Upajivika Niyamas (उपजीविकानियमाः)

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Upajivika Niyamas (Samskrit: उपजीविकानियमाः) refer to the standards of discipline to be upheld in the practice of livelihood.

परिचयः ॥ Introduction

The Indian society is held together by the Varnashrama Vyavastha (वर्णाश्रमव्यवस्था). The Varnashrama Dharma enumerates personal and social responsibilities of an individual. Through the life span, every individual is entrusted with specific responsibilities based on the Varna and the phase of life (ashrama). It is this shared responsibility among people belonging to the four Varnas and in the four ashramas, that is the secret to the smooth functioning of the society.

Out of these responsibilities, Upajivika (उपजीविका ॥ livelihood) is a major one. For, that impacts the financial stability of the society as a whole. Livelihood is primarily, the responsibility of a Grhastha. The Smrtis enumerate various means of livelihood for Grhasthas as per their varna.

वर्णानुसृत्य उपजीविका ॥ Livelihood Prescribed As Per Varnas

The Manusmrti and the Bhagavata Purana say that a person may subsist by Rta, Amrta, Mrta, Pramrta or by Satya and Anrta. But never by Shvavrtti. Wherein, Rta refers to the gleaning of corn; Amrta is that which is obtained unasked; Mrta refers to begging and agriculture is called as Pramrta. Trading is considered Satyanrta (as it comprises of both truth and falsehood) and one may subsist even by that. However, one should avoid slavery as it is called Shvavrtti (dog's way of living). (Manu Smrti 4.4-6 and Bhag. Pura. Skan. 7, Adhy. 11, Verses 18-20)[1][2]

ऋतामृताभ्यां जीवेत्तु मृतेन प्रमृतेन वा । सत्यानृताभ्यां अपि वा न श्ववृत्त्या कदा चन || ४.४ ||

ऋतं उञ्छशिलं ज्ञेयं अमृतं स्यादयाचितम् । मृतं तु याचितं भैक्षं प्रमृतं कर्षणं स्मृतम् || ४.५ ||

सत्यानृतं तु वाणिज्यं तेन चैवापि जीव्यते । सेवा श्ववृत्तिराख्याता तस्मात्तां परिवर्जयेत् || ४.६ ||[3][4]

r̥tāmr̥tābhyāṁ jīvettu mr̥tena pramr̥tena vā । satyānr̥tābhyāṁ api vā na śvavr̥ttyā kadā cana || 4.4 ||

r̥taṁ uñchaśilaṁ jñeyaṁ amr̥taṁ syādayācitam । mr̥taṁ tu yācitaṁ bhaikṣaṁ pramr̥taṁ karṣaṇaṁ smr̥tam || 4.5 ||

satyānr̥taṁ tu vāṇijyaṁ tena caivāpi jīvyate । sevā śvavr̥ttirākhyātā tasmāttāṁ parivarjayet || 4.6 ||

The Bhagavata Purana further adds that, a brahmana and a kshatriya should always shun shvavrtti (the dog mode of life) which is detested by all; for a brahmana is an embodiment of all the Vedas and Kshatriya (the ruler) is the personification of all deities.[2]

वर्जयेत्तां सदा विप्रो राजन्यश्च जुगुप्सिताम् । सर्ववेदमयो विप्रः सर्वदेवमयो नृपः ॥ २०॥[4]

varjayettāṁ sadā vipro rājanyaśca jugupsitām । sarvavedamayo vipraḥ sarvadevamayo nr̥paḥ ॥ 20॥

While the means of livelihood of mixed castes such as the antyajas, antevasiyas (communities living at the farther end of a village Chandala, Matanga and Pukkasa) are the hereditary callings followed by their respective families, provided it is not robbery and any vocation that is considered a papa.[5]

वृत्तिः सङ्करजातीनां तत्तत्कुलकृता भवेत् । अचौराणामपापानामन्त्यजान्तेवसायिनाम् ॥ ३०॥[4]

vr̥ttiḥ saṅkarajātīnāṁ tattatkulakr̥tā bhavet । acaurāṇāmapāpānāmantyajāntevasāyinām ॥ 30॥

Therefore, all the Varnas have been assigned specific Upajivikas (modes of subsistence) for the smooth functioning of the society. And it is said that the one who follows a vocation determined as suitable to his special nature (As determined by his varna) and does his duty, goes on relinquishing that type of work suitable to his disposition and gradually attains to the state of the attributeless atman.[5]

वृत्त्या स्वभावकृतया वर्तमानः स्वकर्मकृत् । हित्वा स्वभावजं कर्म शनैर्निर्गुणतामियात् ॥ ३२॥[4]

vr̥ttyā svabhāvakr̥tayā vartamānaḥ svakarmakr̥t । hitvā svabhāvajaṁ karma śanairnirguṇatāmiyāt ॥ 32॥

Accordingly, no person born in a lower class should adopt the vocation ordained for the higher class, unless threatened with serious danger, says the Bhagavata Purana. However, Kshatriyas are mentioned as an exception to this rule. The Kshatriyas can adopt brahmanical means of livelihood, except that of accepting charitable gifts. At the same time, it also says that, in times of danger, anybody (belonging to any class) may resort to any profession (prescribed for any class).[2]

जघन्यो नोत्तमां वृत्तिमनापदि भजेन्नरः । ऋते राजन्यमापत्सु सर्वेषामपि सर्वशः ॥ १७॥[4]

jaghanyo nottamāṁ vr̥ttimanāpadi bhajennaraḥ । r̥te rājanyamāpatsu sarveṣāmapi sarvaśaḥ ॥ 17॥

However, it also enlists a set of moral and ethical rules to be upheld while fulfilling the financial responsibilities towards the family.

उपजीविकानियमाः ॥ Rules Regarding Livelihood

The rules regarding livelihood as enumerated in the Manusmrti are as follows:

  • A brahmana may collect grains enough to fill a granary, or a smaller store, or what suffices for three days, or make provision only for a day. Among these four Brahmanas, each later one is considered more distinguished, and through the virtue of righteousness, he is said to have conquered the fruits of heaven. Out of these four types of Grhasthas, subsisting by one of the six means (Rta, etc) is prescribed for those with a large family. Those with a smaller family, are advised to subsist through performance of Yajnas, teaching Vedas and accepting charity. Those not willing to accept charity are expected to subsist with Yajana (याजनम् । sacrifice) and Adhyapana (अध्यापनम् । teaching). While the last one, should subsist by teaching the Vedas alone. (Manu Smrt. 4.7, 4.8 and 4.9).[1]

    कुशूलधान्यको वा स्यात्कुम्भीधान्यक एव वा । त्र्यहैहिको वापि भवेदश्वस्तनिक एव वा || ४.७ ||

    चतुर्णाम् अपि चैतेषां द्विजानां गृहमेधिनाम् । ज्यायान्परः परो ज्ञेयो धर्मतो लोकजित्तमः || ४.८ ||

    षट्कर्मैको भवत्येषां त्रिभिरन्यः प्रवर्तते । द्वाभ्याम् एकश्चतुर्थस्तु ब्रह्मसत्त्रेण जीवति || ४.९ ||[3]

    kuśūladhānyako vā syātkumbhīdhānyaka eva vā । tryahaihiko vāpi bhavedaśvastanika eva vā || 4.7 ||

    caturṇām api caiteṣāṁ dvijānāṁ gr̥hamedhinām । jyāyānparaḥ paro jñeyo dharmato lokajittamaḥ || 4.8 ||

    ṣaṭkarmaiko bhavatyeṣāṁ tribhiranyaḥ pravartate । dvābhyām ekaścaturthastu brahmasattreṇa jīvati || 4.9 ||

  • It is said that, a Brahmana should not name his family and gotra for the sake of food; if he does so, he is called a vantashi (one who eats vomited food). (Manu Smrt. 3.109).[1]

    न भोजनार्थं स्वे विप्रः कुलगोत्रे निवेदयेत् । भोजनार्थं हि ते शंसन्वान्ताशीत्युच्यते बुधैः || ३.१०९ ||[6]

    na bhojanārthaṁ sve vipraḥ kulagotre nivedayet । bhojanārthaṁ hi te śaṁsanvāntāśītyucyate budhaiḥ || 3.109 ||

  • (While living in the house), The Brahmana shall, in normal times, subsist by taking to that means of livelihood which involves no trouble—or very little trouble—to living beings. (Manu Smrt. 4.2).[7] At the same time, one should not do any bad deed for sustaining himself and his family. And one should accumulate wealth without unduly fatiguing one's body. (Manu Smrt. 4.3).[1]

    अद्रोहेणैव भूतानां अल्पद्रोहेण वा पुनः । या वृत्तिस्तां समास्थाय विप्रो जीवेदनापदि || ४.२ ||

    यात्रामात्रप्रसिद्ध्यर्थं स्वैः कर्मभिरगर्हितैः । अक्लेशेन शरीरस्य कुर्वीत धनसंचयम् || ४.३ ||[3]

    adroheṇaiva bhūtānāṁ alpadroheṇa vā punaḥ । yā vr̥ttistāṁ samāsthāya vipro jīvedanāpadi || 4.2 ||

    yātrāmātraprasiddhyarthaṁ svaiḥ karmabhiragarhitaiḥ । akleśena śarīrasya kurvīta dhanasaṁcayam || 4.3 ||

  • At the same time, it is also adviced that one who subsists by gleaning corn, must be always intent on the performance of the Agnihotra, and constantly offer those Ishtis prescribed for the days of new moon and full moon days. One should never, for the sake of subsistence, get carried away by the ways of the world or resort to false praise; rather one should adopt a pure, straightforward behaviour and by not taking up the work of a businessman, lead the honest life of a Brahmana. (Manu Smrt. 4.10 and 4.11).[1] He who wants happiness should adopt perfect contentment and remain self-controlled. Happiness has its root in contentment, and its opposite is the root of unhappiness. (Manu Smrt. 4.12).[7]

    वर्तयंश्च शिलोञ्छाभ्यां अग्निहोत्रपरायणः । इष्टीः पार्वायणान्तीयाः केवला निर्वपेत्सदा || ४.१० ||

    न लोकवृत्तं वर्तेत वृत्तिहेतोः कथं चन । अजिह्मां अशथां शुद्धां जीवेद्ब्राह्मणजीविकाम् || ४.११ ||

    संतोषं परं आस्थाय सुखार्थी संयतो भवेत् । संतोषमूलं हि सुखं दुःखमूलं विपर्ययः || ४.१२ ||[3]

    vartayaṁśca śiloñchābhyāṁ agnihotraparāyaṇaḥ । iṣṭīḥ pārvāyaṇāntīyāḥ kevalā nirvapetsadā || 4.10 ||

    na lokavr̥ttaṁ varteta vr̥ttihetoḥ kathaṁ cana । ajihmāṁ aśathāṁ śuddhāṁ jīvedbrāhmaṇajīvikām || 4.11 ||

    saṁtoṣaṁ paraṁ āsthāya sukhārthī saṁyato bhavet । saṁtoṣamūlaṁ hi sukhaṁ duḥkhamūlaṁ viparyayaḥ || 4.12 ||

अमृतोपजीविका ॥ That which comes without asking

In certain conditions, a Snataka, a graduate entering the phase of grhasthashrama, is permitted to subsist by accepting that which comes his way without demanding (Manu. Smrt. 4.4-5).[3][1]. The things and the reason for which they may be accepted are as follows:

  • One may accept from all persons fuel, water, roots, and fruits, and food that is offered, as also honey and the gift of fearlessness.’ It is said that, alms brought forward and offered, and not previously begged, Prajapati has declared to be acceptable, even from a person of bad deeds. (Manu Smrt. 4.247 and 248).[7] In fact, the forefathers do not accept the shraddha for fifteen years and agni does not carry the havya (हव्यम्) given by those who disdain such a freely-offered donation. (Manu Smrt. 4.249).[1]

    एधोदकं मूलफलं अन्नं अभ्युद्यतं च यत् । सर्वतः प्रतिगृह्णीयान्मध्वथाभयदक्षिणाम् || ४.२४७ ||

    आहृताभ्युद्यतां भिक्षां पुरस्तादप्रचोदिताम् । मेने प्रजापतिर्ग्राह्यां अपि दुष्कृतकर्मणः || ४.२४८ ||

    नाश्नन्ति पितरस्तस्य दशवर्षाणि पञ्च च । न च हव्यं वहत्यग्निर्यस्तां अभ्यवमन्यते || ४.२४९ ||[3]

    edhodakaṁ mūlaphalaṁ annaṁ abhyudyataṁ ca yat । sarvataḥ pratigr̥hṇīyānmadhvathābhayadakṣiṇām || 4.247 ||

    āhr̥tābhyudyatāṁ bhikṣāṁ purastādapracoditām । mene prajāpatirgrāhyāṁ api duṣkr̥takarmaṇaḥ || 4.248 ||

    nāśnanti pitarastasya daśavarṣāṇi pañca ca । na ca havyaṁ vahatyagniryastāṁ abhyavamanyate || 4.249 ||

  • It is also said, one shall not refuse a couch, a house, kusha grass, perfumes, water, flowers, jewels, curd, grain, fish, milk, meat and vegetables. (Manu Smrt. 4.250).[7]

    शय्यां गृहान्कुशान्गन्धानपः पुष्पं मणीन्दधि । धाना मत्स्यान्पयो मांसं शाकं चैव न निर्णुदेत् || ४.२५० ||[3]

    śayyāṁ gr̥hānkuśāngandhānapaḥ puṣpaṁ maṇīndadhi । dhānā matsyānpayo māṁsaṁ śākaṁ caiva na nirṇudet || 4.250 ||

  • For the purpose of bringing relief to one's teachers and dependents, and for the purpose of honoring the deities and guests, one may accept gifts from all persons; but one shall not derive from them satisfaction for oneself. However, when the Teachers are dead, or when one lives in his house without them,—then, seeking for one's own subsistence, one may always accept gifts from good persons. (Manu Smrt. 4.251 and 252).[7]

    गुरून्भृत्यांश्चोज्जिहीर्षन्नर्चिष्यन्देवतातिथीन् । सर्वतः प्रतिगृह्णीयान्न तु तृप्येत्स्वयं ततः || ४.२५१ ||

    गुरुषु त्वभ्यतीतेषु विना वा तैर्गृहे वसन् । आत्मनो वृत्तिं अन्विच्छन्गृह्णीयात्साधुतः सदा || ४.२५२ ||[3]

    gurūnbhr̥tyāṁścojjihīrṣannarciṣyandevatātithīn । sarvataḥ pratigr̥hṇīyānna tu tr̥pyetsvayaṁ tataḥ || 4.251 ||

    guruṣu tvabhyatīteṣu vinā vā tairgr̥he vasan । ātmano vr̥ttiṁ anvicchangr̥hṇīyātsādhutaḥ sadā || 4.252 ||


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Pt. Girija Prasad Dvivedi (1917), The Manusmriti, Lucknow: Naval Kishore Press.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Ganesh Vasudeo Tagare, The Bhagavata Purana (Part III), Ancient Indian Tradition & Mythology (Volume 9), Edited by J.L.Shastri, New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, P.no.965.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 Manusmrti, Adhyaya 4.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Bhagavata Purana, Skandha 7, Adhyaya 11.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Ganesh Vasudeo Tagare, The Bhagavata Purana (Part III), Ancient Indian Tradition & Mythology (Volume 9), Edited by J.L.Shastri, New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, P.no.966-967.
  6. Manusmrti, Adhyaya 3
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Ganganath Jha (1920-39), Manusmrti (Vol.4), Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Private Limited.