martes, 6 de diciembre de 2011

Understanding Dharma: The Four Authentic Sources


Sent: Tuesday, August 16, 2011 4:02 PM
Subject: Even Before Birth: The Purifying World of Hindu Samskaras


Even Before Birth: The Purifying World of Hindu Samskaras

A person was once digging up his field for planting seeds. Suddenly he came across a greenish stone. He thought it to be beautiful and took it to a jeweler. The jeweler said that it was nice and paid the man a hundred rupees for the stone. The jeweler then took the stone inside his workshop. He first cleaned the dirt, and then evened it out by doing away with its ruggedness. Further he polished it, and then the stone started shining. Thus the stone was made suitable for setting into an ornament. After it had become a piece of jewelry, the same emerald that as a stone had fetched only a hundred rupees became worth a million. Such a process of refining and enriching is called Samskara.

All the scriptures, whether it be the Gita or the Upanishads, are there to give us Samskara. Even the science of Vedanta, the highest knowledge available to mankind, is meant to remove our Avidya; i.e. Vidya acts by removing an impurity (Avidya), it does not give anything new. Gaining knowledge in Vedanta means removing Avidya, it does not mean ‘acquiring’ knowledge.
Manusmrti (Sanskrit Text with English Translation of M.N. Dutt, Index of Slokas and Critical Notes)

The Vedas have delineated sixteen Samskaras for purifying us. The Manu Smriti outlines their purpose:
‘All impurities inherent in the seed of the male and the womb of the female are removed by Samskaras.’ (Manu Smriti 2.27)

HINDU SAMSKARAS (Socio-Religious Study of the Hindu Sacraments)
The term ‘Samskara’, has similar origins to the word ‘Sanskrit’, meaning to refine, polish, prepare and perfect. ‘Sanskrit’ is human language refined and perfected enough to become the language of the gods. Samskara in the ancient scriptures stand for various sacraments performed on an individual during his life cycle, not only for removing impurities and imperfections inevitably associated with his birth, but also ultimately making him eligible and suitable for Moksha, or liberation from the cycle of life and death.

The sixteen Samskaras to be performed on an individual during his life cycle are:
1). Garbhadhana: The rite of insemination.
2). Pumsavana: Bringing about a male child.
3). Simantonnayana: Ritual Parting of the Wife’s Hair by the Husband.
4). Jatakarma: Birth ceremonies.
5). Namakarna: Ceremony of Naming the Child.
6). Nishkramana: The child’s first outing.
7). Annaprashana: The first feeding of the child with solid foods.
8). Chudakarana: The child’s first haircut.
9). Karnavedha: Piercing of the child’s ears.
10). Vidya-arambha: Beginning of the child’s studies.
11). Upanayana: The wearing of the sacred thread.
12). Veda-arambha: Start of Vedic studies.
13). Keshanta: First shaving of the beard.
14). Samavartana: Taking leave of one’s teacher.
15). Vivaha: Marriage.
16). Antyeshti: Last Rites.

The Pre-Natal Samskaras 

Samskaras begin even before the birth of the individual, since it is believed that the state of the parent’s mind during conception affects the well-being and ‘quality’ of the offspring. Thus says the Narada Purana:
‘The state of mind during the placing of the seed into the womb determines the type of child to be born.’ (2.27.29-30)
Illustrated Susruta Samhita - 3 Volumes (Original Text in Sanskrit, Translation in English, Explanatory Notes and Pictures)

This is confirmed by medical texts:
‘The quality of diet, actions etc of the man and woman lead to an offspring with similar qualities.’ (Sushruta Samhita Sharira Sthana 2.46)

The first Samskara thus deals with the sanctification of the womb and seed. This is known as Garbhadhana. It is performed soon after the wedding because the prescribed purpose of marriage is to secure noble and worthy progeny (and not a license to indulgence).

Timing of the Garbhadhana Samskaras:

As mentioned above, the obvious time for Garbhadhana, the placing of one’s seed inside the wife, is when she is physically prepared to conceive. This is known in the scriptures as Ritu-Kala, or the period of fertility. The proper time of conception is from the fourth to the sixteenth night after the monthly periods begin. For example, if a woman begins her periods on the 1stof August, then from the 4thof August to the 16th of August she is ready for conceiving. However, the following restrictions apply:
1). Physical contact between man and wife should take place only in the nights, and never in the daytime (Prashna Upanishad 1.13). This is a strict no-no, and anyone indulging in it becomes liable for ‘Prayashchitta’ (atonement).
2). Physical contact is to be avoided on all festivals or days of fasting (Manu Smriti 3.45; Yajnavalakya Smrti 1.79)
3). Certain days of the lunar month are also restricted. The eight and fourteenth of the lunar month and the full-moon (Purnima) and no moon (Amavasya) days.
4). Also the eleventh and thirteenth nights after the advent of the periods. In the above example, the 11thand 13thof August too would be forbidden (Manu Smriti 3.47).
Approaching one’s wife during her Ritu-Kala is not only preferable but also compulsory. The great Manu says: “One should be faithful to one’s wife, and approach her in every Ritu.’ The Parashara Smriti goes further and says: “The man who, even though he is healthy, does not go to his wife during her Ritu, is guilty of the sin of abortion” (Parashara Smriti 4.15). However, the above mentioned prohibited days do have to be respected.

The Method of Garbhadana:

The actual method of Garbhadhana has been delineated in detail in the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad. On the fourth night after menstruation, after the wife has purified herself with a bath, the man should think thus: “my wife wearing pure clothes is like Goddess Lakshmi.’ Then he should go near her, offer her Sattvik (pure) food, and reciting nine specified mantras, invite her for conception.
Later, his successive actions like embracing her etc. too are accompanied by the chanting of various mantras. Before the actual process he has to chant this mantra, touching her at different places:

‘I am the sky, you are the earth,
Come, let us unite,
Deposit the seed,
To get a child.’
During the actual process he has to chant:

Prasthanathraya Volume-V Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (The Only Edition with Shankaracharya's Commentary in the Original Sanskrit with English Translation)
‘May Lord Vishnu make your womb capable of generation,
May Lord Surya shape the child’s body,
May Lord Prajapati sprinkle seed in you,
May the Lord of Fate look after your fetus.’
(Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 6.4.20-21)

The Purpose of the Garbhadhana Samskara:

Lust and physical attraction is a characteristic common to all living beings, as a consequence of which there is intercourse, which leads to creation of offspring. This however is animal instinct. If we don’t rise from this level we are not humans, but beasts only. To gain this ascendance we need to rein our base instincts through Samskaras. The physical contact between husband and wife should be according to the rules laid down in the Shastras (ancient scriptures), ensuring that the would-be child would be marked with the spirit of spirituality.
The Garbhadhana Samskara makes us realize that the physical contact between man and wife is not a fulfillment of an animal need, but rather a yajna (sacrifice).When man and wife, bedecked in the shower of auspicious mantras (chanted by the husband), indulge in the actual physical act of creating an offspring, they indeed give rise to a child of superior disposition.
The whole purpose of the Garbhadhana Samskara is to invoke the gods to participate in the act of procreation, the human counterpart of divine creation. That the human act of procreation is of divine origin is clearly mentioned in the scriptures:
‘It was Lord Prajapati the creator who first established his seed in the lower part of a woman. A man should do the same because it is the way of the world to follow in the footsteps of those superior to us.’ (Brhadaranyaka Upanishad 6.4.2)
In comparing the married couple to the earth and the sky, the Vedas recognize the inherent nature and necessity of this union in accordance with the cosmic laws of procreation.
However, those who do not recognize the essential sacredness of the act of procreation are headed for disaster. The Brhadaranyaka Upanishad says: ‘Many Brahmins lost all their merit (punya) because they indulged in this act without knowing that it is but a sacrifice (yajna).’ (6.4.4)

Pumsavana: Samskara for Bringing about a Male Child:

After the wife has been impregnated, the scriptures advise her to live a careful and pure life:
‘A pregnant woman should not ever let her mind be depressed. She should not engage in too much hard work; she should always remain pure. She should never utter any inauspicious words; protect herself; always wear clean clothes, and do charity on auspicious days and festivals. The woman who follows these rules with diligence gives birth to a son with noble character and long life.’ (Matsya Purana 7.36-47)
As for the man, it is explicitly stated that ‘a husband should always keep his wife happy, giving her whatever she wants, because any unhappiness can have a negative effect on the baby to be born.’ (Yajnavalkya Smriti 3.79)
Traditionally, male progeny have been preferred, as the continuity of the family is maintained through male lineage, and sons are required to perform the necessary rituals that guarantee a safe sojourn for the father and mother after they leave this world.
However, daughters are also welcome and desired in addition to sons, as is evident in various texts such as the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (6.4.17) which advises that “a man who wishes to have ‘a learned daughter who will life out her full life span’ should ask his wife to “cook a special meal of rice and ghee. The couple thus becomes capable of begetting such a daughter.”

ATHARVAVEDA SAMHITA: 3 Volumes (Sanskrit Text, English Translation, Notes and Index of Verses)

 During the third month of pregnancy, the scriptures prescribe a Samskara for ensuring a male child. Known as Pumsavana, it is performed before the fetus begins to move in the womb (Yajnavalkya Smriti 1.11). This is an extremely auspicious Samskara and is mentioned by name in the Atharva Veda (6.11.1).

The woman who undergoes this Samskara fasts and bathes in preparation for it. Afterwards, she adorns herself with new clothes. Then in the night, sprouts of the banyan tree are pounded and the juice administered into her right nostril by her husband.
During the process, the following mantra from the Atharva Veda is chanted: “may a male embryo enter your womb, as an arrow into a quiver. May a son be born after ten months.” (3.23.2-4)

The Significance of the Pumsavana Samskara:

Atharvaveda (Saunaka) with The Pada-patha and Sayanacarya’s Commentary (In Five Volumes) - Sanskrit Only
Sayanacharya, the greatest commentator on the Vedas, remarks that the above verse signifies that as an arrow is placed comfortably in a quiver, so would the child live peacefully in the womb. Additionally, it is also a prayer for the child to complete his full term of ten months in the womb, thus precluding the possibility of premature birth.

This Samskara strengthens the bond between husband and wife, bound together by a common desire for male offspring. At this crucial and difficult juncture of her life, this sharing and support is psychologically highly comforting to the wife.
According to the Susruta Samhita, one of the principal texts of Ayurveda, the banyan tree has got properties of removing various kinds of troubles during pregnancy. Also, insertion of medicines into nostrils is a common practice in the Indian system of medicine. Therefore, it is evident that this Samskara is based, amongst many other things known and unknown, on the foundations of scientific medical practice.

The Simantonnayana Samskara: 

After a few months, another Samskara is performed on the expectant mother. This consists of the parting of the wife’s hair by her husband. In popular tradition, this is a rite focused on the mother, educating her while entertaining her, encouraging her to concentrate on her own well-being so as to ensure the full and healthy development of the child. The texts discuss feeding the woman auspicious foods as well as those that satisfy her special cravings, all the while entertaining her with songs, anointing and massaging her, and garlanding her with a string of unripe fruits. During the last trimester of her pregnancy following this ritual, relatives pamper and protect the mother to be, catering to her various whims. Every precaution is taken for the well-being of the fetus.
According to Ayurveda, from the fifth month of pregnancy, the formation of the mind of the child begins. So the pregnant woman is required to take utmost care to facilitate this process, avoiding any physical shock to the fetus. This is symbolically emphasized by parting her hair.
This Samskara is definitely geared to keep the woman in good cheer, and to show her that she is special. The parting and dressing of her hair by the husband are powerful rituals which affirm that he continues to be very much with her during this difficult phase, and that he finds her as attractive as ever despite the obvious physical changes in her body.
For the actual ceremony, the wife has to fast on that day. Wearing new clothes, she is seated on a soft seat, and the husband first parts her hair upwards, and then ties five fruits as an ornament around her neck. While doing so he chants the following mantra: “O woman with beautiful hair, the branches of this strong tree are laden with fruit. May you too be fruitful like it.” This mantra makes it obvious that this Samskara is also a ritual of fertility.
After doing her hair, the husband asks two singers to sing aloud stories of brave warriors. This is meant to generate a heroic atmosphere and thereby influence the unborn child, much like Arjuna’s son Abhimanyu in the Mahabharata. The latter learnt the most powerful battle stratagems while in his mother’s womb itself.
Like all auspicious occasions, this ceremony too ends with a lavish feast for Brahmins. The mother, highlighting the solemnity of the occasion, keeps silent till the stars appear in the sky. Then she touches a calf and breaks her silence by uttering ‘Bhur Bhuvah Svah.’

The Shastras operate at much deeper psychological level than we can ever imagine. By governing, nay enriching and refining our life through these Samskaras, they ensure a spiritual foundation for our material well-being. One thing has to be realized: it is not we that sustain the tradition, but rather, it is tradition that sustains us.

Warm Regards,

Nitin Kumar
Editor, Exotic India

References & Further Reading:

Bist, B.S. Yajnavalkya Smrti: Sanskrit Text, Transliteration and English Translation: Delhi, 2004

Dutt, M.N. Manusmrti (Sanskrit Text with English Translation): Delhi, 2010

Goyandka, Shri Harikrishnadas. Translation of Shankaracharya's Commentary on the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (Hindi): Gorakhpur, 2007.

Joshi, K.L. Matsya Purana (Sanskrit Text with English Translation in Two Volumes): Delhi, 2007

Joshi, Laxmanshastri. Dharma Kosa, Samskara Kanda (Six Volumes): Wai, 1983.
Khemka, Radheyshyam. Samskar Ank: Gorakhpur, 2006.
Malviya, Dr. Sudhakar. Gobhila Grhyasutram: Varanasi, 1997.
Mishra, Dr. Jagdishchandra. Paraskara Grhyasutram (With Two Sanskrit Commentaries): Varanasi, 2010.
Mittal, Sushil and Gene Thursby. The Hindu World: New Delhi, 2004. 

Oldenberg, Hermann. Paraskara Grhyasutra (English Translation): Delhi, 2005

Pandey, Rajbali. Hindu Samskaras: Delhi, 2006.
Rai, Gangasagar. Yajnavalkya Smrti with the Commentary Mitakshara: Delhi, 2007. 

Sharma. N.N. Asvalayana Grhya Sutram (With Sanskrit Commentary of Narayana): Delhi, 2010

Tachikawa, Musashi., Shoun Hino &Lalita Deodhar. Puja and Samskara: New Delhi, 2006



Understanding the Vedas: Methodology of Interpretation

The Vedas do not reveal themselves directly. They unfold their mysteries only to those who are ready to think beyond the literal meaning presented in their words. This is known in Sanskrit as ‘Paroksha’, or the implied meaning, which is presented indirectly, rather than as a direct understanding. This could be described as a somewhat circuitous and lengthy route by some. However, the Vedas do so to make us think, come to our own decisions, which indeed is the only way to fundamentally teach us anything.


The following are the reasons given generally for not being able to correctly understand the Vedas:


1). Sentences in the Vedas sometimes present an unclear meaning which creates doubts rather than resolve them.


2). Often they seem to contain absurdities which carry no meaning whatsoever.


3). There are mutually contradictory statements in the Vedas.


4). There is no use of studying the Vedas because they do not present anything new but repeat only that which is already well-known.


1). Unclear Meaning in the Vedas: 


Objection: There is a mantra in the Rig Veda which says:


‘During creation of the world, God was perhaps under, or perhaps above.’ (10.129.5)


What kind of doubtful message is this mantra propounding?


Resolution: The mantra in question does not intend to create confusion or doubt. Rather, it wishes to point out the extremely subtle nature of the Creator of the World, the Supreme God, who cannot be known with any certainty by those who are devoid of a guru and a traditional knowledge of the scriptures. While this mantra speaks metaphorically, the very next mantra spells this out clearly:

‘Who can say where this world has come from? Who knows this clearly?’ (Rig Veda 10.129.6)


The answer is provided in various Upanishads:

Isa Upanisad: With the Commentary of Sankaracarya (Shankaracharya)




‘It is far, and also near. Far for those who are ignorant, and exceedingly near for those know God to be their own Self.’ (Isha Upanishad 5)


Mundaka Upanisad: With the Commentary of Sankaracarya (Shankaracharya)



‘God is far for worldly ignorant people. However, for men of wisdom, God is near.’ (Mundaka Upanishad 3.1.7)



2). The Objection of There Being Absurd Matter in the Vedas:


Objection: The Black Yajurveda (Taittriya Samhita) says:


‘O Grass protect him’ (


‘O Razor do not hurt him.’ (


‘O Stone which presses the Soma plant, listen to me.’ (


In all these mantras, various nonliving and insentient objects are addressed as if they possess consciousness to understand what we say. How can a tuft of grass, incapable of protecting its own self protect anybody? How can a sane person address a plant, or call out to a piece of stone to hear what he is saying? Is it not absurd to confuse insentient objects with sentient ones? Is it not misleading like saying that there are two moons?


Resolution: The Vedas emphasize that everything in this world has a sentient deity identifying itself with that particular object. This is an expression of immanence of divinity. It is these presiding deities (abhimani devata) of the individual objects which are addressed to using the names of the particular objects, and not the insentient (achetan) objects themselves. The same principle is emphasized in the Brahma Sutras, the supreme text of Indian Philosophy, which says:


‘The reference is to the presiding deities’ (abhimani vyapadeshah tu) (Brahma Sutras 2.1.5)


Commenting on the above sutra, Shri Shankaracharya explains:


‘There are passages in the Vedas in which inert elements are shown to indulge in action, for example, “the clay spoke” (Shatapatha Brahmana,4), or “the water saw” (Chandogya Upanishad 6.2.3,4). Wherever such passages occur, it is not to be assumed that the elements in question have sentience, rather, it is to be understood as a reference to their presiding deities (abhimani devata).’


3). Are There Contradictions in the Vedas?


Objection: There are obviously contradictory statements in the Vedas. At one place the Black Yajurveda (Taittriya Samhita) says:


‘There is only one Rudra, and not a second.’ (


At another place it is said:


‘There are thousands and thousands of Rudras on this earth.’ (


These two mantras, because of giving contradictory statements, cannot be said to comprise any authority, just like the following sentence uttered by a person “I am dumb by birth.” If he has never spoken in his life, how can the person do so now? The same way in which dumbness and speaking are mutually contradictory, so are the above two mantras contradictory to each other.


Resolution: The above mantras contain no contradiction. In the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad (3.9.1), the following conversation takes place between two sages:


“How many gods are there?”


“Three hundred and three”


“Good! Now tell me how many gods are truly there?”


“Thirty Three”


“Good! Tell me again how many gods are truly there?”




“Tell me again how many gods are truly there”




“I want to know the true number of gods”




“Tell me again how many gods are there?”


“One and a half”


“Good! Now tell me the true number of gods”




In this revealing dialogue, the many number of gods are successively reduced to finally one God. This shows that it is the One God who assumes various forms.


Brahma Sutra Bhasya of Shankaracharya (Sanskrit Text with English Translation)  
Additionally, it is mentioned in the Mahabharata that a yogi, who has acquired supernatural powers, can divide himself into thousands of forms and indulge in various different actions at the same time, and can collect back all these forms into himself, just as the sun takes back all its rays within itself (Mahabharata 12.110.62). If this is possible for a mortal creature, what to say of great immortals like Rudra?
(Shri Shankaracharya’s Commentary on the Brahma Sutras, 1.3.27)


4). The Vedas Present Nothing New:


Objection: There is a mantra in the Black Yajurveda saying:


‘May the waters wet you’ (


This mantra refers to the wetting of the hair of the Yajmana (performer of yagya), during the hair cutting ceremony in a Soma Yagya. This mantra merely repeats what is already obvious and known. It does not give any clue to something not already known to us. What kind of authority therefore can we attach to such mantras?


Resolution: Yes, even though the partial mantra quoted above does only repeat what is obvious, the full passage gives an additional information:


‘May the waters wet you, giving you long life and fame.’


Now, we do know that before cutting them, one has to wet one’s hair. However, what we do not know is that during the Soma Yagya, when one wets one hair, the presiding deity of water graces us with long life and fame. It is this unknown fact which the Vedas acquaint us with. The mentioning of the wetting of hair is relevant for setting the context. Actually, the Vedas are the only authority for disseminating this kind of knowledge which cannot be known by any other means.




The Vedas reveal them in a graded manner. First, they create a doubt in our minds, which makes us think and ask questions. Searching for answers, we then take shelter at the feet of holy men who are not only well-versed in the traditional way of Vedic interpretation, but also living according to it. They then guide us on to the correct path of understanding and comprehending the Vedas in a manner which is comprehensive and all-inclusive. Such a method seeks to reconcile apparently conflicting statements, not discarding even a single Vedic sentence, nor preferring one section of the Vedas to the exclusion of others.


[This article is completely based on Sayana’s introduction to his commentary on the Rig Veda.]

Warm Regards,

Nitin Kumar
Editor, Exotic India




References & Further Reading:

Baba, Bhole. Shri Shankaracharya's Commentary on the Brahma Sutras with the Sub-Commentary 'Ratnaprabha' (Text and Hindi Translation), Varanasi, 2006

Bharati, Swami Paramananda. Vedanta Prabodh : Varanasi, 2010

Chaubey, Dr. Brij Bihari. Rk Sukta Mani Mala (Selected Suktas from the Rgveda Translated into Hindi): Hoshiarpur, 2010.

Date, V.H. Vedanta Explained (Samkara's Commentary on The Brahma-sutras in Two Volumes): Delhi, 1973

Gambhirananda, Swami (tr.) Brahma Sutra Bhasya of Sankaracarya: Kolkata, 2009

Goyandka, Shri Harikrishnadas. Translation of Shankaracharya's Commentary on the Eleven Upanishads (Hindi): Gorakhpur, 2006.


Keith, Arthur Berriedale. The Veda of the Black Yajus School Entitled Taittriya Sanhita (Two Volumes): Delhi, 1967.

Pathak, Jagannath. Sayana's Introduction to the Rig Veda (Sanskrit Text with Hindi Translation): Varanasi, 1995.

Peterson, Peter. Sayana's Preface to The Rg Veda Bhasya: Poona, 1974.

Rgveda-Samhita with the Commentary of Sayanacarya (In Five Volumes): Pune 1983

Satwalekar, Pt. Sripad Damodar. Rigveda Translated into Hindi (The Finest Translation Ever of the Rig Veda): Gujarat, 1993

Sivananda, Swami. Brahma Sutras: Rishikesh, 1999


Taittiriya Samhita, With the Commentary of Sayana (Nine Volumes): Pune, 2000




Understanding Dharma: The Four Authentic Sources


Whether our goal in life be material prosperity or Moksha, the way lies through Dharma. However, most of the time, let alone follow it, we are not even sure about what our Dharma is, or even how we can come to know about it.


While it is generally known that Dharma has to be understood from the scriptures, due to their almost endless variety and diversity we are unable to get a clear and unambiguous picture of Dharma. However, when we understand that the sources of Dharma have been systematically divided into four simple categories, following a certain hierarchical structure, then not only does it become easier to understand what our Dharma is in a particular situation, but also makes it possible for us to live our life in accordance with it.


It is the great Manu Smriti (2.6) which gives the most clear and unambiguous listing of the sources of Dharma, enumerating the following:


Manusmrti with the ‘Manubhasya’ of Medhatithi (Sanskrit Text with English Translation in Ten Volumes)

1). The entire Vedas (Akhila Veda)


2). The law books put together by those who not only understand the Vedas but also follow them; these are known as Smritis


3). The conduct of cultured, good people, who understand the Vedas


4). The satisfaction of one’s own conscience




The Entire Vedas

The word ‘entire’ signifies that the whole of the Vedas is a source of Dharma, i.e. there is not even a single word, consonant or vowel in the Vedas which is not a pointer to Dharma.


Objection: There are problems in accepting all parts of the Vedas as authoritative regarding Dharma. This is because the Vedas also contain descriptions of violent sacrifices like the Shyena Yagya where a hawk is sacrificed. This sacrifice is performed to overcome one’s enemies.


Sacrifices like Shyena consist of malevolent mantras and consist of extreme violence like killing. It is the Vedas themselves which stress that all acts of cruelty are to be shunned. In fact, such acts are downright Adharma, because doing non-injury to others is a fundamental maxim of Dharma.


Also, there are statements in the Vedas like: ‘Do not kill a Brahmin.’ This is an injunction against acting. How can it br said to expound ‘what should be done’, because Dharma has been defined as ‘something do be done’. There is nothing to be done here. It is rather a statement against an action.


Resolution: You have said that sacrifices like Shyena etc., because of them involving prohibited actions like violence must be Adharma. This is quite true. But even though such acts are prohibited, in certain cases it so happens that some people may have such strong animosity towards their enemies that the intensity of their emotions may not allow them to follow the general Dharma of non-violence towards all creatures. Such persons derive the pleasure of killing their enemies through the Shyena Yagya. Here we must understand the Vedas are not inducing anybody to perform this sacrifice. Rather, they are saying that if we are so much charged up inimically towards our enemy that we become blinded towards the general Dharma of non-violence, in that case our Dharma is the Shyena Yagya. It is not an unqualified instruction to everybody for performing this Yagya.


As regards the prohibitions (nishedha) mentioned in the Vedas, the acting upto prohibition consists in not ‘doing’ what is prohibited. This desisting from the prohibition is what constitutes the karma, leading to Dharma. Thus all portions of the Vedas are connected to the performance of Dharma, directly or indirectly.


The Law Books (Smritis) Put Together by Those Who Know the Vedas

Dharmasutras The Law Codes of Apastamba, Gautama, Baudhayana, and Vasistha


Assertion: The Smriti texts written by great people like Manu, Yajnavalakya, Gautama, Vasistha, Apastamba etc. are also authoritative sources of Dharma.







Objection: This cannot be correct. Isn’t it unequivocally stated that only the Vedas are the sources of Dharma? See what Jaimini says in his Purva Mimamsa Sutras, the definitive text for understanding Dharma:

‘Dharma is that which is known through injunctions in the Vedas.’ (1.1.2)


Resolution: The same Jaimini Sutras say:


‘The Smritis are authoritative because the performers of both (Vedic and Smriti) karmas are the same.’ (1.3.2)

Here Acharya Jaimini says that Smritis are authoritative because the Dharma propounded by them has always been followed since time immemorial by the same persons who have lived their life according to Vedic injunctions.


Doubt: People might have been led to perform the Smriti karmas by giving them authority mistakenly?


Answer: One man might commit such a mistake. That everybody has been deluded into this mistake, and this error has persisted since time immemorial is certainly a most extraordinary presumption on your part.

Moreover, there are many Vedic Karmas which do not find mention directly in the Vedas but are found only in the Smritis. Additionally, Smritis are totally based on the Vedas themselves. There is always a close link between what is laid down in the Smritis and that what is prescribed in the Vedas. There is generally no difference either in the people who follow them (Smritis and Vedas), or in the nature of the acts enjoined by both. Indeed, the principal criterion for a certain text being labeled authoritarian is its acceptance by persons learned in the Vedas, which certainly is the case for the Smritis.


Therefore, the only reasonable conclusion is that learned persons, who formed definite and authoritative conclusions on all important matters of Dharma, have put together these Smritis, which are but a practical compendium of injunctions scattered around in numerous Vedic texts which otherwise would have been next to impossible for ordinary mortals like us to determine. By doing this great ones like Manu have thrown open to us the gateway not only to material happiness, but also the eventual path to Moksha.


Resolution: What happens when there is an apparent contradiction between a Smriti and a sentence in the Vedas?


Resolution: Why only between Smritis and the Vedas? There are sometimes contradictory statements in the Vedas themselves. For example, in the case of the daily Agnihotra sacrifice performed by Brahmins, it is said in the Vedas:


1). Agnihotra should be performed before sunrise


2). It should be performed during sunrise


3). It should be performed during early dawn, when the sun has risen


Therefore, the Vedas prescribe three different times for the same act! Regarding this the Manu Smriti says:

‘Whenever there is conflict between two Vedic texts, it means that we have the option of performing the act in either of the ways mentioned. The Agnihotra mentioned above can be performed at any one of the three times.’ (2.14-15)


Further Doubt : What about when there is a contradiction between two Smritis? For example, the Gautam Dharma Sutra says:


‘The food into which a hair or insect has fallen is unfit for consumption’ (17.9)


While the Manu Smriti says:


‘A food that has been polluted by hair or an insect fallen into it is purified by spreading a small amount of earth over it.’ (5.125)


How to reconcile them?


Answer: In this case too, we have the option of going with either of the two maxims. Remember the golden rule of interpretation:


‘When injunctions of equal force are in conflict with each other, it is an option to act either way.’ (Gautam Dharma Sutras 1.6)


This means that whenever two Vedic sentences are in contradiction with each other, or two Smritis are in variance, then we can act either way.




‘If there is a contradiction between a Vedic sentence and Smriti, then we have to leave aside the latter and act according to the Vedic injunction only.’ (Jaimini Sutras, 1.3.3)


This is because the Vedas hold a greater force of authority than the Smritis.


The Conduct of Cultured People, Who Also Understand the Vedas


A cultured person is defined in the scriptures as having the two qualities of ‘goodness’ and ‘knowledge of the Vedas’. Such a great man is known in Sanskrit as ‘Shishtha’. When we see any action being performed by Shishthas, for which however there is no direct injunction in either the Vedas or the Smritis, then we have to accept that act too as Dharma, and follow it.


Parashurama Avatara (The Ten Incarnations of Lord Vishnu)



Objection: We cannot accept the conduct of great men as a source of Dharma because many a times we see them transgressing Dharma. For example, Parashurama cut off his own mother’s head at his father’s instructions, without even pausing to reflect for a moment on what he was about to do.






Answer: The Apastamba Dharma Sutra gives the answer to this query:


‘Such extraordinary personalities, because of their extraordinary power, do not incur any sin by their actions. However, if people of later times try to emulate them, they perish.’ (2.13.8-9)


Why? Because:


‘Men of later times are weak on all accounts. Hence they should not try to emulate the transgressions indulged in by great people.’ (Gautam Dharma Sutra 1.4)


In the Shrimad Bhagavatam, when King Parikshit expresses his reservations on Krishna’s Rasa Lila with the gopis, this is what the great Shukadeva Ji says:

Maharasa‘Those with extraordinary powers are sometimes seen performing exceptional deeds of valor transgressing Dharma. However, such acts do not all affect such luminous personalities, just like the fire which consumes all that is offered into it but is not tainted by any of it. Those who do not possess such powers should not even think of doing such deeds. If they do foolishly jump into such acts, they are destroyed.’





Shiva Relieving the People From the World of Poison



‘Lord Shiva drank the deadliest poison easily. However, if anybody else did the same, he would be reduced to ashes. King Parikshit! Such extraordinary individuals are egoless. They expect no gain from any meritorious action, nor do they experience any loss from a transgression. They are beyond all duality.’ (10.33.30-31)






The Innermost Satisfaction of One’s Own Conscience (Atmanah Tushti)

In a particular situation, if there is an absence of any injunction in the Vedas or Smritis, and there is also no precedent of the conduct of ‘Shishthas’ regarding the same, in that case we are to take recourse to that action which appeals to the innermost depths of our conscience.




We thus realize that the primary source of Dharma are the Vedas (Shruti). Next in terms of hierarchy are the Smriti texts, which are scrupulously based on the Vedas. Where there is neither Shruti nor Smriti, there we can follow the conduct of great men, albeit with caution, as described above. Lastly, where there is no other authority on Dharma available, in such a situation we can take the innermost satisfaction of our own conscience as a guide. However, this is the weakest source of Dharma out of the four.

Warm Regards,

Nitin Kumar
Editor, Exotic India




References & Further Reading:

Dave, J.H. Manu Smriti with Nine Commentaries: Bombay, 1975.

Jha Ganganath. Manusmrti with the 'Manubhasya' of Medhatithi (Sanskrit Text with English Translation in Ten Volumes): New Delhi, 1999


Joshi, Laxmanshastri. Dharmakosa (Volume V): Wai, 1988.


Kaundinnayana, Shivaraj Acharya. Manu Smriti, Hindi Translation with the Commentary of Kulluka Bhatta: Varanasi, 2007.


Musalgaonkar, Dr. Gajanan Shastri. Sabar Bhasyam with Hindi Translation: Varanasi, 2004.


Pandey, Dr. Umesa Chandra. The Apastamba Dharma Sutra with the Commentary of Haradatta Misra: Varanasi, 2006.


Pandey, Dr. Umesa Chandra. The Gautama Dharma Sutra with the Sanskrit Commentary Mitaksara Commentary of Vijnanesvara: Delhi, 2007.


Rai, Dr. Ganga Sagar. Yajnavalkya Smrti with the Mitaksara Commentary of Vijnanesvara: Delhi, 2007.

Sandal, Mohan Lal (tr.). Mimamsa Sutras of Jaimini (Two Volumes): Delhi, 1980.


Saraswati, Swami Akhandananda (tr). Shrimad Bhagavata Purana (2 Volumes): Gorakhpur, 2004.


Shastri, Acharya Udyavir Shastri. Mimamsa Darshanam, Commentary on the Mimamsa Sutras of Jaimini: Delhi, 2008.



Dharma: The Only Remedy for Modern Man


Except when in sleep, we are always in ceaseless activity. No one spends even a single moment without doing some action or the other (Gita 3.5). This action may be physical or mental. Why do we act like this even without a moment’s respite? If we closely watch ourselves, we can see our purpose: we are seeking happiness. We sit erect for happiness, change our posture for happiness, we eat for happiness, we fast for happiness, we marry or we are celibate, we seek company or solitude, all for happiness. In this way, happiness is the general goal of all activity and inactivity.


Nevertheless, our activities towards this goal can be classified into three types:


1). To Avoid Grief (Taapah).


Griefs are of three types:


a). Adhyatmika: Within ourselves


b). Adhibhoutika: Grief caused by others


c). Adhidaivika: Due to natural causes like hot summers or cold winters.


Manah Shanti – The Peace We Seek (Shanti Mantras From the Upanishads) (MP3)




The peace obtained by eliminating these three griefs is known as ‘Shanti’. That is why we say Shanti Shanti Shanti three times.







2). The second type of activity is done to acquire what is good for us, like health and affluence. This is called Yoga.

Foundations of Dharma3). The third type of activity is to retain what we already have. This is called as Kshema. This third aspect should never be missed sight of. We generally notice in history that almost all civilizations acquire a lot of material affluence in the beginning and after sometime they go into oblivion. This is because affluence begets vices like profane sensuousness, arrogance and laziness and eventually the balance in life is lost. It is easier to retain equanimity in poverty than prosperity. Therefore one should know how to retain the good things after acquiring them once. Success in this needs the practice of spiritual moral and ethical values in the midst of affluence. In other words, Dharma is the only way to retain all that is good in our lives.


Doubt: “I am scrupulously practicing all Dharmic Values. I also worship God in total faith exactly in the way taught to me by pious Brahmins. However, I am not getting success. I am worried. Why so? Is it my fate?"


Reply: Always remember that the Vedic philosophy is not fatalistic. The reason for not getting success is that our own previous Karma is stronger. Our present meritorious Karma should first annul our previous Karma (Prarabdha), and then exceed it quantitatively for getting success. Therefore, we should not despair; only improve the quality and quantity of our present Karma. There is no use in worrying.


Query: “I am finding it difficult to avoid worry and work efficiently."


Resolution: In order to give up worry, we should know its origin. Consider for example a lawyer or a doctor we employ to solve our problem. See the difference between us and him. While he works to solve our problem without worrying, we on the other hand only worry without working to solve the problem. This is the situation even if you are yourself a doctor. You employ a doctor to solve your problem and just sit only to worry about the problem. Why? You have an infatuated attachment to the people involved in the problem; but he does not have. So attachment is the cause of worry, which in turn disturbs our thinking. We very well know that it is only the work based on well thought plan that solves problems and not our worry. So, we should check and temper our attachment to our kith and kin with effort. Faith in rebirth alone can help us in this. (See Exotic India Article of the Month July 2011)


Question: “My difficulty is different. I am not able to decide what is right or wrong. Only later, the success or the failure in my action shows what was right or wrong. How can I know it beforehand to avoid failure?"


Answer: This is a most serious issue in life. Actually, human intelligence can never decide what is right or wrong. Notice that the success of any action depends not only on visible parameters but also invisible ones like previous Karma and God. While the latter ones are totally out of reach of human intelligence because of being invisible, the former ones too are partly out of our reach because they are generally too many. Normally people are skeptical or often even derisive about the invisible aspects. They look at some of the visible secular aspects and decide that something is right or wrong by inferential logic (Anumana). However, they too can never be sure enough to predict the outcome of any particular Karma with surety.


Why Do We Get Into Jams?


The fundamental requirement is to actually understand the conditions under which right and wrong get defined. Let’s start this with an analysis. Suppose you are asked the following:


“What is it that you want to do today?"


You may reply: ‘I have to go to pay the electricity bill; otherwise the power will be disconnected tomorrow.’

Of course paying the electricity bill is not the only job you will do today. You will do many other things also. But you will adjust everything else to this main purpose. You will say that anything that helps you pay the bill is right and anything that hinders it is wrong. Suppose you are then asked:


“What is it that you want to do in the next five years?"


To this you may reply:


‘I am disgusted of living in rented houses for the last 30 years. I want to build my own house.’


With this resolve, you cut down your expenses wherever possible. You work overtime in your office to earn more. For you, anything that helps you in building the house is right and anything that hinders it is wrong. This means that right and wrong are decided only relative to a desideratum. This can also be established from the reverse direction. Suppose you are asked:


“What is that you want to do in your life?"


Has anyone an answer? No. Why? Because people seldom have any specific goal for the life as a whole. That is why there is no direction in our activities. We do not have anything specifically good or bad. We go on doing whatever occurs to our mind without thinking either of the future or of the past. We are carried by the slogans of the times and move in the turbulent waters of life in a rudderless boat. Sooner or later, we get caught in a whirlpool or stranded in a quagmire. We do not know how to escape from there. We only end up cursing what we think is the reason for our predicament.


Who Can Help Us Out


Who can get us out of that jam? Obviously not ourselves; had we known how to get out of it, we would have known why we got into it and therefore we would not have got into it at all. So, who can bail us out? Those who can bail us out should have the following qualifications:


1). They should know the whirlpools, the high currents and quagmires of life, but be above them.


2). They should know why people get into them and how they can get out of them.


3). They should have sympathy and concern for people like us caught in the whirlpool of life.


A Glimpse on 101 Ancient Rishis


Who are such people who can help us? They are the Rishis (ancient sages) such as Manu, Yajnavalkya etc. They suggest the methods of escape. They give different instructions for different people caught in different situations. They are broad-minded and melt with compassion as soon as they see someone in distress. They have the panoramic vision of life which we lack. Therefore, only they can say what is right or wrong for each one of us stuck in different situations.





The Criterion for Deciding Right and Wrong


Anand UllasHere we discuss the criterion on which the Rishis delineate an individual’s Dharma. As noted above, we do not have a specified goal for our life. The Rishis first prescribe such a goal for our life as a whole, which is to keep a constant bliss of happiness (Ananda) flowing to us. This unintermittent flow of happiness is known as Moksha. It is important to notice that Moksha is not something different from what we are already struggling for every moment of our life, namely happiness. However, compared to this temporary short-lived happiness, the ancient sages want to give us a state of pleasure which is constant and never ending.


The Unambiguous and Infallible Definition of Dharma

Since Moksha is the ultimate goal of life, we now have the criterion for deciding what is right and wrong, i.e. Dharma and Adharma. An action which helps us or anyone else move towards Moksha is Dharma, and an action, which hinders our or anyone else’s movement towards Moksha is Adharma. Scrupulously following Dharma, we will attain the state of perennial happiness – Moksha - sooner or later.



Objection: How fair is it to fix the difficult goal of Moksha as the aim for everybody’s life?


Resolution: No. The scriptures do no force anyone to have Moksha as the aim of his or her life. They only point to us that sometime or the other, in this birth or perhaps a million births later, life itself will force us to work for that aim. The reason is this: Material pleasure is polluted. It is not only momentary, but also generally coupled with pain like causing disease etc. So, it causes disillusionment in due course, if not direct sorrow. Therefore, one’s attention would surely turn to thinking about a happiness that is unpolluted with any of these shortcomings. Of course, to a large extent, the veracity of this statement can be verified even in this life. Everyone enjoys material pleasures with total abandon in youth, but develops remorse in old age for what happened. So we may not want Moksha as our aim now, but we will surely want it later.


Question: “What would be my Dharma if I am interested only in material happiness and do not adopt Moksha as my immediate aim?"


Answer: You can certainly enjoy material happiness, but it should be within the ambit of Dharma. If you resort to Adharma in order to satisfy your desire, i.e. Kama – it will surely end up in causing utter sorrow definitely for you and perhaps for others too. That is why the Vedas refer to two types of Kama: One within the brackets of Dharma and Moksha and another which falls outside. Here, Moksha is only the distant aim indicated by the scriptures and not your immediate interest. However you have Shraddha (faith) in the Vedas. Therefore for you the first type of Kama is a Purushartha, i.e. something to be sought after by every common man. But the Kama which lies outside the brackets of Dharma and Moksha is to be abjured. For example, conjugal pleasure with your life-long partner is Dharma because while it satisfies our natural urges born out of Samskara, it does not put us way from Moksha. In fact, a joint pious life would even move both of you towards Moksha, even though you may not be aspiring for it immediately. On the other hand, the same pleasure out of wedlock is Adharma. Ultimately it lands you and your kin in grief.


Conclusion: Dharma for All of Us


Dharma ensures that we do enjoy the pleasures of family life, however they become incidental for us and not our primary concern. Remember that following Dharma automatically ensures our material happiness also. When there are problems in life we should remember the law of Karma and face them with fortitude. Some salient features of the householder’s Dharma, as propounded in the scriptures are:


Work hard and earn well by honest means only. Do Dana (charity) to the best of our ability. Never deviate from righteous conduct. Never deviate from the daily Puja. Never consume food without first offering it to God. Be disciplined in our food habits. Take physical exercise and keep off disease. It is our duty to look after our parents and keep them happy with our conduct. One should never stop studying and gaining knowledge – both secular and spiritual. Share it with your children. Give them a good Samskara. Never praise them when they achieve anything; just hug them silently and bless. This will galvanize them to achieve more. Praising will only make them egoistical which, in turn, stunts their growth. Respect your wife and do not enjoy anything without her. Let her be an inseparable part of all your religious activities. Remember: Dharma Dharma Dharma. Dharma helps us avoid grief. Dharma gets us what is good for us. And finally, Dharma helps us protect and retain what we already have.


This article is based almost entirely on the teachings of Param Pujya Swami Paramanand Bharati Ji. However, any errors are entirely the author's own.

Warm Regards,

Nitin Kumar
Editor, Exotic India




References & Further Reading:

Bharati, Swami Paramananda. Foundations of Dharma: Bangalore, 2008




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