HAROLD G. COWARD
MODERN WESTERN approaches to India, and in particular to Hinduism, have focused on metaphysics at the expense of ethics. As a result, Westerners have often tended to see Hinduism as concerned with the esoteric, the otherwordly, the mystical, and thus as having a blind eye when it comes to the ethical issues of daily life. Western religions like Judaism and Christianity were thought to offer something lacking in Hinduism, namely, the moral vitality of the Hebrew prophets and the New Testament. It was this moral vitality that many Christian missionaries saw themselves as bringing to India to challenge an ethically lax Hinduism. Saff or widow burning and the making of caste distinctions were typical of the so-called heathen practices singled out by the missionaries for attack. 1
Is Hinduism a religion which is weak or lacking in ethics? The authors of this book examine this question by analyzing Hindu teaching on three problems of significance for the modern world: purity, abortion, and euthanasia. This approach enables the reader to see what Hinduism has to say about ethical problems which are posing a serious challenge to modern scholars. In this way, the strengths and weaknesses of Hindu ethics will be immediately apparent to the Western Christian, Jew, humanist, or secularist who wrestles with how abortion, euthanasia, and purity are to be dealt with in our modern world. In this sense, these essays have importance for today's study of medical ethics, social ethics, and human rights, in that they provide a systematic analysis of these problems from the perspective of a quite different Eastern world view.