Friday, January 05, 2018

Why India Damns but Needs Jesus (The Law of Manu I)

See the source image
How would Nietzsche fare in Manu's world? 
If the Hindu Law of Manu were enforced, Jesus and Santa Claus would go to hell, whereas Brahmin pizza-eaters would merely be cast out of the village.  Of the three, the Law of Manu reveals that India needed Jesus by far the most.

For several years, I have been examining here how the life and teachings of Jesus have liberated women around the world.  We read Jesus' own words, and how he interacted with women he met.  We looked at United Nations data on the status of women in 99 countries containing some 97% of the population.  We studied how Jesus' followers, especially missionaries, raised the status of women in many countries, by teaching, healing, and taking strong, effective stands against various forms of oppression.  We also systematically analyzed Muslim, Hindu, and Egyptian texts (Still working on Greek, Buddhist, and Confucian texts.  See here for an index of arguments to date.)

One of the countries I have focused on has been India.  I have argued that in its original "incarnation," Hinduism is even worse for women than Islam. 

So far, the only texts from India whose treatment of women I have analyzed have been the Rig Veda, a set of hymns that is among India's oldest and most influential extant writings, and the Ramayana, India's favorite epic.  I also wrote a piece this Christmas for The Stream which made mention of the Ramayana and another influential Hindu work, the Law of Manu.

Friedrich Nietzsche thought the Law of Manu was far superior to the Christian Bible, in part because its clear distinction between four castes preserved a social ranking that Nietzsche himself affirmed.

"The superior caste—I call it the fewest—has, as the most perfect, the privileges of the few: it stands for happiness, for beauty, for everything good upon earth. Only the most intellectual of men have any right to beauty, to the beautiful; only in them can goodness escape being weakness. Pulchrum est paucorum hominum [few men are noble]: goodness is a privilege."

If goodness is a privilege, it seems to me Jesus enjoyed that privilege far more than did the authors of the Law of Manu -- or than did Nietzsche, for that matter. 

The Law of Manu is a complex set of rules for life which was probably never a law in the strict sense, but that represents how kings, gurus, merchantmen and commons, also men and women, were expected to live in ancient India.  It is generally dated to about the time of Christ, or perhaps a little later.  (Which means, a few centuries after the great Maurya Empire, established in the wake of Alexander the Great's influential raid-in-force into the subcontinent.)

There are all kinds of complexities a thorough treatment of this text would demand.  No one knows exactly when it was first produced.  There are numerous versions.  And the text contradicts itself on many points, one reason that scholars suppose the present text is the product of many hands.  For our purposes, however, such complexities can be safely set aside.  It is as a representation of Hindu society that we read this book, we need not pin it down to one author or period or assume it is the only point of view in ancient India.

Reading this ancient work, I find a great deal worth quoting and commenting on, more than I can fit into one post.  The book reveals a developed Hindu social order far more clearly than the Rig Veda so many centuries before it, or the Ramayana, which seems however to complement, affirm, and illustrate much of what the Law of Manu has to say about life.

In this post, I'll describe some aspects of the social world that the Law of Manu sets forth in its first seven (of twelve) chapters, and how Jesus' life and teachings liberates a world held captive by such rules.  My method will not be as systematic as in my main argument on Christ and women: to some extent, I'll "cherry-pick" teachings that stand out.  But the text is pretty consistent in regards to caste, so I think the resulting picture will give you a good notion of the sort of society this book describes.

I intend to be more systematic in the next post.  There I'll cite all major passages having to do with women, and try to make sense of the whole.  This is both more important and more difficult, since passages about women are a bit more confusing (of course!) than about caste.

But let us begin, in this post, with a general description of some of the main ideas of The Law of Manu, especially the caste system that it systematically justifies.  We shall touch on the highest caste, the Brahmin, the second caste, in particular the role of the king, the servant or Sudra caste, and also outcastes, and some of the peculiar laws which are said to govern each. 

As with the Bible, the first part of the Law of Manu is focused on beginnings. 

Chapter One: Creation

5. This (universe) existed in the shape of Darkness, unperceived, destitute of distinctive marks, unattainable by reasoning, unknowable, wholly immersed, as it were, in deep sleep.

6. Then the divine Self-existent (Svayambhu, himself) indiscernible, (but) making (all) this, the great elements and the rest, discernible, appeared with irresistible (creative) power, dispelling the darkness.
7. He who can be perceived by the internal organ (alone), who is subtile, indiscernible, and eternal, who contains all created beings and is inconceivable, shone forth of his own (will).
8. He, desiring to produce beings of many kinds from his own body, first with a thought created the waters, and placed his seed in them.
9. That (seed) became a golden egg, in brilliancy equal to the sun; in that (egg) he himself was born as Brahman, the progenitor of the whole world.
The "gods" were created by "the Lord, along with the sacrifice (which as we saw, was the main theme of the Rig Veda) and the three vedas:
22. He, the Lord, also created the class of the gods, who are endowed with life, and whose nature is action; and the subtile class of the Sadhyas, and the eternal sacrifice.
23. But from fire, wind, and the sun he drew forth the threefold eternal Veda, called Rik, Yagus, and Saman, for the due performance of the sacrifice.
The first verse clearly shows the error many modern people make in identifying "God" with "the gods."  Even the ancient Hindus set them clearly apart: the Lord created the "class of gods," a kind of superior created being, not the origin of all things.  
One finds a little later, indeed: 
72. But know that the sum of one thousand ages of the gods (makes) one day of Brahman, and that his night has the same length.
The author also seems to believe in spontaneous emergence: 
45. From hot moisture spring stinging and biting insects, lice, flies, bugs, and all other (creatures) of that kind which are produced by heat.

Caste is a fundamental distinction arising from creation itself:

31. But for the sake of the prosperity of the worlds he caused the Brahmana, the Kshatriya, the Vaisya, and the Sudra to proceed from his mouth, his arms, his thighs, and his feet.
This saying does not originate in the Law of Manu, but can be found already in the Rig Veda. 
A little later, the author (s) begin to explain the social consequences of these differing origins in God: 
88. To Brahmanas he assigned teaching and studying (the Veda), sacrificing for their own benefit and for others, giving and accepting (of alms).
89. The Kshatriya he commanded to protect the people, to bestow gifts, to offer sacrifices, to study (the Veda), and to abstain from attaching himself to sensual pleasures;
90. The Vaisya to tend cattle, to bestow gifts, to offer sacrifices, to study (the Veda), to trade, to lend money, and to cultivate land.
91. One occupation only the lord prescribed to the Sudra, to serve meekly even these (other) three castes.
By contrast to the servant classes, the (male) Brahmana is entitled to everything by rights: 
98. The very birth of a Brahmana is an eternal incarnation of the sacred law; for he is born to (fulfil) the sacred law, and becomes one with Brahman.
99. A Brahmana, coming into existence, is born as the highest on earth, the lord of all created beings, for the protection of the treasury of the law.
100. Whatever exists in the world is, the property of the Brahmana; on account of the excellence of his origin The Brahmana is, indeed, entitled to all.
Indeed, it is explained in a later chapter that if he wishes, the Brahmana may simply take things from the Sudra without pay.  

Chapter Two: Castes
Heaven is attained through sacrifices, austerities, religious rites, and by studying and acting upon the Vedas: 
28. By the study of the Veda, by vows, by burnt oblations, by (the recitation of) sacred texts, by the (acquisition of the) threefold sacred science, by offering (to the gods, Rishis, and manes), by (the procreation of) sons, by the great sacrifices, and by (Srauta) rites this (human) body is made fit for (union with) Brahman.
Castes should be distinguished by names: 
31. Let (the first part of) a Brahmana's name (denote something) auspicious, a Kshatriya's be connected with power, and a Vaisya's with wealth, but a Sudra's (express something) contemptible.
Aside from the four castes are some who should be shunned by all Aryans: 
39. After those (periods men of) these three (castes) who have not received the sacrament at the proper time, become Vratyas (outcasts), excluded from the Savitri (initiation) and despised by the Aryans.
Sudras are not just an essential part of the social system, but are morally and spiritually sub-par, even reprehensible: 

103. But he who does not (worship) standing in the morning, nor sitting in the evening, shall be excluded, just like a Sudra, from all the duties and rights of an Aryan.

But even an aged Kshatriya, second caste, is but a child compared to a boy Brahmana: 

135. Know that a Brahmana of ten years and Kshatriya of a hundred years stand to each other in the relation of father and son; but between those two the Brahmana is the father.

Kings are given great power in this system, with no checks or balances on that power (see chapter 5): Brahmins are not like prophets in the Hebrew system, who point their fingers at oppressive political rulers and say, "You are the man!" as Nathan did to David. 

But highest of all on the social totem pole is the Bramana who reads the Vedas and who teaches them.  No one should ever question one's guru: 
200. Wherever (people) justly censure or falsely defame his teacher, there he must cover his ears or depart thence to another place.
201. By censuring (his teacher), though justly, he will become (in his next birth) an ass, by falsely defaming him, a dog; he who lives on his teacher's substance, will become a worm, and he who is envious (of his merit), a (larger) insect.
226. The teacher is the image of Brahman, the father the image of Pragipati (the lord of created beings), the mother the image of the earth, and an (elder) full brother the image of oneself.
So your teacher may oppress and steal and commit all kinds of crimes, but if you call him on it, in the next life, "You ain't nothing but a hound dog," or at least an ass.  Does anyone see potential problems with this?  It's not as if rebuking your teacher is an easy thing to begin with.  

Maybe that works when the guru is named Jesus.  But Vishal Mangalwadi's The World of the Gurus shows that blind worship of the teacher doesn't work so well with the ordinary kind of religious leaders that India has produced.

There is much in this text which feeds into the myth of the guru-as-god, which has caused so much trouble in India and elsewhere: 

Chapter Three: Out-castes

Aside from Sudras, the lowest of the castes, the Law of Manu also makes frequent reference to those who are excluded, or rejected, from all the castes.  Those references are not flattering, to put it mildly: 

92. Let him gently place on the ground (some food) for dogs, outcasts, Kandalas (Svapak), those afflicted with diseases that are punishments of former sins, crows, and insects.

This verse is ominous not just because it places outcastes on the same level as insects, but note also how it treats the sick: "those afflicted with diseases that are punishment of former sins."

Later verses make it clear that disease is, in fact, a sign of sin.  If you get really sick, not only do you have to suffer from your illness, but you know that you have it coming, and furthermore - society ostracizes you for being such a reprobate.  

This is an extreme example of what Jesus reacted against, when his disciples asked him, "Why is this man sick?  For his own sins, or for those of his parents?"

Jesus' answer was thus set to save not just Jewish followers, but the suffering of India. Paul Brand's autobiographical works as a leprosy surgeon in India following Jesus show what the example of Jesus could mean for Indians who had been caste out of society.

Leprosy and lesser skin problems are specifically mentioned later in the chapter, in fact: 
150. Manu has declared that those Brahmanas who are thieves, outcasts, eunuchs, or atheists are unworthy (to partake) of oblations to the gods and manes.
151. Let him not entertain at a Sraddha one who wears his hair in braids (a student), one who has not studied (the Veda), one afflicted with a skin-disease, a gambler, nor those who sacrifice for a multitude (of sacrificers).
Not all the prescripts here are bad, though: 

106. Let him not eat any (dainty) food which he does not offer to his guest; the hospitable reception of guests procures wealth, fame, long life, and heavenly bliss.

One of the main themes of this book is to describe precise punishments after death for exact sins in this life: 

133. As many mouthfuls as an ignorant man swallows at a sacrifice to the gods or to the manes, so many red-hot spikes, spears, and iron balls must (the giver of the repast) swallow after death.

172. The elder brother who marries after the younger, the younger brother who marries before the elder, the female with whom such a marriage is contracted, he who gives her away, and the sacrificing priest, as the fifth, all fall into hell.

From verse 153, a long list of "offenders" is described, "reprehensible" men of the higher castes whom Brahmins should nevertheless shun.  This includes whole professions such as shepherds, dog-breeders, architects, messengers (no Hermes in this pantheon?), farmers, morticians, singers, spice merchants (simple food is assumed best) and those who travel by sea.  It includes some categories of those whom we might call sinners, such as drunks, hypocrites, someone who sues his own father, a rapist or seducer of young women. 

But Brahmins are also taught to despise many categories, even in their own caste, of those who are: 

161. An epileptic man, who suffers from scrofulous swellings of the glands, one afflicted with white leprosy, an informer, a madman, a blind man, and he who cavils at the Veda must (all) be avoided.

Furthermore, whereas Jesus healed the blind (as did Margaret Brand in India), and lepers (as did Paul), religious leaders in India were taught by this text to shun both:

177. A blind man by his presence causes to the giver (of the feast) the loss of the reward for ninety (guests), a one-eyed man for sixty, one who suffers from white leprosy for a hundred, and one punished by a (terrible) disease for a thousand.

Jesus would likely have gone to hell for feeding the poor, if the rules in this book were enforced:

249. The foolish man who, after having eaten a Sraddha (-dinner), gives the leavings to a Sudra, falls headlong into the Kalasutra hell.

Chapter Four: Odd-ball Legislation

Atheists are right to complain that religions sometimes protect themselves by discouraging critical thought: 

30. Let him not honour, even by a greeting, heretics, men who follow forbidden occupations, men who live like cats, rogues, logicians, (arguing against the Veda,) and those who live like herons.

A Snataka should never look at his own image in a pool of water (38).  One is also told not to torment living creatures, not to talk with a menstruating woman (how does that conversation start?), not point to rainbows, not to tell anyone when a cow is suckling her calf, not to live in a country where the rulers are sudras or heretics, not to play musical instruments or dance, play with dice, ride on the backs of cows, or bite your nails.  (Perdition!)  Stepping on hair or bones will shorten your life.  

A king is as bad as a butcher with 100,000 slaugher-houses.  (86, But another chapter in the book will set out rules for kings, and praise their value highly.)  

You shouldn't read the Vedas during a fog, or when there's a halo in the sky, or during a thunderstorm or after an earthquake.  

Some of the rules here again bear on the lower castes: 
80. Let him not give to a Sudra advice, nor the remnants (of his meal), nor food offered to the gods; nor let him explain the sacred law (to such a man), nor impose (upon him) a penance.
81. For he who explains the sacred law (to a Sudra) or dictates to him a penance, will sink together with that (man) into the hell (called) Asamvrita.
Jesus, again, would have gotten in permanent trouble with the Karma Police.  

Never mind the Sermon on the Mount: the Proverbs of Solomon are far superior to the Laws of Manu.  

The Rig Veda is "sacred to the gods" (124).  

And don't ever hit a guru: 
159. Let him carefully avoid all undertakings (the success of) which depends on others; but let him eagerly pursue that (the accomplishment of) which depends on himself . . . 
162. Let him never offend the teacher who initiated him, nor him who explained the Veda, nor his father and mother, nor (any other) Guru, nor cows, nor Brahmanas, nor any men performing austerities.
163. Let him avoid atheism, cavilling at the Vedas, contempt of the gods, hatred, want of modesty, pride, anger, and harshness.
164. Let him, when angry, not raise a stick against another man, nor strike (anybody) except a son or a pupil; those two he may beat in order to correct them.
165. A twice-born man who has merely threatened a Brahmana with the intention of (doing him) a corporal injury, will wander about for a hundred years in the Tamisra hell.
Even Santa Claus would go to hell here (at least for a long, long time):

191. Hence an ignorant (man) should be afraid of accepting any presents; for by reason of a very small (gift) even a fool sinks (into hell) as a cow into a morass.

Don't eat with musicians, thieves, carpenters (I'm doomed), bankers, or prisoners.  (210)  Eating a Sudra's food rots your mind. (218) 

In the end, though, we're all alone: 
239. For in the next world neither father, nor mother, nor wife, nor sons, nor relations stay to be his companions; spiritual merit alone remains (with him).
240. Single is each being born; single it dies; single it enjoys (the reward of its) virtue; single (it suffers the punishment of its) sin.
A Brahmana advances by hanging with high-borns and avoiding low-borns: 

245. A Brahmana who always connects himself with the most excellent (ones), and shuns all inferior ones, (himself) becomes most distinguished; by an opposite conduct he becomes a Sudra.

Again, if this were true, Jesus could only look forward to misery in later lives.  

A few exceptions to this rule are allowed in verse 253: you can mix occasionally with your farming vassals, slaves, barber and cowherd. 

Chapter Five: Fine Dining

Sages don't eat pizza: 

5. Garlic, leeks and onions, mushrooms and (all plants), springing from impure (substances), are unfit to be eaten by twice-born men.

Sourdough waffles with strawberries and french fries, however, are OK:

10. Among (things turned) sour, sour milk, and all (food) prepared of it may be eaten, likewise what is extracted from pure flowers, roots, and fruit.

An onion can ruin your life: 

19. A twice-born man who knowingly eats mushrooms, a village-pig, garlic, a village-cock, onions, or leeks, will become an outcast.
In general, what we are meant to eat is fated by our nature, but in practice, the rules can be more complicated: 
29. What is destitute of motion is the food of those endowed with locomotion; (animals) without fangs (are the food) of those with fangs, those without hands of those who possess hands, and the timid of the bold.
30. The eater who daily even devours those destined to be his food, commits no sin; for the creator himself created both the eaters and those who are to be eaten (for those special purposes).
31. 'The consumption of meat (is befitting) for sacrifices,' that is declared to be a rule made by the gods; but to persist (in using it) on other (occasions) is said to be a proceeding worthy of Rakshasas.
So meat in generally is banned (including fish) for some, but you're a bit of a devil if you barbecue after the sacred holiday. 

52. There is no greater sinner than that (man) who, though not worshiping the gods or the manes, seeks to increase (the bulk of) his own flesh by the flesh of other (beings).

The king, however (no matter the earlier comparison to an owner of 100,000 slaughter houses) is an incarnation of many gods: 

96. A king is an incarnation of the eight guardian deities of the world, the Moon, the Fire, the Sun, the Wind, Indra, the Lords of wealth and water (Kubera and Varuna), and Yama.

This chapter also has a lot to say about women, but as I said, we'll cite those passages in the next post.

Chapter Six: Rules for Ascetics

While written long after the rise of Buddhism, one can see in these rules the sort of lifestyle which the Buddha entered into, then reacted against, and of which one can find heavy traces in the Ramayana.  
2. When a householder sees his (skin) wrinkled, and (his hair) white, and. the sons of his sons, then he may resort to the forest.
3. Abandoning all food raised by cultivation, and all his belongings, he may depart into the forest, either committing his wife to his sons, or accompanied by her.
6. Let him wear a skin or a tattered garment; let him bathe in the evening or in the morning; and let him always wear (his hair in) braids, the hair on his body, his beard, and his nails (being unclipped).
7. Let him perform the Bali-offering with such food as he eats, and give alms according to his ability; let him honour those who come to his hermitage with alms consisting of water, roots, and fruit.
8. Let him be always industrious in privately reciting the Veda; let him be patient of hardships, friendly (towards all), of collected mind, ever liberal and never a receiver of gifts, and compassionate towards all living creatures.
16. Let him not eat anything (grown on) ploughed (land), though it may have been thrown away by somebody, nor roots and fruit grown in a village, though (he may be) tormented (by hunger).

There are quite a few choices here: 

20. Or he may live according to the rule of the lunar penance (Kandrayana, daily diminishing the quantity of his food) in the bright (half of the month) and (increasing it) in the dark (half); or he may eat on the last days of each fortnight, once (a day only), boiled barley-gruel.

He should live on alms, according to very strict rules.  Indeed, death is part of the program. 

Here we even find the idea of blessing your enemies: 

48. Against an angry man let him not in return show anger, let him bless when he is cursed, and let him not utter speech, devoid of truth, scattered at the seven gates.

What is the purpose? 

60. By the restraint of his senses, by the destruction of love and hatred, and by the abstention from injuring the creatures, he becomes fit for immortality.


69. In order to expiate (the death) of those creatures which he unintentionally injures by day or by night, an ascetic shall bathe and perform six suppressions of the breath.

Such verses standing up for worms and beetles stand in ironic and stark contrast with the rules for kings, which come later in the book, and involve wholesale slaughter, indeed, without remorse or guilt or even any moral computation. 

The Law of Manu consistently sets out a four-fold program of liberation: 

75. By not injuring any creatures, by detaching the senses (from objects of enjoyment), by the rites prescribed in the Veda, and by rigorously practising austerities, (men) gain that state (even) in this (world).

Don't fret over death, because frankly, life stinks: 

76-77. Let him quit this dwelling, composed of the five elements, where the bones are the beams, which is held together by tendons (instead of cords), where the flesh and the blood are the mortar, which is thatched with the skin, which is foul-smelling, filled with urine and ordure, infested by old age and sorrow, the seat of disease, harassed by pain, gloomy with passion, and perishable.

80. When by the disposition (of his heart) he becomes indifferent to all objects, he obtains eternal happiness both in this world and after death.

But what if he becomes indifferent to that?  

The Law of Manu does, however, offer some of what we can recognize as decent moral teaching for the highest caste, hidden behind the veil superstitions and bigotry: 
92. Contentment, forgiveness, self-control, abstention from unrighteously appropriating anything, (obedience to the rules of) purification, coercion of the organs, wisdom, knowledge (of the supreme Soul), truthfulness, and abstention from anger, (form) the tenfold law.
93. Those Brahmanas who thoroughly study the tenfold law, and after studying obey it, enter the highest state.
No hope is held out for the other castes, however.  

Chapter Seven: Kings

Vishal Mangalwadi says he was shocked when he read the Old Testament, to find the sins of kings set out so plainly.  (Having been educated in India.) 

Unlike Israel, where king and prophet held one another in check, in the India at least of the Law of Manu, the two leading castes affirm one another's inviolability and divine nature.  True, kings do have duties:   

1. I will declare the duties of kings, (and) show how a king should conduct himself, how he was created, and how (he can obtain) highest success.
3. For, when these creatures, being without a king, through fear dispersed in all directions, the Lord created a king for the protection of this whole (creation),
4. Taking (for that purpose) eternal particles of Indra, of the Wind, of Yama, of the Sun, of Fire, of Varuna, of the Moon, and of the Lord of wealth (Kubera).
5. Because a king has been formed of particles of those lords of the gods, he therefore surpasses all created beings in lustre;
6. And, like the sun, he burns eyes and hearts; nor can anybody on earth even gaze on him.
7. Through his (supernatural) power he is Fire and Wind, he Sun and Moon, he the Lord of justice (Yama), he Kubera, he Varuna, he great Indra.

But the king is hardly human here.  HE may have duties, but it is no one's duty to rebuke him and call him to account, just as the student must never rebuke his guru.  (And indeed, the king should be "lenient towards Brahmanas" (32), indeed worship them (37) and follow their advice.)
12. The (man), who in his exceeding folly hates him, will doubtlessly perish; for the king quickly makes up his mind to destroy such (a man).
13. Let no (man), therefore, transgress that law which favourites, nor (his orders) which inflict pain on those in disfavour.
14. For the (king's) sake the Lord formerly created his own son, Punishment, the protector of all creatures, (an incarnation of) the law, formed of Brahman's glory.
15. Through fear of him all created beings, both the immovable and the movable, allow themselves to be enjoyed and swerve not from their duties.
True, the king is supposed to punish those who deserve it: 
20. If the king did not, without tiring, inflict punishment on those worthy to be punished, the stronger would roast the weaker, like fish on a spit;
But the problem is more that the weak will oppress the strong, than the other way around, or at least will not know their places:  
21. The crow would eat the sacrificial cake and the dog would lick the sacrificial viands, and ownership would not remain with any one, the lower ones would (usurp the place of) the higher ones.
When I covered India in World History, I emphasized that India was protected in the east by jungle, the south by ocean, the north by mountains, and the west by desert.  The king is instructed to take similar precautions when he founds a city: 
69. Let him settle in a country which is open and has a dry climate, where grain is abundant, which is chiefly (inhabited) by Aryans, not subject to epidemic diseases (or similar troubles), and pleasant, where the vassals are obedient and his own (people easily) find their livelihood.
70. Let him build (there) a town, making for his safety a fortress, protected by a desert, or a fortress built of (stone and) earth, or one protected by water or trees, or one (formed by an encampment of armed) men or a hill-fort.
The king should be a fighter.  (Not one who kills non-combatants, however, 91, or a rash oppressor, 111.)  But there is no hint of non-violence in this chapter: 

103. Of him who is always ready to strike, the whole world stands in awe; let him therefore make all creatures subject to himself even by the employment of force.

He must lay his plans of attack carefully and secretly, first removing idiots, the dumb, the blind, the deaf, animals, very old men, women, barbarians, and the sick or maimed, from counsel chambers.  

150. (Such) despicable (persons), likewise animals, and particularly women betray secret council; for that reason he must be careful with respect to them.

The king should take it for granted that his neighbor will be his enemy, and ally himself with the king of the state just beyond that state.  (Apparently this was written during a period of warring states.)  He should remain peaceful until he has gained enough power to go on the offensive: 

170. But when he thinks all his subjects to be exceedingly contented, and (that he) himself (is) most exalted (in power), then let him make war.

Manu describes the military formations into which a king should set his troops.  He also offers a general description of siege warfare (which I assume was hardly needed): 

195. When he has shut up his foe (in a town), let him sit encamped, harass his kingdom, and continually spoil his grass, food, fuel, and water.

So starve the buggers out!  What seems strangest about this advice, aside from the imprecations against stepping on beetles elsewhere in the text, is the complete absence of any moral justification for pillaging the neighboring country.  This is what a king does.  

He also taxes his country (taxes on various commodities are described), gets regular exercise (216), dines and enjoys himself with his harem (216,218).  But threatened by acute dangers, he might give up his wealth (first), then his wife (second), only then his own precious life (213).  

This chapter also assumes that the king will make good use of dissent among enemies and of spies (223).  The use of spies is a topic which the Arthashastra, the foundational political text of the Mauryan Empire just after the invasion of Alexander the Great, had emphasized in some detail, so it was nothing new in Indian politics.    


In some ways, the Law of Manu shows "Hinduism" (the term is problematic) evolving in a similar direction to that taken by Judaism.  There was a belief in spirits, but also an over-riding notion of a Supreme Being of some sort, called (in India) by different terms.  There was a deep focus on guilt, arising both from obviously evil acts, murder and theft and the like, but from a lengthening and rather arbitrary set of laws.  There was a focus on purity, which could be lost not only by doing bad things, but also by contracting disfiguring diseases.  And those who contracted such diseases were ostracized from society. 

India appears to have traveled much further down this route.  Some "castes" are already intrinsically superior to others in every important way.  (We'll see more of this in the final five chapters, if we get to them.)  The highest castes are like gods.  The lowest castes are hard, at times, to positively distinguish from insects. 

The sharpest contrast with Israel, besides the Jew's clearer and purer idea of God, lies perhaps in the institution of the prophet.  Unlike an Indian guru or king, a Jewish ruler or teacher was subject to the sharpest rebukes, with which the prophetic and even historical works of the Old Testament overflow.  This not only makes the Old Testament a more truly moral work, it also makes it more exciting -- even King David can stumble and fall, and then be rebuked with a parable and a boldly-extended finger pointed at Israel's greatest king.  

Along with that, without any concept of caste or innate superiority, the prophets stand for those on the margins.  Where the Law of Manu rebukes anyone who marries a widow and (as we shall see) the widow herself if she remarries, the prophets repeatedly rebuke anyone who oppresses her, and praise those who help widows, orphans, the poor, and even outsiders!  

Jesus comes as the fulfillment of the prophets and the greatest guru.  On the one hand, he is the sacrifice which the Indian Scriptures (including the Rig Veda, which is praised in this text) describe: Prajapati, giving himself for the world.  He is the true guru, who brings people "out of darkness into the light."

But part of that darkness consists of the social mores promulgated by the Law of Manu itself.  

According to the Law of Manu, Jesus was a damnably poor guru, a traitor to his caste.  (The caste to which a teacher of the Scriptures must belong.)  He ate with the lower orders.  He even taught them the Holy Scriptures.  He touched, he healed both the blind and the leper.  He rebuked Senior Brahmins who had kept most of the ceremonial law pretty well, and who knew and taught the Scriptures.  He ate, and served, fish.  He let animals die to save a clearly unwell man. 

So Jesus would go to hell, according to this text -- or one of the hells.  He might even have to swallow red-hot spikes, spears, and iron balls by the truck-load after death.

Nevertheless, I think it is clear that Jesus is precisely the kind of guru that India at well as Israel needed, to "lead us out of the darkness, into the light." 


Dr. Samuel Inbaraja S said...

I should say it is quite informative and I should say there are Brahmans today who still believe that.

I see this like Old testament laws given to Israel. They were meant to provide a broad social framework. They give knowledge of good and evil. But many of their laws are unjust and not up to Old testament law standard.

These are also shadows pointing to Christ, the real embodiment of the values and virtues of the law.

If What Manu said is law, then they really need a saviour. Both the higher and lower and the outcasts.

The utter hopelessness of the Manu system both morally and socially can only be transformed or replaced by the Lord Jesus and a system based on his teachings when the Kingdom comes.

David B Marshall said...

Thanks, Samuel. Well put. I agree fully: my doctoral advisor was Ivan Satyavrata, who wrote his own doctoral dissertation, which is amazing, on fulfillment thinking in India. (My own topic was fulfillment thinking in China in particular, developing a model for how the Gospel relates to other religions in general, that agrees with what you said.)

Can you tell me, what books do you think are most important for how most modern Hindus see Hinduism?

the mediocrecommission said...

Hi David - I just linked your index of articles on women over on Randal Rauser's site. He is blogging on John Piper's ridiculous podcast on why women can't be seminary professors. I would like to hear your comment on that as well.