Pramanas for Dharma (धर्मप्रमाणानि)

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Pramanas for Dharma (Samskrit : धर्मप्रमाणानि) are the Vedas (वेदाः) which have been the pillars on which Sanatana Dharma (सनातनधर्मः) stood ground since time immemorial. That Vedas are the source of all Dharma (in moral, social, religious, judicial, and spiritual sense) is irrefutably advocated by all authoritative texts of our Bharatiya Samskrtika Parampara.

Many scholars have debated as to what is the source and pramana (basis) for Dharmas that have been prevalent from ancient times. With the advent of modern social conditions, it is time to revisit the gold standards for moral and social conduct of human beings. The word Dharma (धर्मः), for which no word of any language can be substituted, is used erroneously and loosely in the sense of sanctioning various unrighteous deeds in the name of changing society and times by different people all over the globe.

परिचयः ॥ Introduction

Dharma (धर्मः) is a samskrit expression of the widest import. There is no corresponding word for Dharma in any other world language as it is a unique and ancient concept promulgated by rshis since ages. Any single definition of Dharma would be an insufficient attempt to define the word. It can only be explained and has a wide variety of meanings in various contexts.

None of the faiths which are now widely spread across the world have such an extensive literary tradition nor the depth of concepts as antique as those advocated in Sanatana Dharma.

In this article we revisit and compile the pramanas or basis of Dharmas from Vedas and the subsequent vaidika vangmaya. The extensive vedic literature has shown the irrevocable link between Dharma and Vedas, a few instances are presented here.

व्युत्पत्तिः ॥ Etymology

The samskrit word veda (वेदः | knowledge, wisdom) is derived from the धातुः (root) विद् (vid) - ज्ञाने (वेत्ति) in the meaning "to know" (Dhatupatha 1064)[1]. Apart from this, Veda is derived from विद् (vid) धातुः with the addition of Bhavarthaka (भावर्थकः), Karmarthaka (कर्मार्थकः) and Karanarthaka (करणार्थकः) "धम" Dhama pratyaya (प्रत्ययः | suffix) to form the meanings "knowledge, pertaining to knowledge and instrument of knowledge" respectively (See Page 2 footnote 1 for further reference).[2]

वेद्यन्ते ज्ञाप्यन्ते धर्मादिपुरुशार्थचतुष्ठयोपाया येन स वेदः। vedyante jñāpyante dharmādipuruśārthacatuṣṭhayopāyā yena sa vedaḥ।

Meaning: That which is the means for obtaining the knowledge of Dharma and other (अर्थः ॥ Artha, कामः ॥ Kama and मोक्षः ॥ Moksha) purusharthas is called Veda.[2] Thus, the inseparable link between Dharma and Vedas is well established by scholars in many instances.

धर्मप्रमाणानि ॥ Pramanas for Dharma

Many Sanatana Dharma texts proclaim that Vedas are the pramanas or basis of Dharma. These texts being the oldest in the world with no precedents to them, it is accepted with authority and respect by every follower of the concept of Dharma. Vyasa Maharshi's sayings stand testimony to the vedic authority of dharma as mentioned in Smrtichandrika are as follows[3]

धर्ममूलं वेदमाहुः ग्रन्थराशिमकृत्रिमम्। तद्विदां स्मृतिशीले च साध्वाचारं मनःप्रियम् ॥

Meaning : The Vedas are said to be the source of Dharma, as are the abundance of texts which are not created (apaurusheya), along with traditions (based on smrtis) and the virtuous conduct of those who follow Vedas; ultimately the source of Dharma also lies as given by the inner conscience of a human being.

Following Vyasa Maharshi's words the following sources are listed below as accepted pramanas for Dharma.

  • वेदः ॥ the Vedic texts
  • स्मृतिः ॥ the Smrti texts
  • साध्वाचारम् ॥ the virtuous conduct of those who follow the Veda
  • मनःप्रियम् ॥ the inner voice of the person

Kurma Purana describing what dharmas are to be followed mentions that Shrauta dharmas involving the tretagni are the most advisable followed by Smarta dharmas. When both Shruti and Smrti texts are unavailable (in unusual situations), Shistachara forms the third kind of dharma that is taken as standard for enforcing dharma.[4]

श्रौतस्त्रेताग्निसंबन्धात् स्मार्त्तः पूर्वं मयोदितः । श्रेयस्करतमः श्रौतस्तस्माच्छ्रौतं समाचरेत् ।। २४.१५

उभावभिहितौ धर्मौ वेदवेदविनिःसृतौ । शिष्टाचारस्तृतीयः स्याच्छ्रतिस्मृत्योरलाभतः ।। २४.१६ (Kurm. Pura. 24.15-16)[5]

Thus it is to be noted that Shistachara is also one source of knowing dharma that is to be followed in particular situations when the same cannot be understood from the vedic and smrti texts.

शिष्टाचारः ॥ Shistachara

Shistachara is founded in turn on Shrutis and Smrtis (which are again based on Shrutis). Kurma Purana and Manu define who a शिष्टाचारः or a person of virtuous conduct is, as follows[3]

धर्मेणाधिगतो यैस्तु वेदः सपरिबृंहणः । ते शिष्टा ब्राह्मणाः प्रोक्ता नित्यमात्मगुणान्विताः ।। २४.१७

तेषामभिमतो यः स्याच्चेतसा नित्यमेव हि । स धर्मः कथितः सद्भिर्नान्येषामिति धारणा ।। २४.१८ (Kurm. Pura. 24.17-18)[5]

One who is knowledgeable in the dharmic concepts given in Vedas and Paribhrimhanas (परिबृंहणः । Includes the vedic extensions such as Ramayana and Mahabharata Itihasas and Purana texts), and who is filled with Atmagunas (such as Ahimsa, Daya, Satya and eight such others) engrossed in pursuing the knowledge of Brahman (Brahmana) is called Shista (शिष्टः). It is laid down that the views (policies) held by these Shistas, which are ever present in their Antakarana (Chetas), are called Dharma by scholarly people and not the views of those who live otherwise.[4]

शिष्टानां स्वरूपम् ॥ Qualities of Shista Brahmanas

Manusmrti reiterates the importance of respecting Shistas.

धर्मेणाधिगतो यैस्तु वेदः सपरिबृंहणः । ते शिष्टा ब्राह्मणा ज्ञेयाः श्रुतिप्रत्यक्षहेतवः । । १२.१०९ । (Manu. Smrt. 12.109)[6]

Those who have thoroughly studied the Dharmashastras, well-versed in the Vedas and vedangas, and leading a life according to the prescribed way laid down in the Shrutis are to be known as qualified persons of virtuous conduct or Shista Brahmanas (शिष्टा ब्राह्मणा-s).[7]

आचारप्रमाणम् ॥ Achara Pramana

Udaharana: It is further debated that if one who follows the activities as given by the Vedas and one who knows the Vedas (वेदविद्) becomes the pramana or standard for Shistachara, then even the (unlawful) living of Ahalya and Tara with Indra and Chandra respectively is be called as virtuous conduct (इन्द्रचन्द्रादेरहल्यातारादिगमनमपि प्रमाणं स्यात् किम्?) That is not the case. Then how is Aachara pramana (कथमाचारप्रामाण्यम्?) to be determined?

Hetu: In the case of knowing what Aachara pramanas are, even though deviations from Dharma are observed in examples such as that seen with Ahalya and Tara with Indra and Chandra respectively, Gautama this as follows

दृष्टो धर्मव्यतिक्रमः साहसं च महतां ॥ (Gaut. Dhar. Sutr. 1.1.3)[8] (तेषां तेजोविशेषेण प्रत्यवायो न विद्यते) इति। साहसं परशुरामादेः मातुः शिरछेदादि।

Meaning : Bigger instances of transgression of dharma and bold adventurous acts are observed such as the beheading of Parashurama's mother. But such instances not diminish their greatness owing to their glorious deeds. Similar lines were expressed in Bhagavata Purana as follows

धर्मव्यतिक्रमो दृष्ट ईश्वराणां च साहसम् । तेजीयसां न दोषाय वह्नेः सर्वभुजो यथा ॥ ३० ॥

नैतत्समाचरेज्जातु मनसापि ह्यनीश्वरः । विनश्यत्याचरन्मौढ्याद् यथारुद्रोऽब्धिजं विषम् ॥ ३१ ॥

ईश्वराणां वचः सत्यं तथैवाचरितं क्वचित् । तेषां यत् स्ववचोयुक्तं बुद्धिमांस्तत् समाचरेत् ॥ ३२ ॥

कुशलाचरितेनैषां इह स्वार्थो न विद्यते । विपर्ययेण वानर्थो निरहङ्‌कारिणां प्रभो ॥ ३३ ॥ (Bhag. Pura. 10.1.30-33)[9]

Transgressing the limits of dharma and over-adventurous acts are found to have been committed by mighty divine beings. But that does not amount to a blemish for those glorious beings, just as the fire having numerous flames (which does not get polluted by consuming impure things). These (transgressive) acts should not be committed even mentally by those beings who are not divine. Such people meet with destruction (people who transgress dharma) just like a person, other than Rudra, who swallows the poison that arose by the churning of the ocean. The words of those having divine wisdom are irrefutably truth and authoritative but their actions may be emulated only at certain times. A prudent and intelligent person should follow the actions of such virtuous men only when consistent with their own personal precepts. Such authoritative persons who are devoid of ahamkara (ego) have no selfish ends for they work for the welfare of others and gain nothing by acting on the contrary.[10]

परिषद्वचन-प्रमाणम् ॥ Pramana of the Parishad

Formation of a Parishad (a group of people forming a deciding authority) is an important aspect of our present day social fabric as well as the judicial system. We can now see how the pramanas for dharma evolved over time. Initially it was directly Vedas, then Smrtis, followed by practicing seers. As the rshi-parampara started dwindling the words of Shista Brahmanas following dharmik activities were considered as dharma pramanas. Further, in handling exceptional situations wherein the texts were not available the verdict of the Parishad of Shista Brahmanas was considered as authority or dharma pramanas.

In the absence of Manusmrti and such dharma defining books the laws pronounced by Parishad (a group of Shistas) become the dharma pramanas without any doubt according to Manu.

अनाम्नातेषु धर्मेषु कथं स्यादिति चेद्भवेत् । यं शिष्टा ब्राह्मणा ब्रूयुः स धर्मः स्यादशङ्कितः । । १२.१०८ । । (Manu. Smrt. 12.108)[6]

Gautama clarifies ten such Shistas form the Parishad. Bodhayana also reiterates the same.

प्रियमात्मनः ॥ Inner Voice of a Person

धर्मस्थानानि ॥ Dharmasthanas

Yajnavalkya smrti summarizes all the sources of Dharma comprehensively,

पुराणन्यायमीमांसाधर्मशास्त्राङ्गमिश्रिताः । वेदाः स्थानानि विद्यानां धर्मस्य च चतुर्दश ।। ३ ।। (Yajn. Smrt. 1.3)[11]

Puranas including the Brahma purana and others, Nyaya including Tarkashastra, Mimamsa which involves discussion about the content of Vedas, Dharmashastras include the Manu and other Smrtis, Angas include the Shad Vedangas, and Vedas - these are the fourteen vidyasthanas and dharma-sthanas.

A few examples of how some of the above mentioned texts relate to Dharma are discussed below.

वेदः ॥ Vedas

ऋग्वेदः ॥ Rigveda

A word whose exact meaning cannot be given in English or any other language, Dharma appears to be used in Rigveda as an adjective or noun in the form of dharman (धर्मन्) in neuter gender. The word is clearly derived from dhatu धृञ् (in the meaning धारणे) meaning - "to uphold, to support, to nourish".[12]

  • Dharma is used in the sense of - 'upholder or supporter or sustainer' as in Rigveda (1.187.1 and 10.92.2 and 10.21.3)
  • It is used in sense of religious ordinances or rites
  • It is also used as notation for fixed principles or rules of conduct

Aitareya Brahmana mentions a whole body of religious duties associated with Dharma.

स्मृतिः॥ Smrtis

Smrtis are the Dharmashastra granthas, given by seers as the 'remembered texts'. They are also texts which among many things mostly discuss the dharmas to be followed by people.

मनुस्मृतिः ॥ Manusmriti

Manusmriti has attached great importance to the Vedas and primarily advocates their authority.

वेदोऽखिलो धर्ममूलं स्मृतिशीले च तद्विदाम् । आचारश्चैव साधूनां आत्मनस्तुष्टिरेव च । । २.६ । । (Manu. Smrt. 2.6)[13][14]

vedo'khilo dharmamūlaṃ smṛtiśīle ca tadvidām । ācāraścaiva sādhūnāṃ ātmanastuṣṭireva ca । । 2.6 । ।(Manu. Smri. 2.6)

Meaning: Indeed ! Vedas are the source of all Dharma. Secondly it’s source is attributed to tradition and the virtuous conduct of those who follow the Veda, thirdly, to the customs of holy men and finally Atma-tushti (आत्मनस्तुष्टिः । satisfaction of the inner self).[1][15]

धर्मजिज्ञासानां प्रमाणं परमं श्रुतिः ॥ (Manu. Smrt. 2.3)[13]

dharmajijñāsānāṃ pramāṇaṃ paramaṃ śrutiḥ ॥ (Manu. Smrt. 2.3)

Meaning : For those greatly interested seekers of Dharma, the Vedas (Shrutis) are the highest authorities.[15] That the Vedas are the very treasure house of all Dharma, i.e. religion, morality, righteousness, and good conduct, was unequivocally and unquestionably proclaimed by Manu, the first Law-giver after the Vedas as follows:

बिभर्ति सर्वभूतानि वेदशास्त्रं सनातनम् । तस्मादेतत्परं मन्ये यज्जन्तोरस्य साधनम् । । १२.९९ । । (Manu. Smrt. 12.99)[6]

bibharti sarvabhūtāni vedaśāstraṃ sanātanam । tasmādetatparaṃ manye yajjantorasya sādhanam । । 12.99 । ।

Meaning: The eternal Veda shastra upholds or protects all beings (by being their flawless guideline). Those endeavoring for the welfare of all beings, regard Vedas as their supreme authoritative instrument in achieving it. The necessity of scrupulous practice of Dharma is forcefully expressed in Manusmriti thus:

धर्म एव हतो हन्ति धर्मो रक्षति रक्षितः | तस्माध्दर्मो न हन्तव्यो मा नो धर्मो हतोऽवधीत्  || (Manu 6-11-15)[14]

dharma eva hato hanti dharmo rakṣati rakṣitaḥ | tasmādhdarmo na hantavyo mā no dharmo hato'vadhīt || (Manu 6-11-15)

Meaning : Dharma protects those who protect it. Those who destroy Dharma, get destroyed. Therefore, Dharma should not be destroyed so that we may not be destroyed as a consequence thereof.

याज्ञवल्क्य-स्मृतिः ॥ Yajnavalkya Smrti

The Yajnavalkya Smrti, which is one of the important texts that is consulted for the present day Hindu Law, further lays its claim on being founded on Vedas. According to Brhadyogi-Yajnavalkya-Smrti (Page No. 11 of Ved aur Vedarth)[15][16][17]

न वेदशास्त्रादन्यत्तु किंचिच्छास्त्रं हि विद्यते । निःसृतं सर्वशास्त्रं तु वेदशास्त्रात् सनातनम् ॥ (Brha. Smrt. 12.1)

na vedaśāstrādanyattu kiṃcicchāstraṃ hi vidyate । niḥsṛtaṃ sarvaśāstraṃ tu vedaśāstrāt sanātanam ॥ (Brha. Smri . 12.1)

Meaning : There are no greater shastras other than the Vedas, as all shastras arose from the eternal Veda shastras only.

अत्रि-स्मृतिः ॥ Atri Smrti

Atri Smrti attributes the highest position of a Guru (गुरुः । teacher) to Vedas[15]

नास्ति वेदात् परं शास्त्रं, नास्ति मातु:समो गुरु: || (Atri. Smri. 5.148)

nāsti vedāt paraṃ śāstraṃ, nāsti mātu:samo guru: || (Atri. Smri. 5.148)

Meaning: There is no other shastra greater than Vedas, just as there is no greater Guru than the mother (to the child).

उपनिषदः ॥ Upanishads

Chandogya Upanishad - peculiar duties of asramas and dharma came to mean 'duties and privileges of a person as a member of the Aryan community, as a member of the one of the varnas or as in a particular stage of life.

Same meaning is seen in Taittriya Upanishad (1.2) Bhagavadgita.

महानारायणोपनिषद् ॥ Mahanarayanopanishad

धर्मो विश्वस्य जगतः प्रतिष्ठा लोके धर्मिष्ठ प्रजा उपसर्पन्ति धर्मेण पापमपनुदति धर्मे सर्वं प्रतिष्ठितं तस्माद्धर्मं परमं वदन्ति ॥ ७॥ (Mahanarayana. Upan. 79.7)[18]

Meaning : Dharma is the

षड्-दर्शनानि ॥ Shad Darshanas

Shad Darshanas, include साङ्ख्यः ॥ Sankhya, वैशेषिकः ॥ Vaisheshika, न्यायः ॥ Nyaya, पूर्वमीमांसा ॥ Purva Mimamsa, उत्तरमीमांसा ॥ Uttara Mimamsa (वेदान्तः ॥ Vedanta) and योगः ॥ Yoga. As they are deeply rooted in vedic principles, they are called आस्तिक-दर्शनानि ॥ Astika darshanas according to many scholars. Although some believe that Sankhya is not an Astika Darshana.

न्याय-दर्शनम् ॥ Nyaya Darshana

गौतम-महर्षिः ॥ Gautama maharshi gave the न्याय-शास्त्रम् ॥ Nyaya shastra to the world. It is also classified as one of the उपाङ्ग-s || Upangas which, as part of the Vaidika vangmaya, is important to understand Vedas.

मन्त्रायुर्वेदप्रामाण्यवच्च तत्प्रामाण्यमाप्तप्रामाण्यात् || (Nyay. Shas. 2.1.69)[19]

mantrāyurvedaprāmāṇyavacca tatprāmāṇyamāptaprāmāṇyāt || (Nyay. Shas. 2.1.69)

Meaning: Just like the mantras (spells) counteract the poisons and Ayurveda (medical science) prescribes reliable remedies (for diseases and prevention of disease) with authority (as they are given by the maharshis and sages who are authoritative about the subjects), so also Vedas are standard (unequivocal guidelines), as the मन्त्रद्रष्ट-s || mantra drastas or ऋषि-s || rushis to whom they were revealed are the righteous sages.[15]

वैशेषिक-दर्शनम् ॥ Vaisheshika Darshana

कणाद-महर्षिः ॥ Kanada maharshi who authored the वैशेषिक-शास्त्रम् ॥ Vaisheshika shastra also considers that the Vedas were revealed by Supreme Being

तद्वचनादाम्नायस्य प्रामाण्यम् । वैशेषिक-१,१.३ । (Vais. Shas. 1.1.3)[20]

tadvacanādāmnāyasya prāmāṇyam । vaiśeṣika-1,1.3 । (Vais. Shas. 1.1.3)

In expounding पदार्थानां धर्म ॥ padārthānāṃ dharmaḥ (nature of matter), Kanada took for प्रमाणम् ॥ pramana (source of valid knowledge), the Vedas (आम्नायः ॥ Amnaya)

मीमांसा ॥ Mimamsa

पूर्वमीमांसा ॥ Purva mimamsa deals extensively with कर्मकाण्डः ॥ Karmakanda while उत्तरमीमांसा ॥ Uttara mimamsa (वेदान्तः ॥ Vedanta) deals with मोक्षकाण्डः ॥ Mokshakanda of vedas. Mimamsa attained significance as many vedic interpretations are based and debated on the basis of the logic and rules set forth by this shastra.

नित्यस्तु स्याद् दर्शनस्य परार्थत्वात् || (Mima. Shas. 1.1.18)

nityastu syād darśanasya parārthatvāt || (Mima. Shas. 1.1.18)

महाभारतम् ॥ Mahabharata

Maharshi Vedavyasa in Mahabharata extols that Vedas are the path of life for all beings. Abundant instances about the Dharmas to be followed and their Vedic foundation are emphasized in Mahabharata, many instances being instruction of Yudhisthira by Bhishma and reputed rshis.

अनादिनिधनानित्या, वागुत्सृष्टा स्वयम्भुवा | आदौ वेदमयी दिव्या, यत: सर्वा: प्रवृत्तय: || (Maha. Shan. 232.24)[21]

anādinidhanānityā, vāgutsṛṣṭā svayambhuvā | ādau vedamayī divyā, yata: sarvā: pravṛttaya: || (Maha. Shan. 232.24)

Meaning : In the beginning of सृष्टिः ॥ Srishti, the self existent Creator, revealed the Eternal and Divine Vedas, as they show the path for all activities of every being.[15] Mahabharata which is acclaimed as the मानव-कर्तव्य-शास्त्रम् || Manava kartavya shastra, has a discussion on this topic in the form of conversation between Yudhishthira and Bhishma thus. (Pt. Ramnarayan's Mahabharata: Volume 4[22] and Vol 5 Shanti Parva Page 323)[23]

तादृशोऽयमनुप्रश्नो यत्र धर्मः सुदुर्लभः । दुष्करः प्रतिसंख्यातुं तत्केनात्र व्यवस्यति ॥(Maha. Shan. Parv. 109.9)

प्रभावार्थाय भूतानां धर्मप्रवचनं कृतम् । यः स्यात्प्रभवसंयुक्तः स धर्म इति निश्चयः ॥ (Maha. Shan. Parv. 109.11)

tādṛśo'yamanupraśno yatra dharmaḥ sudurlabhaḥ | duṣkaraḥ pratisaṃkhyātuṃ tatkenātra vyavasyati || (Maha. Shanti. 109.9)

prabhāvārthāya bhūtānāṃ dharmapravacanaṃ kṛtam | yaḥ syātprabhavasaṃyuktaḥ sa dharma iti niścayaḥ || (Maha. Shanti. 109.11)

Meaning : It is most difficult to define Dharma. Dharma has been explained to be that which helps the upliftment of living beings. Therefore, that which helps ensure the welfare of living beings is surely Dharma. The learned rishis have declared that which sustains is Dharma.

धारणाद् धर्म इत्याहुर्धर्मो धारयते प्रजाः | यत् स्याद् धारणसंयुक्तं स धर्म इति निश्चयः || (Maha. Karna. 69-58)

dhāraṇād dharma ityāhurdharmo dhārayate prajāḥ | yat syād dhāraṇasaṃyuktaṃ sa dharma iti niścayaḥ || (Maha. Karna. 69-58)

Meaning : The above verse eulogizes Dharma as follows: Dharma sustains the society, Dharma maintains the social order, Dharma ensures the well being and progress of humanity, Dharma is surely that which fulfills these objectives

Therefore, Dharma embraces every type of righteous conduct, covering every aspect of life essential for the sustenance and welfare of the individual and society and includes those rules which guide and enable those who believe in God and heaven to attain Moksha (मोक्षः । eternal bliss).

 संवादः ॥ Discussion

There are different versions and ways in which many shlokas and mantras have been interpreted by different scholars across ages. Enforcement of Dharma was of prime importance since Vedic era.


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