Manusmṛti and its relevance in today’s life
The Vedas have been firmly established as the oldest knowledge known to us. The teachings of sage Manu are based onVedic principles. The Vedas do not contain any reference to any place, person or event. Teachings of the Vedas are purely the principles laid down to make our lives better. In the early periods of human civilization, at some point a need was felt to create guidelines for the proper functioning of an individual, a family and humanity at large. Sage SvāyambhuvaManu, considered the most stable and wise man of his time, was approached to formulate such guidelines. He was a son of Brahmā, considered to be the sage who propagated the Vedas into the society. The Vaivasvata Manu was the descendant of Svāyambhuva Manu.
In Saṁskṛtaliterature, a description of seven Prajāpati, or the leaders of early society who guided social functioning, has been found. In the same dynasty, somewhere along the line, Ikṣavāku was the ruler and he may have started the Dynasty which came be known as the Sun Dynasty or theSūryavaṁśī,. It is the same dynasty in which Śrī Rāma and Śrī Kṛṣṇa were born. The name Manu became so prestigious and famous that the entire humanity has become known as Mānava, or human.
The word Manuor name close to it has also been used in various other languages such as man in English, mann in German, mynos in Greek, etc. Several Western authors, including Manning in his writings,“The story of medieval and ancient India”, have commented that Manu is the father of mankind. It is clear from the ancient literature and inscriptions found in Greece, Iran, Cambodia, etc. that they consideredManuto be their ancestor as well. Greek literature gives a reference to the sun dynasty as well. Cambodia has been referred to by the name “Kambuj” in Saṁskṛtaliterature.InThailand, even today, reference to Śrī Rāma and Śrī Rāmāyaṇa is very prevalent, such as in the names of the rulers, roadsand cultural shows to name a few.
The sage Manutook Vedas as the sole source of his teachings. Nowhere in the Vedas there is any mention of caste system or negative comments about women. Teachings of Manusmṛti have been referred to in Rāmāyaṇa, Mahābhārata and Brāhmaṇa literature. This clearly makes Manusmṛti as the oldest source of knowledge after the Vedas, obviously predating all otherscriptures. There are two schools of thought on the origin of Vedas. One is that the Vedas was the knowledge given to four deeply meditating ṛṣis, Agni, Vāyu, Āditya and Aṅgirā, who then decoded the knowledge to form the 4 Vedas. The other school of thought is that Vedas were a human creation. It is clear however that irrespective of whether the Vedas were of human creation or knowledge given by God, this seems to have been the earliest knowledge known to humanity. There is no reference to any name, place or a person in the Vedas. The Manusmṛti was created after that, followed by Brāhmaṇa, Āraṇyaka, Upaniṣad, the 6 books of philosophy, Rāmāyaṇa, and Gītā in that order. In Rāmāyaṇa, King Bali was killed by an arrow by Śrī Rāma. While dying, Bālī questioned “why have you shot me, what have I done wrong to you”. In that situation, Śrī Rāma gave a reference to the teachings of Manusmṛti, in which a śloka with the exact same statement has been found.
The Manusmṛti, which is available at present, contains many contradictory statements. This has resulted in a great deal of misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the teachings of Manu. Over the periods of time, many scholars including Balluck Bhatt have agreed that there are about 200 shlokas which have been added in the original text over the period of time. This adulteration has done tremendous injustice to the original intent of Sage Manu. This has made sage Manuappear as if he was trying to divide the society on the basis of caste and gender. This adulteration is similar to what has been done in Mahābhārata, Gītā, and Rāmāyaṇa. Professor Surendra Kumar, Vice Chancellor of Gurukula Kangdi, has championed this cause to bring back the reality and glory of teachings of Manusmṛti. Several arguments have been put forward to explain that there has been adulteration in Manu Smriti by various people throughout history to put their own ideology in a famous and popular scripture.
Subject matter: Intermixed with the main subject matter are discussions about completely unrelated topics. Here are some examples:
There is description of creation the way it should be and then it is stated that Brahma was born and hatched from an egg and then he in turn created the universe.
At places, Manu has been praised a lot and in other shlokas, there is systematic criticism of Sage Manu.
The Manusmriti has followed the Vedic teachings and has described the 16 sanskars and 4 stages of life appropriately. It is mentioned that a Brahmachari is supposed to live in a Gurukul away from home. There is, however, a shlokha that advises the Brahmachari to bow to parents and all family elders both morning and evening. Since the Brahmachari is already away from home, this is nonsensical as he does not have parents present there to bow to.
The age of marriage is to be upon attainment of adulthood and in another place, it is mentioned that a 24 yr old man should marry an 8 yr old girl.
If a Brahmin is married to a Brahmin girl and son is born, he gets 4 parts of property, if son is born from Kshatriya mother, 3 parts, if from a Vaishya mother, 2 parts and if from a shudra mother, 1 part. This makes no sense what so ever.
Contradictory statements:While Manu is emphasizing and recognizing certain dogma or ideology at a given place in the text, the same ideology has been followed by a contradictory in the shloka. For example; while discussing that if a married couple cannot have children then the woman with the consent of her husband, can conceive with the brother in law, next to it is a statement made that doing so is not allowed. Similarly, while the text clearly emphasizes nonviolence, consumption of meat is advocated at another place in the text.
Repetition of topics:There is repetition of topics, some appearing several times.
Style:Each author has his/her style. One can clearly see at many places that some shlokas which don’t seem match with Manu’s style and intentions. The original Manusmṛiti seems to have been in the form of discourses or lectures rather than an essay or simple book. It appears that some other scholar such as Bhṛgu or some other follower of Sage Manu have integrated other material in the book. This conclusion seems logical since in the very beginning of the book,it is mentioned that the some wise men got together and asked Manu ji to explain about life. There is a subsequent statement that after educating Bhṛgu,Manu ji said that “now Bhṛgu will explain you the whole subject. This seems to be an adulteration.
Baseless arguments: There is a śloka that if a person urinates while facing sun, moon, cow, water, fire, air or a Brahmin he/she will lose his/her intellect.
Exaggerations: It is mentioned that even the thought of trying to kill a Brahmin will go to hell for 100 yrs. and if a person actually kills a Brahmin, he/she will be in hell for 1000 yrs.
Favoritism: Brahmins are favored at many places in the text available at present. It is mentioned in one śloka that a 10 year old Brahmin will be like a father to even a 100 year old person of any other Varṇa (caste).
Against the Vaidik (Vedic) principles: although it is clear that Manu ji firmly followed the Vaidik (Vedic) principles, there are many ślokas which are contradictory to that ideology, for example, there is mention at places that women and Śūdras shouldn’t be allowed to recite Vaidik (Vedic) mantras and study Vaidik (Vedic) texts. This is quite against what has been propagated by the Vedas.
Present Manusmṛti has 12 chapters with a total of 2,685 ślokas.
The first chapter deals with the creation and religion (dharma).
2nd deals with sacraments and celibacy.
3rd with marriage and family life as well as the responsibilities of married couple and includes the 5 Yajña.
4th chapter deals with human code of conduct.
5th chapter is about what should be eaten and what shouldn’t be, as well as what is clean and what is not.
6th chapter deals with Vānprastha and Sanyāsa, and the duties of a person in these stages of life.
Chapters seven through nine deal with governance and law.
Chapter 10 addresses Varṇa Vyavasthā, or the 4 groups of society.
Chapter 11 discusses penance.
Chapter 12 details the fruits of action, including the attainment of salvation.
Overall, the code of conduct, or Dharma proposed in Manusmṛti are eternal as far as the place, person, or period. These can be divided into Dharma, or the conduct of a person, family, society, and nation, including government and humanity. The makeup of different segments of society and the ability to change from one to another Varṇa, were clearly based on a person’s desire and ability rather than by birth. This is no different from the social structure prevalent at present, such as have teachers, soldiers, businessmen, and workers who, based on their abilities, can always move from one position to another. The only difference in what is prevalent today and what was championed by Manu is that at present, the four groups are limited to their professional trade. Manu, however, had proposed the system to address the life of a person as a whole. It has also laid down clearly that women be respected, and those who are less fortunate, or less educated, be given utmost respect in society a concept which is contrary to the common belief about Manusmṛti today.
Here are the details about some of the topics discussed in Manusmṛti.
Dharma: Some famous shlokas which define and detail dharma are as follows.
DhṛTi: Kṣamā Damō’stēyaṁ Śaucamindriyanigraha:।
Dhīrvidyā Satyamakrōdhō Daśakaṁ Dharmalakṣaṇam॥ (Manusmṛti 6.92)
Which means: patience, forgiveness, control over your mind, not stealing, cleanliness of body, mind and soul, restrain on your senses, proper use of intellect, proper knowledge of God, soul and nature, honesty, and control over your anger. This probably is the most perfect definition of religion or Dharma. It is hard to believe that a sage who is advocating such high level of human conduct would try to divide the society.
Yet another perfect definition of Dharma has been given by Sage Manu in his teachings:
Vēdaḥ SmṛTiḥ Sadācāraḥ Svasya Ca Priyaṁ Ātmanaḥ।
Ētaccaturvidhaṁ Prāhuḥ Sākṣāddharmasya Lakṣaṇam॥ (Manusmṛti 2.12)
This shloka incorporates 4 principles, which if practiced constitutes dharma.
Vēdaḥ: this means that the code of conduct, or Dharma, of a person be according to Vaidik (Vedic) teachings. Since these teachings remain unchanged regardless of person place or situation and are eternal, so is the case with teachings of Manusmṛti. Take an example of how Sage Manu intended to help humanity at a very grassroots level.
Brāhmē Muhūrtē Budhyēta Dharmārthau Cānucintayēt।
Kāyaklēśāṁśca TanmūlānVēdatattvārthamĒva Ca॥ (Manusmṛti 4.92)
Manu ji says that if the rays of sun fall on a person who is sleeping, it is deleterious to his or her health. It has been well-established that waking up early is very good for physical and mental well-being of all of us.
Smṛti: the second principle is that we should obey the teachings of Smṛti literature. The Vedas define and detail the overall code of conduct as it relates to humanity as a whole, whereas theSmṛti literature focuses primarily on the national level. It is however necessary that the citizens of a nation also follow the universal laws as well. If such a practice of human values is adhered to by all, there will be no wars and, therefore, no armies needed. The world would simply be a more harmonious place. It must be stated, however, that the local situation differs from country to country. Climate is one example and certain human behavior will be based on local conditions. Manusmṛti, while directing the overall social code of conduct, respects the given situation of a nation. It is clearly stated that no code of conduct of a person be contradictory to the constitution of their nation and be against their national interest.
Sadācār: the conduct of good people be analyzed in-depth. Although the conduct of respected persons may be well-hearted, it should not come in the way of national progress, as well as should be in accordance with a given situation.
Svasya Ca Priyaṁ Ātmanaḥ:A person should act according to his/her inner conscience especially in difficult situations. One should think first and then act righteously. This is the 4th and most important dogma of life. We should avoid actions that we would not wish upon ourselves.If everyone acts according to inner feelings based on the principle described above, a person’s life would be greatly improved, leading to better family, nation, and society. Manuhas stated that people should live according to the highest state of righteousness.
Ātmanaḥ Pratikūlāni Parēṣāṁ Na Samācarēt।
This means that any act that brings fear, doubt and shame, cannot be, according to the desire of inner self.
Vedas are the root of whole practice of Dharma.
वेदोऽखिलो धर्ममूलं स्मृतिशीले च तद्विदाम्।
आचारश्चैव साधूनाम् आत्मनः तुष्टिरेव च॥मनुस्मृति 2.6॥
Vedo’khilo Dharmamūlaṁ Smṛtiśīle Ca Tadvidām|
Ācāraścaiva Sādhūnām Ātmanas Tuṣṭireva Ca||Manusmṛti 2.6||
Honest interaction defined:
Satyaṁ Brūyāt Priyaṁ Brūyāt Na Brūyāt Satyamapriyam |
Priyaṁ Ca Nānṛtaṁ Brūyāda Eṣa Dharmaḥ Sanātanaḥ || Manusmṛti 4.138 ||
A person should speak the truth and do so pleasantly for the well-being of society and avoid what is untrue simply to please others. This is Sanātana Dharma, the Eternal Law. Also there is another verse that states one should never embarrass another who has a physical disability or lack of knowledge, among other conditions.
Never destroy Dharma:
Dharma Eva Hato Hanti Dharmo Rakṣati Rakṣitaḥ |
Tasmāddharmo Na Hantavyo Mā No Dharmo Hato’vadhīt || Manusmṛti 8.15 ||
Dharma destroys anyone who seeks to destroy It and Dharma protect anyone who protects It. Therefore, Dharma must never be destroyed for Dharma destroyed, destroys us.
Dharma is the only companion after death:
Nāmutra Hi Sahāyārthaṁ Pitā Mātā Ca Tiṣṭhataḥ |
Na Putradāraṁ Na Jñātirdharmastiṣṭhati Kevalaḥ || Manusmṛti 4.239||
After death, neither father, nor mother, nor spouse, nor children, nor any other relative or a friend remains a companion. Dharma alone remains with us.
2.Different segments of society: Sage Manu ji advocated 4 divisions of society calledVarṇaVyavasthā, and it was based on the individual’s ability, rather than birth. These Varṇas were Bhraman, Kṣatriya, Vaiśya and Śūdra, which denoted the people who would be educators and spiritual guides, those who would maintain the economics and trade, those who would rule and protect, and finally those who would serve the above three segments in society. Anyone who would have a certain level of ability was free to move from one Varṇa to another. One such śloka is:
Śūdrō Brāhmaṇatāmēti Brāhmaṇaścaiti Śūdratām।
Kṣatriyāt Jātamēvaṁ Tu Vidyād Vaiśyāt Tathaiva Ca॥ (Manusmṛti 10.65)
The meaning of this śloka is that based on the actions and ability, people would become Brāhmaṇa, Kṣatriya or Vaiśya and if they lack an ability required to become any one of these, they would remain as Śūdra. Even Bhagvad Gītā has mentioned the same social setup based on a person’s ability and actions.
Cāturvarṇyaṁ Mayā Sṛṣṭaṁ Guṇakarma-Vibhāgaśaḥ| Gītā 4.13
जन्मना जायते शूद्रः संस्कारात् भवेत् द्विजः।
वेद पाठात् भवेत् विप्रः ब्रह्म जानातीति ब्राह्मणः॥यास्क मुनि॥
Janmanā Jāyate Śūdraḥ Saṁskārāt Bhavet Dvijaḥ|
Veda Pāṭhāt Bhavet Vipraḥ Brahma Jānātīti Brāhmaṇaḥ||Yaska Muni||
All 4 segments of society have been assigned certain responsibilities. These are:
Adhyāpanamadhyayanaṁ Yajanaṁ Yājanaṁ Tathā |
Dānaṁ Pratigrahaṁ Caiva Brāhmaṇānāmakalpayat || Manusmṛti 1.88 ||
Prajānāṁ Rakṣaṇaṁ Dānamijyādhyayanameva Ca |
Viṣayeṣvaprasaktiśca Kṣatriyasya Samāsataḥ || Manusmṛti 1.89 ||
Paśūnāṁ Rakṣaṇaṁ Dānamijyādhyayanameva Ca |
Vaṇikpathaṁ Kusīdaṁ Ca Vaiśyasya Kṛṣimeva Ca || Manusmṛti 1.90 ||
Ekameva Tu Śūdrasya Prabhuḥ Karma Samādiśat |
Eteṣāmeva Varṇānāṁ Śuśrūṣāmanasūyayā || Manusmṛti 1.91 ||
A Brahmin should teach without deceit and with affection and impart proper knowledge according to Vaidik (Vedic) teachings. A Kṣatriya should have the quality of protecting society in every conceivable way and give the gift of fearlessness while maintaining their daily lifestyle which includes performance of Agnihotra and control over senses. A Vaiśya should be able to carry on business while sharing a portion of earned wealth with the rest of society, as well as possess knowledge of Vedas and agricultural or other trades, and live a righteous life. A Śūdra should have a strong physical build and be able to serve without resentment.
A Brahmin can become a Śūdra if he/she fails to achieve true knowledge and propagate it in the society.
Yo’nadhītya Dvijo Vedamanyatra Kurute Śramam |
Sa Jīvanneva Śūdratvamāśu Gacchati Sānvayaḥ || Manusmṛti 2.168 |
It is obvious that somewhere along the line, people who got a certain level of authority wanted to hold on to it, and the caste system came into being. There are many examples of transformation from one Varṇa to the other through the history. Some of these are: SageVishwamitra,Kavaśa Ailuśa, Vidura, Dvāpī, Mudgala, Satyakāma Jābāla, Pṛṣadhra, Nābhāga, Agnivēśya, mātaṁga and Rāvaṇa. There have been many reformers, including Swami Dayanand Saraswati, to bring different segments of society together. It is the selfish and misguided people who have not allowed this movement to be very effective.
Place of women in society. In several ślokas, Manuhas clearly laid down that those societies which provide respect and dignity to women flourish with nobility and prosperity. On the other hand, those who don’tdo so, face miseries and failure (verse 3.56).Manuhas clearly declared that those who desire prosperity should ensure that women in their family are always happy and do not face miseries (verse 3.55). He also states that women should be able to participate in and conduct various religious ceremonies. Verse 9.96 states that those who deny Vedas or Vaidik (Vedic) rituals to women are anti-religion and anti-humanity. It also states that women should be provided autonomy and leadership in managing finances and conducting other responsibilities in life (verse 9.11). Freedom, rather than restrain, of women has been championed as well (verse 9.12). The protection of women has been advocated, but this protection does not mean restriction.Manu ji also says that it is better to keep a woman unmarried than to force her to marry an undeserving person (9.89), and that a woman should be able to choose her own husband after she attains maturity (9.90-9.91). Property rights for the son and daughter should be equal (9.130-9.131). There was also a provision placed in Manusmṛti for strict punishment of those who harm women (8.323, 9.232, 8.352).
Punishment for a crime:It is a common belief that Manuhas advocated protection to the higher segment of society, especially the Brahmins. On examining the text, reverse seems to be the case. Much more severe punishments have been advocated for those who are more educated and belong to the higher segment of society. For example, when a punishment for an ordinary citizen is one cent, the punishment for those in the ruling class would be 1000 cents, or 1000x (8.336). It is stated in Manusmṛti that if one conducts a theft willingly and with full knowledge of the implications of such a conduct, the person should be penalized 8 times more compared to the person doing the same crime who belongs to a ŚūdraVarṇa. In other words, the punishment should be directly proportional to the knowledge and social status of the criminal. The bottom line is that a birth-based caste system does not fit the code of conduct laid down by sage Manu. If the society and the governments all follow the penal system and the social system proposed by Manusmṛti, the world would be free from corrupt people, politicians and others, and simply be a better place to live in. It is the responsibility of every individual practicing Arya Samaj principles that they clearly understand the reality of teachings of Manusmṛti and propagate those in the society.
Donation and giving: The gift of knowledge is superior to any other giving
Sarvēṣāmēva Dānānāṁ Brahmadānaṁ Viśiṣyatē ।
Vāryannagomahīvāsas- Tilakāñcanasarpiṣām ॥(Manusmṛti 4.233)
Restraining your senses:Like a driver restraining his horses, a wise man must strive to restrain his senses.
Indriyāṇāṁ Vicaratāṁ Viṣayēṣvapahāriṣu ।
Saṁyamē Yatnamātiṣṭhēd Vidvān Yantēva Vājinām ॥(Manusmṛti 2.88)
Power of control of Mind:Once Mind has been subdued, then all our senses come under control.
Ekādaśaṁ Mano Jñeyaṁ Svaguṇenobhayātmakam |
Yasmin Jite Jitāvetau Bhavataḥ Pañcakau Gaṇau ||Manusmṛti 2.92
Human desires:Through enjoyment, desire merely becomes stronger, like fire fed with fuel.
Na Jātu Kāmaḥ KāmānāmUpabhogena Śāmyati |
Haviṣā Kṛṣṇavartmeva Bhūya Evābhivardhate || Manusmṛti 2.94
Attachment:Desire to seek pleasures only increases as people indulge deeper in sensual gratification.
Yathā Yathā Niṣevante Viṣayān Viṣayātmakāḥ |
Tathā Tathā Kuśalatā Teṣāṁ Teṣūpajāyate || Manusmṛti 12.73 ||
10 How to achieve lasing happiness and aananda:
Only be pursuit of True knowledge.Also a knowledgeable person should be able to withstand constructive criticism with pleasure and should react to criticism in a mature and peaceful manner.
Na Tathaitāni Śakyante Saṁniyantumasevayā |
Viṣayeṣu Prajuṣṭāni Yathā Jñānena Nityaśaḥ || Manusmṛti 2.96 ||
Respect to teacher and elders and those who have acquired true knowledge:
Brahmārambhe’vasāne Ca Pādau Grāhyau Guroḥ Sadā |
Saṁhatya Hastāvadhyeyaṁ Sa Hi Brahmāñjaliḥ Smṛtaḥ || Manusmṛti 2.71 ||
A student must offer salutations to the teacher with clasped palms and touch the teacher’s feet before the lesson begins.
Śayyāsane’dhyācarite Śreyasā Na Samāviśet |
Śayyāsanasthaścaivainaṁ Pratyutthāyābhivādayet || Manusmṛti 2.119 ||
A student must not sit on a bed or seat that is occupied by someone senior to him in age and knowledge. While sitting on a bed or seat, he should rise and give that seat to one who is senior.
Āyuṣmān Bhava Saumyeti Vācyo Vipro’bhivādane |
Akāraścāsya Nāmno’nte Vācyaḥ Pūrvākṣaraḥ Plutaḥ || Manusmṛti 2.125 ||
The elder should say Aayushmaan bhava saumya. Meaning “that may you live long”.
Dwij/Rebirth: The first birth is by the mother and the second is from the teacher’s womb through education received through Upanayana ceremony, Vedaarambh and Samaavartan or a graduation at the completion of education.
Freedom, its importance: freedom has been stressed that independence brings success while dependence brings misery and difficulty.
Vegetarianism:Manu has considered it criminal to slay and be involved in the process of the animal’s death, sale and consumption.
Purity: body can be cleaned by soap and water, mind by truthful behavior, soul by following Dharma, and intellect is cleansed by knowledge.
Adbhirgātrāṇi Śudhyanti Manaḥ Satyena Śudhyati |
Vidyātapobhyāṁ Bhūtātmā Buddhirjñānena Śudhyati || Manusmṛti 5.109||
The four stages of life:
The role of a householder is the centerpiece of all 4 stages of life and it is the passages through these stages that make one achieve the highest stage in life, including eternal bliss.