Aspects of Justice in Ancient India
Frederic B. Underwood

Journal of Chinese Philosophy
V. 5 (1978)
pp. 271-285

Copyright 1978 by D. Reidel Publishing Co.

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From the Vedic period onward, the perennial attitude of Indian culture has been that justice and righteousness among men are microcosmic reflections of the natural order and harmony of the macrocosmic universe. The cosmos is instinct with an inherent structure and functional pattern in which men at their best willingly participate. Justice, then, in the Indian context, is a human expression of a wider universal principle of nature and if man were entirely true to nature, his actions would be spontaneously just.

    Justice, in the sense of a distributive equity, is experienced by men in three major guises: as moral justice, social justice and legal justice. Each of these forms of justice is viewed as a particularization of the general principle of the universe seen as a total organism. From the broadest to narrowest conception, then, ancient Indian views on justice are inextricably bound up with a sense of economy.[1] The operations of men and the universe itself involve the continual readjustment of particulars to fit the normative balance of the whole. Human institutions of justice - the state, law, etc. - participate in this overall economy; but the belief has remained strong in India through the centuries that Nature, itself, is the ultimate and final arbiter of justice. Ultimately, justice is cosmic justice.

    This is to say that to the classical Indian culture the universe is essentially a moral universe. Nature is guided by principles which become translated into ethical terms in the individual and social lives of men. Of course, human life itself is seen as part of this natural process, having a bearing on the functioning of the whole, but not by any means dominating it. These introductory statements can now be amplified through an examination of the concept and role of justice as it applies in the three areas of individual morality, society and the state, and the functions of law. Inúaa sense, this scheme represents a movement outward from the core significance of justice in Indian culture to its most artificial and gross manifestation in codes of legislation and custom.





Despite fairly frequent western impressions that India is a society that engulfs its individuals in its various collective units, the status, dignity and autonomy of the individual person have always been held in high value, if not in practice, most definitely in theory. Valorization of the significance of individual life begins with the earliest literature and becomes extremely prominent by the time of the early Upani.sads (c. 600 B. C.).

    Viewing the natural world as an organic whole, all forms of life are seen as interrelated. The thrust of nature is evolutionary and teleological. A single individual may be incarnated at a number of different levels within the order of nature as he progresses (or retrogresses) on the evolutionary scale. The ultimate perfection of life, or spiritual emancipation, is achieved most usually only after the individual passes through a number of animal and human incarnations.[2] The status of man is at the zenith of the chain of existences insofar as opportunity for realization of the final goal is concerned. Even gods and goddesses are "higher beings" only with respect to their greater longevity and power. The central ideal of classical Indian culture in both its orthodox and heterodox forms is decidedly anthropocentric.

    A manifest individual is a temporary embodiment or apparent delimitation of the highest spiritual principle, whether this be called jiiva,, aatman, brahman, et al. It is this principle which underlies universal life and burgeons forth in all the variety of nature. Within man alone, however, can this principle come to full consciousness and realization. Therefore, human life is not simply taken as a "given", but is conceived of as an opportunity to work towards, if not actually achieve, the ultimate teleological fruition. Most Indian philosophical and religious traditions thus conceive of human status as relatively rare in the overall context of myriads of life forms, and accordingly, existence as a man is invested with seriousness and high purpose. The latter qualities are most apparent among professional religions, but as cultural phenomena they come to inform a broad range of Indian institutions usually regarded as secular, and influence the regulation of collective life.

    The individual, then, and not the community is regarded as the locus of the highest spiritual value. Every individual, consciously or not, is on the path to the highest goal and is, therefore, an inviolable center of potential spiritual realization. It is this fundamental notion, cast in a variety of expressions, that becomes the matrix of the Indian sense of justice and of the institutions which embody it.




    Man in ancient India could expect perfect equity as he interacted either consciously or unconsciously within his cosmic environment. As part of nature, as a natural power in his own right, the same economic principles of natural balance and normative harmony applied to man's moral behavior as they did to other functions of the universe. The destiny of the individual over a series of lifetimes was determined, as is well known, by the quality of his actions or deeds, by his karma. In the evolutionary process of liberation, man reaps what he sows, even to the extent that the extreme evil-doer can revert to sub-human levels of existence.[3] The retribution which karma entails has both empirical and non-empirical aspects. It is obviously empirical when catastrophe befalls the evil and honor the good within their present lifetimes. More usually, however, the operations of karma, like other laws of the universe are nonempirical. The evil man is reborn in a lower station in another existence and the good man in a higher. However, retributive karma is also empirical in the sense that the present condition of the individual is conceived of as the totally inexorable and impersonally just result of his own behavior in past incarnations. This notion is reinforced through its early association with the stratification of Indian society. A Braahman at the apex of the four var.nas was reaping the reward of his past lives. A `suudra, or member of the lowest, could be presumed morally as well as socially inferior to the Braahman due to his own past action.[4] But looking forward to future lives, a `suudra could hope to improve his position through righteous conduct now according to the dictates of his station. Thus the nearly universal Indian doctrine of karma was used simultaneously to demonstrate the complete moral equity or justice of the status quo as well as to, supply incentive for ethical behavior in hopes of self-advancement.

    Self-responsibility for one's own position in society meant that the hierarchy of classes was itself regarded as a reflection of karmic justice. Social inequality is seen as equitable in that the rights and duties, the privileges and responsibilities of a particular class are envisioned as commensurate with the levels of spiritual and moral development of its individual members. Any system of rights and duties which did not take into account the actual differences between these individual levels of advancement on the path of evolution and which advocated indiscriminate equality would itself have been seen as unjust. The salvation of the individual lies in the quality of his performance at the level on which he finds himself.[5] To expect all men to adhere to the same standard or to act in a manner beyond the capacities of their present




stage of spiritual. moral, and intellectual unfoldment would be neither just nor natural.



Although man embodies the highest spiritual principle, he is, nonetheless, embodied. This fact automatically involves the individual in relations with others and places him in an empirical social context which is conceived of as entirely natural and organic. As we have seen, both the fact and the quality of the individual's embodiment are seen as self-determined.

    In the tenets of classical Hinduism, then, one's embodiment and one's station in social life according to the classification are the just results of past events. The individual is the result of his past deeds over which he no longer has any control. Yet one's progress in the ladder of evolution is subject to conscious control in the present. A major institution of Indian society is designed around the possibility which exists for the individual to take the harmonious development of his own nature consciously into his own hands. This institution is the well-known puru.saartha-var.naa`srama-dharma system, in which an ideal life-program is mapped out in terms of goals to be achieved and progressive stages in life in which they are to be pursued. The goals (Puru.saartha) are moral, ethical and social rectitude (dharma), aesthetic and erotic gratification (kaama). material well-being and prosperity (artha) and most important, spiritual liberation and self-realization ( In order to fulfill each of these goals in a balanced and harmonious progress, the Hindu is advised to divide his life into the four stages (aa`srama) of the student (brahmacarya), householder (g.rhastha), forest-dweller (vaanaprastha) and renunciate (sannyaasa). Like the Creek diakaiosynee of which Professor Manicas speaks, this arrangement of life involves a type of "psychic harmony" or personal order among what might otherwise be conflicting impulses and demands. The pursuit of the puru.saarthas through the aa`sramas is timed slightly differently according to considerations of Not only individual harmony but also the concepts of social ethics and interpersonal justice revolve around the right of individuals and groups to advance within the teleological structure without interference from their fellows. The ideal society envisioned by Indian sages is an association in which individuals respect and help one another to work out their respective spiritual destinies. In fact, the original condition of man in association with his fellows was seen as a Golden Age (k.ritayuga).




    Legends of the origins of society and the state analogous to and anticipating those of Rousseau, Hobbes, Locke and others are ubiquitous in early Indian literature. These accounts, which bear distinct resemblances to the similar Greek theories in story form can be regarded as representing a culturally widespread substratum of the Indo-European heritage. In effect, the Indian myths of this sort are created more for morally didactic purposes, than as theories in any scientific sense, but this itself serves to indicate a distinctive Indian approach to personal ethics and social justice. In the Indian accounts both society and the state are seen, in an attitude similar to that of Plate's Republic, as both natural and necessary developments informed by an underlying idea of justice.

    The sources for Indian ideas concerning the origins of society and the state are as old as Indian literature itself.[6] Already in the .Rig Veda are found germinal elements of later, more formal elaborations.[7] The basic ideas are expanded to some extent in the books which follow. In the Aitareya and Taittiriiya Braahma.nas particularly, which can be dated conservatively at c. 700 B.C., there are rudimentary efforts to comment on the origin of the state and kingship in connection with certain rituals which are the main concern of this genre of literature. The Aitareya contains what is perhaps the first adumbration of a contractual theory of kingship in the context of warfare between the Asuras ("Titans") and gods: "The gods said, 'Through our lack of a king they conquer us; let us make a king.' "[8] Here the establishment of the state emanates from a social need for self-defense. Later in the same Indra is elected ruler and consecrated in the Mahaabhi.sekara ceremony. Indra is chosen for his personal might. "The gods with Prajaapati said 'He is of gods the mightiest, the strongest, the most real, the best to accomplish; let us anoint him.' "[9] Significantly, the ceremony entails ritual objects taken from species of the vegetable world which are deemed appropriate, due to their imputed sovereignty over others of their kind.[10] The selection of a king is a natural human reflection of a hierarchy which already exists in the state of nature.

    This rudimentary contractual theory is developed and systematized after a fashion in the Paali scriptures of early Buddhism. These afford for the first time a direct view of the ideal of practical justice in the formation of the principal institutions of society and the state. The principal Paali text, dating from c. 300 B.C., is the Agga~n~na Suttanta, number 27 of the Diigha Nikaaya.

    As the sutta opens, two novices of the Buddhist order, Braahmans by birth,




complain of the opprobrium they have to endure from their fellow Braahmans as a result of their conversion to Buddhism. The Buddha himself takes the opportunity to enunciate a theory of social organization in which he repudiates the arrogant Braahman claims to superiority by dint of having been born from the mouth of the god Brahmaa, while other var.nas were born of lesser organs of the divinity.

    The Buddha states quite simply that in their arrogance, the Braahmans have forgotten the origin of things and are born from their mothers' wombs like everyone else. In passing, then, the sutta intimates that the Buddha was quite familiar with such Brahmanical traditions as the creation and gradation of the var.nas which goes back to Hymn X, 90 of the .Rig Veda. Although the puru.saarthas are not mentioned at all, the vaanaprastha and sannyaasa aa`sramas seem to be implied as part of the Buddha's awareness of his contemporary social scene.

    The Buddha goes on to state that the claims of the Braahmans should not be taken seriously because according to the real teleological norm (dharma) of life, only those who have achieved spiritual liberation are "chief."[11] Although couched in specific Buddhist terminology, the appeal to a cosmic standard as the guarantor of true justice is characteristically Indian.

    Having forgotten their true origins, continues the Buddha, the Braahmans no longer recall a time (analogous to the K.rita Yuga of the Hindus), when all men dwelt in a "Shining World."[12] In this original condition of things there were not the distinctions which apply today. "Beings were counted as beings only."[13] From this point. the Buddha proceeds to account for the serial appearance of social institutions based on social and economic developments which gradually produce a collective appeal for the administration of justice. The anthropologist can easily read into the figurative account of the sutta various typical stages in the gradual elaboration of the means of subsistence and production.

    At first man appears in the Golden Age or state of nature as a simple food-gatherer, with no sense of personal property whatsoever. The sutta under discussion and other Paali sources suggest that even the basic institutions of marriage and the family had not yet developed.[14] Various stages in food-gathering are described until at one point of great moment the process of the domestication of rice begins. At first the rice is simply discovered and gathered as it is needed. In terms of the sutta legend, the Golden Age has not passed entirely, and the rice picked in the evening grows back in the morning without the necessity of cultivation.




    The sutta suggests that at this stage men develop a proprietary interest in certain women and a new need for privacy is felt. Together with the growth of the family comes a tendency to harvest more rice than is necessary for immediate use, and the practice of hoarding comes into being. No longer does the rice magically reappear soon after reaping; the natural supply is no longer sufficient for the increased demands brought abut by the new institution of storage.

    This development sets the stage for the major tarnishing of the Golden Age, viz., the division of the rice fields as private property. Almost automatically, the establishment of private property leads to its violation, and theft becomes commonplace. At first the sutta suggests that the people themselves collectively punish the perpetrators. Society is already organized and can take effective, if inefficient, action on its own behalf.

    Finally the situation becomes increasingly severe and the decision is made to administrate the new social sense of equity and justice based on the institutions of family and private property. The person who is elected to be the first king is to be released from the obligation of earning his own living so that he may devote full-time attention to ensuring that others may safely enjoy the fruits of their own labor in a just manner. The king himself is to be supported by the people through contributions of a proportion of their rice.[15] Significantly, especially in relationship to the comments of Professor Manicas' essay, the institutionalization of justice begins only when men rise above the level of daily subsistence and mutually agree to protect the newly found opportunities for personal wealth.[16]

    The Buddhist text goes on to indicate, albeit sketchily, that these social and economic developments further produce distinctions and classifications in the community which, at least at the outset, are based on a functional division of labor. The institution of monarchy gives rise to a "circle of nobles or k.satriyas" (khattiyama.n.dalassa). The Pali word khattiya (Sanskrit: k.satriya) is even given a fanciful derivation from "khettaana.m pati" or "lord of the fields" to emphasize the origin of this class of Indian society as protectors of the rights of others once the ownership of private property has been established. The sutta continues with summary descriptions of the origins of the Braahmans as contemplative and religious teachers, of the vai`syas as tradespeople and of the `suudras as hunters.[17]

    Although the avowed purpose of the Buddha in this dialogue is to demonstrate the original unity of mankind in a Golden Age and also that the social classes arose on the basis of intercooperative function presumably for the




benefit of all, even this most liberal of Indian thinkers cannot avoid the interjection of the view that social status, whatever its origins in terms of practical social justice, is also a reflection of individual karmic justice: the sutra closes with a description of the good or bad destinies to which each of the four var.nas is subject on the basis of karmically determinative activity in deed, word or thought. The ultimate justice is moral and based on natural law; it is not merely an economic convenience. Although the early Buddhists valued moral worth over considerations of caste, rank and wealth, they did not openly militate against the caste system. On the one hand, the legend denies ' the Brahmanical tendency to see the social order as a divine creation, and instead suggests, empirically and rationally, that it is originated out of nothing more exalted than an expedient human concern for justice and protection. On the other hand, although the legend points out the original undifferentiated (and essential?) equality of all men, it seems that the Buddha implicitly accepts the existence of the four var.nas and implicitly regards the status of rebirth in the hierarchy of var.nas as due to karmic fruition, whether good or bad. However, as the founder of a monastic order, the Buddha has only passing interest in artha, even less in kaama, and addresses himself mainly to the goals of dharma and Being an ascetic he tends to disavow the necessity of gradual progress through the aa`sramas, the doctrine which becomes orthodox in Hinduism, and offers the extra-social alternative of immediate monkshood to members of any and all var.nas. For the Buddhists, anyone was eligible to drop the concerns of society in an effort to extirpate the conditioning effects of karma altogether, devoting full-time to the realization of the normative teleological goal of Thus the early Buddhists were emphatic in their assertion of the equality of all in the context of the extra-social pursuit of the highest spiritual value while, at the same time, not denying social distinctions or their justice as the norm of everyday human association. Indeed, from this point on in Indian social theorizing, economic and social rights are conceived in both orthodox and heterodox schools of thought as inextricably bound up with individual moral and spiritual status.

    I have dwelt on this early Buddhist legend at some length because many of its essential features are reproduced, whether through coincidence or direct borrowing, in later Indian literature dealing with matters of society, the state, law and justice. Accordingly, the Buddhist account can be taken as representative of a whole genre of similar aetiological accounts which attempt to emphasize social contract in the interests of justice and the consent of the




governed as imputed reasons for the establishment of the state. Two other highlights of outstanding works of this sort can be touched upon briefly in chronological order.

    One of the earliest extant evidences of a developed Brahmanical exposition of the social contract theory is the Artha`saastra attributed to Kau.tilya. The finished work as it has come down to us probably dates back no further than the Third Century A.D. However, it contains materials which presumably go back to the Kau.tilya who reputedly was minister to King Candragupta Maurya in the Fourth Century B.C., and beyond to other Artha`saastra literature incorporated by Kau.tilya, but now lost.[18] Kau.tilya outlines essentially a similar process of increasing anarchy as does the Buddha, a process which leads to the election of the first king Manu Varvasibata in the interests of justice.

    Another major and later source of Brahmanical versions of the social contract theory is the vast epic poem, the Mahaabhaarata. The twelfth book, `Saanti Parva, is particularly relevant. In Chapter 59 of the `Saanti Parva, Yudhisthira, himself a king, inquires about the origin of his office. A noble named Bhiishma replies,

Certainly, O best among men, do you listen to everything in its entirety - how kingship originated first during the golden age (krita-yuga). Neither kingship nor king was there in the beginning, neither scepter (da.n.da) nor the bearer of a scepter. All people protected one another, by means of righteous conduct (dharma). Thus, while protecting one another by means of righteous conduct, O Bhaarata, men eventually fell into a state of spiritual lassitude. Then delusion overcame them. Men were thus overpowered by infatuation, O leader of men, on account of the delusion of understanding; their sense of righteous conduct was lost ...Then they sought to acquire what should not be acquired ... Then the gods approached Vishnu, the lord of creatures, and said: 'Indicate to us that one person among mortals who is alone worthy of the highest eminence.' Then the blessed lord god Naaraayana reflected, and brought forth an illustrious mind-born son, called Virajas [who became the first king].[19]

    Later the first king Virajas renounces the world and is succeeded by a tyrant, Vena, who nearly destroys the social order by approving of inter-caste marriages. The ancient .rsis kill him and create P.rthu, the new king. The .rsis charge P.rthu with very strict conditions under which he will be allowed to rule.

    Once again, as in the Buddhist legend, the original condition of man is seen as a stateless and spontaneously just society. The administration of justice is regarded as an expediency necessitated by a falling-away from the Golden Age as the degeneration of the universe is reflected in human affairs. Later in the




`Saanti Parva, in Chapter 67, this degeneration is characterized specifically in terms of cruelty, disregard for private property and threat to the family through violation of the chastity of women. Unlike the Buddhist account and those of the Braahma.nas, the Mahaabhaarata does not refer to the actual popular election of the king to remedy these conditions, but rather to his appointment through divine agency. Even so this appointment comes as a divine response to human disorder which itself jeopardizes the universal harmony. As a result, the participation of the gods in the affairs of men can be seen as the interaction between two parts of the same organic whole in the interests of a just economy affecting all. The contractual nature of the transaction is preserved in the account of the deposition of Vena, the tyrant, and the restrictions imposed on P.rthu by the .rsis.

    From the foregoing, it should now be clear that ancient Indian society, as a collection of individuals who bear the highest spiritual principle, actually continues to supersede the institution of the state. As Basham remarks, "Society, the age-old divinely ordained way of Indian life, transcended the state and was independent of it. The king's function was the protection of society, and the state was merely an extension of the king for the furtherance of that end."[20] In its turn, society itself was ideally oriented towards the spiritual perfection of each individual, and existed for the purpose of ensuring the just and harmonious unfoldment of each individual according to his capacities, with a minimum of interference from his fellows. Social cooperation under the purview of the king could provide the material necessities and rights of ownership prerequisite to the development of the spiritual aspects of life.

The individual requires maintenance, protection, and help even for spiritual realization, and therefore the economic, political and legal organizations of society are deemed necessary ... It is the duty of the ideal state to create conditions and opportunities that will gradually help man overcome his ignorance, selfishness, and immoral tendencies, so that a harmonious community may evolve in which every individual can advance toward the supreme goal of spiritual freedom - freedom from ignorance and selfishness and all the vices that follow therefrom.[21]



The ancient Indians were not only idealists but also realists and pragmatists. They were fully aware that the official world-view and the actual ethos of men do not always, in fact, correspond with each other. Even if justice and




harmony were spontaneous in the K.rta Yuga, it was unreasonable to expect that they would remain so in the Kali Yuga, the present age of decadence.

    Therefore the state performed its duty of protection of society and the individual through coercive enforcement of the standards of justice, which are reduced for the purpose into the minutiae of positive law (vyavahaara). Early codes of law, covering every aspect of life, are preserved in the voluminous Dharmasuutra and Dharma`saastra literature, of which perhaps the Maanavadharma`saastra or Laws of Manu is the most well-known.

    The books do not betray any overblown estimation of the goodness of men. Their attitude is fully attuned to the actuality of man's frequent failure to act from a sense of his own best interest, and to his frequent total disregard for the karmic repercussions of his deeds. Yet it remains the duty of the state to use coercion to effect adherence to legal statutes which themselves are more or less explicitly directed to maintenance of justice for all and the moral welfare of the individual. As indicated at the end of the last section, through practical law-enforcement the state must actually seek to controvert the ignorance of those men in society who remain unaware or unconvinced of the very purposes for which they themselves, the state, and society exist. Accordingly, the traditional Indian king has been invested with da.n.da,"the scepter," a symbol of the power and authority of the state which rules inexorably by law and punishment. The practical necessity of da.n.da in the administration of justice in the Kali Yuga is considered a further outgrowth of the ongoing degeneration of the times which, as we have seen, was responsible for the institution of the state in the first place. Manu, as a realist, insists in his discussion of the role of the king that if he does not " . . . inflict punishment on those worthy to be punished, the stronger would roast the weaker like fish on a spit ... "[22] "Having fully considered the time and the place (of the offence), the strength and knowledge (of the offender), let him justly inflict that punishment on men who act unjustly,"[23] (Italics mine.) The exercise of the coercive power of da.n.da with regard to law-enforcement is considered just in the highest sense, since particularistic legal codes are considered to be concrete and detailed embodiments of the more abstract and exalted principles of justice (e.g. .rita, dharma) which are fundamental to the cosmos.

    The administration of legal justice and redressive punishment was not performed mechanically or indiscriminately without respect for persons, however. Even here the informing vision of man on an evolutionary and




hierarchical path to the realization of the highest spiritual value holds full sway and brings us back to our point of departure. Men did not stand as equals before the law. A hypothetical suggestion to the effect that men were equal before the law would. most likely, have been dismissed as unjust. Justice was not blind in ancient India.

    Insofar as the hierarchy indicated karmic retribution or reward for lifetimes, it was considered only natural to take into account in the administration of legal justice. The italicized portion of the above quotation from Manu indicates that the king, acting as judge. should consider "the strength and knowledge" of the defendant. His strength and knowledge are estimated as functions of his Legal consideration of rank has two main outcomes, one having to do with responsibility, the other with privilege, and one concerning the perpetrators of crime. the other its victims.

    In the latter case. crimes against persons were adjudicated with reference to the class-status of the victim. Here is reflected. perhaps, some of the Brahmanical hauteur decried by the novices in the Buddhist legend already discussed. The penalty for a crime was increasingly severe the higher the of the victim. For example. in the Dharmasuutras of Baudhaayana and Aapastamba it is stated that the expiatory fine for murdering a k.satriya is a thousand cows and one bull. while that for a `suudra is only ten cows and a bull[24] A similar prescription is recorded in Manu.[25] Yet it should he remembered that what may appear to us as a crass. arrogant and arbitrary assignment of value to human life on the basis of birth and social rank is, in the context of ancient Indian society, another reflection of the assumption of differing and karmically self-determined stages on the ladder of advancement towards the ultimate value.

    The same underlying idea is reflected more positively in the legal administration of Indian justice through the notion that the more elevated a man is in terms of, the more responsibility he should bear for his misdeeds. If is determined karmically, then those at the top of the hierarchy should be expected to be morally superior. They were, in fact, considered ritually purer, more knowledgeable and closer to the final enlightenment and beatitude. Their behavior should reflect the long process of spiritual and moral development implied by their higher status. This is reflected in law as the requirement of a greater penalty for those of higher station and a milder punishment for the more lowly. Thus Manu says:

When another common man would be fined one kaarshaapana, the king shall be fined one




thousand; that is the settled rule. In (a case of) theft the guilt of a `Suudra shall. be eight-fold, that of a Vai`sya sixteenfold, that of a Kshatriya two-and-thirtyfold, that of a sixty-fourfold, or quite a hundredfold, or (even) twice four-and-sixtyfold; (each of them) knowing the nature of the offence.[26]

It is only just in this scheme of things that more in the way of a penalty should be expected of those with greater moral capabilities, and who should be expected to know better, while less should be required of those less advanced on the path.

    In summary, then, we have seen that the var.naa`srama dharma system so frequently decried as a form of virtual enslavement especially in some of its modern forms, in classical times was officially regarded as an instrument of both social cooperation and individual emancipation. By following the duty (svadharma) of one's which was clearly detailed in books of law and subject to the just administration of the state, one actually attained the necessary liberty to engage in the universal spiritual quest. Tara Chand describes the intention behind as follows:

Society's organization and functioning are so devised as to enable the individual to fulfill his function as an individual - a free spirit associated with the whole apparatus of mental, biological, and rational substructures. This plan contemplates the maximum automatization of the activities of the inferior part so that the maximum opportunity may be available for the consummation of the free self.[27]

    One of the chief duties of the king is the maintenance and protection of the system through his power of da.n.da.This is so and the king is obeyed because it is realized that and the state are necessary aids to the achievement of the final goal of life. Stemming from the moral conception of the universe and the axiom of the individual's destiny to self-realization, the ethical, social, state and legal distinctions of ancient India are firmly based on an ideal of equity and justice expressed in terms of natural hierarchy rather than of equality.






1.    This sense of economy includes an idea that, upon birth, a man incurs a debt to the universal organism which brings him forth. The a`srama-dharma system is designed to allow the individual to pay back his obligations to the cosmos, which are owed specifically to the gods, the seers (.rsi) and the forefathers (pit.r). See Alex Wayman,




"Varnaa`srama-dharma; Ends and Obligations of Man." in Joseph W. Elder (ed.) Lectures in Indian Civilization (Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, Dubuque, Iowa, 1970) pp. 68 ff.

2.    Cf. Dhirendra Mohan Datta "The Moral Conception of Nature in Indian Philosophy," International Journal of Ethics, XLVI, No. 2 (January, 1936).

3.    See. inter alia. B.rhadaara.nyaka Upani.sad. VI. 2 16. and especially Chaandogya Upani.sad, V. 10. 7. Cf. Manu, VI. 65.

4.    vide infra, p. 15.

5.    Cf. Bhagavad Giita, III. 35.

6.    Of course, limitations of space do not permit a comprehensive discussion of all of the relevant sources. In what follows, for example, no attempt will be made to include the various Niiti `Saatras and Puuranas that include important passages on the origins of society and the state.

7.    Cf. inter alia, .Rig Veda, X. 124 & 173;also White Yajur Veda, IX. 22, Atharva Veda, IV. 22. 1-7: III. 3.

8.    Aitareya I. 14. A. B. Keith (trans.), Rigveda Brahmanas, Motilal Banarsidas. Delhi, 1971)p. 117.

9.    Aitareya, VIII. 12; Keith op. cit., p. 329.

10.     Aitareya, VIII, 16; Keith op. cit., p. 332.

11.    aggam. J. Estlin Carpenter (ed.) The Diigha Nikaaya (Published for the Pali Text Society by Messrs. Luzac & Company, Ltd., London. 1960) vol. III, p. 83. See also T. W. and C. A. F. Rhys Davids (trans.) Dialogues of the Buddha (Luzac & Co., Ltd., London, 1965) part III, pp. 79-80 and n. 3, p. 80.

12.     Aabhassara, Carpenter (ed.), Diigha Nikaaya, vol. III, p. 84.

13.    Sattaa sattaa tv eva sa^nkhya.m gacchanti. Carpenter (ed.), Diigha Nikaaya. vol. III. p. 85.

14.    Cf. Carpenter (ed.) Diigha Nikaaya, vol. III, p. 199.

15.     Carpenter (ed.), Diigha Nikaaya. vol. I1, p. 93. Later. the proportion tends to become standardized at one-sixth.

16.    See Ram Sharan Sharma. Aspects of Political Ideas and Institutions in Ancient India (Motilal Banarsidas, Delhi, 1968) p.58 ff. for a discussion of the origin of kingship in the social need for the protection of private property. E.g. p. 58: "So great was the responsibility for protecting property that it was incumbent on the king to restore to a subject the stolen wealth at any cost."

17.     Carpenter (ed.), Diigha Nikaaya, pp. 93-96.

18.    See Maurice Winternitz, History of Indian Literature, (Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 1967) vol. III, Part II, pp. 589, ff.

19.     Mahaabharata 12.59.5., 13-30. 93-94 as translated in William Theodore de Bary (ed.) Sources of Indian Tradition (Columbia University Press, New York, 1958), pp. 242-244.

20.    A. L. Basham, The Wonder That Was India (Grove Press, Inc., New York, 1959) p. 88.

21.     Dhirendra Mohan Datta, "Some Philosophical Aspects of Indian Political, Legal and Economic Thought," in Charles A. Moore, (ed.) The Indian Mind (University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1967) pp. 271 & 275.

22.    Manu, VII. 20. Georg Buhler (trans.) The Laws of Manu (Dover Press Publications, Inc., New York, 1969) p. 219. This resonates with the Indian notion of the state of nature governed by matsyanyaaya, the "law of the fish," in which big fish eats little fish.

23.    Manu, VII. 16. Buhler (trans.), op. cit., p. 219.

24.     Baudhaayana, I. 10. 19, 1 & 2. Aapastamba, I. 9. 24. 1-4.

25.    Manu, XI. 130 ff.




26.    Manu VIII, 336-338. Georg Buhler (trans.) The Laws of Manu, p. 313.

27.    Tara Chand, "The Individual in the Legal and Political Thought and Institutions of India," in Charles A. Moore (ed.) The Indian Mind (University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1967) p. 376.