Vedas and Upaniṣads

In Tom Angier, Chad Meister & Charles Taliaferro (eds.), The History of Evil in Antiquity 2000 B.C.E. - 450 C.E. London: Routledge. pp. 239-255 (2018)
Authors
Shyam Ranganathan
York University
Abstract
Evil in the Vedas and the Upanishads undergoes a theoretical transformation as this literature itself moves away from its consequentialist and naturalistic roots to a radical procedural approach to moral questions. The goods of life on the early account were largely natural: evil was a moral primitive that motivated a teleological approach to morality geared towards avoiding natural evil. The gods of nature (such as fire, and rain, intimately involved in metabolism) were propitiated to gain beneficent results, and to avoid hunger and illness. To please the gods of nature involves eating, which is merely the imposition of natural evil on sacrificial victims so that one avoids the evils of disease and hunger oneself. The entire system is one of resentment: the goods of life are defined by way of the bads that they displace. Authors of the latter part of the Vedas, such as the Kaṭha Upaniṣad, show themselves to be concerned about the irreducibility of evil on the naturalistic account, but also more broadly with the irreducible phenomenon of moral luck that comes in tow with a teleological approach to ethics. Whether one is able to ward off evil and enjoy the goods of life is not under one’s control and is within the purview of the forces of nature. This motivates the transition to a procedural account of ethics---yoga---where evil is not a primitive but a side effect of the non-yogic life, characterized by a lack of self-governance. As Death teaches us, evil is not a moral primitive and can be reduced out of the moral equation by taking responsibility for a lack of autonomy, which transforms this external threat of a lack of autonomy into a self lack of autonomy, or self-governance. With this transformation we are delivered into the realm of preservation (Vishnu).
Keywords deontology  procedural ethics  resentment  moral naturalism  yoga  Death
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