (desire and pleasure), dharma (see above), and sometimes mokṣa (liberation). One attempting to think through Hindu ethics can often feel frustrated by the rarity with which the system of puruṣārthas is theorized together as a unit; in classical texts, reflection on them more often tends to come separately. Bhartṛhari’s poems, for example (translated in Miller 1967), are effectively divided into sections corresponding to the three puruṣārthas, but without significant discussion of how they relate. It is often left to modern writers to figure out how they fit together. Koller 1968 and Davis 2004 each attempt to grapple with the question of what a puruṣārtha is. Malamoud 1988 and Wilhelm 1978 explore their relative importance. Krishna 1986 rejects the puruṣārthas on philosophical grounds, while Sundara Rajan 1988 attempts to apply them in terms of contemporary Continental philosophy.

                                                                                                                                                                    • Davis, Donald R., Jr. “Being Hindu or Being Human: A Reappraisal of the Puruṣārthas.” International Journal of Hindu Studies 8.1–3 (2004): 1–27.

                                                                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1007/s11407-004-0001-3Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                      A well-informed discussion of the puruṣārthas that offers a cautionary note against their use in ethical reflection. Davis argues that they are primarily sociological rather than normative categories.

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                                                                                                                                                                      • Koller, John M. “Puruṣārthas as Human Aims.” Philosophy East and West 18.4 (1968): 315–319.

                                                                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.2307/1398408Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                        Defends the view that puruṣārthas are goals that human beings may aim at, against somewhat curious attempt in Potter 1972 (cited under General Overviews) to treat them as attitudes.

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                                                                                                                                                                        • Krishna, Daya. “The Myth of the Puruṣārthas.” Journal of the Indian Council for Philosophical Research 4 (1986): 1–14.

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                                                                                                                                                                          A critical interrogation of the scheme of puruṣārthas. Krishna attempts to argue that the scheme, as usually presented, is logically incoherent.

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                                                                                                                                                                          • Malamoud, Charles. “On the Rhetoric and Semantics of Puruṣārtha.” In Way of Life: King, Householder, Renouncer. Edited by T. N. Madan, 33–54. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1988.

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                                                                                                                                                                            Malamoud explores traditional characterizations of the idea of a scheme of puruṣārthas, examining the differing importance given to each of the three members and the varying inclusion or exclusion of mokṣa.

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                                                                                                                                                                            • Miller, Barbara Stoler, trans. Bhartrihari: Poems. New York: Columbia University Press, 1967.

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                                                                                                                                                                              A dual-language (Sanskrit and English) of the Śatakatrayaṃ of the poet Bhartṛhari, which comprises poetic meditations on the aims of life. It makes for an intriguing contrast with the Kuraḷ, also structured around puruṣārthas but with different emphasis.

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                                                                                                                                                                              • Sundara Rajan, R. “Approaches to the Theory of Puruṣārthas: Husserl, Heidegger and Ricoeur.” Journal of the Indian Council for Philosophical Research 6 (1988): 130–147.

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                                                                                                                                                                                An attempt to approach the theory of puruṣārthas through 20th-century phenomenological philosophy, identifying them as “modes of being-in-the-world.”

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                                                                                                                                                                                • Wilhelm, Friedrich. “The Concept of Dharma in Artha and Kāma Literature.” In The Concept of Duty in South Asia. Edited by Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty and J. Duncan M. Derrett, 66–79. New Delhi: Vikas, 1978.

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                                                                                                                                                                                  Explores the relationship between puruṣārthas by reading texts on artha and kāma (especially the Arthaśāstra and Kāma Sūtra) and identifying how they examine dharma.

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                                                                                                                                                                                  Gender

                                                                                                                                                                                  Classical and medieval Hindu ethics were produced in a patriarchal society, written mostly by and about men. Some scholars have attempted to rectify traditional gender inequality by focusing attention on women’s ethical role. The most common locus for such discussions is the epics, whose female characters provide interesting and controversial models for women’s behavior—and, one might argue, not necessarily antifeminist ones. The lead female characters of each epic play a role corresponding to the epic’s own position: the Rāmāyaṇa’s Sītā as an ideal dharmic wife, the Mahābhārata’s Draupadī as a more complicated and ambiguous character with a role in spurring on the epic’s apocalyptic destruction. But both characters are taken up by feminist audiences. Sutherland 1989 contrasts the two characters to investigate why traditional audiences prefer Sītā to Draupadī. Kishwar 2000 explores how contemporary Indian women take Sītā as a model, and Goldman 2004 examines the roots of such a view in the original text. Hess 1999 takes a more suspicious eye toward the Sītā story, and Falk 1977 explores the power of the character of Draupadī as an alternative.

                                                                                                                                                                                  • Falk, Nancy Auer. “Draupadī and the Dharma.” In Beyond Androcentrism: New Essays on Women and Religion. Edited by Rita M. Gross, 89–114. Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1977.

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                                                                                                                                                                                    Explores the figure of Draupadī in the Mahābhārata—a character noted for her angry, assertive words, yet also praised as an example of feminine virtue.

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                                                                                                                                                                                    • Goldman, Robert P. “Resisting Rāma: Dharmic Debates on Gender and Hierarchy and the Work of the Vālmῑki Rāmāyaṇa.” In The Rāmāyaṇa Revisited. Edited by Mandakranta Bose, 19–46. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

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                                                                                                                                                                                      Rāma has long been held to be an exemplar of dharma, but his treatment of his wife Sītā has repelled many audiences—above all modern ones. Goldman argues that the author of the Rāmāyaṇa may himself have been conflicted about Rāma’s treatment of Sītā.

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                                                                                                                                                                                      • Hess, Linda. “Rejecting Sita: Indian Responses to the Ideal Man’s Cruel Treatment of His Wife.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 67.1 (1999): 1–32.

                                                                                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.1093/jaarel/67.1.1Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                        A feminist critique of the traditional image of Sītā as submissive wife, informed by various sources in the text’s premodern and modern Indian reception.

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                                                                                                                                                                                        • Kishwar, Madhu. “Yes to Sita, No to Ram: The Continuing Hold of Sita on Popular Imagination in India.” In Questioning Ramayanas: A South Asian Tradition. Edited by Paula Richman, 285–308. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.

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                                                                                                                                                                                          Kishwar examines the figure of Sītā in popular imagination (not in written or oral textual tradition). She claims that Indian women continue to treat Sītā as an ideal woman, as an example for them to emulate, and argues that this approach does not imply an acceptance of Rāma’s apparently cruel treatment of her.

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                                                                                                                                                                                          • Sutherland, Sally J. “Sītā and Draupadī: Aggressive Behavior and Female Role-Models in the Sanskrit Epics.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 109.1 (1989): 63–79.

                                                                                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.2307/604337Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                            Compares the figures of Sītā and Draupadī in the epics to investigate why Sītā is generally viewed as a normative figure for women and Draupadī is not: Draupadī openly expresses her anger and aggression.

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                                                                                                                                                                                            Applied Ethics

                                                                                                                                                                                            It is a common perception that ethics needs to speak to the pressing social and political problems of the present time—not necessarily in terms of political theory, but of individuals’ stances toward those problems. Coward 2003 tackles questions of genetic engineering, while Coward, et al. 1989 looks at abortion and euthanasia.

                                                                                                                                                                                            • Coward, Harold. “Ethics and Genetic Engineering in Indian Philosophy, and Some Comparisons with Modern Western Thought.” Journal of Hindu-Christian Studies 16 (2003): 1–10.

                                                                                                                                                                                              DOI: 10.7825/2164-6279.1298Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                              A brief exploratory attempt to draw out the implications of Indian philosophies (including Jainism, the Yoga Sūtras, and Aurobindo) for ethical questions around genetic engineering. A suggestive starting point.

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                                                                                                                                                                                              • Coward, Harold G., Julius J. Lipner, and Katherine K. Young. Hindu Ethics: Purity, Abortion and Euthanasia. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                A collection of three essays attempting to identify “Hindu” perspectives on some of the modern age’s most highly charged moral-political issues, drawing from a variety of sources including the Mahābhārata, Upanishads, and Yoga Sūtras.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                Environmental Ethics

                                                                                                                                                                                                The environmental crisis, understandably, has received particular attention in the application of Hindu ethics. Nelson 1998 and Chapple and Tucker 2000 collect a range of perspectives on the topic, with Nelson’s volume focusing more on historical Indian ideas, and Chapple and Tucker’s more on the present. Chapple 1993 and Framarin 2014 explore key concepts applicable to environmental issues in more depth: Chapple looks at the idea of ahiṃsā, while Framarin examines the thesis that plants and animals have moral standing of their own in key Indian texts. The pollution of rivers is a particularly noteworthy issue in this area, since many Hindus hold rivers (especially the Ganges and Yamuna) to be sacred even as they become deeply polluted. Alley 2002 and Haberman 2006 take contrasting angles on the question: Alley asks how those who consider the Ganges pure nevertheless allow it to become polluted, while Haberman explores how ideas of the Yamuna’s purity have proved a resource for a distinctly Indian brand of environmental activism.

                                                                                                                                                                                                • Alley, Kelly D. On the Banks of the Ganga: When Wastewater Meets a Sacred River. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                  This book asks the question, If Hindus consider the Ganga (Ganges) river sacred, why do they allow it to become polluted? Alley notes the importance of conceptual distinctions within Indian views of purity and pollution, such that material and spiritual purity are held to be very different.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                  • Chapple, Christopher Key. Nonviolence to Animals, Earth, and Self in Asian Traditions. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                    An attempt to create a constructive ethic of nonviolence (translating ahiṃsā) applied to contemporary animal and ecological issues, deriving from sources in Jainism and East Asian Buddhism as well as the Mahābhārata and Upanishads.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Chapple, Christopher Key, and Mary Evelyn Tucker, eds. Hinduism and Ecology: The Intersection of Earth, Sky and Water. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                      Part of a series on ecological dimensions of major religions, this large book explores a variety of intersections between Indian traditions and the environment. It focuses more on modern Indian ideas and political movements than does Nelson 1998.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Framarin, Christopher G. Hinduism and Environmental Ethics: Law, Literature and Philosophy. Oxford: Routledge, 2014.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                        An analytical study of key Indian texts (the Manusmṛti; the Yoga Sūtras; and the Anuśāsanaparvan of the Mahābhārata), arguing that each attributes direct moral standing to animals and plants. Argues that this account is more plausible than other approaches to a Hindu environmental ethic that stress the interconnectedness of nature.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Haberman, David L. River of Love in an Age of Pollution: The Yamuna River of Northern India. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                          Examines theological views of the Yamuna River and how they have been applied to contemporary action around the river’s pollution. Haberman draws contrasts between these approaches and conventional Western environmentalism.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                          • Nelson, Lance E., ed. Purifying the Earthly Body of God: Religion and Ecology in Hindu India. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                            This edited volume inquires about the possibility of developing an environmental ethic, sensitive to contemporary ecological concerns, out of earlier Indian traditions, examining the role (positive or negative) that might be played by the traditions’ recurring concerns like karma, asceticism, and purity.

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