THE FOUR AUTHORITATIVE BASES
(Manusrti Book Two 1 to 16)
Bhrgu, the chief editor of the Manava Dharmasastra, advises his students to get counselled (nibodha) on the Dharma followed sincerely by the learned and the virtuous who are free from hatred (dvesha) and inordinate affection (raga). (2-1) A person who acts under the influence of desire (kama) is not praise-worthy. But none is found to be free from kama. Even pursuit of knowledge (Veda) is because of desire (kama) (for it).
As one follows the Veda he adheres to the rules of Karmayoga. Thus Bhrgu gives a positive direction to the desire for knowledge and to adherence to the systematized duties prescribed by this code. (2-2) Karmayoga calls for performance of duties without attachment and without expecting rewards. Burnells translation of this verse as: Selfishness is not praiseworthy, yet unselfishness exists not here; for the study of the Vedas is for selfish ends and the practice of the rites according to the Vedas is imprecise and unhappy.
It is likely that many of the verses in this section were later interpolations. The advocates of Karmayoga were opposed to hedonism and lust for wealth. The proponents of Dharmasastra were eager to defend the pursuit of all the four values of life, dharma, artha, kama and moksha. Western Indologists have failed to notice this aspect and as a result provided translations that show Manusmrti in a bad light.
Buhler translates the next verse (3) as: The desire (for rewards), indeed, has its root (mula) in the conception that an act can yield them, and in consequence of (that) conception sacrifices (yajnas) are performed, vows and the laws prescribing restraints are all stated to be kept through the idea that they will bear fruit. Burnell read it as: Selfishness certainly has its root in the hope of a reward; sacrifices have their origin in selfishness; all vows and prohibitive rules (yamas) are said to arise from hope of a reward.
The term, samkalpa is not to be translated as selfishness nor is it a conception similar to that. Karmayoga had called for disassociation from pursuit of works with predetermined goals (samkalpas). The editors of Manusmrti agree that desire is at the root of such resolves (samkalpas). But they point out that sacrifices (yajnas), which one cannot accuse of having any ulterior goals of personal aggrandizement are themselves made feasible because of the resolves to carry out certain projects.
Even the different vows that every one is asked to take and the prohibitory rules that he is directed not to violate are the results of the wholesome resolves that he is encouraged to make early in his life. These editors take pains to defend their liberal and progressive approach against the appeal for contentment and self-denial advocated by the puritans among the advocates of Karmayoga.
Buhler translates the next verse (4) as: Not a single act here (below) appears ever to be done by a man free from desire, for whatever (man) does, it is (the result of) the impulse of desire. Burnell is more distracted and distracting as he says: Any act of an unselfish man is never at any time seen here; for whatever one does, that is the act of selfishness.
An attempt is made to weaken the force of the arguments that were advanced by the anti-hedonist Budhas. They were intellectuals of the social periphery and formed the core of the organization that followed Krshna, who advocated Karmayoga. Jones too was off the mark when he translated this verse as: Not a single act here below appears to be done by a man free from self-love; whatever he performs, it is wrought from his desire of a reward.
The editors of Manusmrti point out that the claim that the members of this body, especially of its lower rungs, were free from desires and are engaged in selfless voluntary activities of a sacrificial type can not be upheld.
Buhler translates the next verse as: He who persists in discharging these (prescribed duties) in the right manner, reaches the deathless state and even in this (life) obtains (the fulfillment of) all the desires that he may have conceived. Burnell interpreted it as: (Yet) one rightly occupied in these (acts) goes to the world of the immortals, and gets all (his) desires here as hoped for. Jones read it as: He, indeed, who should persist in discharging these duties without any view to their fruit, would attain hereafter the state of the immortals, and even in this life, would enjoy all the virtuous gratification, that his fancy could suggest.
The editors tell these members that if they lead their present life and perform their duties (vartamana) in an orderly way (samyag) they can reach the level of the social world (loka) of the immortals (amara), that is, the patriciate. All the resolves that they had made in tune with their desires (kama) they would be able to achieve in this life itself.
These editors were not for suppression of desires and absence of predetermined goals. Manusmrti does not support nihilism and self-denial. It is for a full life, active and optimistic (5). The sages who drafted this code did not encourage the commoners to entertain dreams about attaining heaven.
Buhler translates the next verse (6) as: The whole Veda is the (first) source of the sacred law, next the tradition and the virtuous conduct of those who know the Veda further, also the customs of the holy men and (finally) self-satisfaction. Burnell translates it as: The entire Veda is the root of law, (so also) tradition and the practices of those that know it; (also) the custom of the good, as well as satisfaction of (ones) self.
Jones was in search of a Hindu law-book that could be referred to for settling the disputes among the Hindus who were subjects of the British East India Company. He translated it as: The roots of the law are the whole Veda, the ordinances and moral practices of such as perfectly understand it, the immemorial customs of good men, and in cases indifferent, self-satisfaction. This verse has evoked serious debates on what is deemed to be the source of social law.
Four Authorities, Bases of Dharma:
Vedas, Sheela, Acara, Atma
According to the editors of Manusmrti all the Vedas are the source of Dharma. Medhatithi points out that some did not grant Atharva the status of a Veda. This verse accepts all the four Vedas (Rg, Yajur, Sama and Atharva), as having been drawn upon to determine what constituted Dharma. The next source is sheela or civilized conduct, as the learned knew. The third is the (traditional) practice (acara) followed by the pious (sadhus). The fourth is what one finds as satisfying his (atma) conscience. This verse is obviously a direction to the administrators and judges.
The editors of Manusmrti do not claim that their work has drawn entirely on the Vedas. This work is not dogmatic. It is for catholicity of outlook. Most of the contents of the Smrti are based on the general principles of civilized conduct and the practices of the pious and do not require probe into the Vedas for precedents and judgments. The judge could be guided even by what his conscience says is the correct solution. Not all judges were experts in Samkhya dialectics, resort to which was imperative for culling out from the Vedic texts what is dharma and what is adharma.
Buhler translates the next verse (7) as: Whatever law has been ordained for any (person) by Manu, that has been fully declared in the Veda; for that (sage was) omniscient. Burnell reads it as: Whatsoever dharma was proclaimed by Manu for any one that is, all directed in the Veda; he (was) possessed of all knowledge. Jones read it as: Whatever law has been ordained for any person by Manu, that law is fully declared in the Veda; for He was perfect in divine knowledge.
The previous verse has remained a highly controversial one. It virtually set aside the status of the Rgveda as the primary source of social and moral laws, dharma. The editors absolve Manu Svayambhuva of the charge of having proclaimed as such law, directives inconsistent with the Vedas. No one has been directed or permitted by him to do an act that is in violation of the Vedic prescriptions and proscriptions. These editors while adopting a holistic approach do not claim that they had suggested the other three sources on their own.
Jones translates the next verse (8) as: A man of true learning, who has viewed this complete system with the eye of sacred wisdom, can not fail to perform all these duties which are ordained on the authority of the Veda. Burnell interprets it as: So a learned man, having viewed by the eye of knowledge all this complete (system) as according to the authority of revelation, should certainly be firm in his own dharma. Buhler read it as: But a learned man after fully scrutinizing all this with the eye of knowledge (jnanachakshusha), should, in accordance with the authority of the revealed texts (sruti), be intent onhis duties (svadharma).
The drafting of Manava Dharmasastra had been inspired by the first Manu, Svayambhuva, and (the performance of) the duties of the individual in accordance with his class and stage of life were determined on the basis of what had been composed and transmitted orally as Vedas. [It is imprecise and unsound to treat them as revealed texts or as scriptures.]
The editors have accepted the right of the learned (vidvan) to determine his course of life including his vocation by falling back on insight (jnanachakshu) rather than on the Vedic pronouncements. He need not feel bound by the description of sheela or civilized conduct as given by other scholars or by the practices of the virtuous or even on conscience.
What one should do one should decide by oneself. A learned person is expected to have that insight to be able to keep away from immorality.
Burnell translates the verse (9) as: For a man performing the dharma declared by revelation and tradition obtains fame here, and after his death extreme happiness. Jones read it as: No doubt, that man who shall follow the rules prescribed in the Sruti and in the Smrti, will acquire fame in this life and in the next, inexpressible happiness. Buhler read it as: For that man (manava) who obeys the law prescribed in the revealed texts and in the sacred tradition, gains fame in this (world) and after death unsurpassable fame. It is not sound to treat the Srutis (Vedas) as revealed texts or the Smrtis (Dharmasastras) as presenting the sacred tradition. Both are however valuable works from which one can infer what acts are permissible and what are not.
Most men follow the traditions of their clan and community. They are referred to as commoners, manushyas. But some determine their own ways of life, svadharma. The learned may be able to do so without incurring blame and without being trapped in immorality. Most of the manavas however do not adhere to kuladharmas or jatidharmas nor do they define their own ways, svadharma. They follow the duties prescribed by the Srutis and the Smrtis for the different classes (varnas) and stages of life (asramas). They secure fame (keerti) in this social life (world) and their souls are expected to experience the highest bliss after their death. Varnasrama Dharma is in tune with the Vedas and also with the Dharmasastras.
Jones translates the verse (10) as: By Sruti or what was heard from above, is meant the Veda; and by Smrti or what was remembered from the beginning, the body of law; those two must not be oppugned by heterodox arguments; since from those two, proceeds the whole system of duties. Jones was misled in holding that the experts in Mimamsa were heterodox elements and they were opposed to the Vedas and the Dharmasastras. Burnell translated this verse as: Now the Veda is to be understood as revelation but the law-treatises (dharmasastra) as tradition; these two are irrefutable in all matters, for by these two virtue (dharma) arose. Burnell suggests that the Sruti and the Smrti are not to be discussed in any respect. Buhler reads it as: But by Sruti (revelation) is meant the Veda, and by Smrti (tradition) the Institutes of the sacred law: those two must not be called into question in any matter, since from those two the sacred law shone forth.
This verse might have been a later interpolation intended to block all discussion about the rationality of the rules prescribed by the Vedas or in their name. Most of the Vedic hymns dealt with the social and cultural history of the Vedic times and were chronicles. While the Vedic hymns were accepted as Sruti, the ballads and the legends that had come down similarly by oral tradition were not given this status. All the Smrtis were given the status of Dharmasastra and not Manusmrti only. Dharma has to be determined with reference to the Srutis and the Smrtis. This verse must have been interpolated in order to give more room for interpretation of Hindu Law without being constrained by the Mimamsa rules.
Burnell translates the next verse (11) as: A Brahman who, from adherence to rationalism (hetusastra) shall despise these two sources, he, an infidel blamer of the Vedas, is to be blamed by the just. Jones read it as: Whatever man of the three higher classes, having addicted himself to heretical books, shall treat with contempt these two roots of law, he must be driven, as an atheist and a scorner of revelation, from the company of the virtuous. Buhler translates it as: Every twice-born man, who relying on the Institutes of dialectics, treats with contempt those two sources (of the law), must be cast out by the virtuous as an atheist and a scorner of the Veda. Hetusastra is a system of logic and is often confused with the system of samkhya, dialectics.
Some educated persons (dvijas, twice-born) may question the postulate that Varnasrama system has its roots in the Vedas and in the Smrtis and argue that the Manavas are not eligible for praise for following it. They may say that these adherents will not become eligible for supreme bliss after death and that they have been falsely lured into that system. Such a dvija has to be cast out of the company of the pious (sadhus). He will be treated as an atheist (nastika) (not eligible to be treated as a Brahman). He is not to be assigned any work on the judiciary (Brahmakarma). He will be accused of having condemned the Vedas. One might question the validity of a rule incorporated in a Smrti. But if it is derived from the Vedas themselves, he is warned against such questioning. Hetusastra, logic, is not to be used to run down the Vedas. This verse may be a later interpolation.
Buhler translates the next verse (12) as: The Veda, the sacred tradition, the customs of virtuous men and ones own pleasure, they declare to be visibly the fourfold means of defining the sacred law. Burnell translates it as: The Veda, tradition, good custom, and (what is) pleasing to oneself, that (the wise) have plainly declared to be the fourfold definition of dharma. Jones reads it as: The scripture, the codes of law, approved usage and in all indifferent cases, self-satisfaction, the wise have openly declared to be the quadruple description of the judicial system. He wanted the East India Company, which he was guiding as a jurist-cum-administrator, to go by this verdict.
Veda, Smrti and Sadacara are not to be questioned. But where the person explains his conduct (vocation) as having been motivated by personal liking (priyam atmana) for it, he is not to be taken to task for no one pursues a way of life that is harmful to him or to others.The above four are the observable marks of adherence to dharma, desirable social conduct. Not all the vocations practised could be traced to the Vedic tradition or to the clauses incorporated in the Smrtis.
Many good practices were in vogue and were being emulated. There were some vocations that were not the norm. They were not popular too. But some resorted to them out of personal liking for them. The followers of such vocations were entitled to them though they might have been resorting to vocations reserved for certain clans and communities. The rights of the individual are not to be set at naught. We have to keep out criminals from this rule.
Burnell reads the next verse (13) as: A knowledge of dharma is ordained for men not given up to wealth and pleasure; of those who would know dharma, the Veda (is) the supreme authority. Buhler reads it as: The knowledge of the sacred law is prescribed for those who are not given to the acquisition of wealth and to the gratification of their desires; to those who seek the knowledge of the sacred law the supreme authority is the revelation (Sruti). Jones translated it as: A knowledge of right is a sufficient incentive for men unattached to wealth or to sensuality; and to those who seek a knowledge of right, the supreme authority is divine revelation.
For those not attached (asakta) to pursuit of wealth (artha) and pleasure (kama) pursuit of dharma has been prescribed (vidhi, rule). If one wants to know what dharma is from among the (four equal sources mentioned in the previous verse), he is advised to refer to the Vedas.These are the highest authority (paramam pramanam). Those in the householder stage of life are interested in wealth and pleasure. Others are advised to get knowledge about what constitutes righteousness.
Jones translates the verse (14) as: But where there are two sacred texts, apparently inconsistent, both are held to be the law; for both are pronounced by the wise to be valid and reconcilable. Burnell reads it as: Now where there may be an opposition (of texts) of the Veda, both (inconsistent passages) are declared to be dharma; for both those dharmas were regularly declared by the wise. Buhler translates it as: But when two sacred texts (Sruti) are conflicting, both are held to be law; for both are pronounced by the wise (to be) valid law.
The Smrtis accepted both the versions of the Srutis while determining what was valid as dharma. They did not strike down either version nor did they override both. This caution is given to the jurists, by the manishis, a school of social psychologists. The jurists are not to apply any logical system, whether samkhya or hetusastra, to find out the intents of the Vedas were. Obviously these manishis were upset by Kautilyas insistence that only by resorting to samkhya dialectics what was dharma and what was not could be culled from the Vedas. The orthodox is advised not to be fastidious about when the sacrifices are to be performed. (15)
Buhler translates the next verse (16) as: Know that he for whom (the performance of) the ceremonies beginning with the rite of impregnation (garbhadhana) and ending with the funeral rite (antyeshti) is prescribed, while sacred formulas are being recited, is entitled (to study) these Institutes, but no other man whatsoever. Buhler comments: The persons meant are the males of the three Aryan varnas. The sacraments may be performed for women and Shudras also, but without the recitation of mantras. It is wrong to postulate that only the three higher classes, varnas, were called as Aryans. It is also wrong to postulate that women and Shudras could not recite the mantras.
This verse does not impose any such restriction and does not grant any privileges to the higher classes. It only means that one for whom these rites are prescribed and who performs them is entitled to the privileges incorporated in this code (sastra). Burnell translates this verse as: Authority (to study) this science is to be recognized (as belonging) to him alone whose sacramental course of life from conception to cremation, has been declared (to be) by mantras, but of no one else. He notes that mantras meant Vedic texts. Jones reads it as: He whose life is regulated by holy text, from his conception even to his funeral pile, has a decided right to study this code; but no other man whatsoever. The editors of the Dharmasastra permitted every one born in the society that had consented to follow the rites prescribed in this code to study it and claim the rights and privileges enshrined in it for his class and stage of life. Others were not entitled to these rights.
FROM BRAHMAVARTA TO ARYAVARTA
(MS 2- 17 to 25)
Jones translates the next verse (17) as: Between the two divine rivers Sarasvati and Drshadvati lies the track of land, which the sages have named Brahmavarta, because it was frequented by gods. Burnell translates it as: The (country) which is between the divine rivers (devanadi) Sarasvati and Drshadvati, that land (desa), fixed by the Gods (devas), (the wise) call Brahmavarta. Buhler reads it as: That land, created (nirmitam) by the gods, which lies between the two divine rivers Sarasvati and Drshadvati, the (sages) call Brahmavarta. These two rivers, which were flowing parallel to and east of River Sindhu and its tributaries had disappeared during the lifetime of the first Manu, Svayambhuva, who was the Prajapati of Brahmavarta before his elevation to the post of Manu. (18)
This land between Sarasvati and Drshadvati was constituted by the aristocrats (devas) as the land of the intellectuals, as Brahmavarta. The editors of Manusmrti say that the customs of the (four) classes (varnas) and the intermediate sections (antaralas) handed down by course of succession in that land is called good custom (sadacara). Burnell uses the term, castes instead of classes and mixed castes to indicate antaralas. Buhler translates this verse as: The custom handed down in regular succession (since time immemorial) among the (four chief) castes (varna) and the mixed (races) of that country is called the conduct of virtuous men. The use of the term, race, is unwarranted and unfortunate.
Jones translates this verse as: The custom preserved by immemorial tradition in that country, among the four pure classes, and among those are mixed, is called approved usage. The use of the word, pure, is uncalled for. Similarly sadachara is not to be translated as approved usage. The use of the term, immemorial is not called for. All that is implied is the good customs that were part of the traditions ofBrahmavartabecame later thedharmasof the classes and of those who were in intermediate range of those classes. Varnadharmas began in Brahmavarta traditions.
Kurukshetra, Matsya, Panchala and Surasenaka formed the country (desa) of the Brahmarshis after Brahmavarta. (19) It would appear that these states in the Ganga-Yamuna Doab gave asylum and abodes to the sages known as Brahmarshis after they left their earlier abodes in Brahmavarta, the Sarasvati-Drshadvati basin. This theme, migration from and nostalgia for the earlier abodes on the banks of River Sarasvati runs through many hymns of the Rgveda. Manu Svayambhuva himself refused to emigrate despite raids on his abode by brigands from abroad and is suspected to have died of drinking the poisoned water of a fountain on the riverbed.
The Ganga-Yamuna Doab became the cradle of culture and valour with this migration until Kasi and Mithila to its east soon emerged as new centres of knowledge that was promoted by the sages of the Upanishads. The editors of Manava Dharmasastra took into account the social structures and culture of the Ganga-Yamuna Doab while drafting their scheme for reconstruction of the society.
Buhler translates the next verse (20) as: From a Brahmana, born in that country, let all men on earth learn their several usages. Jones translated it as: From a Brahman who was born in that country, let all men on earth learn their several usages. Burnell reads it as: All men in the world should learn their own proper behaviour from a Brahman born in that country. This verse needs more attention than it has received till now.
All the 'manavas (followers of Manava Dharmasastra, to be precise, followers of Pracetas Manu whose Arthasastra was a supplement to it) of Prthvi (the agro-pastoral country under the jurisdiction of Prthu) were advised to learn about their respective conduct (svacharitram) from those scholars born earlier in this country (the land of Brahmarshis).
The states, which adopted the Prthu constitution, were required to honour the practices that these manavas had opted to follow. They were located between the Sarasvati basin and the Ganga-Yamuna Doab. The Brahmarshis of the second generation were born in the Ganga-Yamuna Doab. Those of the first generation were not necessarily born in Sarasvati region but were trained there and many of them had migrated to different areas.This second generation to which the editors of Manava Dharmasastra belonged followed certain practices mutually agreed to and these were the models set for the people of Prthvi or Madhyadesa, the central country. The earlier ones were annulled if they had not been agreed to and followed by these editors.
Burnell reads the next verse (21) as: The country between the Himalaya and Vindhya (mountains) which is to the east of Vinasana and to the west of Prayag, is called the central country. The region between the two river basins, the Indus basin and the Gangetic plains, was known as Madhyadesa. It was the Prthvi over which Prthu exercised suzerainty. Its society and culture were reconstructed by drawing on the experiences of the Brahmarshis of the second generation born in the countries of the Ganga-Yamuna Doab. Burnell reads the next verse (22) as: (The land) indeed between those two mountains (extending) to the eastern and to the western sea, the wise (budha) call Aryavarta.
The disciples of the Brahmarshis (the sages of Brahmavarta, the Sarasvati basin) appear to have spread in all directions. They called all the snow-topped mountains of the north as Himavat and all the mountains of the south as Vindhyas. The sages of the social periphery, budhas, referred to the territory between the two mountains and the two seas as Aryavarta. Jones interpreted the term, Aryavarta, as the tract inhabited by respectable men. Buhler called it the country of the Aryans. It is inadvisable to read any ethnic or racial or linguistic note in it. All the residents of this area were known as Aryas.
Burnell reads the next verse (23) as: Where the black antelope is indigenous, that country is to be known as a land fit for sacrifices; the Mleccha land (is) beyond it. Buhler calls the Mlecchas as barbarians. Jones translated this verse as: That land, on which the black antelope naturally grazes is held fit for performance of sacrifices; but the land of Mlecchas or those who speak barbarously differs widely from it. Aryavarta was the natural habitat of the black buck krshnamrga whose meat was perhaps used for sacrifices (yajna) where the nobles were the chief guests. The lands beyond Aryavarta were declared as Mlecchadesa, the land of the aliens. It would appear that the food habits of the Mlecchas were different from those of the residents of Aryavarta. The original text does not use any contemptible word against the Mlecchas.
Buhler translates the next verse (24) as: Let twice-born men seek to dwell in those (above-mentioned countries); but a Shudra, distressed for subsistence, may reside anywhere. Jones read it as: Let the three first classes invariably dwell in those before-mentioned countries; but a Shudra, distressed for subsistence, may sojourn wherever he chooses. Burnell read it as: Let the twice born (Brahmans, Kshatriyas and Vaisyas) strenuously resort to those countries; but a Shudra distressed for a livelihood may abide in any (land) whatsoever.
The term, dvijatis, may indicate also the communities (mixed classes) not included in the three classes who were required to perform sacrifices as a socio-religious duty. They were not debarred from going beyond the tracts mentioned above. But they were advised to make efforts to reside permanently in these areas (Aryavarta). The Shudras (for whom performance of yajna was not prescribed as a duty) might reside anywhere to eke their livelihood. So far the editors were describing the origin (yoni) of dharma and how all this came to be (sambhava). Now they propose to describe the varnadharmas of all, that is, the rights and duties of all on the basis of their class affiliation. (25). We do not in this treatise deal with the nuances of the rules of religious conduct prescribed.