THEOSOPHY, Vol. 19, No. 11, September, 1931
(Pages 495-501; Size: 20K)
(Number 43 of a 59-part series)



SMRITIS are traditions imparted orally; the word Smriti means Memory. The occult origin is obvious: facts which could not be transcribed were passed on orally; also the cultural value of memory was so fully recognized that the ear was regarded as more important than the eye and the spoken word came into greater educational use than the written word. Their other name is Dharma-Shastra -- Codes of Law, or the Lore of the Laws of Duty. There are four great Codes recognized, even by the British Government Courts, and these are constantly used to seek for precedents, etc. Just as the Itihasa-Puranas are living realities in Indian homes, so are the Smritis vital and essential in statecraft and civic administration. They are: (1) Manu Smriti, about which one of the great Theosophical Mahatmas wrote to H.P.B. to advise students of esotericism "to study Manu;" (2) Yagnavalkaya Smriti; (3) Shankha Likhita Smriti; (4) Parashara Smriti. There are also others, some of which contain rules and laws for special occasions and precedents for untoward and not ordinary cases.

Of all the Smritis the Manu Smriti is the most important. It is also known as the Manava Dharma Shastra. Like other authentic texts it begins with universals from which it proceeds to particulars. Why ethics and rites of a particular description should be practised is demonstrated by the fact that these rest on, and have their origin in, philosophical and metaphysical truth. Therefore the Code of Manu begins with the story of Svayambhu, the Self-Existent which shines forth of Its own Will and which can be perceived by subtle sight only. Then follows the manifestation of all else -- human principles, spirit, mind, body and their cosmic correspondences and sources. In short compass but without lacunae the Code lays the foundation, cosmic and universal, for human conduct. It advises all men to learn the Sacred Law which is fully known by the Enlightened Ones; but to which an intuitive assent is given by virtuous mortals who then follow it; it imparts to those who practise it the power of powers -- to become exempt from hatred and inordinate affection (II, 1). If the learner, because of the intuitive urge, is intent on the performance of his own Duty according to the teachings of this great Code, he finds that in him opens the eye of discernment (II, 8). And as not a single act performed by mortals on earth is free from desire (II, 4) the Code essays the task of teaching how to perform congenital duties.

Now the whole struggle of human existence lies in the struggle of duty. Man discards his proper duty because it is unpleasant and through attachment he assumes duties which are not his, and thus forges links of future bondage. He rushes to perform actions which are not his duties and runs away from their legitimate reactions when these have to be faced. What then is congenital duty? As an ordinary mortal is not capable of determining by his own unaided effort, the Master-Codifiers give indications, signs and tokens. How shall a man know what his duty is? By following the instruction imparted in the Codes, where different stages of human evolution, each with its appropriate qualities and attributes, are described. Just as in a new city with the help of a map the traveller finds out in what particular street of the city he is, and where that street leads to, so also with the aid of the Codes a soul born in a new environment can learn his place and position in the scheme of things. For this reason are rites and sacraments laid down, and castes and states detailed. From birth to death, life is one long ritual and the life-thread, sutra-atma, is Duty.

It would be impossible to give in full what the Code of Manu offers. Moreover, we must guard against interpolations by priests and others with vested interests. Once again, the key of Theosophy, the religion of common sense par excellence, must be applied. According to the Bhagavata Purana, far back in the mists of a forgotten past, time was when there was among the Hindus only "One Veda, One Deity, One Caste." Then came the cycle of natural divisions into four castes, which later were degraded into the tyrannical institution which the system now is. We will here examine the two principal teachings about Caste (Varna) and State (Ashrama) especially as they have a practical bearing on, and can be of service to, our modern civilization.

The origin of Caste is said to be Brahma Himself; to make the earth prosper He caused the Brahamana to be born of his mouth, the Kshatriya of his arms, the Vaisha of his thighs and the Shudra of his feet. The significant point to note is that they are all born of Brahma, and that really in their original forms no distinction of superiority or inferiority is made. These castes are universal and the Code of Manu applies to the entire human kingdom. "In order to protect the universe, He the most resplendent one assigned separate occupations to those who sprang from his mouth, arms, thighs, and feet" (I, 87), and it is said that "there is no fifth caste" (X, 4). Those that are not born from Brahma are named Dasyus. Much misrepresentation and misunderstanding exists in this matter, because in reality the four castes have an esoteric significance and represent the work of four classes of super-physical, but all the same corporeal beings (S.D. II, 89) who are devoid of intellect (S.D. II, 91). The Secret Doctrine contains the real key to the solution of this problem. First, it must be clearly grasped that, however important a part birth may play in it, the institution of caste is determined by the inner birth marks. In earlier Yugas when the swing of evolution was rhythmic, physically and super-physically, materially and spiritually, caste laws worked infallibly, i.e., only an appropriate soul incarnated in the caste body. But in this Kali-Yuga, the caste-confusion feared by Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita has taken place. Nowadays in exceedingly rare cases do soul virtues find virtuous vehicles in which to incarnate. All over the world caste-confusion prevails, causing innumerable problems -- among them, the problem of Varna, colour. The colour problem in America, in India and elsewhere will find its true meaning and solution when Manu's Code is really understood, and for that the key of the Esoteric Philosophy has to be applied.

The Code of Manu says: "Behaviour unworthy of an Aryan, hardness, cruelty and habitual neglect of prescribed duties, betray in this world a man of impure origin" (X, 58). By this criterion there are but few caste-men in existence! Again there is much in this paradoxical statement: "Having considered the case of a non-Aryan who acts like an Aryan, and that of an Aryan who acts like a non-Aryan, the creator declared -- 'Those two are neither equal nor unequal.'"

The Gita defines the virtues and attributes of each caste. His own Karma determines the caste into which a soul is born, as by his past Karma he attracts to himself his instruments which possess Gunas or attributes. Karma and Guna -- actions and qualities -- determine the caste of a man. We must note the dual element of forces, spiritual and material. Caste is not of the Soul, nor of the body, but arises out of the conjoint action of the two. Krishna is the "author" of these (Gita IV, 13). The natural duties of the four castes are defined (Gita XVIII, 41-44).

Each and every human being belongs to one of the four castes: He whose natural bent is to study and to teach, to sacrifice his self to Self and his self for other selves, to be generous in giving and to humbly accept gifts, he is a Brahmana, whatever his walk in life. He whose natural bent is to offer protection to all, to bestow gifts, to offer sacrifice, to study and to fight against sensuous life, he is a Kshattriya, whatever his status in life. He whose natural bent is to amass wealth by agriculture or trade, to borrow and lend money, is a Vaishya, whatever his place in life. He whose natural inclination is to be dependent on others and to labour for them is a Shudra, whatever position he occupies in life. These natural bents expressing qualities show what vices one should avoid and what virtues one should cultivate.

Still more practical is the division of a single life into four compartments called Ashramas or states to which also the Smritis make pointed and repeated reference. Let us glance at them.

The Caste institution depicts the larger circle of the steady and rhythmic unfoldment of the man through many lives. The colours of his qualities from that of dark Inertia, through the green of Mobility, to the golden lustre of Truth and the radiance of the white Purity of the One Self, mark the steady and long progress achieved. Esoteric science teaches that this change of colours of the inner astral man verily does take place. Shades of colour in the Astral Man are as real as pigmentation of the skin, colour of the eye, lustre of the hair, etc., in his physical body. These developments represent a long line of evolution through the round of many births and deaths, and belong to the entire human kingdom.

Similarly, the Codes of Duty lay down the rhythm of progress in the smaller circle of a single incarnation. If there is caste-confusion, and its sequence, non-recognition of the fact that man's evolution can be made to proceed along harmonious lines, so also is there confusion in this Kali-Yuga, when youths who ought to be learning are wage-slaves, when men and women who ought to be building homes are utilizing demoniac devices to shatter the dignity of parenthood, and when old men are clinging to worldly possessions or have to cling to worldly avocations, and die in harness with their minds fixed on earth instead of in the quietude of spiritual contemplation. It may take a longer time for the modern man to see the wisdom of the ancient teaching about caste, than to understand the four stages through which each one passes in a single life. Once the latter scheme of rhythmic progress is perceived, however, it will not be very difficult to see the truth underlying the former.

What is the teaching about the four ashramas or orders?

Each human being should pass through (1) studentship, (2) family life, (3) non-worldly contemplation, (4) service of his fellow men.

I. Studentship is named Brahmacharya -- service of Brahman, i.e., the student is acquiring knowledge now for the service of omnipresent Deity or Nature, to last for the rest of his life. The term is translated as continence, celibacy, because sex-purity is the centre-virtue, the foundation of the life of the learner -- "let him never waste his manhood" (II, 180). Also, learning, which is regarded as an accumulating process, has as its bodily counterpart the preservation of the creative forces, the gathering in of the forces which, in the next stage only, should be used. The relation between these two is to be seen in this verse: "Those organs which are strongly attached to sensual pleasures, cannot so effectually be restrained by abstinence as by a constant pursuit of knowledge" (II, 96). Therefore has the term Brahmacharya this dual meaning -- celibacy and service: creating bodily and intellectual progeny follows the gathering in of seminal powers of both types.

Wisdom is the goal of the learner and whatever branch of knowledge he may be engaged in acquiring he is called upon to observe the following general rules:

A wise man should strive to restrain his organs which run wild among alluring sensual objects, like a charioteer his horses. Those eleven organs which former sages have named, I will properly (and) precisely enumerate in due order, (Viz.) the ear, the skin, the eyes, the tongue, and the nose as the fifth, the anus, the organ of generation, hands and feet, and the (organ of) speech, named as the tenth. Five of them, the ear and the rest according to their order, they call organs of sense, and five of them, the anus and the rest, organs of action. Know that the internal organ (manas) is the eleventh, which by its quality belongs to both (sets); when that has been subdued, both those sets of five have been conquered. Through the attachment of his organs (to sensual pleasure) a man doubtlessly will incur guilt; but if he keep them under complete control, he will obtain success (in gaining all his aims). (II, 88-93).
Rules of life are stressed much more than the subjects of study. What would an undergraduate of to-day say to this:
Let him abstain from meat, perfumes, flavouring substances, and doing injury to living creatures. Let him abstain from anointing his body, applying collyrium to his eyes, as from desire, dancing, singing, gambling, looking at or touching women; also from idle disputes, backbiting and seducing or being seduced.
II. The Householder stage unfolds out of the student stage. The student lived in his teacher's home, which was like unto a boarding school. Grihastha ashram is the stage of home-building which follows marriage. This stage is considered to be the highest of the four, for from it the other three spring. (VI, 87).
As all living creatures subsist by receiving support from air, even so all orders subsist by receiving support from the householder. (III, 77).
Elaborate and detailed rules and regulations for this stage are given -- beginning with marriage. Our modern students of Eugenics who are groping in the dark will gain much by a careful and discriminative study of these sections of the Code of Manu. To those who believe that the Laws of Manu hold woman's estate to be low the following may be cited:
Women must be honoured and adorned by their fathers, brothers, husbands, and brothers-in-law if they desire their own welfare. Where women are honoured, there the gods are pleased; but where they are not honoured, no sacred rite yields reward. (III, 55-56).
It would be impossible to go into details and so we will permit ourselves one more quotation which sums up the vocation of a Grihastha, a gentleman:
Let him not, out of desire attach himself to sensual pleasures, and let him carefully obviate an excessive attachment to them, by reflecting on their worthlessness in his heart. Let him avoid all means of acquiring wealth which impede the study of the Veda; let him maintain himself somehow but let him maintain study because through study he secures the realization of his aims. Let him walk the way of life bringing his dress, speech and thoughts to a conformity with his age, his occupation, his wealth, his sacred learning and his race. (IV, 16-19).
III. Vanaprastha, the Forest-dwelling stage follows. When a man is beginning to become wrinkled, when grey hairs are turning white, when he sees his grandchildren around him, then is his time for the contemplative life, to practise which he must seek retirement, either committing his wife to the care of his sons, or accompanied by her, if she be willing. The industry of the forest-dweller is reciting the sacred texts; his independence is not receiving gifts; his ritual is with the three sacred fires. The Code describes what he should eat and how he should live and in order to attain union with the Supreme Soul he must study the Upanishads.

IV. Just as the student stage is the preparatory stage for that of the householder, so also the forest-dwelling stage precedes the fourth, that of Sannyasa, complete Renunciation. In this, a man comes in contact with his fellow-men and lives for them:

Let him not desire to die, let him not desire to live; let him wait his hour, as a servant for his wages. Against an angry man let him not be angry; let him bless when he is cursed; let him not utter speech, devoid of truth, scattered at the seven gates. Neither by explaining prodigies and omens, nor by skill in astrology and palmistry, nor by giving advice, let him ever seek to obtain alms. By deep meditation let him recognize the subtile nature of the Supreme Soul, and its presence in all organisms, both the highest and the lowest. Let him recognize by the practice of meditation the progress of the individual soul through beings of various kinds, a process hard to understand for unregenerate man.
The student of Theosophy will recognize in all this much of his own instructions and in his sincere effort to change the mind of the race will find these ancient ideals of profound significance and great value. Both simplicity and beauty have gone out of life. Ugly complexities have imprisoned the Soul and have produced wickedness. Unrighteousness prevails because Dharma, the Law of Duty, is not practised. Its knowledge will help us to bring the world to Duty and with Duty simplicity of life as well as its beauty will come to abide.

COMPILER'S NOTE: The following is a separate item which followed the above article but was on the same page. I felt it was useful to include it here:


The doctrine teaches that the only difference between animate and inanimate objects on earth, between an animal and a human frame, is that in some the various "fires" are latent, and in others they are active. The vital fires are in all things and not an atom is devoid of them. But no animal has the three higher principles awakened in him; they are simply potential, latent, and thus non-existing. And so would the animal frames of men be to this day, had they been left as they came out from the bodies of their Progenitors, whose shadows they were, to grow, unfolded only by the powers and forces immanent in matter. --S.D., II, p.267.

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(1) Isis Unveiled, II, p. 30.
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