Individual Conduct

Within the framework of the three aims of life (purusartha) acceptable for the high-caste individual were a series of ritual observances and taboos throughout life. Sacraments beginning before birth and continuing after death marked the progress of life. The Brahman was expected to devote a considerable amount of time each day to prayer and ritual, and members of other castes were encouraged to imitate him.

The aim of many of these sacraments and taboos was to maintain ritual purity. Although conceived with reference to another conceptual framework, many practices also maintained a hygienic standard contributing to health in a tropical climate. Notable examples include insistence on a daily bath, the custom of eating with the right hand and washing the anus and sexual organs with the left, the ban on eating cooked food left overnight, and a strict taboo against contact with human corpses and animal carcasses. The bodily fluids of others, such as saliva and mucus, are considered polluting, and contact with anything contaminated by them, such as used dishes or drinking glasses, was to be avoided.

Social values and a conflicting emphasis in various texts of classical Hinduism portray an ambivalent attitude that both exalts and denies sexuality. Vedic texts regard sexuality as a metaphor for a ritual sacrifice. The Bfhadara^yika Upanigad (vi. 2. 13), among the best known of this speculative genre of Hindu scriptures (Upanigad), identified woman as a sacrificial fire fueled both by her own and her male partner's genital organs in the act of sexual intercourse.

Semen is an offering to this fire, which may generate a person.

In later texts, however, sex is affirmed as a valid source of gratification, a legitimate pursuit among the three aims of life: righteousness, wealth, and pleasure. Erotic temple art and texts devoted to the details of enhancing sexual gratification, such as the Kama Sutra, document a cultural sanction of pleasure seeking for men. These texts acknowledge female sexuality but consider it primarily from a male perspective— how to attract and please a man. Hindu texts concerned with moral codes of conduct (Dharmasdstra) emphasize chastity and procreation more from the classical period onward than previously (Bhattacharyya).

Even for men, classical Hinduism confines sexual activity to one stage of a man's life. An initiation ceremony (upanayana) that preceded a long period of celibate studentship was a milestone for upper-caste boys. Afterwards, a young man was married, normally to a bride chosen by his parents, and raised a family. According to the ideal, he was expected to give up family cares in late middle age to devote the rest of his life to religion and to strive for liberation. Ascetic values discouraged sexual activity, which not only distracts the individual from a quest for release from the cycle of rebirth but also results in the loss of physical and spiritual power.

In addition to the emphasis on a moral code of religious practices, Hinduism also emphasizes ethical principles of social relations. The principle of nonviolence has often been interpreted in a positive sense, as actively benefiting others. Though subject to the constraints of conflicting values in a comprehensive social order, Hindu texts and practices encourage virtues of honesty, hospitality, and generosity. Explicit codes detailing how guests are to be received, fed, and looked after emphasize hospitality as a social value (see chap. 21 on receiving guests in Kane). The Taittinya Upanisad (i. 11. 2) admonishes students to treat parents, teachers, and guests as gods.

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