The Laws of Manu

BY: MONIER WILLIAMS


Sep 1, NEW DELHI, INDIA (SUN) — I now endeavor to give, as literally as possible, a metrical version of some of Manu’s most noteworthy precepts, selected from different parts of the Code, under the four heads of Achara, ‘rules of conduct;’ Vyavahara, ‘rules of government and judicature;’ Prayas-chitta, ‘penance;’ Karmaphala, ‘rewards and punishments of acts.’

Achara, ‘rules of conduct’
A Brahman from exalted birth is called
A god among the gods, and is a measure
Of truth for all the world, so says the Veda (XI.84).

***

Knowledge[1], descending from her home divine
Said to a holy Brahman, I am come
To be thy cherished treasure, trust me not
To scorners, but to careful guardians,
Pure, self-restrained, and pious; so in them
I shall be gifted with resistless power (II.114,115).

***

The man with hoary head is not revered
As aged by the gods, but only he
Who has true knowledge; he, though young, is old (II.156).

***

A wooden elephant, an antelope
Of leather, and a Brahman without knowledge -
These are three things that only bear a name. (II.157)

***

As with laborious toil the husbandman,
Digging with spade beneath the ground, arrives
At springs of living water, so the man
Who searches eagerly for truth will find
The knowledge hidden in his teacher’s mind (II.118).

***

With pain the mother to her child gives birth,
With pain the father rears him; as he grows
He heaps up cares and troubles for them both;
Incurring thus a debt he ne’er can pay,
Though he should strive through centuries of time. (II. 227)

***

Think constantly, O son, how mayest please
Thy father, mother, teacher - these obey.
By deep devotion seek thy debt to pay.
This is thy highest duty and religion (II.228).

***

Who finds around him only wicked sons,
When called by fate to pass the gloom of death,
Is like a man who seeks to cross a flood
Borne on a raft composed of rotten wood (IX. 161)

***

Even though wronged, treat not with disrespect
Thy father, mother, teacher, elder brother (II.226).

***

From poison thou mayest take the food of life,
The purest gold from lumps of impure earth,
Examples of good conduct from a foe,
Sweet speech and gentleness from e’en a child,
Something from all; from men of low degree,
Lessons of wisdom, if thou humble be (II. 238, 239).

***

Wound not another, though by him provoked,
Do no one injury by thought or deed,
Utter no word to pain thy fellow-creatures (II. 161).

***

Say what is true, speak not agreeable falsehood (IV. 138).

***

Treat, no one with disdain[2], with patience bear
Reviling language; with an angry man
Be never angry, blessings give for curses (VI. 47, 48).

***

E’en as a driver checks his restive steeds,
Do thou, if thou art wise, restrain thy passions,
Which, running wild, will hurry thee away (II.88)
When asked, give something, though a very trifle,
Ungrudgingly and with a cheerful heart,
According to thy substance; only see
That he to whom thou givest worthy be (IV. 227, 228).

***

Pride not thyself on thy religious works,
Give to the poor, but talk not of thy gifts,
By pride religious merit melts away,
The merit of thy alms by ostentation (IV. 236, 237).

***

None see us, say the sinful in their hearts;
Yes, the gods see them and the omniscient Spirit
Within their breasts. Thou thinkest, O good friend,
‘I am alone,’ but there resides within thee
A Being who inspects thy every act,
Knows all thy goodness and thy wickedness (VIII.85, 91).

***

The soul is its own witness; yea, the soul
Itself is its own refuge; grieve thou not,
O man, thy soul the great internal Witness (VIII.84).

***

The Firmament, the Earth, the Sea, the Moon,
The Sun, the Fire, the Wind, the Night and both
The sacred Twilights[3] and the Judge of souls[4],
The god of Justice, and the Heart itself -
All constantly survey the acts of men (VIII.86).

***

When thou hast sinned, think not to hide thy guilt
Under a cloak of penance and austerity (IV. 198).

***

No study of the Veda nor oblation,
No gift of alms, nor round of strict observance
Can lead the inwardly depraved to heaven (II.97).

***

If with the great Divinity who dwells
Within thy breast thou hast no controversy,
Go not to Ganges’ water to be cleansed,
Nor make a pilgrimage to Kuru’s fields (VIII.92).[5]

***

Iniquity once practiced, like a seed,
Fails not to yield its fruit to him who wrought it,
If not to him, yet to his sons and grandsons (IV.173).

***

Contentment is the root of happiness,
And discontent the root of misery.
Wouldst thou be happy, be thou moderate (IV. 12).

***

Honor thy food, receive it thankfully,
Eat it contentedly and joyfully,
Ne’er hold it in contempt; avoid excess, For gluttony is hateful, injures health,
May lead to death, and surely bars the road
To holy merit and celestial bliss (II. 54, 57).

***

Desire is not extinguished by enjoyment,
Fire is not quenched by offerings of oil,
But blazes with increased intensity (II.94).

***

Shrink thou from worldly honor as from poison,
Seek rather scorn; the scorn’d may sleep in peace,
In peace awake; the scorner perishes (II. 162, 163).

***

Daily perform thy own appointed work
Unweariedly; and to obtain a friend -
A sure companion to the future world -
Collect a store of virtue like the ants
Who garner up their treasures into heaps;
For neither father, mother, wife, nor son,
Nor kinsman, will remain beside thee then,
When thou art passing to that other home -
Thy virtue will thy only comrade be (IV. 238, 239).

***

Single is every living creature born,
Single he passes to another world,
Single he eats the fruit of evil deeds,
Single, the fruit of good; and when he leaves
His body like a log or heap of clay
Upon the ground, his kinsmen walk away;
Virtue alone stays by him at the tombv And bears him through the dreary trackless gloom (IV.240-242)[6]

***

Thou canst not gather what thou dost not sow;
As thou dost plant the tree so will it grow (IX. 40).

***

Depend not on another, rather lean
Upon thyself; trust to thine own exertions.
Subjection to another’s will gives pain;
True happiness consists in self-reliance (IV. 160).

***

Strive to complete the task thou hast commenced;
Wearied, renew thy efforts once again;
Again fatigued, once more the work begin,
So shalt thou earn success and fortune win (IX. 300).

***

Never despise thyself, nor yet contemn
Thy own first efforts, though they end in failure;
Seek Fortune with persistency till death,
Nor ever deem her hard to be obtained (IV. 137).

***

Success in every enterprise depends
On Destiny[7] and man combined, the acts
Of Destiny are out of man’s control;
Think not on Destiny, but act thyself (VII. 205).

***

Be courteous to thy guest who visits thee;
Offer a seat, bed, water, food enough,
According to thy substance, hospitably;
Naught taking for thyself till he be served;
Homage to guests brings wealth, fame, life and heaven (III. 106, IV. 29).

***

He who possessed of ample means bestows
His gifts on strangers while his kindred starve,
Thinks to enjoy the honey of applause,
But only eating poison dies despised -
Such charity is cruelty disguised (XI. 9).

***

He who pretends to be what he is not,
Acting a part, commits the worst of crimes,
For, thief-like, he abstracts a good man’s heart (IV.255)

***

Though thou mayest suffer for thy righteous acts,
Ne’er give thy mind to aught but honest gain (IV.171)

***

So act in thy brief passage through this world
That thy apparel, speech, and inner store
Of knowledge be adapted to thy age,
Thy occupation, means, and parentage (IV.128).

***

The man who keeps his senses in control,
His speech, heart, actions pure and ever guarded[8],
Gains all the fruit of holy study; he
Need neither penance nor austerity (II.160).

***

But if a single organ fail, by that defect
His knowledge of the truth flows all away
Like water leaking from a leathern vessel (II.99).

***

Contentment, patience under injury,
Self-subjugation, honesty, restraint
Of all the sensual organs, purity,
Devotion[9], knowledge of the Deity[10],
Veracity, and abstinence from anger,
These form the tenfold summary of duty (VI.92).

***

Long not for death, nor hanker after life;
Calmly expect thy own appointed time,
E’en as a servant reckons on his hire (IV.45).

***

This mansion of the soul, composed of earth,
Subject to sorrow and decrepitude,
Inhabited by sicknesses and pains,
Bound by the bonds of ignorance and darkness,
Let a wise man with cheerfulness abandon (VI.77).

***

Quitting this body, he resembles merely
A bird that leaves a tree. Thus is he freed
From the fell monster of an evil world[11]. (VI.78).


End Notes:

    1. In II. 117 knowledge is divided into three parts -- 1, Laukika, `secular;’ 2. Vaidika, `Vedic;’ 3. Adhyatmika, `spiritual’ or that which relates to soul.

    2. In IV. 135 the householder is especially warned against treating with contempt a Brahman well versed in the Veda, a Kshatriya, and a serpent, because (says Kulluka) the first has the power of destroying him by his unseen power of magical texts and spells, the other two by their seen power (drishta-saktya). Cf. the passages relative to the power of the Brahmans, translated p. 263.

    3. See the account of the Sandhyas, p.272.

    4. Yama, see p.22.

    5. See note 1, p. 275.

    6. Dr. Muir has pointed out that the expression tamas tarati dustaram, `he crosses the gloom difficult to be passed,’ may be taken from Atharva-veda IX. 5. 1, tirtva tamansi bahudha mahanti.

    7. See note 1, p. 323.

    8. Daiva is here the Adrishta described p. 73.

    9. Kulluka interprets dhi by `knowledge of the sacred truth contained in the Sastras.’

    10.Vidya, `knowledge of the supreme Spirit,’ -- Kulluka.

    11.Kricchrad grahat = samsara-kashtad grahad iva.


© "Indian Wisdom or Examples of the Religious, Philosophical and Ethical Doctrines of the Hindus" by Monier Williams, published by Rupa & Co, 7/16 Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi 110 002.



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