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Keywords:

  • ascetics;
  • samnyāsa;
  • Upanisads;
  • purity;
  • Hinduism;
  • virtue;
  • ethics;
  • non–violence

This paper is divided into six parts. The first presents a rudimentary definition of ethics based on Western philosophical theories, particularly their concern for articulating universal moral principles. The second examines the assumptions anchoring Western moral philosophies, and raises the question: are the philosophical presuppositions of modern Western philosophy consistent with the presuppositions of Hinduism? It concludes that the two are not entirely in agreement, particularly on the issue of personal and social identity. The third section locates areas in Hinduism that discursively concur with the concerns of Western ethicists, and explores the limits of the semblance. The fourth identifies problematic areas, and raises the question: should the idea of universal ethics be abandoned for Hinduism? The fifth section concludes that such abandonment would be hasty, and initiates a searching look into the Hindu epics for concepts that, while not identical with may still be parallel to some Western notions of ethics. The sixth looks at the content of normative Hindu morality, and generalizes on the basis of this content about the nature of “Hindu ethics”.