Values and Concepts

An example of how concepts help to clarify stances on specific issues. Abortion is unacceptable to those Hindus who believe that the soul enters the womb (again) at the time of conception and is clearly an autonomous living being, even though it is physically connected to the mother. Not all issues are so easily resolved, however, and tradition points to the need for developing great discretion.

There is naturally a close connection between the values of any tradition and its underlying beliefs or concepts. For example, belief in reincarnation significantly influences Hindu attitudes towards animals, and issues on the sanctity of life, such as abortion. According to Hindu theology, the highest values are related to sattva, the quality of goodness, represented by the brahmanas. Such values should be based on knowledge and a clear and objective perception of reality. The values inherent within the other three varnas, although desirable for members of that varna, are influenced by political, economic, and sensual expediency respectively, and cannot be the leading values in society.

Common Misunderstandings

Hindus are fatalistic because they believe in karma and reincarnation

No, most are not. Many might interpret karma as a means to become responsible for our actions. (We should avoid judging another’s concepts in terms of our own world-view and values)

ConceptsRelated Issues or Values
AtmanThe sanctity of life. Issues regarding one’s true identity. Prejudice and negative discrimination.
Reincarnation & SamsaraCompassion for others; the nature of suffering; attitudes towards wildlife. Abortion.The sanctity of life.
KarmaPersonal responsibility and accountability; foreseeing the consequences.
Prakriti & GunaModel for analysing/categorising behaviour; goodness considered basis of ideal character; sustainability relates to ecological/economic issues.
MayaSelf-deception and mistaken notions; honesty with oneself and others.
LiberationPurpose of life; without mind and sense control, no real morality.
GodService. Attitudes towards God, authority figures. Proprietorship.
DharmaRights and responsibilities; common values and the notion of different values. Family issues. Equality and diversity. Material sense of identity and belonging. Sexual morality. Protection of dependants.
One Goal/Many PathsInclusion; acknowledging people for what they are, not what they should be; unity in diversity.
Guru & ScriptureSources of knowledge; authority (especially notions of natural, well-wishing elders); appropriate respect for authority; discernment.
TimeThe predominant Hindu world view.Transience. Material scientific progress.
CreationThe nature and purpose of the world. Environmental issues.