The Vedic Basis of the Manusmriti Explained by DVG in 14 Postulates

In this episode, DVG sketches out the Vedic philosophical premise as the basis for the Manusmriti in 14 postulates.
The Vedic Basis of the Manusmriti Explained by DVG in 14 Postulates

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The Vedic Basis of the Manusmriti Explained by DVG in 14 Postulates
The Manusmriti Special Series: DVG’s Guide to Understanding the Manusmriti

THE VEDA DIFFERS FROM other works of literature and science in that it deals with those matters that are inaccessible to our objective observation and ratiocination. It confines itself to Atindriya-vastu, a region of Reality that is beyond the reach of our ordinary senses of perception and cognition and our usual faculties of analysis and measurement. The instruments of knowledge that serve us in relation to the world around us and build up our sciences and arts do not suffice for the investigation of that which transcends the world. It is there that the Veda, as the voice of revelation or intuitional vision of Truth, offers us light. And that light is secured in the proper measure only by him who has put himself through the disciplines, both individual and institutional, prescribed by Manu. They are disciplines for the mind and the senses as well as for the body. Their purpose is to clear the eye of intelligence of the dross gathered there by the impulsions of the flesh. These exercises in taming the ego and inviting the altrui are the central purposes of Manu. It is indicated in this verse from his final chapter:

सर्वभूतेषु चात्मानं सर्वभूतानि चात्मनि ।

समं पश्यन्नात्मयाजी स्वाराज्यमधिगच्छति ॥ (12.91)

“He who, seeing himself equally in all beings and all beings equally in himself, offers up his ego as a victim in the sacrifice (of the acts of living), earns for himself the bliss of union with the self-existent glory of the Brahman.”

This is the highest of felicities to be achieved as recommended by the Upanishads, and the way to it is through Dharma. The soul’s progress towards realizing Brahman is the criterion of the good. The value of all things of the world which please us or tempt us are to be judged with reference to their consonance or repugnance to this conception of the summum bonum of life. 

What is the rationale behind this conception? To see that, we should take note of certain philosophical postulates handed down by the Veda. Manu takes them as the basis for his Code. 

Vedic Postulates

1. The first postulate of the Veda is that the world and everything in it is originated, animated, sustained and transmuted by an Infinite Being (Anantam) or Brahman. This Brahman is God (Deva) and the Lord (Ishvara) of the universe. 

2. When Brahman manifests itself as an embodied sentient being, it is Atman (the Soul).

3. When Atman delimits itself to the sphere of the body and its concerns, as “I” in its dealings with the world, it is Jiva (the Ego or Self). 

4. Brahman, as the underlying reality of all life, is Parama-atman (the Supreme Spirit). Nothing can be predicated of Brahman as an exclusive attribute, for Brahman includes all and pervades all. 

5. Nature or Prakrti or the phenomenal world (Nama-rupa-prapancha) is an emanation from the Brahman. It is the embodiment of a fraction of that limitless Power of Brahman. Brahman is thus the efficient cause as well as the material cause of the universe.

6. The world is Atman (Soul) encased as Jiva (anima mundi) in its own web. It is a wonder-web — Maya. So phantasmagoric are its effects as to make the indweller cease to be conscious of the distinction between himself and his encasement. The Atman (Soul) and the Anatman (non-Soul) become so mixed up in the business of the world that the Jiva, losing sight of its inmost character, identifies himself with the non-Soul. This forgetting on the part of the Jiva of the inseparable relation to Brahman is the root-cause of conflict and misery in the world.

7. To pierce through the veils of Maya and recover the integral vision of Brahman and its Lila (sport) and realize it in our actual experience (Anubhava) amid the world is to escape pain from the world’s contrarieties. Anubhava is becoming the very thing contemplated. Then, one sees none outside oneself and there can thus be no room for conflict or fear at all. This is Mukti or release from the burdensomeness of the world.

8. Jiva being embodied, and the body being part of Nature, the Jiva is unable to avoid the limitations of such temporal existence. Its consciousness, or capacity to comprehend things, is intrinsically limited. It is therefore unable to penetrate the masks of Maya. This limitation of the knowing faculty in Jiva is Avidya. Avidya is the Jiva correlate of the Maya of Ishvara. The word Ishvara or Ruler or Lord implies the existence of a realm of subject-creatures to be ruled. The ruler-ruled relationship is itself a part of Brahman’s Lila (sport), the phenomenal world. 

9. This Lila (world-sport) of Brahman has been in existence all the time we can imagine, but in changeful forms (Jagat). There was never a time when it sat motionless. When the man has gained a full vision of Brahman, the world will cease to be to him anything apart from Brahman. Jiva’s Jivahood will likewise become a thing of the past. 

10. But so long as Jiva remains in the state of Jiva, it must reside in a body, experience joy and grief and die some day, then re-incarnate in some body in the phenomenal world. The inheritance and environment of that rebirth are determined by the law of Karma or the rule of reward or punishment in accordance with the balance of accounts (Rna) of good or bad deeds coming over from the previous countless life-periods (Janmas) of the Jiva. At each birth, the Jiva carries with him as part of his inalienable acquisition a baggage of Samskaras or character-modifications and Vasanas or predispositions.

11. If the Jiva always carries with him an indissoluble load of Karma coming from the past, he likewise has an unlimited stretch of future as well in which to work out and exhaust the past and also to earn credit for further good deeds. Past Karma operates only in a part of the field. Its effect upon the Jiva’s freedom of will and judgment is not plenary, but limited. Man can transcend the conditions of birth and master his destiny by drawing on the mercy of Ishvara for strength.

12. The way to it is Dharma. Pro-Atman considerations make for Dharma and pro-Anatman activities for Adharma. A thing or a deed is good or bad according to whether it advances or obstructs the soul’s progress in the direction of the vision of Brahman. That progress can only be slow and stage by stage. Dharma is the education of the soul. It seeks to train the affections and regulate the impulses of one’s inner nature. It aims not at killing, but at canalizing desire and love. 

13. The primal forces of Nature (Prakrti) are of three kinds in their qualities (Gunas): 

(i) Sattva or the good and the pure;

(ii) Rajas or the impulsive and the activistic; and

(iii) Tamas or the blinding and the dulling. 

14. Man’s nature is a mixture of the three Gunas. The difference between one Jiva and another is the difference in the proportions of the three ingredients in the mixture. The possibilities of variation in the proportions are unlimited. Hence the ever-present differences in personality. The countless elemental forces of phenomenal Nature, such as light and heat and air and water and matter and energy, are called Devas (literally, ”Shining Ones”) or ‘Gods,’ because of their superhuman origin and office. Also certain fundamental virtues and faculties essential to the good life are personified and celebrated as Devas (Gods) in the Puranas. The Great One, Para-Brahman may be approached under the name and form of any Deva as name and form are but symbols of something far higher and far greater. They are aids to mind and memory needed by the man of ordinary intelligence and willpower. Ritual and ceremony symbolise attitudes of mind and heart. Praying for health or wealth or progeny or power is not necessarily inconsistent with aspiration for spiritual enlightenment. Enjoying the good things of the world is not only not prohibited, but even recommended subject to control by a constant care for the interests of the soul, the Atman.

THIS IS JUST A SKETCHY OUTLINE of the fundamentals of the philosophy of the Veda which Manu has taken for axioms. Their import is that the world and life in it are the work of God and therefore deserving of respectful service. 

From the mixture of the good and the bad that the world is, man progresses first to a preponderance of Dharma over Adharma, and then to that state of Kaivalya (Absoluteness) which is above both Dharma and Adharma. It is a super-distinctional state, above the need for conscious effort at ethical discrimination. Dharma, which in the ordinary case is to be cultivated and acquired by deliberate effort, will then have become spontaneous and effortless like the acts of breathing or winking. 

This world is a necessary preparation for the super-world. The good life or a life lived in Dharma is only a process of gaining Moksha or Super-Life.

To be continued

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