Smriti Class 1 – Dr. Vanitha Ramaswamy – March 31, 2016
General Discussions before the class:
Shravana Kumar’s parents were not Brahmins. Yet due to the power of the tapas they were able to curse Dasharatha. The power is obtained through practice of Yoga and not through birth in a Brahmin family.
In Arthashastra, there is a shloka to pacify husband’s anger. There were tantric practices to control the minds of others. There are mantras to win over the husband from the influence of his other wives. The knowledge of the tantra is also important. If everything else fails, they will resort to Tantra.
Saama,Daana, Bhedha, and Danda are the four types. Saama is applying Dharma and try to get it done in the right way. Daana is to offer something to get it done. Bhedha is to warn about the consequences of not doing it. When these three fail, they resort to Danda. When the person is physically stronger, tantra is used to win him.
Jamadagni was disgraced by Parikshit. Parikshit had more worldly powers being the king. But he was punished by the curse. Diplomacy is important. Chankya teaches Chandragupta that by hook or crook one should win. You should withdraw if you feel that you are not fit. But once you undertake some task, see that it is completed somehow. Tantra is the last resort.
Vishya Kanya is used. Poison is given to a girl child from birth in smaller quantities that the system becomes immune to the poison. It increases the beauty of the child. She is used as a weapon. Such methods were approved and practiced by the kings. Chandra Gupta’s enemy Amatya Rakshasha sends a Visha Kanya to Chandra Gupta. Chanakya smartly protected Chandra Gupta by sending someone else in place of Chandra Gupta. It is a wonderful story where Chanakya finally makes Amatya himself the protector of Chandra Gupta Maurya.
The need for Smritis
Shrutis are the most authoritative works. Poorvotaraana bhaleeyasi. Whatever is said earlier becomes stronger. When there is a conflict between Shruti and Smriti, Shruti is taken to be correct. Anything that has come after it cannot override its injunctions. That being the case, why is there then a need for Smriti?
For example, if Shruti says Chaaturvarnya is to be followed, the Smriti cannot go against it. But the Smriti can clarify whether a person can cross over from one varna to another, if he has the right capabilities. The Smritikaara will refer to the Vedas and substantiate his argument. Janmanaa jaayate Shudrah. Without any jnaana, everyone is a Sudhraa at birth. By taking the second birth, i.e., during upanayana karma, the boy becomes a Brahmana. The woman also becomes a Brahmin when she starts the studies to acquire knowledge.
During the Smriti period, there were different professions that came in being. Every job was required and it was honoured. As far as the definition of Brahmin-hood is concerned, it depends on the person’s capacity in regaining knowledge and giving out the knowledge. आचिनोति आचरत्यपि आचार्यः – aachinoti – is the collection of knowledge. An Aacharya has to acquire knowledge and carry out his actions based on the acquired knowledge. He should have unity in thoughts, words and action. ऋषिः – A Rishi is a gnaani. He sees oneness in humanity – सर्वंखल्विदं ब्रह्म | मार्गदर्शी महर्षिः | He shows the direction to all the human beings. There is no selfish interest in him. He is concerned about everyone. Each person’s life is unique. The different paths are not to be condemned or glorified. The Rishi’s scope covers everyone and he provides the appropriate guidance for everyone.
Crossing or तरण from one varna to another varna was allowed. In Manusmriti, Manu says that he recollects the Vedic concepts and writes this Manusmriti. The deviations according to the requirement of times, without contradicting the Vedic injunctions are captured in the Smritis. Now the role of ladies is changing. Vivekananda too had suggested that a new Smriti text has to be written for the 20th century. So Smriti text can be written any number of times, depending on the need of the times. But it should not be against the dicta of the Shruti, which elaborate the fundamental dharma of the mankind.
Smriti covers the rules and regulations related to the four varnas. Krishna says “chaatur varnyam mayaa srushtam” – “I have created this classification into four groups”. The entire society was classified into four groups based on the division of labour, i.e., based on the Vritti – profession or the Samarthya – capability. Within these four varnas, there is a principle of mutual dependency. We do not see the classification of the caste system as we see in the present modern times. People were free to cross from one group to another. The purpose of this classification is to allow a person to work on the field considering their skills that they are good at. Wherever there are people, there will naturally be these four types of work. These four divisions are necessary for man-kind to run their day to day life. There is no question of superiority or inferiority indicated in the Vedic scriptures. This is a natural division because creation provides these four types of people. Shastra has provided opportunity by this division to enable people of different capabilities to have freedom and live their life in their own way, and still be able to contribute to the society. The Britishers misinterpreted these classifications to create split between the people by associating inferiority and superiority amongst the divisions.
This flexibility is the beauty of the Vedic literature. This is the reason that Vedas and the Sanaatana dharma have stood the test of time. It would have been a dead literature if it had been a rigid. There is scope of change according to the current needs of the people. General laws that govern humanity are covered in these Smriti literatures. It is based on the Vedas, by recollecting its contents. What are to be done at the different phases of life is covered in the Smritis when it elaborates the activities to be performed in the four Ashrams. If we want to have an integrated society and work in a united manner, the common principles that are respected by all people are required. “Don’t tell lies. Don’t cheat others. Lead life in a cooperative manner. Educate the kids. Conduct their marriage at the appropriate age.”
Veda can be interpreted in several ways. We have to unearth the required information from the Vedas. Veda is the solid gold, where the Smriti texts are the gold coins minted at different times.
Differences in Smritis
Learn about the important smritis with the name of the authors. The difference in the smritis could be due to the differences that are present in the Shrutis themselves. There are Shaakas in the Shrutis – Aapasthamba shaakaa, etc. The influence of the guru will be present in the descendents or followers of that specific Rishi. There were thousands of guru kulas and hence numerous shaakaas or branches. Under the patronage of the kings, there were many guru kulas. The king would go on hunting expedition and ensure that the area that is occupied by the Rishis is protected from wild animals. Sanaatana Dharma or Vaidika Dharma is based on the Vedas. It is called as maanava dharma – rules to be followed by the humans. As there were different branches based on the gurukulas, there were also different smritis based on the authors. Though the base was the Vedas, the Smritis had the influence of its authors. These literatures were not written for a specific community. These were called as Maanava Dharma and were applicable to the entire humanity.
The Smritis are for the protection of the human race. The Smirits are a wonderful concept that has to be preserved and practiced in the society for the sake of humanity.
[Q&A: How are Darshans different from Smritis? Darshanas deal with the ultimate goal of realizing the self. Smritis are for the day-to-day life. According to the Vedas, life is a celebration. Darshanas help to age gracefully mainly in the Vanaprasta ashrama. There are Rishis who might have written both types of works].
Manu is considered as the father of the Human Race. The other smritis are also based on this only. The other Smritis would have taken certain specific aspects and would have dealt with them. If a person writing on the duties of the students, then it becomes a Smriti named after that person. Ramayana and Mahabharata represent our Vedic culture. There are specific mentions about the dharma shastra in the epics. Dharma Shaastras are Smritis.
[Jainism and Buddhism are offshoots are Hinduism. The Jains did not understand the purpose of the Yagna and the impact of the Yagna. They have highlighted some aspects of Hinduism. Mahaveera selected one aspect, Ahimsa. Buddha is considered as the ninth avatar. ]
Vyavahaara Maatrukaa Prakaranam
Vyavahaara is the day to day activities like Artha, Vartha, Pashupaalana, Vritti, etc. How these are to be conducted in a dharmic way is the subject matter. The various duties and responsibilities of the king and elders to protect the vyavahaara for the society are explained. The handling of the court cases is the Vyavahaara. These are mainly the monetary transactions. Yagnavalkya takes Manu as an authority and provides information on how certain actions are to be done. The appropriate punishment has to be given for the wrong actions. For this the King and his ministers should have the right knowledge of the Smritis to know which is right and which is wrong. The Smriti states the general rules and regulations that could be applied to specific situations. Yagnavalkya deals with various aspects like civil disputes related to property, evidence, pledge, gift, sale, witness (Saakshi, team – kuta saakshi), punishments, recovery of debts (runa), Deposits (Nikshepa), etc.