Dr. C. Kunhan Raja


[Unlike in other ancient countries the Vedic people in India recognised the law as something objective. The Gods are the administrators and not the makers of law. In this article, late Dr. Kunhan Raja discusses the source of law which derives its authority from its reality as an objective factor in the world.



The earliest system of civil law obtaining among men is accepted as the tablets of Hammurabi, the Assyrian king of the third millennium B. C. He did not create a system of law for the people. He codified the system of law that had been current in the country prior to him. The Mesopotamia region had been occupied by the Sumerians and no nation is known prior to them in that region. They had their own system of civil law and this system was adopted by their successors in the region, the Elamites. The Elamites were replaced by the Assyrians and it was the Assyrian king, Hammurabi, who codified them, and that tablet is now available recording the system of law promulgated by that king. A portion in the middle has been damaged through the ravages of time. But the major part remains in tact. The law relates to money matters in the main.


The assyrian tablets make it clear that the law came from the Sun God. It was Ahura Mazda, the Great God of Zoroaster, that gave the revelation to the teacher. In the Exodus, Moses gave the teaching to the people, after he received it from God, and also the command to spread the teaching among men. Later we have the Roman Law, i.e., the twelve tablets and the Code of Justician. Everywhere there is God as the giver of the law. Until recent times, practically every philosopher in the west introduced God as the source of the law. In the New Testament, there is the description of the teaching of the law given to Jesus by God, in all the Gospels. Thus Christian Law is the Law of God. In Quoran also we have the system of law taught to the Prophet by God. Practically, in the western region in which modern civilization has its origin and development, what is called law is a gift to humanity by God, through a messenger. The king promulgated law as the representatives of God on the earth, which claim was supported by the priests. Thus, law is the will of God, and then it became the will of the king. Later when the rule of the king was replaced by democracy, it became the will of the people expressed through the majority. I am not taking note of the development of law in the other ancient countries.


Rigvedic Conception


When we come to India, we note that God has no place in the origination of law. In the Rigveda we have two terms prominently noticed. One is Rita and the other is Vrata. Rita is the cosmic law and Vrata is the ordinances of the gods for the preservation of this cosmic law. This cosmic law is an eternal factor in the universe and is not created by anyone, not even by God. There is no creation of the world and there is no origination of the law. The world was ever and is and will continue forever. This is the Indian view. As a consequence, the law was always there, is there and will endure forever. This is what is called the Sanatana Dharma or the eternal law. In the Veda, we have another term, Dharma, which is not very prominent in the texts. But that means the same thing as the Rita. There is no place where there is a reference to the law of God. The gods were born into this law Ritajata, they knew the law Ritagna and they preserved this law Ritapa. There are various other words also which mean more or less the same thing, like Ritavridh (developer of the law), and Ritayu (one devoted to law). But there is not even the faintest hint that the law Rita came from a source. It was always there. The gods are not spoken of as the source of law.


Gods not makers of Law


When we come to the term Vrata, the ordinance, Vrata, is referred to the gods. There is the term Dhrita Vrata (one who holds the law). He has assumed that role, of one who is to administer the law. There is frequent mention of the Vrata of this god, like Varuna and Savita. Any violation of such a Vrata is sin and man suffers for such deviations from the path of the Vrata of the gods. This only shows that the gods are the administrators of the law; they are not the makers of the law.


The Vedic people recognised the law as something objective in the world. There was no relation between the will of any one and this law, not even the will of God. It may also be stated here that in the early Vedic literature, there is no place given to a Great, Personal God, as the creator, as the maker of the law. There are only the gods, and not a ‘One God’, as the Supreme. The world is real; the law in the world is also an objective reality like the world in which that law functions. Man is supreme in the world, with no God to interfere with his freedom of action. There is no contract between men and God, by exchanging their obedience for His Grace. The gods, many in number, are the administrators of the objective, real law.


What is called the Veda, the presentation of the powers of nature, is eternal and is not the creation of any individual; it is Apaurusheya (impersonal). God never issued a commandment that “This is the law”. Gods guided men in this life according to the law. If a man has to surrender himself to another, even if that another is the Great God, there is no real freedom for him. It is only when man has only to follow the law of the world and not the law arising out of the will of another, that man can be accepted as truly free. There are the Rishis who have been able to command a vision of the Veda. They never received any gift from a God; they saw the Veda on account of their own inner illumination. Gods were only the functionaries in the affairs of the world. They never governed the world and men in the world. Men governed themselves according to the objective, real law of the world and in this government, gods were also given a part.


Buddhistic Interpretation


Buddha never said that he was the maker of the law; he did not even claim to be the first knower of the law or as the first to promulgate the true law among humanity. He speaks of the Sanatana Dharma (the eternal law) and he also speaks about the previous Buddhas, those who had the illumination. We do not find the Vedic religion current among the people at a later stage, in its purity. As time changed, beliefs also changed and there was a compromise. We do not know the original teachings of Buddha. Many doctrines known as Buddhistic, are later additions. As Dr. Radhakrishnan says “In the Questions of Milinda, we seem to get a more negative interpretation of the Buddhist Teaching.” This may be true of the philosophy of Buddhism. Such changes have come over even in the region of religion.


There is a section in the Buddhistic scripture by name Dharma Chakra Pravartana Sutra. This refers to the “First turning of the Wheel of the Law” by Buddha. Gradually Buddha became the first teacher. According to the twenty-ninth Gatha of the Avesta, Zoroaster was commissioned by the Great God, Ahura Mazda, to spread the law of God among humanity. The law was there and it was when the law was being trampled down by evil forces, that Zoroaster was given this commission. But somehow or other every such teacher became, in course of time, the first and the last messenger of God with a message to humanity. The same thing happened to Buddha also.


Man cannot know correctly. Man cannot live a life of virtue. Man cannot be happy in this world. To know is to err, to do is to sin, and to experience is to suffer. Such became the doctrine current among the people. The only individual who cannot err is Buddha. Buddha is the only authority for law. Man knows correctly only when he knows the teachings of Buddha. Man can be happy and free from sin only by obeying the teachings of Buddha. The world does not exist as a reality and the world is only an illusory transformation Vivarta of a void Shunya.


Vedic Doctrines


All such doctrines are the very opposite of the doctrine found in the Vedas. The new doctrines could not remain aloof from the life of the people and the beliefs of the people following the path of the Vedas also began to change. Instead of Buddha the Vedas became the words and the teachings of God. God became the source for the law. Even some sort of creation of the world crept into the regions of the beliefs of the people who followed the Vedic paths. The Veda became the sole authority for Dharma. The words of those who know the truth (the Aptas) and their conduct too became the source for the knowledge of Dharma. The consequence was that there is a portion of the infinite Veda that is not recorded in the text of the Veda, called Nashta (lost) Veda. The words of those who know the truth had such Vedic texts as the basis. Their conduct also became authority became they could have lived only within the Vedic injunctions.


This double basis for the knowledge of the truth, the Vedas and those who know the truth, is accepted in the Sankhya, in which there is no God. In the Yoga, God is the teacher of Veda. This is accepted in the Nyaya also. In the Vedanta, the Veda is eternal and God is the original teacher. The words and the conduct of those who know the truth are accepted as authority in all the systems of thought, every individual is a potential omniscient being. Thus, the equality of man and man, the supremacy of man, the self-sufficiency of man–these features are common to all the systems of thought that come within the Vedic currents. These points are the exact opposites of what had been developed in the Buddhistic thought.


Law-Objective Reality


The law is there as an objective reality. Man is there with the ability to know that law and with the freedom to act according to that law. There is no power above with a sanction to punish those who disobey this law, and there is no such power to reward those who remain within the law. Man can do what he likes and he suffers for his mistakes or he enjoys the fruits of his good actions. The law derives its authority from its reality as an objective factor in the world.


The basic assumption is that man is by nature good and that a man will do the right thing, following the law, if he knows the law. Ignorance of the law is at the root of all sins and of all sufferings in man. Man is not a sinner; man is an ignorant being. It is the duty of the wise man to teach the ignorant man. It is for this reason that the study of the Vedas, which deal with Dharma or Law became an obligatory part of the study of every student. It is not enough if he is told at every step what the law is. One must know what the law is and then act according to the law. It is only in such a case that one is recognised to have followed the law in his life. That is why the knowledge of law should not be left to the priests and why man is not to be guided by such priests. Man has to be guided and controlled himself in his life.