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Rna (Samskrit: ऋणम्) refers to the concept of pious obligations that evolved as part of Dharma. They are specific responsibilities to be discharged by every individual during one's lifetime in gratitude to the various benefits that one obtains in life from different sources.
परिचयः ॥ Introduction
The Vedas laid down that every individual should discharge three pious obligations. This concept of pious obligations emanated from one of the basic values of life evolved as part of Dharma, namely, Gratitude. In that, every individual has an obligation to the source from which every type of benefit was received by him including his own coming into existence. The three pious obligations were
- Deva Rna (Towards the Supreme Being)
- Pitru Rna (Towards Parents)
- Rishi Rna (Towards Rishis)
In fact, the entire ancient law evolved in this country was based upon the principle of these three debts. Subsequently, Maharshi Vyasa, the Adi Guru who systematised the Four Vedas and authored the Mahabharata, added the fourth pious obligation towards Human Society, namely, Manava Rna.
The relevant verse in the Mahabharata where these four pious obligations have been indicated are in Adi Parva (Adhyaya 120.17-20). It says,
ऋणैश्चतुर्भिः संयुक्ता जायन्ते मानवा भुवि | पितृदेवर्षिमनुजैर्देयं तेभ्यश्च धर्मतः ||
r̥ṇaiścaturbhiḥ saṁyuktā jāyante mānavā bhuvi | pitr̥devarṣimanujairdeyaṁ tebhyaśca dharmataḥ ||
Meaning: Every individual should discharge four pious obligations. They are Deva Rna (towards the Supreme Being), Pitru Rna (towards parents), Rishi Rna (towards teachers) and Manava Rna (towards humanity). It also indicated the method by which the four pious obligations are to be discharged.
यज्ञैस्तु देवान् प्रीणाति स्वाध्यायतपसा मुनीन् | पुत्रैः श्राद्धैः पितृंश्चापि आनृशंस्येन मानवान् ||
yajñaistu devān prīṇāti svādhyāyatapasā munīn | putraiḥ śrāddhaiḥ pitr̥ṁścāpi ānr̥śaṁsyena mānavān ||
Meaning: One should discharge Pitru Rna by maintaining continuity of the family, Deva Rna by worship of the Supreme, Rishi Rna by the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge and Manava Rna by every type of social service.
देवऋणम् ॥ Deva Rna
Deva Rna refers to obligation towards the Supreme Being who is the Creator. Therefore, Deva Rna is to be discharged by worshipping the Supreme Being in various ways and performing Yajnas. It was prescribed with the objective of discharging gratitude of an individual for bringing him to life as a human being, providing with him all the physical and intellectual capacities and also providing Nature for his benefit. However, no particular deity was specified and no particular form of worship was prescribed. It was left to the choice of the individual to worship the Supreme Being in whatever form he pleased. It is due to this reason that, in Bharata, limitless names of the Supreme Being and varied modes of worship came into existence depending upon individual preference. There was no persuasion or force. As a result, individuals began to worship the Supreme in the manner it pleased them. This type of worship came to be known as "Worship of Ishtadevata" ie. the form of the Supreme as per one's liking. Apart from this, plants, animals and even inanimate objects were regarded as manifestation of the Supreme and people began to worship them according to their own liking. The basis of worship of the Supreme in whatever manner one pleases in is again the expression of the sense of gratitude. Apart from this, such worship also develops a sense of respectful-fear towards the Supreme in the individual. This constitutes an internal check against causing injury to other individuals and also to other living beings, in the belief that it would amount to inflicting injury on the Supreme Being himself.
Anyone who is not conversant with the total freedom given to individuals to worship the Supreme in any form thinks that the people in this country believe that there are crores of deities. But actually, every one in this land believes that the Supreme Being is one irrespective of the innumerable names by which he is worshipped on different occasions and for different purposes. This broad outlook is found incorporated in the following verse. It says,
यं शैवा: समुपासते शिव इति ब्रह्मेति वेदान्तिनो बौद्धा बुद्ध इति प्रमाणपटव: कर्तेति नैय्यायिका: |
अर्हन्नित्यथ जैनशासनरता: कर्मेति मीमांसिका: सौऽयं नो विदधातु वाञ्छितफलं त्रैलोक्यनाथो हरि: ||3||
yaṁ śaivā: samupāsate śiva iti brahmeti vedāntino bauddhā buddha iti pramāṇapaṭava: karteti naiyyāyikā: |
arhannityatha jainaśāsanaratā: karmeti mīmāṁsikā: sau'yaṁ no vidadhātu vāñchitaphalaṁ trailokyanātho hari: ||3||
Meaning: May the Lord of the universe, whom the Shaivas call and worship as Shiva, the Vedantins as Brahman, the Bauddhas as Buddha, the Naiyyayikas as Karta, the Jainas as Arhat and the mimamsakas worship as 'Karma' fulfill the desires of all.
This verse refers to different modes of worship of the Supreme by different names, by persons belonging to different philosophical schools founded in the land of Bharata. It declares that despite the fact that the Supreme Being is apparently worshipped by innumerable names and the belief that there are crores of deities, the firm belief of all in this land is that the Supreme Being is one. The fact that people worship the Supreme by giving innumerable names to Him only establishes that there is perfect and absolute religious freedom in this country and no one is compelled to worship the Supreme in any single particular manner. Religious indoctrination or dictatorship has been a taboo in this land, in view of the fact that our society is a 'Dharma'-based society that thrives of mutual respect.
For this reason, Dharma regards worshipping the Supreme as fulfillment of Deva Rna. Therefore, a follower of Dharma, is ready and willing to pray to the Supreme and has least opposition to the form of worship or place of worship. Such is the breadth and width of the vision of Dharma. That is why, a pre-eminent position was accorded to Dharma which in the course of history came to be called as Hindu Dharma or Hinduism. In this regard, the following excerpt from the book "Dialogues with the Guru", a record of dialogue with Jagadguru Sri. Chandrashekhara Bharati, the 33rd Shankaracharya of Sringeri is enlightening. It says,
Hinduism is the name which has now been given to our system, but its real name has always been Sanatana Dharma or the Eternal Law. It does not date from a particular point of time or begin from a particular founder. Being eternal, it is also universal. It knows no territorial jurisdiction. All beings born and to be born belong to it.
Thus, every individual is governed by Dharma. It is a code of right conduct to be obeyed by all human beings, in order to enable them to live in harmony not only with fellow human beings but also with plant and animal life.
पितृऋणम् ॥ Pitru Rna
Pitru Rna or the idea of discharging the pious obligation towards parents is one of the most cherished values of Dharma. Ancestral worship is a part of this pious obligation but not the whole. The Vedas directed every individual to treat his mother and father as Devatas. This concept itself is so inspiring. For, as far as the child born is concerned, not only it gets birth from its parents but it is also looked after by its father and mother. The child gets its early nourishment and care from its parents. It is the parents who secure education for the child. Again this concept of worshipping the father and the mother as equal to the Supreme also flows from the basic value of Gratitude. As one gets birth from the Parents and one gets education from the parents and they shape the life of the children, it was regarded as the duty of the children to worship the father and the mother as equal to the Supreme and to look after them in old age. It is this value which has sustained the moral character of the individual and also it is this sense of gratitude, which makes him serve not only the parents but also the brothers and sisters and other dependents who all belong to the same family. It is therefore laid down that it is the duty of every individual to discharge the pious obligation towards parents.
As part of the pious obligation towards parents, it was the duty of every individual to rear and bring up children in the family tradition and to educate them and impart moral character to them by securing them proper education through teachers and make them good human beings and make them an asset to society. In fact the desire to maintain family reputation without doing anything which is derogatory to that reputation has been an important factor in inculcating honesty and character in many individuals. It is again by the discharge of this pious obligation, that peaceful and moral family life was sought to be established.
In fact the obligation towards parents was also the basis for the concept of the inseparable relationship between husband and wife. It is needless to state that, the husband and the wife cannot discharge the obligation to the parents by merely having children. The children have to be protected against the moral and material abandonment. They were also to be educated in a proper manner and after they come of age, they were also to be inducted into family life. Thus, it was the duty of the husband and the wife to look after their children until they were fully educated and their marriages were performed. In fact, this duty is being performed in an exemplary manner even now in this country.
ऋषिऋणम् ॥ Rishi Rna
Rishi Rna or the obligation towards teachers is another cherished value of the ancient Bharatiya culture, and probably the most important, as it enables an individual to discharge the other three pious obligations properly and efficiently. This pious obligation was required to be discharged by the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge. In view of this, it was the duty of every individual to secure proper education, and acquire knowledge, and this had to be done with great effort from the Primary level upto the highest. And the only method to acquire knowledge is studying hard, painstaking efforts, concentration of mind and devotion. Knowledge cannot be acquired by easy or dubious methods. This aspect is highlighted in the following verse,
सुखार्थी वा त्याजेद्विद्यां विद्यार्थी वा त्याजेत्सुखम् | सुखार्थीन: कुतो विद्या नास्ति विद्यार्थिन: सुखम् ||3||
sukhārthī vā tyājedvidyāṁ vidyārthī vā tyājetsukham | sukhārthīna: kuto vidyā nāsti vidyārthina: sukham ||3||
Meaning: If you are after luxury and easy going then forget the desire to secure knowledge. If you are desirous of acquiring knowledge, then do not go after luxury and easy life during your studentship. There is no chance for an individual who is after luxury and easy methods of securing knowledge. There is no room to be luxurious and easy going to one who desires to acquire knowledge.
Because, a student who has the desire to acquire knowledge must put in hard labour and great efforts and concentration of mind. A man may become rich or secure wealth by many easy ways including inheritance of ancestral property. But that is not possible in the case of knowledge. It has to be self acquired only.
Therefore, to discharge the third pious obligation, namely obligation towards the teacher, one had to make great efforts to acquire knowledge. Further, it was also the duty of an individual after acquiring knowledge to improve or enlarge his knowledge by study and research and disseminate it to Society and to Posterity.
Great importance was attached to the discharge of this obligation. Kishori Lal Sarkar in his Tagore Law Lectures has dwelt at great length upon these pious obligations. In particular, regarding the pious obligation towards teacher (Rishi Rna), he has stated that this was being discharged faithfully for thousands of years in this country. The remarkable performance of this duty by the ancient society is evidenced by the vast body of knowledge acquired and accumulated in the Vedas, the Puranas and various other invaluable and everlasting literary works.
As to the importance given to education in ancient Bharata's society, it is sufficient to quote the following verse composed by the great Sanskrit poet Bhartruhari who flourished around first century B.C.E.,
विद्या नाम नरस्य रूपमधिकं प्रच्छन्नगुप्तं धनं विद्या भोगकरी यशस्सुखकरी विद्या गुरूणां गुरु: |
विद्या बंधुजनो विदेशगमने विद्या परा देवता विद्या राजसु पूजिता न तु धनं विद्याविहीन: पशु: ||20||
vidyā nāma narasya rūpamadhikaṁ pracchannaguptaṁ dhanaṁ vidyā bhogakarī yaśassukhakarī vidyā gurūṇāṁ guru: |
vidyā baṁdhujano videśagamane vidyā parā devatā vidyā rājasu pūjitā na tu dhanaṁ vidyāvihīna: paśu: ||20||
Meaning: Education is the special manifestation of a human being; Education is the treasure which can be preserved without fear of loss; Education secures material pleasure, happiness and fame; Education is the teacher of the teacher; Education is one's friend when one goes abroad; Education is the Supreme incarnate; It is Education that secures honour at the hands of the State, not money; A human being without education is equal to animal.
Also, as every individual has the pious obligation to acquire, and disseminate knowledge, it follows that the right to education as well as the right to impart education constitutes the most valuable fundamental right.
Manava Rna refers to obligation towards humanity. It stands to the great credit of Maharshi Vyasa that he considered that the three pious obligations on the part of every individual laid down in the Vedas required to be supplemented by the fourth, the Manava Rna, to make the obligation of individuals to society full and complete. Maharshi Vyasa declared that discharging every kind of social obligation to society forms part of the fourth pious obligation. This pious obligation is of great importance and covers every field of human activity. In fact, it is in the discharge of this obligation, that many individuals have rendered yeoman seva (सेवा | selfless service) and have spent considerable part of their wealth for innumerable kinds of social welfare schemes or projects or institutions since time immemorial and continue to do so.
It is on account of this fourth pious obligation, that it is stated that 'Service to Humanity is Service to Divinity'. In fact this obligation supplements the first obligation namely discharging Deva Rna. After all, every human being and every living being is an incarnation of the Supreme and therefore serving living beings is equal to serving the Supreme Being. Thus, Manava Rna constitutes a pious obligation and was so declared by Maharshi Vyasa.
Swami Vivekananda highlights this aspect and states that every individual who has secured all kinds of help from Society and who has secured education through educational institutions established by the society is under an obligation to serve them. If an individual, after securing education from the institutions established by society did not care for them and fails to use his knowledge in the seva (सेवा | selfless service) of society and uses it for making illegitimate wealth or profit, it is a clear instance of ingratitude and abuse of knowledge.
A few illustrations as to how the fourth pious obligation can be discharged are,
- Construction of wells or tanks to secure drinking water for the public in general.
- Construction of water turfs at public places and on the roadside for the benefit of travellers and for animals.
- Planting of trees on both sides of roads to provide shade or shelter to the travelling public.
- Construction of Dharma Shalas in towns and villages and more particularly at places of Pilgrimages for the use of pilgrims and travellers.
- Construction of hospitals for human beings, animals and birds as well as donations for construction of Hospitals or to hospitals already established.
- Construction of buildings for educational institutions, hostels etc.
- Establishing goshalas to look after cows and bullocks in their old age.
- Establishing public trusts and/or endowment for any public cause.
The above are only illustrative and not exhaustive. There are innumerable ways in which an individual can discharge the fourth pious obligation of Manava Rna. It is very large and ever expanding. It is on account of this pious obligation that Seva and Tyaga have become the National Ideals of Bharata.
ऋणविमोचनार्थं विवाहः ॥ Marriage as a Means to Honour the Rnas
The sanctity attached to the relationship of the husband and wife brought about by Vivaha (marriage) and the inseparability of their relationship was the firm foundation laid by the propounders of Dharma, on which the social life was constructed. This again had its source in the principle of three debts or three pious obligations.
Deva Rna (pious obligation to the deities) was required to be discharged through yajnas and other virtuous deeds such as making gifts to deserving people, as a householder. It was ordained that all such acts must be performed by the husband and the wife jointly. This injunction is being obeyed down to this day.
प्रजनार्थं स्त्रिय: सृष्टा: संतानार्थं च मानवा: | तस्मात्सधारणो धर्म: श्रुतौ पत्न्या सहोदित: ||96||
prajanārthaṁ striya: sr̥ṣṭā: saṁtānārthaṁ ca mānavā: | tasmātsadhāraṇo dharma: śrutau patnyā sahodita: ||96||
Meaning: To be mothers were women created and to be fathers men; religious rites therefore are ordained in the Veda to be performed by the husband together with his wife.
संहृतिः ॥ Synopsis
Everyone of the laws laid down in ancient Bharata was meant to give effect to the pious obligations. Highlighting this aspect K.L. Sarkar stated thus,
In interpreting texts relating to the duties and rights of the Hindus, these principles must always be kept in view, and it should be presumed that all the texts are more or less intended to promote these three classes of duties.
The civil law of the Hindus is at every step marked with the influence of the three-debt obligation...
Therefore it is clear that whenever two constructions of a text are possible, one tending to the discharge of one or other of the three debts, and the other inconsistent with such discharge, the former construction is to be adopted and not the later.
In order to impress upon every individual as to how he should conduct himself, at the end of Shikshavalli, (Ch. 1, Lesson-11) advice is given to the outgoing students. Excerpts from it are reproduced below, which give an idea about the good conduct expected from them throughout their life.
सत्यं वद | धर्मं चर |... सत्यान्न प्रमदितव्यम् | धर्मान्न प्रमदितव्यम् |... मातृदेवो भव | पितृदेवो भव | आचार्यदोवो भव | अतिथिदेवो भव | यान्यनवद्यानि कर्माणि | तानि सेवितव्यानि | नो इतराणि |... एष आदेश: | एष उपदेश: एतदनुशासनम् |
satyaṁ vada | dharmaṁ cara | satyānna pramaditavyam | dharmānna pramaditavyam | mātr̥devo bhava | pitr̥devo bhava | ācāryadovo bhava | atithidevo bhava | yānyanavadyāni karmāṇi | tāni sevitavyāni | no itarāṇi |... eṣa ādeśa: | eṣa upadeśa: etadanuśāsanam |
Meaning: Speak the truth; follow the prescribed conduct; Do not fail to pay attention to truth; Never fail to perform duty. Do not disregard what is proper and treat your Mother, Father and Teacher well and as equal to the Supreme Being. So also, treat your guest as Supreme. Those acts that are irreproachable alone are to be performed, and not those that are forbidden. This is the directive. This is the advice. This is the discipline to be observed throughout life.
A reading of every one of the directive given to students is highly inspiring and it concludes with the statement that it is the advice (Upadesha) and it is the directive (Adesha). It is not only a specific injunction to an outgoing student but also a direction to every human being. Thus the directive to every individual to discharge the four pious obligations is one of the most important values of life which forms part of 'Dharma'.