Values and Authority

The relationship between concepts, values, and practices, all informed by authority.

Within most books on Hinduism, little is written explicitly on Hindu values and attitudes. Since values are subtle, and exhibited largely through behaviour, most texts explore them thematically, through topical issues.

However, it is useful to study Hindu values systematically, and it is particularly rewarding to examine how they inter-relate with concepts and practices (as shown to the right). According to Hindu thought, the dynamics between these three items include the following;

  1. Concepts significantly inform values (see Values and Concepts).
  2. Values are demonstrated through practices (see Values in Practice).
  3. Nurturing suitable values, through practice of morality and spiritual discipline, is necessary to assimilate knowledge.

Two important authorities – spiritual (the brahmana) and social (the kshatriya) – who should work co-operatively.

With this emphasis on realisation of knowledge, the tradition considers the religious life as a system of education. Important to this process is the role of authority, in the form of texts and teachers (see Scripture and Guru). As scripture clearly discusses all three items – concepts, values, and practices (see Sacred Books) – the guru is considered indispensable in explaining scripture, modelling exemplary behaviour, and providing hands-on guidance. Crucial to the whole process, to appropriately respond to life, is the role of conscience, the guru within (see God: Perceived in Three Ways).

Although Hinduism is an accommodating tradition, its values are not entirely fluid. They may not be constrained by a single or static set of beliefs, but they are guided by the need to comply with universal principles, and the desire to discern truth from illusion (maya). In exploring this topic, therefore, it is useful to recognise that Hinduism has its own distinctive perspectives, as we list below:

Scriptural Passages

"Four types of people quickly perish – the shy courtesan, the immodest housewife, the contented kshatriya (warrior), and the discontented brahmana."

Chanakya Shloka