The Early Ethic of Ramalingam (1): Moral Maxims in Manu’s Lament On Karma

swami-ramalinga-vallalar

 

Detail of Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem (by Rembrandt, 1630)

 

An early and significant Tamil prose text of Ramalingam (1823 – 1874) is his Manu’s Moral Code (மனு முறைகண்ட வாசகம்/ Manu Murai Kanda Vasagam) written in eloquent and ornate Tamil and published in June 1854 when he was 31. King Manu, who is a central character in this literary work of fiction, must be distinguished from the legendary Hindu sage-ruler Manu, the alleged creator of cruel caste codes whose legacy has been the bane of Indian society for ages.

It is said that Ramalingam wrote his work of fiction Manu’s Moral Code to promote moral education and development, particularly the development of compassion, among the youth. It is also a seminal and radical work on the ethical treatment of animals since it expounds his central argument for the equality of animals and humans in regard to the right to life and the right to freedom from suffering, including freedom from torture.

In this post, I will focus on the moral proscriptions and prescriptions implicit in the section in Manu’s Moral Code in which King Manu laments his past bad karma, i.e., performance of morally wrong actions in previous lives, which has led to his present mental and moral agony over sentencing his only son to death for negligence in causing the death of a calf beneath the wheels of his chariot.

Manu’s lament takes the form of rhetorical questions on his past bad karma which could have caused his present mental and moral agony about a just decision on his son’s negligence in crushing a calf beneath the wheels of his chariot. Each of these rhetorical questions assumes a moral judgment which implies a moral proscription and prescription.

These moral proscriptions and prescriptions help us to understand and delineate Ramalingam’s early ethic. The moral proscriptions or prohibitions also identify behaviors bound to create bad karma and consequent suffering in this life or future rebirth.

The law of karma is a cornerstone of Ramalingam’s theism and ethics. In his “Ethic of Compassion For Living Beings“, Ramalingam invokes the law of karma to explain the fact that many living beings undergo suffering from hunger, fear, torture, murder, etc. He states that it is due to their violation of the requirements of compassion in previous lives. As I have pointed out in earlier posts, Ramalingam’s ethic of compassion is founded on the spiritual truth of the kinship of all living beings. Hence, by his own account, lack of compassion stems from ignorance of this spiritual truth of the kinship of all living beings.

He declares that the law of karma is a Divine Law designed to bring about the progressive emancipation of the soul from its bondage to spiritual ignorance, i.e., ignorance of the truth of soul-kinship of all beings.

The law of karma governs the “distribution” of suffering to souls in accordance with their own choices and actions. Inflicting or contributing to the infliction of suffering on other people and living beings is a violation of the spiritual law of soul-kinship and will invariably result in suffering to oneself in the present or future life.

The soul bound in the coils of spiritual ignorance, i.e., ignorance of the truth of soul-kinship, learns to make morally correct choices by undergoing the suffering brought about by its own morally wrong choices, choices based on its unfettered egoism, primarily its self-aggrandizing choices or actions which inflict harm or suffering on other beings. The practice of the ethic of compassion is the only medicine for the afflictions brought about by one’s own bad karma.

Ramalingam’s central principle of compassion is that it is morally wrong to inflict or contribute to the infliction of suffering on living beings. Hence, his ethic of compassion emphasizes the obligation (this is his proscriptive principle of compassion) to refrain from inflicting suffering, e.g., starvation, murder, torture, disease, poverty or scarcity of means of sustenance, etc., on other living beings and the obligation (this is his prescriptive principle of compassion) to prevent, alleviate, or remove these forms of suffering in other living beings when we have knowledge that they are undergoing these sufferings, or will undergo them, and the capability to prevent, alleviate, or remove them by any means at our disposal.

Each of the following “lamentations” of King Manu implies a proscription or prohibition and a prescription. For instance , when Manu laments that he may have caused, in his previous life, fear or terror in the minds of good people, and thereby invited his present mental and moral agony over sentencing his only son to death for the negligently causing  the death of a calf, the implied prohibition or proscription is on causing fear or terror in the minds of good people and the implied prescription is to act considerately or benevolently toward them.

I should point out in this context that, according to Ramalingam, both humans and animals are prone to suffer from fear and one must refrain from inflicting it on them unless it is necessary to prevent greater harms, e.g., murder, torture, and starvation. These would actually be cases in which one causes fear to bad or evil persons, i.e., those intent on bringing about the murder, or torture, or starvation of other living beings. In his mature work on the Ethic of Compassion (Jivakarunya Ozhukkam), Ramalingam holds that it is morally permissible to cause fear in wild animals to prevent them from harming other living beings, but that it is contrary to the requirements of compassion to kill them.

What is wrong with inflicting fear or terror on good people? It is obviously a case of cruelty toward good people. Since they are good people, to inflict the suffering of fear or terror on them is to inflict undeserved and, therefore, unjust suffering on them. Hence, it is also a case of injustice perpetrated on good people.

Ramalingam is implying that the moral character of persons ought to make an important difference to how we treat them and that we ought to particularly behave compassionately toward those with good moral character.

It is noteworthy that the prohibitions and implied prescriptions in Manu’s lamentations cover a wide range of moral contexts. The two main principles at work in these varying contexts are the principle of compassion and the principle of respect. I will discuss these matters in the next post.

Here, then, are the morally wrong actions mentioned by Manu in the lamentations on his past karma:

நல்லோர் மனத்தை நடுங்கச் செய்தேனோ!

causing fear or terror in the minds of good people

 

அன்புடையவர்க்குத் துன்பஞ் செய்தேனோ!

causing distress to those who love us

 

தானங் கொடுப்போரைத் தடுத்து நின்றேனோ!

preventing the charitable from giving to the needy

 

கலந்த சினேகரைக் கலகஞ் செய்தேனோ!

breaking up friendships by creating dissension or strife

 

மனமொத்த நட்புக்கு வஞ்சகஞ் செய்தேனோ!

betraying a true friend

 

கலங்கி யொளிந்தோரைக் காட்டிக்கொடுத்தேனோ!

betraying those who have gone into hiding out of fear or trepidation

 

ஆசைகாட்டி மோசஞ் செய்தேனோ!

deceiving others after luring or enticing them (with false promises)

 

குடிவரி யுயர்த்திக் கொள்ளை கொண்டேனோ!

raising the rent on tenants to amass profit

 

வேலையிட்டுக் கூலி குறைத்தேனோ!

exploitation of labor by increasing the amount of work and decreasing the wages

 

கல்லும் நெல்லும் கலந்து விற்றேனோ!

selling adulterated or corrupted products to gain profit

 

ஏழைகள் வயிறு எரியச் செய்தேனோ!

inflicting more hardship on the poor

 

பசித்தோர் முகத்தைப் பாராதிருந்தேனோ!

ignoring the hungry

 

இரப்போர்க்குப் பிச்சை இல்லையென்றேனோ!

refusing charity to beggars

 

தருமம் பாராது தண்டஞ் செய்தேனோ!

levying taxes or fines without regard to justice or benevolence

 

வலிய வழக்கிட்டு மானங் கெடுத்தேனோ!

gratuitously instigating litigation to cause loss of dignity or dishonor to others

 

மண்ணோரம் பேசி வாழ்வழித்தேனோ!

ruining others by slandering or defaming them

 

கோள் சொல்லிக் குடும்பங்  கலைத்தேனோ!

destroying a family by calumny, aspersion, backbiting, or tale-bearing

 

பொருளை இச்சித்துப் பொய் சொன்னேனோ!

lying from pecuniary motives or desires

 

களவு செய்வோர்க்கு உளவு சொன்னேனோ!

disclosing information to facilitate theft

 

உயிர்க்கொலை செய்வோர்க்கு உபகாரஞ் செய்தேனோ!

assisting those engaged in killing or murder

 

ஊன்சுவை யுண்டு உடல் வளர்த்தேனோ!

consuming meat to develop one’s body

 

கருப்பமழித்துக் களித்திருந்தேனோ!

causing or having an abortion to continue with sexual gratification

 

பக்ஷியைக் கூண்டில் பதைக்க அடைத்தேனோ!

confining birds in cages

 

கன்றுக்குப் பாலு‘ட்டாது கட்டிவைத்தேனோ!

depriving a calf of the milk of its mother

 

வெய்யிலுக் கொதுங்கும் விருக்ஷ மழித்தேனோ!

destroying trees which provide shade in the summer heat

 

பகைகொண்டு அயலோர் பயிரழித்தேனோ!

destroying the food crops of others for reasons of enmity

 

வரவுபோக் கொழிய வழியடைத்தேனோ!

blockade of a route to obstruct traffic

 

குடிக்கின்ற நீருள்ள குளந்துர்த்தேனோ!

destruction of a source of drinking water

 

பொதுமண்டபத்தைப் போயிடித்தேனோ!

destruction of a public shelter

 

ஆலயக் கதவை அடைத்து வைத்தேனோ!

forcing the closing of a place of worship

 

கற்பழிந்தவளைக் கலந்திருந்தேனோ!

consorting with the promiscuous

 

காவல் கொண்டிருந்த கன்னியை அழித்தேனோ!

violating a maiden or nun observing chastity

 

கணவன்வழி நிற்போரைக் கற்பழித்தேனோ!

violating a woman faithful to her husband

 

குருவை வணங்கக் கூசிநின்றேனோ!

being ashamed (out of pride or conceit) to bow before the Guru

 

குருவின் காணிக்கை கொடுக்க மறந்தேனோ!

forgetting to offer a donation to the Guru

 

கற்றவர் தம்மைக் கடுகடுத்தேனோ!

being irascible with the learned

 

பெரியோர் பாட்டிற் பிழைசொன்னேனோ!

being captious with the great

 

சிவனடியாரைச் சீறி வைதேனோ!

verbal abuse of the devotees of God

 

தவஞ் செய்வோரைத் தாழ்வு சொன்னேனோ!

berating those engaged in religious or spiritual practices

 

சுத்த ஞானிகளைத் து‘ஷணஞ் செய்தேனோ!

berating the truly wise

 

தந்தைதாய் மொழியைத் தள்ளி நடந்தேனோ!

disregarding the advice of parents

 

தெய்வ மிகழ்ந்து செருக்கடைந்தேனோ!

disparaging the Deity and growing in conceit

 

நட்டாற்றிற் கையை நழுவவிட்டேனோ!

negligence in critical situations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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