MANU AND HIS SMRITI (ETHICAL CODES OF MANU)
(Discourse by N.R. Srinivasan)
The Vedas, most ancient of Hindu scriptures are the mental status and physical forms of Brahman. They are the gifts of Brahman which have been envisioned, collected, compiled mentally stored and taught by the Sages (Rishis) after every delusion of the earth. Smritis are the great treatises which were written by Brahma and other sages with the help of their memory when the revelation and vision of the Vedas were over. They are the words of Rishis. Early Sages Manu, Yajnavalkya, Paraasara and Gauthama compiled codes or manuals of Hindu life called Dharamasaastras or Smritis. They are the part of Vedaangas or Limbs of Vedas. Hindus learnt how to live, lead their lives and conduct themselves through their entire life guided by these Smritis. Dharmasaastras such as Manu and Yajnavalkya laid out laws and customs regarding family, marriage, inheritance and occupation, as well as suggested punishment by the society for crimes. The Arthasaastras and Neetisaastras prescribed rules and advice on the king's behavior, war, justice, administration and conduct of business. There are different Smritis for the three Vedas, Rig, Yajur and Sama. Those of Manu are for Krishna Yajurvda along with those of Baudhaayana, Aapastambha and Hiranyakesin. These sages who had a profound understanding of the Vedas have brought together the duties and rites (Dharma and Karma) mentioned in them in the form of notes and they constitute Smritis. "Smritis" is what is remembered. Smritis deal with man's individual domestic and social life. They are written in a language that we can easily understand. They tell us about our duties in detail, the dos and don'ts and how the karmas (rites) are to be performed. Since the Atharvaveda has hardly any following its Kalpa- sootras are not in observance. Dharmasaastra are not difficult to follow as the Vedas and can be understood with working knowledge of Sanskrit.
Subject matters of Dharmasaastras cover customs, sacred and secular rules for purification, penance, forbidden food, bachelorhood, marriage, retirement, expiation, inheritance, crime and punishment. They instruct individuals as to how they should adopt their lives at different periods of their lives called Varnaasramas (Brahmacharya, Grihasta, Vaanaprastha and Sanyaasa); they also stipulate special duties enjoined on individuals due to their births in a particular social group called Varna, which otherwise would strip them of their social status; they describe all ceremonies connected with domestic life of a Hindu; and stipulate the domestic and social laws for the Hindus. They even deal with the rights and duties of women and kings who rule the countries.
Manu, Paraasara, Yaajnavalkya, Gautama, Haarita, Yama, Vishnu, Sankha, Likhita, Brihaspati, Daksha, Angirasa, Prachtas, Samvrita, Achanas, Atri, Aapasthambha and saataatpa are the eighteen sages who mastered the Vedas with their superhuman power and derived the Smritis from them. Apart from these eighteen, there are eighteen subsidiary Smritis called Upa-smritis. The authors of these are: Jaabaali, Naachiketas, Skanda, Laugaakshi, Kaasyapa, Vyaasa, Sanatkumaara, Santanu, Janaka, Vyaaghra, Kaatyaayana, Jaatukarnya, Visvaamitra, paiteenasa and Gobhila.
Amongst various Smritis, Manusmriti or the Ethical Code of Manu is the most popular. It is the most ancient and the first law book of Hinduism. Very little is known about the author of Manusmriti or Manu Samhita or Maanva Dharmasaastra. But it is the most respected book of law which kept the orderliness of Hindu Society for long. A book cherished by Tamilians from earliest times is called Manudharma Nool (Manusmriti). Manuneetikanda Chozhan, a righteous Chola king was known for his fair and strict administering of justice, as per the laws of Manu. When a calf got crushed under the wheel of the chariot of his arrogant son, the king ordered his son to be crushed to death under the wheel of the same chariot, giving his verdict to the aggrieved cow. In the hoary past it was in the Tamil country that Manu lived. It was here that Vedic learning, Aatman enlightenment and devotion attained their highest glory.
People in the early and medieval Vedic period had absolute reverence and faith in the laws of Manu. But Manu himself said that his laws were based on Vedas and when in doubt Vedas should be consulted—"Vedoekhilam dharma moolam" The word of pronouncement of Vedas was known as "Vedavak" and had been the inviolable law for thousands of years for all Hindus. Thus Vedas were the final authority while Smritis were of secondary authority. The knowledge that is found in Vedas and the scriptures has come out of Smritis: "Smritistu vedoe vijnaeyoe dharmasaastram tu vai smritih". Eventhough Smritis were second authority, they contain many codes suitable for all societies for all times, though they were intended for the then existing society. Parasarasmriti says that Manusmriti was intended for Krita Yuga when dharma was at its peak, in Tretaayuga that of Gauthama, in Dwaaparayuga that of Shankha and in Kaliyuga that of Paraasara, the father of Vedavyaasa—"Kritae tu maanavoe dharmastraitaayaama gautamah smritah | dwaaparae sankhalikhitah kalau paraasara smritah|| (Paraasarasmriti 1:24). Thus it reveals that Manu had set very high standards based on the then prevailing standards of society dharma of his days.
Both Manu and Yajnavalkya were modest to admit that their work was one amongst the fourteen authoritative scriptures after bringing out their Dharmasaastra based on Vedas:
"Angaani vedaaschtvaaroe meemaamsaa nyaayavistarah| Puraanam dharmasaasttram cha hyetaaschaturdasa || (Manusmriti)
"Puraana nyaayameemaasaa dharmasaastranga misritah| Vedaah sthaanaani vidyaanaam dharmasya chaturdasa || (Yajnavalkya smriti)
We have fourteen basic scriptures that pertain to Dharma, that is canonical texts that deal with what has come to be known as Hinduism and what has been handed over to us from time to time of the primordial Vedas.
The term chaturdasa (fourteen) occurs in both the verses above. We learn from these two verses, we have fourteen authoritative works on Dharma embracing all aspects of Hinduism. These fourteen are not only scriptures that impart knowledge but also treatise on moral principles. Manu did not claim his work alone as sole authority on moral principles. Some kings like Manuneeti Chola pinned their faith entirely on his moral codes and enforced it as law. However the moral code enforcement authorities had a wide variety of choices and discriminations to follow the Dharma suited to the time and need for the happiness and well being of the world. When Dharma was practiced without desiring personal desires and happiness in this world, it will lead to liberation. The fourteen Saastras are four Vedas, six Vedaangas, Puraanas, Meemaamsa, Nyaaya and Dharmasaastras.
In mythology Manu is known as Svaayambhu Manu. "Man" in Sanskrit means "to think". Manu was the first in human race with its power of thinking. Since man's distinctive characteristic is his capacity to think the descendents of Manu came to be called manushyas. The English word 'man' owes its origin to the Sanskrit word "Manu". Manu also means the Patriarchal Earth Ruler. There are royal and republican rulers in the world, but God has appointed Manu as the ruler of all worlds. Manu is not the name of any specific person but a title like that of Brahma. Manu comes at the beginning of the creation of the Universe infinite times and goes with its dissolution. There are 14 Manus in a Kalpa (8, 640, 000,000 human years). The 14 manus are: 1. Swaayambhuva (the law-giver); 2. Swaroechana ; 3) Uttama; 4. Tamasa ; 5. Raivata ; 6. Chakshusha ; 7. Vaiwasvata(the Manu of modern days); 8. Savarna (yet to come); 9. Daksha-Savarna ; 10. Brahma-savrna ; 11. Dharma-savarna ; 12. Rudra-Savarna ; 13. Rauchya ; 14. Bhautya.
The life span of 14 Manus put together marks one day-time of Brahma (that is 4, 320, 000, 000 human years). His one-night time has the same length. Therefore one day of Brahma is 8,640,000,000 human years. 365 such days make one year of Brahma. Life span of each Brahma is 100 such years. The life of Cosmos is also the same. When Brahma's life comes to an end Brahman alone will remain and there will be no Cosmos. Then another Brahma will start creation all over again. It is believed that Hanuman will be the next Brahma. If we go back to Svayambhu Manu we arrive at a date for the origin of the human race which agrees with the view of modern science. 14 Manus reign successively during one full day of Brahma which lasts for 1000 Chaturyugas, called Mahaayuga. One Manvantara is therefore approximately 71 Chaturyugas. Now we are in the Vaiwasvata Manvantara, and currently 28th Chaturyuga is running in this Manvantara. We are in the first quarter of Kaliyuga in this Manvantara. We are in Vikriti Samvatsara in the sixty-year cycle of Hindu calendar years. This is the 5112th year in Kaliyuga. One Chaturyuga is 4, 360, 000 years (Kaliyuga, 432,000 years; Dwaaparayuga, 864,000 years; Tretaayuga, 1,296,000 years; Kritayuga or Satyayuga, 1,728,000 years; making a total of 4,360,000 years for the Chaturyuga or 1 Mahaayuga).
Manu collected, edited and placed everything systematically found in Vedas, given by the Supreme Brahman under different categories. Manu himself says that; "Sarveshaam tu sa naamaani karmaani cha prithak prithak | Veda sabdebhyah yevaadau prithak samsthaascha nirmamay || (Manusmriti 1:21). According to Hindu mythology, Manu dictated his codes in the form of one hundred thousand verses to Sage Bhrigu. Bhrigu in turn recited the same to sage Narada who reduced it to 12000 verses. Sage Markandeya reduced it to 8000 verses. Sage Sumathi reduced it to 4000 verses. Finally some unknown sage reduced it to 2685 verses with the passage of time in which form it is now available to us in twelve chapters under the following categories:
- The creation of the universe.
- Rituals related to Brahmoepadesam (Baptism); obeying the rules of celibacy and service to Guru.
- Entrance to worldly affairs (Grihastyaasram), types of marriages, ways of the last rites (anthyeshti).
- Ways and means to earn livelihood.
- Eatables, non-eatables; physical purity after death; the duties of women.
- The third and fourth stages of life (Vaanaprastha and Sanyaasa) and Salvation (Moksha).
- The rights and duties of a king.
- The loan and its repayment; examination of a witness.
- Duties and rights of a couple living together or separated, division of wealth, the ways to save valuables from the thieves, the rights and duties of Vaisyas (merchant class) and Soodras (servant class).
- Illegitimate child; duties in emergency.
- Expiation (Praayaschitta) and its ways.
- The life of each Varna or Class on the earth; the works which should not be done; characteristic of each caste, and even directions regarding the blasphemous people.
"One ought to know the Supreme Spirit who is the ruler of all, subtler than subtlest, of resplendent glory, and capable of being realized only by the meditation of pure minded ones. Some call him Agni (fire); others call him Manu (thinker); and others Prajaapati (Lord of creations). Some again call him Indra (the glorious); others Praana (the vital life forces, Pancha praanas); and still others Brahma (the Great)" says Manusmriti.
Manu gives a philosophical account of creation of the Universe in his Book of Codes. At first Universe existed in complete darkness. God created world, light and water in that order. A golden egg came out of water and in that He himself was born as Lord Brahma, the God of Creation. Then Lord Brahma created man and woman. Manu also states that the universe undergoes an endless cycle of creation and dissolution.
Satapata Brahmana narrates a story in which it describes a tiny fish which grew to gigantic fish that advised Swaayambhu Manu to build a ship to save himself and all living creatures as the impending flood would destroy the world. On its advice he did so and was saved by the first incarnation of Lord Vishnu in the form of fish (Matsyaavataara). This story is similar to the later Biblical story of Noah's Ark. After the waves receded, Manu went to the plains and restarted life for another 4, 320, 000,000 years. Hindus believe that Manus come in repeated cycles as the Patriarchal Earth Ruler, infinite times, at the beginning of creation.
Code of Manu also refers to the nature of karma and incarnation—"Human being obtains the life of immobility of a plant life, as a result of evil committed by the body; the life of birds and beasts because of the evil committed by speech; and lowest of all creatures because of the evil committed by the mind.
Manu also details the four stages of life: Youth (kaumaaram); House holder (Grihastya); Life of a hermit (Vaanaprastya); and Life of a Recluse (Sanyaasa). During youth one has to lead a life of 100% celibacy. To be a house holder he has to marry a virgin from his own tradition. When a man fulfills his duty as a house holder and he is aged he ought to take refuge in the forest to lead a hermit's life and finally lead a life of a Sanyaasi, to surrender to the will of God out of his free will.
In manu's listing of Dharmas that are applicable to all, Ahimsa (non-violence) comes first, followed by Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non covetousness, non stealing being the direct meaning), Saucha (cleanliness) and Indriya-nigraha (subduing the senses or even obliterating them). Patanjali deals with these subjects at length in his Yogasootras later.
Manu gave mankind a system of time measurement for the first time. When eyelids move eighteen times, the time elapsed is called Kashta; thirty Kashta make one Kaala; thirty Kaala make one Muhoorta; and thirty Muhoortas make one day and night. Hindu Panchangas (almanacs) also make use of the term Muhoorta for time measurement. There are eight Muhoortas for the day time and another eight Muhoortas for the night time. The day is divided into eight equal parts for the time elapsed between sunrise and sunset and call that 1/8 part as one Muhoorta.. Raahukaala, Yamagandakaala and Gulikakaala are all calculated for the designated Muhoortas of day time or night time depending on the day.
"There is no sin in eating meat but abstention brings great rewards" says Manu. Certain kinds of meat were permitted in his law book.
According to Manu, it was the duty of the house holder to treat woman with honor and respect and make them happy by giving desirable gifts on holidays and festivals. Where the woman folk live in grief in a family, the whole family soon perishes; where they are happy the family prospers. "Where the husband is pleased with his wife and the wife with her husband, happiness will be everlasting" says Manu. Men were allowed to practice polygamy. A widower could remarry, but not a widow. She lived to practice celibacy and live like a nun. Vedic society was male dominated. Marriage was considered a sacrament and was meant to last the entire lifetime of the partners. Remarriage of virgin widows was permitted in the early Vedic period but later on it was prohibited. Manusmriti strongly condemned either giving or taking dowry in marriage.
Manu also wrote that a girl, young woman or an aged woman should not have an independent existence, even in her own house. It was the duty of the father to protect her during childhood, her husband during her youth and son during her old age. Woman did not have the right to perform sacrifice, take vow or do fasting without her husband. If a woman violated her duties in this world, she would be born as a jackal in her next birth, he wrote. He even thought it was right to beat one's wife under certain conditions allowed in the code under certain circumstances as mentioned in the code. It may not be out of place to mention here Brihadaaranyaka Upanishad also says a woman can be beaten under special circumstances. "Saa chaedasmai dadyaatkaamamaenaam yashtyaa vaa paaninaa voepahatyaati kraamaedindryaena tae yasasaa yasa aadada ityayayasaa eva bhavati || (If she is unyielding, he should strike her with a stick or hand, and go away with uttering the following mantra, "I take away from you your reputation". Then she actually becomes discredited 6-4-7). Often Western writers have pointed their fingers on these where women were given the status of secondary citizens forgetting all the other concessions he has shown for women. This is not anything particular to Hinduism only in those days. Those critics forget to read the following in the Holy Bible. The book of Ephesians in the New Testament says: "Wives submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord"
Manu also says: Just as the son and soul are alike so are son and daughter—"Yathaivaatmaa tathaa putrah putrena duhitaa samaa (M.S. 9--!30)". He further says: "Sve svebhyoe shoebyastu kanyaabhyah pradaasyu bhraatarah prithak | svaatsvaadamsaachatur bhaagam patitaah syuraditsavah"—Sons must give part of their share to unmarried sisters. Brother, who does not give one-fourth of his wealth to the sister is morally corrupt (M.S. 9-118). "Yaastaasaamsyurduhitraastaasaamapi Yataarthaah| maataamahyaa dhanaat kinchit pradeyam preetipoorvakam||" The unmarried daughter(s) of a sister must get what they desire from their maternal grand-mother's wealth. Thus Manu was equally concerned with the welfare of women.-
Code of Manu specifies the origin, duties, sanctions and injunctions for the caste system at length. It says, "For the growth of the world Brahman created Brahmins, the priestly class from his face, Kshatryas, warriors from his arms, Vaisyas, traders from his thigh and Soodras, manual workers from his feet as is found in Purushasookta of Rigveda. Brahmins were placed in a very exalted position and Soodras in a demeaning position throughout the code. But at the same time moral standards expected from Brahmins were of the highest order. "If there be assemblies of thousands of Brahmins, who have not fulfilled their sacred duties, or unacquainted with the Vedas, and subsist only by the name of their caste (Varna), such an assembly cannot interpret the sacred laws (Manu Smriti X: 114).
The following codes of Manusmriti which are important and significant give insight on all the four areas: personal; social, psychological and spiritual. They also give guidelines for developing a civil society by his civil and ceremonial laws:
Methodology of Teaching
*All beings must be instructed what concerns their welfare without giving them pain: and a teacher who desires to uphold dharma must be sweet and gentle in his speech (MS II: 159).
The symbols of Faith
Dhrutih kshamaa damoesteyam sauchamindrya nigrahah | dheervidya satyamakroedhoe dasakam dharmalakshnam ||
Patience, forgiveness, control over the mind, righteousness, cleanliness of the body and mind, control over the senses, wisdom, truth and control over anger are ten cardinals of faith. Their practice makes an individual healthy and happy. Their practice also keeps the family and society happy.
Watch your speech
*He, whose speech and mind are pure and ever perfectly guarded, surely gains the whole reward, which is conferred by Vedanta (MS II: 160).
*Let him not, even though in pain, speak words which cut others to the quick; let him not injure others in thought or deed; let him not utter words which make others feel afraid of him, since that will prevent him from gaining heaven (MS I :161).
Value Father, Mother, Teacher and Elder Brother and paying due respect
*A religious teacher is ten times more important than a teacher. A father is 100 times more important than a religious teacher. A mother is 1000 times worthier than father (M.S. II-145).
*The father, the mother the teacher and elder brother must not be treated with disrespect even though one may feel grievously offended by them, especially by the educated class of Brahmins (MS II : 225).
*The teacher is the image of Brahman, the father is the image of Prajaapati, the mother is the image of the Earth and the elder brother is the image of oneself (MS II: 226).
*The trouble which parents undergo to nurse their children cannot be compensated even in hundred years (MS II: 227).
*Let a person always do what is agreeable to his father and mother and always do what may please his teacher; when these three are pleased, he obtains all those rewards which austerities yield (MS II 228).
*Obedience towards those three is declared to be the best form of austerity: let him not perform other meritorious acts without their permission (MS II: 229).
*For they are declared to be three worlds. They are the principal orders (Aasramas), they are the three Vedas and they are the three sacred fires (MS II; 230).
*He who does not neglect those three, even after he has become a house holder will conquer three worlds; and will be radiant in body like a divine; he will enjoy bliss In heaven (MS II: 232).
*By honoring his mother, he gains respect and happiness in the community; by honoring his father he attains happiness in the world; but by obedience to his Guru he gains the world of Brahman, meaning salvation (MS II: 233). Serving parents and teacher is the best religion.
*He who honors those three (father, mother and teacher) has fulfilled all his duties, but for him who does not honor them all rites remain fruitless (MS II: 234).
*As long as those three live, so long, let him not perform any other meritorious act; let him always serve them, rejoicing to do what is agreeable and beneficial to them (MS II: 235).
*He shall inform them everything, which, with their consent, he may perform in thought, word or deed, for the sake of the next world (MS II 2:226).
*By honoring these three, all that ought to be done by man is accomplished, that is clearly the highest duty, every other duty is subordinate duty (MS II: 232).
Marriage and Duties of Married Partners
*A son born of a Brahma-vivaahha absorbs the sin of 21 generations. This consists of 10 generations in the past, 10 in the future and the present one.
*When the man and woman do not belong to six generations from the maternal side and also do not come from the father's lineage, marriage between the two is good (agreeing with modern view of science).
*There is no difference whatsoever between Goddess Lakshmi and the noble wife, who bears children, secures blessings and spreads radiance in her home (MS IX: 27).
*Off springs, performance of religious rites, highest conjugal happiness and heavenly bliss for oneself and one's ancestors depends chiefly on one's wife (MS IX: 28).
*The husband receives his wife from the gods; he does not wed her according to his own will. Doing what is agreeable to the gods, he must always support her while she is faithful (MS IX: (95).
*Women were created to be mothers, men were created to be fathers; religious rites, therefore, are ordained to be performed by the husband and together with his wife (MS IX: 96).
*Let mutual fidelity continues until death; this may be considered as the summary of the highest law for husband and wife (MS IX: 101).
*Let man and woman, united in holy matrimony, constantly exert themselves, that they may not be disunited and may not violate their mutual fidelity (MS IX: 102).
Equal status for son and daughter
"yathaivaatma tathaa putrah putraena duhitaa samah ||
Just as the soul and a son are alike so are the son and daughter equal.
Importance of a son for performing rites
Pum-naamnoe narakaadyasmaat traayatae pitaram sutah | tasmaat putra iti proektah svayamaeva svayambhuva ||
In Sanskrit son is called "Putra". 'Pu' symbolizes hell, and 'tra' derived from 'traan' in the Sanskrit language means one who protects. Putra therefore means one who protects the father from going to hell (by his rites performed after father's death).
Yad dadaati vidhivat samyak sraddhaasamanvitah | tattaat pitrunaam bhavati paratraanantam-
Whatever one offers ceremoniously and with devotion to the departed ancestors, that reaches them in heaven in an imperishable and eternal form.
Importance of Prraanaayaama
Just as fire removes the impurities of gold, silver and other materials when they are subjected to high heat treatment, in the same way praanaayaama removes waste matters not only enhancing effectiveness of the senses, but also cleansing the body and the mind and removing disorders. It helps to bring body and senses under control.
How to Lose your status of Varanaasrama Dharma?
*By selling fish, salt and shellac a Brahmin becomes an outcast; by selling milk he becomes equal to Soodra in 3 days (MS X: 92).
*But by willingly selling other forbidden commodities, a Brahmin assumes after seven nights, the character of a Vaisya. (MS X: 93).
Resolve taken at the beginning of a ceremony (Sankalpa)
Sanklpan moolah kaamoe vai yajnaah sakalpasambhavaah | vrataani yamadharmaascha sarvae sankalpajaah smrutaah ||
A desire is the basis of a personal resolve. A sacrifice (yajna) can be conducted only by a firm resolve. A fast, sacrifice or other religious ceremonies are all based upon a resolve.
On Bhoota Yajna (Compassion towards lower beings and hapless)
One should give charity to a dog, a deprived person, a low-born person, or one who is sick or a leper. One should also give charity to crows, ants and insects by placing some food in a clean place. In this way all kinds of living things are served. It helps one to attain salvation by such compassionate acts.
Where Caste is no consideration?"
*He who possesses faith may receive pure learning from a man of lower caste, the highest law even from the lowest; and get an excellent wife even from a base family (MS II: 238). (Aapasthamba also says: "I have not dealt with all duties in my Dharmasaastra. There are so many dharmas still to be learned. Know them from women and from the fourth Varna").
*Even from poison, nectar may be taken; even from a child good advice; even from a foe a lesson of good conduct (MS II: 239).
*Excellent wives, learning, the knowledge of law, the rules of purity, good advice and various arts may be acquired from anybody (MS II: 240).
* Aadadita param vidyaam pryatnaad avaraadapi |
Antyaadapi param dharmam streeratnam dushkulaadapi ||
Take the jewel of a woman for your wife though she be of inferior descent. Learn supreme knowledge with service even from a man of low birth; and even from the out-caste(chandala) learn by serving him to salvation
Code of conduct for distress situations
*A Vaisya, who is unable to sustain by his own duties, may maintain himself even by the profession of a Soodra. However, avoiding acts forbidden for him he should give up Soodra's profession as soon as he is able to do so (MS X: 98).
*But a Soodra being unable to find service with the twice born Brahmin and threatened with the loss of sons and wife due to hunger, may maintain himself by handicrafts (MS X:99).
*Teaching, engaging in handicrafts, working for wages, service, rearing cattle, marketing agriculture, being supported by others, begging for alms and money, lending are ten modes of sustenance permitted to all castes in times of distress (MS X:116).
*The more a Soodra keeps himself free from envy, emulates the virtuous, the more he gains virtues without being censured in the world and ``also gets exaltation in the next (MS X: 128).
By birth every one is a Soodra. Through samskaaras he becomes twice born (dvija). A service oriented person takes up responsible position (the occupation of a Brahmin, Kshatriya or Vaisya) through samskaaras. He attains the status of Vipra through a thorough study of Vedas. One who attains Jnaana is a Brahmana. "Janmanaa jaayate soodrah karmanaa jaayate dvijah | Vedaabhyaasena Vipratvam brahma jaanaati braahmanah ||"
*It is only because of continuous offering of prayers even after dusk for a long time that the sages and saints were blessed with intelligence, fame, goodwill, long life and divinity. (MS IV-94).
*The five Mahayajnaas include, Brahmayajna-teaching Vedas, Devayajna-devotion to Gods, Pitruyajna-devotion to fore-fathers, Bhootayajna-charitable disposition to all living beings, and Nriyajna—devotion to Guests (athitiyajna).
*The teaching of the religious philosophy, performing yajnas and accepting charity from Virtuous caste—these are the ways of livelihood of Brahmins.
Means to Achieve Sanyaasa (Stratus of a recluse)
Adhyaatmarasitir-aaseenoe nirapaekshoe niraamishah | Aatmanaiva sahaayaena sukhaarthee vicharaediha ||
One who has taken to Sayaasa (Renunciation) should meditate on the soul. One must be detached from the materialistic world and partake of vegetarian food (saatvik food) to sustain the body; these are the means for the aspired emancipation, when one leaves this world.
Wrong way to earn virtue
*If an opulent man is liberal towards strangers, while his own family lives in distress, that counterfeit virtue will make him taste the sweet of fame, but afterwards make him swallow the poison of punishment in hell (MS XI: 9).
Wrong and Right Actions
*Coveting the property of others, thinking in one's heart of what is desirable and adherence to false doctrine are the three kinds of sinful mental action (MS XII: 5).
*Abusing others, speaking untruth, floundering and talking idly, shall be the four kinds of evil verbal actions (MS XII: 6).
*That man who is a true holder of Tridanda (holder of virtues) who is firmly established in these three controls—control of speech (vak-danda); control over his mind (Manoe-danda); and control over his body (Kaaya-pdanda) (MS XII:10).
*That man who keeps this threefold control over himself, with respect to all living beings and wholly subdues wrath achieves complete success without fail (MS XII: 11).
Know the three gunas (characteristics of life) and act wisely
*Know Serenity (Sattva), Activity (Rajas) and Darkness (Tamas) to be the three qualities of the Self, through which the Supreme pervades all existence in the entire Universe (MS XII: 24).
*Serenity is declared to have the form of knowledge, Activity of love and hatred and Darkness of ignorance. Such is the nature of these three, which is all pervading and clings to everything created (MS XII: 26).
*When a man experiences in his soul a feeling full of bliss, a deep calm as it were, and pure light, then let him know that of those three qualities it is Sattva that is dominant (MS XII: 27).
*That which is mixed with pain and does not give satisfaction to the soul, one may know it to be the quality of Activity which is difficult to conquer and which constantly draws embodied soul towards sense objects (MS XII:28).
*That which is coupled with delusion which has the character of an indiscernible mass, which cannot be fathomed by reasoning and which cannot be fully known, one must consider as the quality of Darkness (MS XII: 29).
*The Study of Vedas, austerity, pursuit of knowledge, purity, control over the senses, performances of meritorious acts and meditation on the Self are the marks of quality of Serenity (MS XII: 31).
*Delight in enterprises, instability, persistence in wrong practice, and continued indulgence in sense objects is the characteristics of Activity (MS XII: 32).
*Covetousness, sleepiness, incontinence, cruelty, atheism, leading an evil life, a habit of soliciting favors and inattentiveness are the marks of the quality of Darkness (MS XII: 33).
*Studying the Veda, practicing austerities, acquisition of true knowledge, subjugation of the sense organs, ostentation from doing injury and serving the preceptor (Guru) are the best means of attaining the Supreme Bliss (MS XII: 83).
Present day religious leaders and modern reformists are at constant conflict as to some of the provisions of Codes of Manu, particularly those in chapter 5 regarding women and his views on giving exalted position to Brahmins in the Varnashrama Dharma concept. At the same time it should not be forgotten that good many of them are true for all times and present day Hindu Laws have drawn help heavily from them. Many of his codes indicate he held women in high respect and gave them exalted position in the society. His punishment of Brahmins was very severe for the same offense compared to what was prescribed for other castes. He also clearly indicated that a Brahmin cannot claim his unique position and privileges in the society by his birth alone but has to earn by leading a pure life. Paraasarasmriti also mentions about the stringent standards of codes of Manu which were more suited for Satyayuga than others, during which period moral standards at all levels was very high which gradually declined to the lowest level in Kaliyuga of present days. However, higher castes dominated for a long time taking advantage of their birth, neglecting their duties prescribed in Smritis. Did he consider Brahmins as humans is not clear!
Even today one can find broad based compartmentalization in all societies confined to four groups—The worker, the business community, the government machinery and the intellectuals guiding the society; the teachers, writers, engineers, doctors and scientists. It is no exaggeration if we say that business community by and large rules the society in the democratic set up. The Communists believe in only two classes—the worker and the owner. They ignore the largest and most powerful middle class. The West has accepted only three classes—the high, the middle and the low class. The concept of three classes prevails even within the same group—the lower middle, middle and the upper middleclass. Their class consideration is based on ancestral property, acquired wealth and status and modern living conditions. They are not based on independent and personal growth of an individual like a Brahmin as visualized by Manu who has to earn his status even though born in such a society. The status of a true Brahmin in his exalted position depends on his inner position, intellectual development, spiritual height and character. Birth in such a family merely provides the base and initiative. He also did not prevent to seek such knowledge and wisdom or an important art from those who are low in caste or belonging to the scheduled castes—as in the case of Valmiki of Tretaayuga and Dharmavyada of Mahabharata days, Azhvars and Nayanmars of medieval Vedic period and Saibaba, Kabir, Kankadasa and Ghorakumbhar of modern days.
History reveals that all religions gave man an exalted position and women were considered as a weaker section emotionally and physically. Smritis were no exception to the rule as Aryan society was male dominated, even though they held women with high respect in the eyes of the society. His codes suited to the society in which he lived. They were apt to the time when it was written which has since then changed a lot.
"The caste system had the eugenic value of keeping the presumably finer strain from dilution and disappearance through indiscriminate mixture. Codes of Manu established certain habits of diet and cleanliness as a rule of honor which all might observe and emulate; it gave order to chaotic inequalities and differences of men and spared the soul the modern fever of climbing to so called success and gain; it gave order to every life by prescribing for each man a Dharma or Code of Conduct for his caste; it gave order to every trade and profession, elevated every occupation into a vocation, not lightly to be changed and, by making every industry a caste, provided its members with a means of united action against exploitation and tyranny. It offered an escape from the plutocracy or the military dictatorships, which are apparently the only alternative to aristocracy: it gave to a country shorn of political stability by a hundred invasions and revolutions a social moral and cultural order and continuity. Amid a hundred anarchic changes, highly regarded and respected Brahmins maintained through the system of caste a stable society and preserved augmented and transmitted civilization. The nation bore with them patiently, even proudly, because everyone knew in the end they were the one and only indispensable Government of India" says William Durant in his book of "Story of Civilization". Caste system is slowly dying without a major revolution in India in public life and it has become the duty of Sovereign Democratic Republic of India to maintain also the moral life of India which is undergoing a transitional disorder and maintain peace in the society.
"The principle on which the Vedic religion is founded is that a man must not live for himself alone but serve all mankind. In castes' (jaatis) ideal form, there are no differences among the Jaatis, economically speaking; all of them live a simple life, performing their duties and being devoted to the Lord. The Brahmin should not live as lord over other communities. Preserving Hindu Dharma and keep alive the sound of the Vedas is important for the well-being not only of Hindus but all mankind. Living in a caste based society in India, which cannot be replaced easily by something better in the near future this duty can still be performed only on a hereditary basis by one class of people called Brahmins. We do not need a class of people called Brahmins if they do not serve other communities, indeed mankind itself, by sincerely practicing the ancient Vedic Dharma. If a separate class called Brahmins has to exist, it is not for the sake of this class but for the ultimate good of mankind" says Swami Chandrasekharendra.
The injunctions and prohibitions in Manusmriti and other later Smritis are no doubt based on the teachings of the Vedas, Brahmasootras and Bhagavadgita related to the particular time, surroundings and system of governing then existed. Vedas are root of all Dharma. "Vedokhilo dharmamoolam | Smritische cha tadvidam" || Sometimes a question is asked if laws of the country could change with times why not laws of Manu? In reality these are not laws made by Manu. They are Dharmas deep rooted in Vedas and are true for all times. Hindu society has changed from time to time and therefore new Smritis were compiled by the sages at different ages in different parts of India. Raghunandana Smriti is of recent origin and is particularly applicable to the society of Bengal. It is therefore time for our religious leaders to take into consideration the changing times and the present day pattern of our society and bring forth appropriate Smritis without losing human values within the frame work of Sanatana Dharma and the Vedas, the Eternal Truth.
Supreme Court of India has defined Hindu Dharma as follows considering various views:
- Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence as the highest authority in religious and philosophical matters and the Vedas as interpreted by Hindu thinkers and philosophers as the foundation of Hindu Philosophy.
- Spirit of tolerance and willingness to understand and appreciate the opponent's point of view based on the realization that Truth is not many sided and is one.
- Acceptance by all six systems of Hindu Philosophy of great World Rhythm, Vast Periods of Creation, Maintenance and Dissolution that follow each other in endless succession.
- Acceptance by all systems of Hindu Philosophy of Rebirth and Pre-existence of the Soul.
- Recognition of the fact that the means of Liberation are many.
- Realization of the truth that the gods to be worshipped may be many, yet there are also Hindus who do not believe in the worship of images (Vyakta form).
- Unlike other religious creeds, the Hindu Religion is not tied down to any set of philosophical concepts or beliefs as such.
This lecture has been prepared for the Vedanta Class at Sri Ganesha Temple at Nashville, by N. R. Srinivasan by suitably extracting, abridging and editing from the following sources of literature which is gratefully acknowledged:
- Prof. Shrikant Prasoon, Indian Scriptures, Hindology Books, Pustak Mahal, Delhi, India.
- Ed Viswanathan, Am I A Hindu? Rupa & Co. New Delhi, India.
- Swami Nirvedananda, Hinduism at A Glance, Ramakrishna Mission, Calcutta Students' Home, Calcutta, India.
- Swami Bhaskarananda, The Essentials of Hinduism, Sri Ramakrishna Mission, Mylapore Chennai, 6000004, India.
- Jagadguru Chandrasekharendra Sarasvati, Hindu Dharma, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai, India.
- Chaitanya Bharati (2004), important to Know Sacred Laws, Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America Inc., Washington DC.
- Dr N.S. Anantarangacharya, Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Bangalore, India.
- Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, Vol. I, Simon &Schuster, USA
- Hinduism Today, Hindu India; 300 to 1100 CE. Chapter 2, www.hinduismtoday.