Table of Contents

  About the Author
  Books by Bansi Pandit
  What is Hindu Dharma?
  Hindu View of God
  Why Hindus Worship Deities
  Hindu Scriptures
  Principal Hindu Doctrines
  Law of Karma
  Popular Systems 
  Moral & Ethical Ideals of Hindus
  Hindu View ...
  Hindu Reverence for Elders
  Daily Routine of a Devout Hindu
  Hindu Dharma
  Hindu View of Ecology
  Some Philosophical Aspects
  Hindu Response 
  Contribution of Hindus
  Practicing Hindu Dharma
  Timeless Wisdom 
  Swămi Vivekănanda's Address
  Works Cited
  Color Plates
  Download Book

Koshur Music

An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri

Panun Kashmir


Symbol of Unity


Chapter 14: Some Philosophical Aspects of Hindu Political, Legal and Economic Thought

The Hindu political, legal and economic thought is included in the Mahăbhărata, Dharma-Shăstras (of which Manu-Smriti, hereafter Manu, is the most important), Nîti-shăstras or the science of state-craft (of which the Shukra-nîti-săra, hereafter Shukra, is the most elaborate), and Artha-shăstras (of which Kautilya's Artha-shăstra is the most popularly available today). The following ideals summarize some of the ancient Hindu views of the political, legal and economic systems which evolved in India over several thousand years:

  • Man is potentially divine, but is the victim of his ignorance, passions and immoral tendencies, created by his own past actions (karma). An ethical and just state is necessary to help man to overcome his sinful and immoral tendencies. "If the king [state] did not vigilantly inflict punishment on the guilty, the stronger would have roasted the weaker like fish." (Manu 7.2)
  • Dharma (morality or righteousness) is the cornerstone of a just and equitable state. Dharma preserves the individuals and the society. The oft-quoted axiom is: "Hunger, sleep, fear, and sex are common to all animals, human and sub-human. It is the additional attribute of dharma that differentiates man from the beast." Thus, the political philosophy (danda-nîti) of the state must be grounded in dharma. In ancient literature, the righteous king (state) is believed to be dharma itself, created by God for the protection of all beings. (Manu 7.3 and 7.14).
  • In personal life dharma is expressed as virtues and duties. In the political life dharma is expressed as the just and equitable laws which restrain evil and promote virtuous life. In the Hindu polity, politicians are required to inspire virtue and loyalty to the laws of the state by their own examples. In Hindu legal literature the word dharma conveys the same meaning as the words ethical, reasonable, and equitable in Western legal literature.
  • Dharma (morality), artha (wealth), kăma (enjoyment), and moksha (spiritual perfection) constitute the four ends (catur varga) of Hindu religious life. However, both the Mahăbhărata Shăntiparva 15.3 and Manu 2.224 include only dharma, artha and kăma as the three basic values (tri-varga) on which social and political philosophy should be founded upon.
  • Since ancient times Hindus have recognized that since moksha, and the paths leading to it, differ from one religious path to another, the state must not interfere with an individual's spiritual life. At the same time, the state must not allow violation of the basic laws of morality. Thus, Hindu tradition demands strict social morality, but provides freedom of thought and choice in ultimate matters. This forms the basis for the consistent pattern of the secular outlook of Hindus in religious, social and political matters all throughout their history.
  • Hindu social thought rejects the views that dharma alone, or dharma and wealth alone, or wealth and enjoyment alone are the most important values for human life. The predominant view of Hindu social thought is that all three values (dharma, wealth, and enjoyment) must be harmoniously cultivated for pursuit of happiness. (Manu 2.224)
  • The assignment of duties should be in accordance with merit and the ability to perform the work (guna-karma) (Shukra 1.38). The foundation of an ethical state depends upon the selection of honest and efficient administrators and their level of training in particular jobs.
  • "The king [state] should behave in three different ways: like the [pleasant] autumn moon to the learned, like the [scorching] summer sun to the enemy, and like the [moderate] spring sun to the subjects." (Shukra 2.282)
  • Harmlessness is the highest dharma, but for protection of life, property, and dharma, the state may resort to violence, if necessary under given circumstances. (Mahăbhărata Shăntiparva, 15). "I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honor than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonor," declares Mahatma Gandhi, the apostle of peace.
  • The Hindu system of justice stresses that the persons administering justice should be knowledgeable in the methods of logic as described in the Nyăya school of Hindu philosophy. Nyăya includes methodology based on logic to evaluate arguments and/or evidence for and against a defendant in order to ascertain the truth. An unimpeachable character, knowledge of the law, training, and knowledge of logic are the basic requirements for the administration of justice.
  • Capital punishment violates the Vedic injunction against taking any life. (Shukra 4.1.92-108)
  • Both Manu and Shukra prescribe heavier punishment for those in higher social positions and who violate their duties. "Where an ordinary person is fined one coin, a judge should be fined one thousand coins." (Manu 8.326)
  • The right to life logically leads to the right to wealth, since wealth is needed for the maintenance of life itself. Dharma provides the ethical means for earning one's wealth.


  • The ancient Hindu political, legal and economic theories point to a continued tradition of a strong central government under a king (state). The authority of the government was vested in a council of ministers, who were selected based on their character and merit. Dharma was the cornerstone of the political and social theories of ancient India.
  • The village was the unit of the ancient Hindu society. Village life was viewed very favorably, as is clear from the saying, "It is impossible for one to attain salvation who lives in a town covered with dust." 25
  • The Hindu instinct that goodness and virtue warrant sympathy and reconciliation with other forms of thought and belief is best expressed in the following words: "The greatest contribution to posterity made by the Hindu tradition was the broad-mindedness, sympathy, and tolerance of different viewpoints exhibited almost alone in India amongst the civilized communities of earlier day.25
  • "When Egypt persecuted the Jews, when racial and communal conflicts disfigured the history of Babylon and Nineveh, when, later on, we see that the slave states in Greece and Rome formed the basis of those marvelous cultures, and when in medieval ages the baiting of Jews alternated with the baiting of Roman Catholics by Protestants and vice versa, we had the spectacle in India of unfailing hospitality to foreign religions and foreign cultures." 25
  • "What country can show anything like the treatment of the Parsees, who, flying from oppression in their own country of Persia, asked for and obtained succor of the wise west-coast king [in India], to whose protection and active encouragement of their faith and tradition the Parsees ultimately owe their dominant position in India today?" 25
  • Hindus say, "samavăya eva sădhuh," meaning "Concord is the supreme good." Thousands of years ago, Hindu sages declared that dharma (righteousness), ahimsă (non-violence), dayă (compassion), abhaya (fearlessness) and recognition of the unity of existence are the supreme virtues for mankind. Today these ideals form the fundamental charter of the United Nations organization.


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