Doniger Wendy - The laws of Manu

Authors : Doniger Wendy - Smith Brian K.
Title : The laws of Manu
Year : 1991

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Introduction. Right and wrong (dharma and adharma) do not go about saying, ‘Here we are’; nor do gods, centaurs, or ancestors say, ‘This is right, that is wrong.’ ĀPASTAMBA. To set up a law-book of the kind of Manu means to concede to a people the right henceforth to become masterly, to become perfect – to be ambitious for the highest art of living. To that end, the law must be made unconscious: this is the purpose of every holy lie. NIETZSCHE. These two epigrams suggest two very different views of The Laws of Manu, the first from inside the tradition, acknowledging the complexity of its moral judgements, and the second from the outside, arguing for the duplicity of its presentation of those judgements. These two views lead to two very different assessments of the coherence or contradiction in Manu’s position on certain central religious issues, particularly on the paradox of killing and eating, and both are invaluable for our understanding of the text. Manu’s ambivalence on these and other dilemmas is reflected in the evaluation of his work made by the two authors of this introduction, one of whom will argue for an irreconcilable tension between two divergent world-views in Manu while the other will argue for their integration. It is our hope that these two different evaluations will prove to be, like the two historical currents in the text that they attempt to comprehend, not mutually contradictory but symbiotic and coherent. The reader is left free to choose, both between the different strains in Manu, as expressed in the translation, and between the two different scholarly assessments of the relationship between those strains, as expressed in this introduction to the translation. Part I will situate the text in Indian religious and social history and delineate its sources and its subsequent impact; it will demonstrate the historical origin of a tension between what may be regarded as mutually contradictory world-views in the work.3 Part II will argue, on the contrary, that the text succeeds in fusing these views; it will attempt to demonstrate the coherence of the text through an explication of the structure and meaning of the work as a whole. ...

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