Living According to Manu: God’s Manual of Instruction for Life

Article of the Month - Aug 2021

This article by Nitin Kumar

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Manu was the first human being. He is the ancestor of our ancestors. The code of life explained in his book Manu Smrti, was first given by Brahma the creator of the world himself. Thus this text, coming as it is from the highest authority, being full of wisdom and practical suggestions is nothing but an instruction manual for living a 'Vedic life'. Here are some gems:


On Man and Woman:

A man receives a wife given by the gods and not by his own choice. He should always look after that good woman,thereby doing what is pleasing to the gods. (9.95)

If they desire good fortune, the men of the house should always revere their women, honoring them them with ornaments and adornments. Where women are revered, there the gods rejoice; but where they are not, all efforts are unfruitful. Where female relatives grieve, the family soon comes to ruin, where they do not grieve (i.e where they are happy), prosperity reigns. Therefore, if men want prosperity, they should always honor women on joyful and festive occasions with gifts of ornaments, clothes and food. Good fortune smiles incessantly on the family where the husband always takes delight in his wife and the wife in her husband. When the wife shines, the entire household sparkles; but when she does not shine, the entire house loses its sparkle. (3.55-62)

A woman is like a light within a home. Indeed, there is no difference between a woman and Goddess Lakshmi(9.40)

Manu-Smrti (A Critical Study and Its Relevance in the Modern Times)

The following are reprehensible in relation to women: A father who does not give away his daughter at the right time to a worthy groom, a husband who does not have physical relations with his wife at the right time and the son who who does not look after his mother when his father is dead. (9.4)

A girl should remain at her father's house until death rather be given to a groom bereft of good qualities. (9.89)

A woman's mouth is always pure. (5.130)

There is no difference between a daughter and a son. (9.130)

Wife, offspring and oneself, these three are the full extent of a man. The husband, tradition says, is the wife, They can never be cut loose from one another. This is the dharma made by Brahma himself. (9.45-46)

Man performs dharma in partnership with his wife. (9.96)

Fidelity to each other till the end, this in nutshell is the highest dharma between husband and wife. A husband and wife, after they have performed the marriage rite, should always work hard to prevent their separation from each other. This is the dharma for man and woman based on love. (9.101-103)

A mother, father, wife, or son can never be abandoned. (8.389)

On Dharma:

Gradually, like termites pile up an anthill, we should, without hurting any creature, collect dharma every day. It is neither our father, nor mother, nor wife, nor son or any other relative who accompanies us to the next world. It is only our dharma who stands by us. Alone a creature is born and alone it dies. Alone it enjoys the fruits of its good deeds, alone also the fruits of its evil deeds. While the relatives discard his dead body on the earth as if it were a piece of wood or a load of earth and depart with their faces turned away from him, it is only the dharma performed by him that escorts him. With dharma as his escort, he will cross over the darkness that is otherwise difficult to cross. (4.238-242)

When a householder sees wrinkles on his body, his hair gray and grandchildren in his house, he should make his way to the forest. There are two options: He can entrust his wife to his sons or if she wishes she can accompany him to the forest. (6.3)

The greatest purity is the purity of wealth (i.e. money earned through correct means). (5.105-106)

Studies in the Dharamasastra of Manu

With whichever bhava a person gives away something in dana (charity), he obtains the same thing with the same reverence in the next birth. When due respect is shown in giving and receiving, both the giver and the receiver go to heaven; but if the opposite is the case, both of them go to hell. (4.234-235)

One must not do the following: Flaunt one's tapasya, lie (boast) about a sacrifice one has performed, insult a brahmin even though he may have aggrieved us or brag about some charity we have performed. A sacrifice is destroyed by lying about it, tapasya is destroyed by flaunting it, reviling a brahmin reduces our lifespan and merits of charity are destroyed when we brag about it. (4.236-237)

Dharma destroyed destroys us. Dharma protected protects us. (8.15)

All things are founded on speech; speech is the root of all things and from speech they proceed. Therefore a man who steals speech (twists meaning by lying) he is guilty of stealing everything. (4.256)

After a man has freed himself from the debts he owes to the saints, ancestors and gods, then he should hand over everything to his sons and live in seclusion with his mind composed. It is only by reflecting alone does a man attain supreme bliss. (4.257-258)

The body is purified by water, the mind by truth, the jivatma by tapasya and vidya and the buddhi is purified by correct knowledge of things. (5.109)

Garlic, onions and mushrooms are forbidden for all twice-born persons. (5.5)

Gold and silver came from the union of union of fire and water; they are therefore best cleaned using these very sources. (4.236-237)

Manu's Code of Law A Critical Edition and Translation of the Manava-Dharmasastra

Common dharma for all the four varnas (Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra) is the following: Ahimsa, truthfulness, not stealing, purity and controlling the sense organs. (10.63)

Liquor is the filth of various grains. Hence one should not drink it. (11.94)

The Veda is the eternal eyesight for our ancestors, gods and humans. Vedas (being given by God), are beyond the powers of human logic or cognition. (12.94)

On Kings, Kingship and Taxes:

After getting up in the morning, the king should pay his respects to Brahmins learned in the Vedas, and rule according to their guidance. The king should make it a habit to look after elderly Brahmins who know the Vedas. The one who serves the elders is respected even by demons (what to say of humans). A king should always learn the art of discipline from Vedic Brahmins. A king who is disciplined in his habits is never destroyed. (7.37-40)

Day and night a king should strive vigorously to control his organs for when he has subdued his organs only then is he able to bring his subjects under control. (7.44)

Hunting, gambling, sleeping during the day, women and useless travel, these are most harmful for a king. (7.47-48)

The king must always appoint worthy counsellors. Even an easy task becomes difficult when undertaken by a single person, what to say then of the task of running a kingdom? (7.55)

The king who protects his people properly gets one-sixth of the merits of dharma performed by them. However if he fails to protect then one-sixth of adharma goes to him. (8.304)

Manu Neethi Ennum Manu Dharma Sasthiram

When a king collects taxes and fines without providing protection to his people, he immediately goes to hell. He is said to have gathered all filth (sins) of the entire population. (8.309)

A king is purified by controlling wicked people and looking after virtuous people. Doing this, he gets the same merit as obtained by the performance of Vedic sacrifices. (8.311)

The king, if insulted by the needy, children, the aged, or the sick, should forgive them. The king who bears patiently when those in anguish insult him will be exalted in heaven; but the one who does not forgive because of his royal power goes to hell. (8.312.313)

A king should never fail to punish even his own father, teacher, friend, mother, wife, son or priest if they are not situated in dharma. (8.335)

The following five kinds of people should not be forced to pay taxes by the king: A blind person, an idiot, a cripple, a man over 70 years and a person who takes care of Vedic scholars. (8.394)

A king should always honor Vedic scholars, those who are sick or afflicted with any disease, children, the aged and poor people.

A king should banish gambling and betting from his kingdom. These are the two vices that destroy a kingdom. Gambling is that which is done with inanimate things (like cards, dice etc.); betting is that which is done with living beings (racing-horses or cock-fights etc.).

One-fourth of adharma goes to the perpetrator. One-fourth goes to the one who witnesses it (who does not try to stop it, or if unable to stop it doesn't go away). One-fourth goes to the ministers of his court and one-fourth goes to the king himself. However, the sin accrues solely to the perpetrator, if all the rest condemn the act. (8.18-19)

Women over two months pregnant, wandering ascetics, former householders who now live in the forests, Brahmins and those wearing religious insignia, all these should not be forced to pay toll. (8.407)

On Fines and Punishment:

For the same crime, if an ordinary person is fined one unit, the king should be fined 1000 times, this is the irrefutable law. (8.336)

For committing the same amount of theft , the liability of a Shudra is eight times, that of a Vaishya sixteen times, for a Kshatriya thirty-two times and a Brahmin sixty-four times the amount stolen. (8.338)

The Laws of Manu (A New Translation)

For injuring any kind of tree, the perpetrator should be fined in proportion to the usefulness of the tree. (8.285)

If the driver of a vehicle injures a man, animal or property, he needs to be punished along with the owner of the vehicle. However, in the following cases they will not be punished: in case of mechanical failure like snapping of ropes, breaking of the yoke, when the vehicle skids to one side, when it slides backwards, when the axle breaks, when a wheel breaks, when reins snap or when the driver has cried out "Get out of the way" - in these case there is to be no punishment. (8.291-292)

When the vehicle veers off due to the driver's incompetence and it results in injury, the owner should be fined 200 units. But if the driver is trained , then it is the driver who will be fined and if he is untrained then all the riders will be fined 100 units each. (8.293-294)

On Commerce:

A washerman should wash clothes thoroughly but gently on a smooth cotton-wood board. He must not use of the clothes (given to him for wishing) to tie up or carry other such clothes. He must not let others wear the clothes (not give them on rent). (8.396)

A weaver receiving thread weighing 10 units to make cloth, he must return cloth weighing 1 unit more. If he does otherwise, he should be made to pay a fine of 12 units.

On Brothers:

The eldest brother should look after his younger brothers like a father and they in turn should behave towards their elder brother as towards their father. (9.108)

The Ordinances of Manu

Brothers can live together (same kitchen) or they can live separately also. (9.111)

On Knowledge:

Those who rely on books are better than the ignorant; those who carry them in their memories are better than them; those who understand them are better than those who carry them in their memory; and those who resolutely follow their teachings are superior to those who only understand them. (12.103)

Freedom is Happiness:

Doing things under the control of others - that is suffering; being under one's own control, that is happiness. This in a nutshell, is the definition of suffering and happiness. (4.160)

Final Summing up by Manu Ji:

With a composed mind, a person should see everything in the self; for when he sees everything in the self, his mind will not turn towards adharma. All gods are but the self only; indeed the whole world abides within the self.

Essence of Manu Simriti in Simple Words

When a man thus sees by the self all beings as the self, he is united with all and attains to Brahman, the highest state. (12.118-125)

References & Further Reading:

Shivraj Acharya The Manu Smrti with Commentary of Kullukabhatta: Varanasi 2014

Olivelle, Patrick. The Laws of Manu, Oxford: 2004.

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