There are three eternal questions of mankind: what is the ultimate reality, who am I or what am I and what is justice. These questions have been raised and discussed by various religious traditions of the world. This article provides an insight into Hindu view of justice.
Hindus believe that goodness is justice in action and justice is goodness in principle. There are six doctrines of thought and action known as the Six Pillars of justice that provide the basis for individual and social conduct in Hindu tradition. These are doctrines of Dharma, Karma, Ahimsa, Sahanshakti, Justice and Intuition.
Doctrine of Dharma (Purpose in Life)
This doctrine states that every human being is potentially divine has thus a unique talent and a unique way of expressing it. There are also unique needs for the human talent. When an individual meets the needs with his (or her) talent to serve mankind, the nature creates unlimited wealth and happiness for the individual. Individual duties and responsibilities must, therefore, take precedence over one’s rights and privileges. This is the major difference between the wisdom of Hindu sages and seers and the Western social thought. Western social thought emphasizes rights and privileges over duties and responsibilities. The result is a rights oriented society, which is primarily individualistic in character. Success in this society is defined in terms of how high one's position is, how many people work for that individual, and how high one's salary is. It is a philosophy of measuring our lives by what we get and what we acquire, and whom we know. Since we evaluate ourselves in terms of individual success, there is no commitment to the ground rules of civic virtue.
If we want to solve the problem of crime, drugs and guns, we have to take a fresh look at our approach to life and the laws. We have to eliminate the economic disparity that has given birth to gangs, chronically unemployed and the underclass. We want individuals to strive hard, but we also must strive for the common good of our people. Every society must have a sense of what is right and wrong. The things that are right are the things that nurture the individual and society in harmony. These are virtues like compassion, honesty, fairness and accountability, which are the operating parameters of the Hindu spirituality.
Doctrine of Karma (Personal Accountability)
The Law of Karma is the law of cause and effect. If we want to create happiness in our lives, we must learn to sow the seeds of happiness. “What you sow is what you reap.” In this sense, the Law of Karma is the eternal law of justice. It teaches us that we are accountable for our actions and, therefore, we must make right choices. In order to make right choices, we must understand the potential consequences of our actions before we actually perform them. If the actions will bring happiness to the individual and to those around him, the choice is good. If the action will bring distress to the individual or to those around him, the choice is bad and should not be made.
The Law of Karma is the law of harmony and equilibrium. It adjusts wisely, intelligently and equitably each effect to its cause. It encourages us to work with good conscience. Good conscience is the best pillow. As Plato said, “Virtue does not come from money, but money comes from virtue.”
Doctrine of Ahimsa (Non-violence)
Ahimsa means non-violence (in thought, word and deed), non-injury, or non-killing. Hindu Dharma teaches that all forms of life are different manifestations of the Ultimate Reality (Brahman). We must therefore not be indifferent to the sufferings of any of God’s creatures.
This doctrine creates love for humans between themselves as well as with other forms of life, and encourages the protection of our environment. Hindu tradition affirms the sacredness of Mother Earth (Bhumi or Prithvi), ecological unity, and interdependence of species. Everybody has a right to clean water and clean air, and nobody has a right to degrade and destroy the environment. Environmental justice is a part and parcel of the Hindu religious and social thought.
Doctrine of Sahanshakti (Tolerance)
Justice devoid of the spirit of acceptance is akin to a horse that has no legs. From experience we can tell that “unity in variety’ is nature’s plan in the evolution of the universe. In this world of natural diversity where people do not look, talk or think alike, where every tradition has produced men and women of exalted character, acceptance of other people’s thoughts, beliefs and practices is essential for the growth and harmony of the human race. History tells us that the religious intolerance in the past has (and still does) caused so much precious blood and so many bitter tears to be shed. Hindu scriptures declare that Truth is one, but paths are many. The doctrine of acceptance teaches us how to live in the world of differences without feeling threatened by others, without forcing our will and views on others.
Acceptance does not mean that we must give up our values or become more like others. It simply means that we must be open to other ideas and arrive at certain decisions that no one quite agrees with, but every one is willing to live with.
The Doctrine of Justice
In the popular mind and in the opinions of the learned, liberty and equality are the two prime values of human life that ought to be sought, secured and preserved. However, as we shall presently see, without the guidance of dharma, certain errors are unavoidable and certain problems are insoluble.
Liberty and equality are the most desirable values, but if we increase one, it will automatically reduce the other. Too much of liberty can create inequality of conditions in the society. This happens because those who are favored by superior endowments or attainments can make the best use of their freedom of opportunity and beat their fellowmen in the race of life. This can result in the vast inequality of conditions in the society. By the same token, if we maximize the equality of conditions, the result would be loss of the individual liberty. Thus, failure to observe and understand the need for limitations upon liberty and equality leads to insolvable conflict between them. This conflict can be resolved by understanding that neither liberty, nor equality is the unlimited good, but both can be maximized harmoniously only when regulated by dharma. Thus among justice, liberty and equality, dharma is the supreme value. Its sovereignty has the power to resolve the conflict between the extremes of the liberty and equality.
The Doctrine of Intuition
We need the brain to conceive, the heart to feel, and strong arms to do the work. In the event of a conflict between the brain and the heart, Hindu tradition demands that we must follow the heart. There is a story in Mahabharatta, a Hindu epic about the five Pandava brothers,. One day while traveling in a forest, Yudhisthira, the eldest of the five Pandava brothers, felt thirsty and asked Nakula, the fourth brother, to fetch some water. Nakula went around and found a pond of fresh water. When he dipped his hands into the water, he heard a voice; “It is my pond. First answer my questions, then you may drink.” Nakula, being very thirsty, ignored the voice. As soon as he put some water in his mouth, he dropped dead. When he did not return, Yudhisthira sent Sahadeva to fetch water. Sahadeva met with the same fate as Nakula. Arjuna and Bhima also, sent after Sahadeva, did not return. Finally Yudhisthira arrived at the scene. Seeing all his four brothers lying on the ground dead, he began to lament, “Is this to be our end?” Still grieving, he began to drink from the pond. The voice was heard again, “your brothers all died because they did not listen to me. Answer my questions and then you may drink the water.” Yudhisthira asked for the questions and answered them all. The spirit was happy and addressed Yudhisthira thus, “O King, I will let one of your brothers return to life. Which one do you want?” Yudhisthira thought for a while and then answered, “I want Nakula back.” The spirit said, “Why did you prefer Nakula to Bhima? Bhima has the strength of 16,000 elephants and you need him to win the war. Why not Arjuna, who is skilled in advanced weapons and can alone win the war for you. What will Nakula do for you? He is handsome, but handsome people do not win big wars.”
Yudhisthira replied: “O spirit, my father had two wives, Kunti and Maduri. Arjuna, Bhima and I are the sons of Kunti. I am her eldest son. Nakula and Sahadeva are the sons of Maduri. If only two of us can be alive, it is only fair that, Nakula, the eldest son of Maduri be alive so that my stepmother is not bereft of her both children. This decision of Yudhisthira, based upon the justice of the heart, pleased the spirit and he brought all brothers back to life. Eventually the Pandavas won the battle with the Kauravas and regained their kingdom.
Challenges to Justice
The significant challenges to justice in a modern society are ethical relativism, economic disparity, rights-oriented philosophy, illusion of rationality, and illusion of materiality.
There are people who consider pursuit of happiness as pursuit of wealth, power and prestige. Our rights orientation has led us to a kind of utilitarian ethics, which allows Ivan Boesky to say, “Greed is good.” They write books on how to win by intimidation and they can get on every TV show and teach people how to do that. To be successful is to win by hook or by crook, regardless of what happens to the fellowman or the society. There is a simple story of a businessman who goes on a camping trip with another man. They both have their backpacks on their backs, and suddenly they see a cougar about fifty feet away. The businessman starts to take off his backpack, and the friend says, “What are you going to do?”
The businessman says, “ I am going to run for it.”
The friend says, “But you can’t outrun a cougar.”
And the businessman says, “I do not have to outrun the cougar. I just have to outrun you.”
Economic disparity is one of the major causes of poverty, homelessness, and an alarming crime rate in a society. If you are a teenager living in the inner city with a single mother on welfare, and no father, your chances in life are rather limited. You will have a very little chance of getting good education and consequently a very little chance of obtaining higher paying jobs. Being unemployed or underemployed, you will live in poverty and very likely end up having a child out of wedlock. Your children will very likely be attending schools where they will not be properly educated, schools that are overwhelmingly impoverished. If you visit a ward in an inner city hospital where new-born babies are, you can predict where these kids will end up in life. Most of them will end up living in poverty. American citizens in this affluent country should not be living in poverty, experiencing hunger and no hope for the future. This is the biggest challenge to social justice. Society does not solve the problems of the poor and homeless; ultimately these problems can threaten everyone’s ordinary life.
From the standpoint of Hindu tradition, harmony within a society is more likely if duties are emphasized, if not more, at least as much as the rights are. A peaceful society results not from individuals aggressively exerting their rights, but from their willingly fulfilling their obligations to each other. This is especially true from the realizations between the weak and the strong, the less and more talented. The classical Hindu view is that the more highly one is endowed, the greater are his responsibilities toward others. It is considered immoral for one to use his capacities for his own profit only. They should be used in addition or primarily for others. “Man becomes great exactly in the degree in which he works for the welfare of his fellow-man,” said Mahatma Gandhi. “He who understands his duty to society truly lives. All others shall be counted among the dead,” says Tirukural, a Hindu scripture.
Illusion of Rationality
The illusion of rationality leads to the view that reason is superior in man and that a rational man is inevitably a virtuous man, i.e., a reasonable man. We know from experience that a rational man is not necessarily a virtuous man. In fact, sometimes a reasonable man uses reason itself to support his unreasonableness. Ancient wisdom tells us that the brain is more interested in self-preservation, which is more or less selfishness. It is the heart that looks for our connection to everything else in the universe. It is the heart that has an inherent sense of what is right and wrong and thereby we have the sense of guilt and shame when we do something that is wrong. Thus, the ancient sages tell us that whenever there is a conflict between the heart and the brain, one should follow the heart. The inner voice of the heart becomes more and more audible when one learns how to meditate and contemplate. Meditation is what strengthens the inner voice.
Illusion of Materiality
The illusion of materiality contributes to a biological view of man. Man thinks himself to be but one of an infinite number of organisms whose physical needs are primary. The difference between man and the other organisms is just a quantitative one, man simply being more complex in structure. His major concern is his biological well-being and his worth is measured by how much he produces. This is a very shallow kind of life and during the period this philosophy flourishes, justice and civic virtue suffer.