Smritis - not Independent Works
There is a wrong impression about the dharmasastras even among those who treat them with respect. They think that the rules and duties of the Smrtis were formulated by their authors on their own. They call these authors "lawgivers" who, in their opinion, laid down "laws" that reflect their own views. Further they think that the dharmasastras were composed in the same way as our Constitution. Such a view give rise to another idea. We keep amending the Constitution whenever we find that it stands in the way of certain measures being introduced. It is asked, on the same logic, why the dharmasastras too should not be changed according to the beliefs and ideas of the present times.
People ask me :"Why should not the sastras be changed to suit the times? The government changes its laws, does it not? " They sing my praises and tell me: "You are like the sages, the authors of the Smrtis. If only you make up your mind you can change the Smrtis to suit our times. " In effect what they respectfully suggest is this: "Please change the sastras as we would like them to be changed. "
If the Smrtis really represent the views of the authors there is nothing wrong in what these people think about them and about what they want me to do about them. But those who want the dharmasastras changed do not see to know that they (the Smrtis) do not reflect the view of the sages who composed them. What the authors of the Smrtis have done is to present us in an orderly fashion what is already contained in the Vedas. The Vedic word cannot and must not be changed at any time and on any account. The same applies to the rules and laws laid down in the Smrtis.
I may not be capable enough, or worthy enough, to persuade you to live according to the sastras. But changing them is certainly not my function. I have been installed here (in the Matha) to make people perform their duties and rites. That is according to the command of the Acarya. I do not possess the authority to revise the sastras according to what is felt to be convenient to the present times or what is in keeping with the new beliefs.
If the sages had created the Smrtis on their own, to represent their own views, there would be no compulsion to accept them. If the Smrtis are not needed we could reject them outright. If their contents are not based on the Vedas and include rules and directions that reflect the views of the authors, then we can do without them. In this way so many people have written down so much about so many things. We too may write down whatever comes to our mind. The Smrtis must be looked upon as an authority for today and tomorrow and for all time because they are founded on the Vedas. But what is the proof for this claim?
The Source of Smritis is the Vedas
The best testimony to the claim that the Smrtis are founded on the Vedas is provided by the words of mahakavi(great poet). Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhva, the founders of our religio-philosophical systems, proclaim that our dharmasastras are in accord with the Vedas. But they had, each of them, a doctrine to establish. Besides they had also the goal before them of preserving the tradition and they would not naturally go against it. With a poet it is different. He has no doctrine to establish, no belief to promote. He speaks what he feels to be the truth since he does not have to lend his support to any particular concept or system.
The greatest of the mahakavis, Kalidasa, makes a reference to the Smrtis in his Raghuvamsam.
As all of you know, Dasaratha was the father of Rama. Dasaratha's father was Aja and Aja's father was Raghu. Rama was named Raghurama after his great-grandfather. We do not often come across "Dasarathi" among the names of Rama. Usually one is named after one's grandfather. But Rama did not take the name of Aja and is better known after his great-grandfather. Raghu had such fame and glory. The name Raghava also means one belonging to the family of Raghu.
Raghu's father was Dilipa. For long he did not have a son. The guru of Dilipa's family was Vasistha. Dilipa approached him and said to him: "Svamin, I don't have a child. Bless me that my family will continue and prosper. " Vasistha had a cow called Nandini, the daughter of Kamadhenu. The sage asked the king to look after the cow and worship her with faith. He blessed Dilipa thus: "A son will be born to you. " Think of it, a king was asked to look after the cow. How humble he must have been.
Dilipa took charge of the cow right away. Like a cowherd he took Nandini to the forest, grazed her, bathed her and looked after with devotion. He carried a bow with just one arrow to protect her from wild beasts. He scratched the cow, stopped on the way if she stopped, lay down if she lay down, walked if she walked. If we sit down our shadow too will seem to sit down, if we stand up so too our shadow will seem to stand up, if we run then too our shadow will seem to run. "Chayeva tam bhupatiranvagacchat, ", says Kalidasa. Dilipa followed the cow like a shadow.
Every day, as Dilipa took the cow to graze, his wife Sudhaksina would follow him to some distance and then return home. Very religiously she would send her husband out with Nandini and wait in the evening for them to return from the forest. Sudhaksina kept caring for Dilipa and, if the king followed Nandini like a shadow, she too followed him in turn like a shadow.
The duties of a Pativrata are described by Janaka during the marriage of his daughter Sita to Rama. He says to Rama: "My child Sita will follow you like a shadow (chayevanugata)". This is in Valmiki Ramayana. Kalidasa retells the story of Rama that Valmiki has told. He speaks about Lava and Kusa who came after Rama and also about Rama's predecessors. And he gives to his great poetical work the title of Raghuvamsam after Rama's great-grandfather Raghu of unsurpassed fame. Verily, to speak of this family is to sanctify one's speech.
In the passage describing how Sudhaksina followed Dilipa as he goes grazing the cow, the poet makes a reference to the sages creating the Smrtis. He does so not in pursuance of any doctrine, not also after any deliberation. He speaks spontaneously about the Smrtis, unpremeditatedly. The poet describes how Sudhaksina follows the cow to some distance. Nandini is in the front and Sudhaksina walks behind. The cow raises a little dust with her hoofs and the queen goes some distance looking at the hollowed dust. Kalidasa excels all other poets in similes. Each poet has some distinction or other. There is a saying: "Upama Kalidasasya" (For similes Kalidasa-Kalidasa excels in similes). It is in the context of Sudhaksina following Nandini that the poet brings in the simile of the queen following the cow like the Smrtis following the Vedas.
Apamsulanam dhuri kirtaniya
-Raghuvamsam, 2. 2
"Pamsu" means dust. As Nandini goes grazing, dust is raised. "Khura" is hoof. "Khuranyasa" means placing of the hoof and "pavitra pamsum" the sacred dust.
The dust raised by the cow is particularly sacred. It sanctifies any place. Such is the case even with the dust raised by an ordinary cow, not to speak of the so sacred Nandini, Kamadhenu's daughter. Sudhaksina is a woman of spotless character - there is not a speck of dust on it - and such a woman has now cow dust on her. "Apamsu" means free of dust and refers to Sudhaksina of unblemished character. She goes step by step along the hollowed path following the dust raised by the hoofs of the cow. How? Like the Smrtis composed by the sages that follow the Vedas - "Sruterivartham Smrtiranvagacchat".
"Anvagacchat" = (she) followed. Here the upamana (that with which a comparison is made) for the cow is Sruti or the Vedas. The "hoof steps" of the cow are to be taken as the meaning of the Vedas.
So Sudhaksina followed in the "hoof steps" of Nandini like the Smrtis following the meaning of the Vedas. Also, like the Smrtis not going in the entire way with the Vedas, she did not go all the distance with the cow. The idea is that the Smrtis do not repeat all that is said in the Vedas. They are "notes from memory", but they truthfully follow the Vedas in their meaning. They do not, of course, represent all thousands of mantras of the scriptures but, all the same, they tell us how to make use of the Vedas.
"Sudhaksina with her pure antah-karana followed her husband and, without deviating even a little, walked along the path of the dust raised by Nandini's hoofs". Having said so much, Kalidasa thought he must bring in a good simile for Sudhaksina following the cow dust and it occurred to him in a flash: "Like the Smrtis following faithfully the meaning of the Vedas. "
The upamana is always superior to the upameya. If a face is compared to the lotus or the moon, the lotus or the moon must be more beautiful than the face. Here Sudhaksina, of matchless purity of character, following her husband Dilipa is likened to the Smrtis closely following the Vedas. No better authority is needed to support the view that the Smrtis are in accord with the Vedas
Sruti-Smriti - Srauta-Smarta
To discriminate between Sruti and Smrti is not correct. Sruti, Smrti and the Puranas, all three belong to the same tradition. Sankara is said to be the abode of the three("Sruti-Smrti-Purananam alayam"). If the three were at variance with one another how can they exist in harmony in the same person?
Those who follow the tradition of Acarya are called "Smartas". The word "Smarta" literally means one who adheres to the Smrtis. To say that the Acarya descended to earth to uphold the Vedas and that those who follow his path are Smartas implies that the Vedas and Smrtis are one.
The rites that are not explicitly mentioned in the Vedas but are dealt with in the Smrtis are called Smarta karmas and those that are explicitly mentioned are called Srauta karmas. This does not mean that the Smarta rites are in anyway inferior to Srauta. The householder's Smarta works include such an important rite as aupasana; equally important are the domestic rites like sraddha and the seven pakayajnas. Vedic mantras are chanted in all these. Those who composed the Smrtis and laid down the performance of such rites must have been fully aware of the spirit of the Vedas. It is not proper to think that the Smrtis are inferior to the Vedas or that the Puranas are inferior to the Smrtis. We must learn to take an integrated view of all of them.
In Puranas the Vedic truths are illustrated in the form of stories. The Smrtis bring the Vedic dharmas and karmas in the form of instruction and injunctions and tell us how the rites are to be performed.
The sages had intuitive knowledge of the Vedas. As mentioned so often they did not compose them - they saw them. There was no intellectual effort on their part in this. "Srutim pasyanti munayah" (The sages see the Vedas). They used their intelligence to examine what they saw and, remembering it all, derived from the Vedas the duties and rites for various castes. This they gave us in a codified form called Smrti. As I said before "Smrti" means memory. For the sages the Vedas constituted an experience that just happened to them. The Smrtis or the dharmasastras are derived from their memory of it. "Samskara-janyam jnanam Smrtih", the Nyaya-sastra define Smrti thus. It means that Smrti is knowledge derived from Samskara. Here "Samskara" means "atindriya". But what exactly is it?
We go to Kasi and worship at the temple of Visvanatha there. Many days after our return home, we go to the local temple which has a sanctum of "Kasi Visvanatha". At once we remember the experience we had of seeing the deity Visvanatha at Kasi. In between for many days, that is between our visit to Kasi and to the local temple, we had no memory of this deity. We come across so many people every day but we hardly think of them later. But, when we happen to see them subsequently, we tell ourselves: "Ah, we must have seen them before somewhere. " In between there was no memory of the people. This "in between state" is called "samskara" or "atindriya". In that state there is an impression of our experience within us. When this impression manifests itself as an "expression" we have "Smrti" or memory. All told, Smrti is the result of our experience and samskara an impression of that experience within us.
The experience constituted by the Vedas and manifested as the memory is the Smrti or Dharmasastra. Smrti does not become Smrti without its Vedic root. Are not the Vedas the"experience" that is the source of the Smrtis? Without such a source the name suggesting "notes of memory" would be meaningless. How can we describe as notes of remembrance" anything that is new and is not founded on something prior to it?
There is no second opinion regarding the fact that what is called "Srauta"(directly mentioned in the Vedas) is wholly authoritative. But what is not directly mentioned in Sruti but included in Smrti - that is Smarta - is not to be taken to be less authoritative. Smarta never contradicts Srauta. In some matters Smritis may go beyond Sruti, but that too is fully authoritative being based on the inner spirit of Sruti. Just as the Sthala Puranas fill in the gaps in the major Puranas and the epics, so the Smrtis speak of what is left out in the Vedas. We use terms "Sruti pramana" and "Smrti pramana"(the authority of the Vedas and the authority of the Smrtis), but making such a distinction does not mean that we should treat Sruti and Smrti different or that we should think that the one is inferior to the other.
Hindu Dharma: The Forty Samskaras
I used the word "samskara" above [in the previous chapter - of part Fifteen ]. I also explained its meaning according to the Tarka-sastra(science of logic) as "impression on memory". But this is not how the word is generally understood. "Sam(s)"=well; "kara"=making. "Samskara" means making something good, refining or purifying it.
The dharmasasthras deal with such samskaras as purify a man so as to make him fit to be united with the Paramathman. From the dharmasastras we know in detail the forty samskaras that are based on the Kalpa-sutras and that are to be performed by a man during his life's journey
Paradise or the Path of Atmajnana ?
Our worldly existence is a mixture of joys and sorrows. Some experience more joy than sorrow and some more sorrow. Then there may be a rare individual here or there who can control his mind and keep smiling even in the midst of sorrow. On the other hand, we do see a quite a number of people who have much to be happy about but who keep a long face. If a man lacks for something it means he is unhappy.
All creatures long for everlasting happiness. There are two abodes of eternal happiness. One is devaloga, the world of celestials or paradise, the other is Atmajnana, the state of awareness of the Self. The Atman, the Self is bliss; it is the Brahman. To realise this truth is to attain everlasting blessedness. But this state, this joy supreme, is not experienced by the mind or the senses. It is the highest, the most exalted state and it transcends the senses and the mind; it is a state in which a man becomes aware that "the body is not I, the intelligence is not I, the consciousness is not I".
Paradise is the place where happiness is always experienced by the mind and the senses. Music and dance - music of the gandharvas, dance by Rambha and Menaka - Kalpaka, the tree that grants all wishes, Kamadhenu, the cow that grants all wishes, the garden known as Nandana: devaloka means all these. It is indeed a playground and there it is always joy. But a difference exists between the joy known in paradise and the bliss experienced by the knower of the Self. It is true that there is eternal happiness in paradise but not so far the man who goes there because he will not be a permanent resident of it. If he has earned a good ideal of merit he will be able to reside there until he is reborn. When he has enjoyed the fruits of his meritorious actions, the Lord will send him back to earth. It is true that there are accounts in the Puranas of mortals who earn a great ideal of merit and become gods themselves to reside in the celestial world. But the same Puranas also tell us that the gods themselves are not permanent denizens of paradise. There are stories in these texts of the celestials being hounded out of paradise by demons like Surapadma and Mahisasura and of Indra, their king, himself being pushed down to earth to undergo suffering there.
On a hypothetical basis, eternal happiness may be ours in svarga or paradise. But there is no instance of anyone having actually lived there permanently nor does it seem possible for anyone to do so.
Happiness gained through the senses is derived from external objects. These cannot be ours for all time. There were occasions when Indra had to suffer all by himself when he lost everything, including Kamadhenu, the Kalpaka tree, Airavata and even Indrani. So the happiness associated with paradise, which is dependent on external objects, can never be enduring. "Sadananda" or eternal bliss is for him who has neither anything external nor internal and who dwells in his Self as a sthita-prajna ( a man of steady wisdom) as explained by the Lord in the Gita, one who remains nailed to his Self. The joy experienced by Indra is but a droplet of the vast ocean of Atmic bliss, so says the Acarya in his Manisa Pancakam: "Yad Saukhyambudilesalesata ime Sakradayo nirvrtah".
According to Upanisads you will have external bliss if the senses and the mind are removed in the same way as you draw off the rib from a stalk of corn and remain just the Atman. It needs great courage to pluck out the body and the senses realising that " I am not the body. Its joys and sorrows are not mine". Such courage is not earned without inner purity. Conduct of religious rituals is meant for this, for cittasuddhi ( purity of the consciousness ). There are forty samskaras to refine a man with Vedic mantras and to involve him in the rites associated with those mantras. These are the first steps towards the indissoluble union of the individual self with the Absolute - it is Advaitic mukti, non - dualistic release.
We must strive to become inwardly pure by the performance of works. Then, with the inner organs ( antah - karana ) also cleansed, we must mediate on the Self and become one with It. This is the concept of Sankara. If a man has such a goal before him and keeps performing rituals throughout ( even without becoming a sannyasin ) he goes to Brahmaloka on death. During the great deluge when Brahma is absorbed in the Brahman he too attains non - dualistic liberation, so says Sankara. But if a man performs rituals for the sake of rituals without keeping before him the goal of oneness with the Brahman he will be rewarded with paradise, but not the paradise that is eternal. Though the stay be brief he will enjoy greater happiness there than on earth. It is samskaras that earn a man heaven
Three Types of Worlds
We speak of three worlds: devaloka ( world of the celestials ), manusyaloka ( this world of ours ), and naraka ( hell ). The first has nothing but pleasure; in the second it is a mixture of happiness and sorrow; and in the third there is nothing but pain and sorrow. According to our sastras a man who has committed terrible sins goes through torments of hell before taking lowly birth again in this world.
Our sastras also have it that this world of ours is better than the others. How? From here we may make the journey to any other world. If a man is condemned to hell he cannot escape from it and will be forced to stay there until he has paid for his sins. If we go to paradise we cannot extend our stay there however much we may wish to do so. When the fruits of our meritorious acts are executed we will have to tumble down to earth. It is only here that we have some freedom and we may earn merit or demerit by our actions. We may use our hands to perform puja - or we may use them to hurt others. We may sing the praises of Isvara - or we may speak ill of people. We have the power to do good and evil in this world. For each of our faculties of action ( karmendriya ) God has given us this twin capacity.
There is not this kind of freedom in the other worlds. Is a cow capable of earning merit? The devas are like cows. So far as the cow is concerned there is neither merit nor sin in its life. On this earth (bhuloka) only those like us human beings can win liberation - we can do so through good actions. Other worlds are like hotels where the denizens eat what we harvest here. There you may enjoy the fruits you have merited here by your actions in proportion to the punya you have earned or the papa you have piled up. Our world alone is karmabhumi (world of works). And even in this world only human beings are capable of thinking and acting on their own. All other creatures live by instinct. Those who live in the other worlds have no right for karma.
A man's actions, his works, together with his character, determine his passage to other worlds. Only in this karmabhumi can we perfect our character by performing virtuous acts and thus qualify to go to another world.
There is a proper time and a proper place for the conduct of a religious rite. Do you think a sraddha can be performed at midnight? There is a right time for it as well as a proper place. It is in India particularly, that is Bharatavarsa, the Vedic karma must be performed, but even in this land it is not permitted during certain periods. It has to be carried out in hallowed places and during sanctified hours
Meaning of Samskara
What is karma? It means work. Suppose you have to make a vesti (dhoti). There are a number of processes, a number of works for it. The cotton has to be gathered from the field; it has to be cleaned and spun into yarn; then the yarn has to be woven into cloth and dyed. In the same way a man has to be made a knower of the Atman through a series of rituals. Karma has to be performed in such a way as to purify him both outwardly and inwardly. Such a karma is called samskara.
That which removes the impurities from an object, takes away all the bad or evil elements, and imparts good qualities to it is samskara. For instance, we talk of "kesa-samskara". It means shaving or delousing and applying oil to the hair. Samskara is like combing the hair and applying oil to it. Certain types of samskara are conducted on land. First the land is allowed to dry in the sun, then it is ploughed and irrigated. Seeds, say, of paddy, are sown and after they sprout the seedlings are transplanted. The weeds are removed, the field irrigated again and the excess water drained off. When the corn is ripe, the crop is harvested, threshed and the chaff winnowed. The paddy has to be "seasoned" and pounded before the rice is used.
How many different steps are there in making cotton into a vesti. The weaver has to take great care that the yarn does not get tangled. Our Self is in a tangle caused by the senses. It has to be untangled and made eternally happy. There are many obstacles to accomplishing this. Now and then we experience some happiness in the midst of all our trouble and suffering. This happiness must be made to endure for ever. For that we must go to Brahmaloka. In the presence of Isvara there will be no sorrow. After the great deluge we will become one with him. We have to prepare ourselves now itself towards that end.
The sages have laid down the forty samskaras and the eight "Atmagunas " for this purpose.
When we use the term " Atmaguna " or speak about the Atman being rendered pure, there is a suggestion that we are dualists ( Dvaitins ) who hold that the individual self is different from the Paramatman. In truth there is only one Atman, one Self, and there is no difference between the jivatman or individual self and the Parabrahman. The Self is ever pure. So it is wrong to believe that it has to be purified by the samskaras. It is nirguna, unconditioned and without attributes. So it is also wrong to speak of what are called Atmagunas, since the Atman has truly no gunas or qualities or attributes.
However in practice, owing to Maya we do not realise that we are the Atman without qualities. It is the Self perceived in our dualistic life that is referred to when we speak of samskaras and it is full of impurities that have to be removed through the samskaras. It has also durgunas or bad qualities which have to be removed by cultivating the eight good qualities. Once we succeed in this, there will be neither any samskara nor any guna. We will transcend all gunas, all qualities, including the highest of them, sattvaguna. Finally there will be only the Self without any karma, without any gunas and without any distinction between the jivatman and the Paramatman. But to come to this state we have to go through the process of samskaras and cultivate the eight Atmagunas.
If we wish to emulate the example of the noble character of the Puranas, we will have to contend against various obstacles like our attachments and desires, our feelings of hatred and fear. We will have to be disciplined through works and we will have to observe the rules about our daily routine, about how we should sit and stand and eat and dress. In this way we will rein in our mind, subdue our passions and ego, and our feelings of anger, hatred, fear and sorrow will gradually wither away. The samskaras and Atmagunas are interconnected. They will help us to acquire the qualities of the noble Puranic characters whose stories we listen to or read
The Eight Qualities
The eight gunas or qualities are : daya, ksanti, anasuya, sauca, anayasa, mangala, akarpanya, asprha.
"Daya" implies love for all creatures, such love being the very fulfilment of life. There is indeed no greater happiness than that derived by loving others. Daya is the backbone of all qualities.
"Ksanti" is patience. One kind of ksanti is patiently suffering disease, poverty, misfortune and so on. The second is forgiveness and it implies loving a a person even if he causes us pain and trouble.
"Anasuya" you know is the name of the sage Atri's wife. She was utterly free from jealousy : that is how she got the name which means non-jealousy. Heart-burning caused by another man's prosperity or status is jealousy. We ought to have love and compassion for all and ought to be patient and forgiving even towards those who do us wrong. We must not envy people their higher status even if they be less deserving of it than we are and, at the same time, must be mature enough to regard their better position as the reward they earned by doing good in their previous life.
"Sauca" is derived from "suci", meaning cleanliness. Purity is to be maintained in all matters such as bathing, dress, food. There is a saying often quoted even by the unlettered: "Cleanliness makes you happy and it even appeases your hunger". To see a clean person is to feel ourselves clean.
In Manu's listing of dharmas that are applicable to all, ahimsa or non-violence comes first, followed by satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-covetousness; non-stealing is the direct meaning), sauca (cleanliness) and indriya-nigraha (subduing the senses or even obliterating them).
The fifth Atmaguna is "anayasa". It is the opposite of "ayasa" which denotes effort, exertion, etc. Anayasa means to have a feeling of lightness, to take things easy. One must not keep a long face, wear a scowl or keep lamenting one's hardships. If you lose your cool you will be a burden to yourself as well as to others. Anayasa is a great virtue. In many of our rituals there is much bodily exertion. When we perform a sraddha we have to remain without food until 2 or 3 in the afternoon. There is no end to the physical effort we have to put in to conduct a sacrifice. Here anayasa means not to feel any mental strain. Obstacles, inevitable to any work or enterprise, must not cause you any mental strain. You must not feel any duty to be a burden and must develop the attitude that everything happens according to the will of the Lord. What do we mean when we remark that the musician we listened to yesterday touched the "tara-sthayi" so effortlessly? Does it mean that he performed a difficult musical exercise with ease? Similarly, we must learn to make light of all the hardships that we encounter in life.
What is "mangala", the sixth guna? Well, "mangala" is mangala. There is mangala or an auspicious air about happiness that is characterised by dignity and purity. One must be cheerful all the time and not keep growling at people on the slightest pretext. This itself is extremely helpful, to radiate happiness wherever we go and exude auspiciousness. It is better than making lavish gifts and throwing money about.
To do a job with a feeling of lightness is anayasa. To be light ourselves, creating joy wherever we go, is mangala. We must be like a lamp spreading light and should never give cause for people to say, "Oh! he has come to find fault with everything". Wherever we go we must create a sense of happiness. We must live auspiciously and make sure that there is happiness brimming over everywhere.
"Akarpanya" is the next guna. Miserliness is the quality of krpana or miser. "Akarpanya" is the opposite of miserliness. We must give generously and whole-heartedly. At Kuruksetra Arjuna felt dejected and refused to wage war with his own kin. In doing so, according to the Gita, he was the guilty of "karpanya dosa". It means, contextually, that he abased himself to a woeful state, he became "miserly" about himself. Akarpanya is the quality of a courageous and zestful person who can face problems determinedly.
"Asprha" is the last of the eight qualities. "Sprha" means desire; a grasping nature. "Asprha" is the opposite, being without desire. Desire is at the root of all trouble, all evil and, all through the ages, it has been the cause if misfortunes. But to eradicate it from the mind of men seems an almost impossible task. By performing rites again and again and by constantly endeavouring to acquire the Atmic qualities one will eventually become desireless. Says Valluvar:
Parruga parrarran parrinai apparrai
parruga parru vidarku
Tirumular goes a step further. "It is not enough, " he says, "to be attached to Isvara who is without attachment and be free from other attachments. You must be able to sever yourself from the attachment to Isvara himself".
Asai arumingal, asai arumingal
Isanodayinum asai arumingal
The Buddha calls desire thirst. Intense desire for an object is "trsna". ( The Buddha calls it "tanha" in Prakrt). His chief teaching is the conquest of desire.
Desirelessness is the last of the eight qualities. The first one, daya, is the life-breath of Christianity. Each religion lays emphasis on a particular quality, though all qualities are included in the teachings of Buddha, Jesus Christ, the Prophet Mohammed, Guru Nanak, Zoroaster, Confucius and the founders of all other religions. Even if these qualities may not have been pointedly mentioned in their teachings, it is certain that none of them would regard people lacking them with approval
Gunas in Practical Life
All religions teach people to be loving, to be truthful and to be free from jealousy, desire and greed. But our religion goes further by imposing on us the performance of various samskaras to acquire these qualities in practical life. There is no use in merely preaching, in asking people to be like this or that. A man must be kept bound to a system consisting of such works as would help him in practice to acquire the noble qualities expected of them. Our religion alone does this.
Other religions, it is claimed, teach love and desirelessness. But Hinduism, it is alleged, does not give any importance to such qualities and is, besides, ritual-ridden. This view is totally erroneous. In fact, our religion does more than others: while laying emphasis on the eight qualities, it imparts lessons to take people beyond them, to a state that transcends these very qualities. It also believes that merely talking about the qualities will serve no purpose. After all, we know, don't we, that we have to be virtuous, truthful, loving and so on? Still we find it difficult to live according to these ideals. What purpose is served if our canonical texts merely keep urging us again and again to acquire noble qualities? That is why, unlike other faiths which contain a great deal of ethical and moral instruction, our religion teaches ethics and morality only to the extent needed. But is that all? Without stopping with mere precept it tells us how we may- in actual practice- cultivate and acquire them. This it does first by telling us stories through the Puranas of virtuous people who obtained fame and of evil-doers who got ill fame. But it recognises that such examples are not enough to provide the necessary inspiration, so it lays down a number of samskaras for the purpose of obtaining inner purity. Ours is the only religion that gives practical training in making people virtuous and in acquiring moral excellence. Instead of being proud of this fact, is it right to feel that there is something lacking in our religion?
The first of the eight qualities is love which is the chief teaching of Jesus and the last of them is desirelessness which is the cardinal teaching of the Buddha.
Is it enough to give oral instruction about the qualities? In other words, is it enough merely to preach them? It is man's nature to be engaged in some work or other. And, after all, if you want to accomplish something you will have to work for it. Gandhiji taught truth and non-violence, spoke about them all his life. In his asrama he was all the time not only doing some work or other himself, he was also urging others to do the same. His followers called him a hard taskmaster. He asked them to keep turning the charka and expected them to clean their toilets themselves.
The dharmasastras have prescribed rites to make us inwardly pure and impart us the eight qualities. In this context the sutras of Apastamba and Gautama have a dominant place. Among the Smrtis Manu's is the most important.
Apastamba and Gautama deal with the dharmas common to all people. The former lays down the duties and samskaras separately for the different castes also. Gautama deals with the forty samskaras and the eight Atmagunas. These forty-eight are the means to take a man to Brahmaloka on his death. He goes before the presence of Isvara, which is like going to a great jnanin. He can remain quiescent in bliss. When Isvara, who conducts the world himself becomes formless, he too [the man who attains Brahmaloka] will be dissolved in him. Until then he resides in the world of Isvara (saloka) and later attains sayujya, that is becomes one with him. "Yasyaite catvarimsat samskarah astavatmagunah sa Brahmanah sayujyam salokatam jayati", so it is said.
The body is involved in various ways in performing the forty samskaras. When you work in an office you use your hands and feet and mouth, don't you? So is the case with the samskaras. He who performs them and cultivates the eight Atmagunas goes directly to the Brahmaloka in which world there is neither sorrow nor happiness. When are you without sorrow and happiness? When you are with the One who creates them.
The Atmic qualities are described as "Atmasakti". This term has recently come into use in newspaper language. In the old Sanskrit and Tamil texts we do not see the term "Atmasakti" used, only "Atmagunas"
Importance of Agni
The samskaras cover an individual's entire life-span - "Nisekadi smasanantakam" - from the moment before he is conceived in his mother's womb to the time when his body is offered to Agni. "Niseka" (impregnation) is a rite performed with the sacrificial fire as the witness; and the funeral rites which come last are performed in the fire.
Agni, the sacred fire, must be kept burning throughout a Brahmin's life. The Brahmacarin or bachelor - student must perform the samidadhana everyday. After he is married, with Agni as witness, he becomes a grhastha (householder). He must now perform the aupasana in the fire. For the vanaprastha (forest recluse), there is a sacred fire called "kaksagni". The sannyasin has no sacrament involving the sacred fire: he has the fire of knowledge (jnanagni)in him. His body is not cremated - that is there is no Agni-samskara for it- but interred as a matter of respect. Strictly speaking, it must be cut into four parts and consigned to the four quarters of a forest. There it will be food for birds and beasts. In an inhabited place the severed parts of the body would cause inconvenience to people. That is why they were thrown into the forest. There it would be food for its denizens; if buried it would be manure for the plants. Now over the site of the interment of a sannyasin's body a Brindavana is grown [or built] : this again is done out of respect. At such sites all that is to be done is to plant a bilva or asvattha tree.
All castes have rites to be performed with the sacred fire. During marriage people belongings to all varnas must do aupasana and the fire in which the rite is performed must be preserved throughout. Today, only Parsis seem to keep up such a practice of preserving the fire. Their scripture is called the Zend-Avesta which name must have been derived from the Vedic "Chando-Vasta". Their teacher was Zoroaster [Zarathustra] : this name must have been derived from "Saurastra". Their homeland is Iran (from "Arya"). If the fire kept by them is extinguished at any time they spend a good deal of money in expiatory rites. With us rituals performed in the sacred fire have been on the decline from the turn of the century. The lifestyle of our people has changed. If there is faith, this great treasure (rites performed in the fire) could be preserved. The most important reason for the loss of faith is the present system of education.
This body of ours has to be finally offered in the fire as ahuti (oblation) to the deities. It is treated as a dravya(material for sacrifice) with ghee applied to it before it is offered in the fire. The ceremony is called "dahana-samskara".
Names of Samskaras
The forty samskaras which are meant to purify the individual self are: garbhadhana, pumsavana, simanta, jatakarma, namakarana, annaprasana, caula, upanayana, the four rites like prajapatya (Vedavratas) performed during gurukulavasa (the years the celibate student spends in the home of his guru), the ritual bath on completion of gurukulavasa, marriage, the five mahayajnas performed everyday by the householder. We have listed nineteen so far. Then there are seven pakayajnas, seven haviryajnas and seven somayajnas to be conducted by the householder. Thus 19+21=40
The seven pakayajnas are: astaka (anvastaka), sthalipaka, parvana, sravani, agrahayani, caitri, asvayuji. The seven haviryajnas: agniyadhana, agnihotra, darsa-purnamasa, agrayana, caturmasya, nirudhapasubandha, sautramani. The seven somayajnas: agnistoma, atyagnistoma, uktya, sodasi, vajapeya, atiratra, aptoryama.
Out of the forty samskaras some are to be performed everyday, some at certain times and some at least once in a lifetime. In the first category there are five mahayajnas (panca-mahayajnas).
Rites done to the chanting of mantras are more beneficial than those done without it - a sacrament involving mantras is a samskara. The social service that a house holder does is included among his daily panca - mahayajnas. The panca - mahayajnas are: brahmayajna, devayajna, pitrayajna, manusyayajna and bhutayajna. The chanting of the Vedas constitutes brahmayajna. Sacrifices and puja are devayajna. Tarpana is pitrayajna. Feeding guests is manusyayajna. And offering bali to various creatures is bhutayajna.
Aupasana and agnihotra are part of the daily religious routine. Though a pakayajna, aupasana is not included in the group of seven pakayajnas mentioned above, while agnihotra is one of the seven haviryajnas. Darsa - purnamasa is a haviryajna to be performed once in fifteen days. The other five haviryajnas and the seven somayajnas are to be performed once a year or, at least, once in a lifetime. As if out of consideration for us, the Smrtis have granted us this concession: that the difficult somayajnas need be undertaken only once in a lifetime.
But for the parvani - sraddha which is to be performed once a month and the sthalipaka every Prathama, the other five pakayajnas are to be performed once a year.
To put it differently: the five mahayajnas (brahmayajna, devayajna, pitrayajna, manusyayajna, bhutayajna) together with agnihotra and aupasana are to be performed everyday; darsa-purnamasa and sthalipaka once a fortnight; parvani-sraddha once a month. The other yajnas are to be conducted once a year or at least once in a lifetime.
On a plot of land growing one crop, harvesting is done once a year, while on another plot growing three crops the same is done once every four months. Some crops have to be watered everyday, some on alternate days. Such jobs are samskaras. But there are differences in the samskaras for different crops. The same is the case with the samskaras meant for human beings
Samskaras Performed by Parents
The samskaras begin with garbhadhana, that is from the moment of conception [or, more correctly, impregnation]. The "sarira-pinda" must be formed to the chanting of mantras. People mistakenly think that rites like Pumsavana and simanta are meant for the mother. Actually, they are for the life taking shape in her womb, the foetus and are meant to purify it. The elders have a responsibility in this matter. One may not do the rites meant for oneself, but it is sinful to be negligent about those meant for another life. Nowadays people omit to perform garbhadhana, simanta, etc, since they think that such rites are not fashionable.
Where there should be some delicacy in man-woman relationship people act without any sense of shame after the fashion in the West. But, when it comes to performing Vedic rites in which the well-being of the new life created is involved, they feel a sense of awkwardness. Such an attitude is not right.
Garbhadhana, pumsavana and simanta are performed before the child is born. The sexual union of man and wife must be sanctified by the mantras. Instead of being an act of animal passion, it is raised to the level of a samskara with the chanting of mantras: the purpose is the well-being of the life to be formed. It is madness to give up such rituals without realising the high principles inspiring them and, instead, thinking them to be "uncivilized". If there is any feeling of delicacy on your part about the garbhadhana (rtusanti) ceremony, you do not have to invite a crowd. But the rite itself must be gone through within the four walls of the home. It is no longer the custom to have a four-day wedding with the couple doing daily aupasana. Nor is the rite of sesahoma conducted following the day of wedding. The couple have sexual intercourse on the same day as the marriage without any ceremony and the chanting of mantras. This is an evil practice and sinful. Since the intercourse takes place in an animal manner, the children born too will be likewise. Pumsavana must be performed in the third month of pregnancy and simanta in the sixth or eighth. Nowadays both rites are gone through together anyhow.
On the birth of a child, its jatakarma must be performed. Gifts must be given away. Namakarana is on the eleventh day. Even this, the naming ceremony, has a purificatory purpose according to the sastras. There are rules regarding the name to be chosen for the child in accordance with the naksatra or asterism under which it is born. It must be one from the many names of the Lord and to call the child by such a name is itself a samskara since it has a cleansing effect. We do not have the custom of "christening" our children as "Longfellow" or "Stone". But nowadays even in this land similar names are given to children. Also when the child's name is that of the Lord it is corrupted or twisted clumsily. The name given to a child during a Vedic ritual must be treated with some respect.
When the child is six months old it is time for its annaprasana. The samskaras from the garbhadhana to namakarana are performed by the parents on behalf of the child. In annaprasana, even though the father chants the mantras, it is [obviously] the child that takes anna or food.
If the mother takes medicine, the baby is nourished, is it not? In the same way the inner thoughts and feelings of the parents will affect the foetus and its character will be shaped accordingly. There is a difference between what you write when your mind is calm and what you write when you are in an angry mood: the first will be good to read while the second will not be so pleasant. The body too is subject to good and bad influences. The sexual union must take place when the couple are imbued with good thoughts: it will then lead to the creation of a blob of life (pinda) that will have the potential to develop into a noble character. This is the reason why the marriage is consummated with the intonation of mantras.
There are people who have not altogether ceased to observe such rites, but sometimes they go through two or three rites together. There is a right time for every samskara and there are mantras as well as dravyas (materials) appropriate to them.
Caula comes after annaprasana. It is meant for the "sikha" which is essential to the conduct of all good rites. The sannyasin has no sikha and is shaven-headed; in fact, the sikha has to be removed with the recitation of mantras at the time one receives initiation into sannyasa. It is worn in the caula ceremony with the chanting of mantras and with a vow made to Paramesvara (as part of the samkalpa). So it is wrong to remove it as we like in violation of this vow. Is it proper to remove this lock of hair as if it were just a handful of leafy vegetables? People install the sivalinga or salagrama for worship. Would it be right on their part to discard them as they like. It would be a different matter if they were stolen or lost accidentally. Similarly, to wear a sikha ceremonially and then remove it, as and when we like, and wear a crop is not proper.
The chanting of the Vedas, the performance of Vedic rituals and the dharma practised by the householder with his wife strengthen both body and mind (the latter through the vibrations in the nadis produced by the mantras). The sikha on the Brahmarandhra is a protection and a means of obtaining such strength. It is like the tiles on the roof of a house. Only when you cease to perform Vedic rites is it not needed, that is when you are no longer a householder and became an ascetic. Today even as student-bachelors or as householders we have ceased to chant the Vedas and practise Vedic rites. So, naturally, we do not wear the sikha also.
Upanayana comes after caula. It is the first samskara that a boy performs, chanting the mantras himself. Those conduced until this ceremony are meant to protect the child from the evil influences arising from the sins committed by its parents. These are either "garbhika" or "baijika" (belonging to the womb or to the seed or sperm). The samskaras performed by the parents are to remove the ills caused to the child by these harmful influences.
Any samskara must be performed at the right time and by doing so we are absolved of our sins. To wash away the papa earned by us in the past we have to go through samskaras in which our body, mind and speech are applied.
We think evil with our mind, tell lies with our mouth, and sin with our body also. Indeed we practise all kinds of deception. The wrongs committed by mind, speech and body must be wiped away by applying mind, speech and body to virtuous purposes. With the mind, Paramesvara must be meditated upon; with the faculty of speech, mantras must be chanted; and with the body, noble deeds must be performed. It is from the time of upanayana that one becomes mature enough to perform samskaras that bring together mind, speech and body.
I must speak about another matter. Apart from the samskaras that a father performs specifically for the sake of his child (from garbhadhana to caula), those (including other types of rites) he conducts otherwise also benefit the children. This is according to the saying, "The good done by mother and father goes to protect the children". Until recently the children of Vaidika Brahmins were particularly bright, the reason being the impetus they received from the samskaras performed by their forefathers. What our ancestors did by way of good works served as the foundation of our moral and intellectual uplift for two or three generations. Children born afterwards have been so much embroiled in worldly affairs as to have become degraded.
Our fathers did not perform any samskaras. So we may feel sorry that we have been deprived of the benefits that would otherwise have come to us. Let us not give room for our children to make the same complaint about us. Let us perform samskaras for our sake and theirs
Why not All Samskaras for All ?
Jatakarma, namakarana, annaprasana and caula are common to all jatis. Only Brahmins, Ksatriyas and Vaisyas have the upanayana ceremony. There is nothing discriminatory about this nor need there be any quarrel over the same. People belonging to the fourth varna do physical work to serve the world and in the process acquire inner purity. They will gain proficiency in their hereditary vocations only by learning them from their parents or grandparents. They do not require gurukulavasa over some twelve years [as in the case with Brahmins] nor do they have to learn the Vedas. If so their work will suffer.
Upanayana is the first step taken towards gurukulavasa. When a boy learns the Vedas he must have no ego-feeling. At home he has a lot of freedom. His father will not be able to discipline him because his affection will come in the way. That is why the child is to be brought under the care of a guru. Vocations that require physical effort are different from the pursuit of the Vedas. There is no room for intellectual arrogance in them or for the nursing of the ego. So such work may be taught at home by the father or some other elder in the family.
Those who serve by doing manual work do not require to go through upanayana or gurukulavasa. Certain special skills or the finer aspects of an art or craft that cannot be taught at home may be learned from a Brahmin teacher. The Brahmin is expected to be proficient in all arts, all subjects, but none of these is meant to be a source of his livelihood. His vocation is teaching and the chanting of the Vedas and the performance of Vedic rites.
There is a relationship between the samskaras described for a man and his vocation and mental outlook. So it would be wrong to think poorly of certain jatis who do not have to perform certain samskaras. You may think it strange, but it is my view that it is those who have to undergo more samskaras than others that must have been thought of poorly. The idea is that these people need more rites to be rendered pure. Others are not in need of so many to be cleansed within. The larger the dose of medicine taken by patient the greater must be his affliction.
None excels the sages in impartiality. They do not talk glibly like us of equality but they are truly egalitarian in outlook since they look upon all as one with Isvara. The conduct of the world's affairs is such that it requires people following different vocations, doing different jobs and with different mental qualities in keeping with them. It is in conformity with these differences and dissimilarities that the sages assigned the samskaras also differently to different people. There is no question of high or low among them.
It is in observance of the same principle that the sastras lay down upanayana for the first three varnas (Brahmins, Ksatriyas and Vaisyas) and also certain samskaras connected with it
Om Tat Sat
(My humble salutations to the lotus feet of Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Mahaswami ji and my humble greatulness to Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and great Devotees , Philosophic Scholars, for the collection)