The ethics of the Ramayana, which are obviously primitive by contemporary standards have been examined here
, questioned here
and lambasted here
This thread is being started in the Charvaka sub-forum to turn the spotlight on an episode where the Charvaka case is presented and cursorily disposed in the Ramayana. The setting is at Rama's forest-dwelling in Chitrakoota at the beginning of the 14-year exile, when he is approached by and entreated with by a distraught Bharata to return to Ayodhya and assume kingship and put a swift end to the 'abdication crisis' caused by his exile.
A 'policy wonk' in Bharata's retinue, Jabali musters all the worldly wisdom at this command to convince Rama that his obduracy in abdication is indefensible. Commentators have called the following statement by Jabali an articulation of the Charvaka worldview:
This is followed by a reply from Rama, who is at his sententious and pontificating best in the epic:
The author(s) of the epic conveniently script(s) the Charvaka advocate as himself sheepishly backtracking and admitting that he was faking it at the end of the dialogue. Further, by putting the dismissal of Charvaka into the mouth of a deity, here Rama, the Ramayana author(s) have given apologists divine approval as it were, for opening-and-shutting the Charvaka case and declaring it closed.
Here's perhaps an interesting exercise we could undertake: Was Jabali's case argued fully enough? Was Rama's response adequate?
13-Aug-2011, 05:05 PM
(This post was last modified: 13-Aug-2011, 05:06 PM by Lije.)
From what I understand, there is very little Charvaka literature and most of it comes from people who have a goal to rebut it. Valmiki presents Jabali as immoral as he is a Carvaka and Carvakas are hedonistic. But having pleasure as end goal does not preclude being moral. Utilitarianism, for example, wants to maximize a similar thing (happiness) and there are shining beacons of "virtue"
amongst utilitarians. So I see no good reason to accept the caricature of Carvakas that Vedic apologists have painted.
Now coming to Rama's response, he doesn't even go near what I would say is the central objection of the Carvakas, the presupposition of the existence of the supernatural. Instead he goes round and round in pompous circles about The Truth
, and deftly erecting one bad argument after another and adroitly knocking them off with the same skill as he knocked off Ravana's heads. But just like Ravana's heads refuse to stay dead, the bad arguments refuse to become good as logic refuses to die. And unlike in Ravana's case, where he has a weakness, logic doesn't.
Quote:"What sensible man, able to discern what is just and what is unjust, in this world, would respect me, if I am ignoble resembling as noble, bereft of honesty, impure, having no good qualities but appearing like the one having good qualities, ill-behaved but appearing as well-behaved abandoning righteousness and getting hold of unrighteousness in the guise of piety, creating confusion in the world and disregarding rules of conduct."
He uses words like "noble", "impure", "good", "righteousness" as if they have universally accepted definitions. The Carvakas don't have the same views about them as do the Vedic apologists. Maybe the intended readership of Ramayana are already sold on the right definitions of the words and hence there was no need to justify them. But wait, Jabali was put there to serve as a representative of the Carvakas. Why didn't he object to those definitions?
Quote:"Gift sacrifice, oblation, austerities performed and the scriptural texts have the foundation in Truth. Hence, one should thoroughly surrender to truth."
Again The Truth
is a foregone conclusion. Sacrifices, oblation and austerities work. It is the truth, whole truth and nothing but the truth. Poor Jabali must have just stood there like a zombie. Otherwise what reason is there for him to not raise an objection?
And so it goes on with the zombie Jabali listening to Rama until at the end of the chapter, the zombie is prodded to utter that he was just pretending to be a Carvaka.
23-Oct-2011, 01:36 AM
(This post was last modified: 27-Feb-2012, 08:57 AM by arvindiyer.)
Here are two more possible references in the epics/Puranas to the Charvaka worldview and its spokespersons.
1. Mahabharata Shanti Parva (A Rakshasa by the name 'Charvaka')
In this episode
in the Mahabharata, 'Charvaka' is the name of a Rakshasa who gatecrashes the Pandavas' post-war victory sacrifice and gives them a piece of mind about their fratricidal excesses. Unlike Jabali, the 'pretending Charvaka' in the Ramayana, this 'Charvaka' is not shouted down or even heard out but...incinerated! Perhaps this reflects the change in attitudes towards the Charvaka worldview from the time of writing of the Ramayana to that of the Mahabharata, when the orthodox may have felt even more threatened by the Charvaka worldview and hence treated it with more ferocious hostility.
2. Brahma Vaivarta Purana (Brihaspati, preceptor of the gods)
Legend has it that the original founder of the Charvaka philosophy was a certain Brihaspati whose Barhaspatya Sutras
have since been lost to posterity. Identifying this Brihaspati with the Puranic Brihaspati, the preceptor of Indra and the Devas, seemed to present the obvious contradiction of attributing a stridently atheistic philosophy to someone affiliated with the Deva camp. However this particular episode in the Brahma Vaivarta Purana, related in the opening chapter of Heinrich Zimmer's classic book "Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization "
(read from para 3 in the linked page 10) could be a possible explanation why the Puranic Brihaspati is thought of as the originator of Charvakism.
The story goes that Indra, once steeped in obsessive indulgence over embellishing his ostentatious abode, was paid a visit by a young ascetic and an old one, who together ministered to him about the impermanence of existence and the worthlessness of material pursuits. These visitors were (Surprise! Surprise!) Vishnu and Shiva and their ministry was so effective that Indra resolved to abdicate and adopt an ascetic's life. Indra's distraught wife then pleaded with Brihaspati to make Indra reconsider his decision. Brihaspati then delivered a discourse on the glories of material accomplishment and secular life, which the story goes, convinced Indra to resume his kingship of heaven. Perhaps it is this supposed discourse that led to Brihaspati earning the title of being the original Charvaka. Or it could simply be an attempt of the Puranikas to subsume and co-opt the Charvaka doctrine into their catch-all narratives.
The Kutadanta Sutta in Buddhist lore features an episode of ministerial counseling of a king by an official offering sound materialist commonsense (see section titled 'The Buddha Tells Kshatriyas Not To Waste Money On Yajnas' in this article
). In all the episodes related above i.e. Jabali to Rama, the Rakshasa Charvaka to Yudhishthira, Brihaspati to Indra and the minister to King Mahavijita, the intended audience is a king. This could suggest the vocal role of Charvakas in the policy debates of their time and that they sometimes had the ear of the powers that be, who sometimes even heard them grudgingly or for expediency if not out of conviction.
There are multiple problems with the way the authors of the thread have handled the material. I'm not going to comment on whether the Ramayana's ethics are "good" or "bad." That's in the eye of the beholder. I do, however, have an issue with poor analysis.
Why don't we start with Iyer's commentary on the Shabari episode?
Quote: Centuries of banishment and exclusion are not magically undone overnight by carefully orchestrated visits by high-profile politicians to dwellings of the underprivileged in a media blitz of the 'politics of inclusion
The fact is, as a philologist examining the Ramayana, it is absolutely remarkable that there seems to be no antagonism towards the tribal Guha, or the Shabari (Shabari is not a name, as it later became). The Guha episode can be debated. Rama does not eat with Guha, and the reasons for not doing so are given differently at various points. Whereas most people would see different layers of composition, Doniger thinks there's a hidden meaning. But either way, the author's attitude towards tribals is markedly different from what they would later be.
Iyer, however, feels the need to tamper with the source material.
Quote: carefully orchestrated visits y high-profile politicians to dwellings of the underprivileged in a media blitz
Except the visit to the Shabari wasn't "orchestrated." There was no "media" there, an anachronistic concept to begin with! In fact, in the story, Rama's motives towards meeting Shabari are not political at all. But to make his point, Iyer sees fit to tamper with the source, not unlike what Periyar and Annadurai did. But Annadurai knew that he wasn't engaging in real scholarship. Does Iyer?
The question is simple: "What are the attitudes in the epic, of the author and the characters, toward tribals?" In the Ramayana's case, the attitudes of both are positive. In the Mahabharata, while the author's attitude is generally positive, the characters' is not. That's all there is to it. No need to tamper with the text.
And now Jabali. I'll take up Iyer's challenge:
Quote: Here's perhaps an interesting exercise we could undertake: Was Jabali's case argued fully enough? Was Rama's response adequate?
The Jabali-Charvaka connection is overstated at this point. The word 'charvaka' does not occur once in the conversation. Yes, there are hints of materialistic thought in the conversation, but that doesn't in and of itself prove a Charvaka connection. The Charvakas were not the only materialists to ever exist in India.
Iyer writes that it was effective to put a condemnation of Charvaka into the mouth of a god. But Rama was most certainly not a god in this layer yet.
Anyway, neither of you seem to have grasped what exactly was being debated anyway. So I'll briefly outline the arguments.
QUESTION: Should you keep your promise to your father, and his promise to his wife, and go to the forest?
1) There is no such thing as familial relations. You're born alone, die alone.
2) The forest is hard to traverse. Why would you want to do that? The riches of Ayodhya are better.
3) Your father is dead. Dead people are no more. The ritual of food to dead ancestors is pointless. Whoever invented these rituals did so to fill their bellies (this is the one bona fide 'Charvaka' point)
1) My conduct is important, because people appreciate a certain type of conduct. I will lose respect if I do not do this.
2) I am a king and a role model. If I don't do this, people will be immoral by taking after me.
3) I reject your enticement of riches, because morality is more important to me.
4) I refuse to come back just because I am a Kshatriya (possibly significant. Contrast with Krishna in the BG)
5) I am mad at you and think a wise man should not consort with a naastika
(this is often translated as "atheist," but simply means "heterodox" here. After all, early Samkhya and early Mimamsa were atheistic schools but were not dubbed "naastika")
6) You get heaven if you follow this path.
Laid bare like this, Rama has countered two points by Jabali. The first is simply a counterassertion to Jabali's assertion that the supernatural does not exist. Jabali says, "no it doesn't" and Rama says "yes it does." Obviously, everyone here would side with Jabali.
But the second part of Jabali's argument is more important. He is arguing for moral nihilism. And, as 21st century people, of course we realize that ultimately, there are no objective morals. But we are not moral nihilists (I hope not). Jabali says that there is no right or wrong, to which Rama says there is. And he gives a partial justification for this-- he says that if he acts truthfully, everyone will, and that is ultimately good. Again, as 21st century people, we would go deeper than that-- but hey, this is pre-Gupta, post-Mauryan stuff. Try reading Greco-Roman ethics for the same period-- it's not much better.
Now this is important. Jabali was a moral nihilist, or at least acting like one. There is no evidence to suggest that the Charvakas were moral nihilists. So calling Jabali a Charvaka distorts what we know about the Charvakas
Now, I said I wouldn't comment about the Ramayana's morality, but I might as well now. John Brockington writes that the reason this epic was so popular across classes, castes, and religious lines was because of how incredibly moral Rama is. A person who subjugates his own whims to do what he thinks is right has fascinated, and continues to fascinate, people today. The epic also sets up Kantian/Deontological ethics as the paragon. This is taken to task in the Mahabharata, particularly when Arjuna almost kills Yuddhishtira because of a promise he made.
As far as the trite critiques of the Shambuka episode, the views on women, etc.-- well, yeah, that's not good. But more encouragingly is that the tradition didn't think so either. Bhavabhuti was troubled by Shambuka, and most regional variants don't include it. Tulasidas avoided the Uttara Kanda altogether. And of course, there's the counterculture of producing Ramayanas that challenge these stereotypes.
Texts should not be treated one dimensionally as the religious do. We ought to be able to engage with them in an honest way. Lije mocks Rama in the text for talking about "Truth" all the time-- well, what else would he talk about? He's defending the fact that he doesn't want to tell a lie! Worshipping texts, and also engaging with them only to mine them to berate them, are two sides of the same coin. You're both smart people-- I hope I've made my point.
(20-Aug-2014, 01:18 PM)ardhakamila Wrote: Now, I said I wouldn't comment about the Ramayana's morality, but I might as well now. John Brockington writes that the reason this epic was so popular across classes, castes, and religious lines was because of how incredibly moral Rama is. A person who subjugates his own whims to do what he thinks is right has fascinated, and continues to fascinate, people today. The epic also sets up Kantian/Deontological ethics as the paragon.
Coming from a troll who in another thread took it upon himself to lecture freethinkers about what is proper reasoning and the value of providing good citations, this is highly amusing to say the least. While Kant indeed talks about taking moral law as an absolute and having duty and respect for it, that is not all that there is to Kantian ethics. Such a statement shows a superficial understanding of Kantian ethics. It was the same misconception I held a few years ago before Arvind’s views on Kant motivated me to know more.
Quoting from the SEP entry on Kant’ sense of Duty and Respect for Moral Law
Quote:However intuitive, this cannot be all of Kant's meaning. For one thing, as with the Jim Crow laws of the old South and the Nuremberg laws of Nazi Germany, the laws to which these types of ‘actions from duty’ conform may be morally despicable. Respect for such laws could hardly be thought valuable.
So what is the duty that Kant had in mind?
Quote:What, then, is the difference between being motivated by a sense of duty in the ordinary sense, and being motivated by duty in Kant's sense? It is, presumably, this: Motivation by duty is motivation by our respect for whatever law it is that makes our action a duty. But we can rationally ‘opt out’ of our membership in the city, state, club or any other social arrangement and its laws — for instance, by quitting the club or expatriating. Those laws only apply to us given we don't rationally decide to opt out, given the opportunity. Our respect for the laws guiding us is qualified, in the sense that the thought that the law gives us a duty is compelling only if there is no law we respect more that conflicts with it: My respect for the laws of my club guides my action only insofar as those laws do not require me to violate city ordinances. But my respect for city ordinance guides me only insofar as they do not require me to violate federal law. And so on.
Coming to Ramayana, Rama was moral in the sense that he obeyed dharma no matter what, specifically the dharma of his time. As admirable as such staunch commitment is, it can by no stretch be called Kantian. There is a difference between merely obeying laws (which is what dharma is in the Hindu context, in a sense) and obeying something in the Kantian sense. Rama was a fastidious obeyer of the law. His killing of Shambuka or him sending away Sita against his will are a result of rote obeying of the law. A Kantian wouldn't do that. If a law is found wanting, Kant will say "forget the law". This becomes even more apparent when we consider his Humanity Formula
Quote:Most philosophers who find Kant's views attractive find them so because of the Humanity formulation of the CI. This formulation states that we should never act in such a way that we treat Humanity, whether in ourselves or in others, as a means only but always as an end in itself. This is often seen as introducing the idea of “respect” for persons, for whatever it is that is essential to our Humanity. Kant was clearly right that this and the other formulations bring the CI ‘closer to intuition’ than the Universal Law formula. Intuitively, there seems something wrong with treating human beings as mere instruments with no value beyond this.
Kant's humanity formula was a revolutionary idea, something that wasn’t seen before. It contributed a lot to the idea of human rights
Quote:Many of the central themes first expressed within Kant’s moral philosophy remain highly prominent in contemporary philosophical justifications of human rights. Foremost amongst these are the ideals of equality and the moral autonomy of rational human beings. Kant bestows upon contemporary human rights’ theory the ideal of a potentially universal community of rational individuals autonomously determining the moral principles for securing the conditions for equality and autonomy.
Human rights and Ramayana just don't mix. In dharma there is no concept of universality of equality. Different groups of people just had different rights. Vaali can be killed
because he and Rama have different rights. A king is expected to send his wife to the jungle is there is a hint of suspicion on her chastity, her rights be damned. Hanuman can set fire to a city and endanger the lives of its citizens all because the city had an evil ruler and so on. So it is laughable to even suggest that Ramayan maybe using Kantian ethics.
Thanks Lije for the detailed note on the often-missed conflation of any enforcement of duty with a Kantian ethic, which was earlier cursorily addressed here
. While we're at it, here are some quick notes to address some of the other misinformation in this thread by the same unregistered user.
(20-Aug-2014, 12:52 PM)ardhakamila Wrote: Iyer, however, feels the need to tamper with the source material.
Quote: carefully orchestrated visits y high-profile politicians to dwellings of the underprivileged in a media blitz
Except the visit to the Shabari wasn't "orchestrated." There was no "media" there, an anachronistic concept to begin with!
The quoted portion is from a three-year-old article (this one
) which is not about the 'source-material' at all, but about some contemporary readings of it. The first two paragraphs make it amply clear. There was some social commentary in the article on practices which in social media were both being hailed and treated as parallels of epic episodes in far-fetched ways. The abdication-as-sainthood trope, like in this coverage from a decade ago
, or the messianic visitation whose 21st century reprisals
have provoked undeniable resentment, are (alas) not yet anachronistic in the Indian polity. The article criticized the assumption of the desirability of such political statements, in the slide-show, not the 'source material', and hence the accusation of 'tampering' or 'historic revisionism' is misplaced if we use Hanlon's razor and malicious if we don't.
(20-Aug-2014, 12:52 PM)ardhakamila Wrote: The question is simple: "What are the attitudes in the epic, of the author and the characters, toward tribals?" In the Ramayana's case, the attitudes of both are positive. In the Mahabharata, while the author's attitude is generally positive, the characters' is not.
If one is indeed to aim at academic rigour, even to the extent possible in a blog or a forum, a facile one-word characterization as 'positive' seems out of order. In The Hindus, Wendy Doniger devotes a section to the treatment of nishadas
in the Mahabharata (online version pg 190-194
) and it seems neither to warrant an exoneration as 'positive' nor a reading as 'normalizing' oppression, because there is both indifference and sympathy in the epic. The sympathy theme is evoked more clearly only in later readings (pg431-433
). Also, certainly, the Ramayana's treatment of the nishadas
did not normalize reintegration (pg 167-168
). Also, the 'origin myth' of the Ramayana epic itself is a denunciation of a Nishada hunter who is accused and punished of animal cruelty, by what the epic describes as a 'compassionate outpouring' by Valmiki, which interestingly is a 'compassion' defined by its othering of the hunter(pg 144
). Recent history supplies at least one instance of a theme from the Ramayana repurposed to political ends ('consolidatory' rather than 'emancipatory') by attempting to engineer 'reintegration' with a revivalist bent(Valmiki/Balmiki temples
). To what extent these temples made a difference can be gauged here