Shankaracharyas' view on Dharmashastras

Sankaran Jayanarayanan sjayana at HOTMAIL.COM
Thu Nov 11 11:52:52 CST 1999

Ashish Chandra wrote:

>I was going through the list archives on the subject of adhikAra. Thanks
>Vidya, Bala and Jaldhar for some informative posts. I also came across
>something Vidya had written about 3 years back on the soc.religion.hindu
>list on the question of adhikAra of reciting Vedas for shudras and women.
>The post is at
>My question is, since the Jagadguru has himself pointed out to the
>non-applicability of some Smritis, as mentioned in Vidya's post, what
>exactly is a Smartha to follow ? What should be retained and what
>? Is there any agreement on these things? Is there a better way of
>about this (i.e. from a book or articles)?

Did the Jagadguru actually teach the *Vedas* to the woman or did he simply
teach her the smR^itis? Many (or all) smR^itis can be taught to women.

In "Hindu dharma", the Kanchi Paramaachaarya says (p.615):
"...The reformists ask why the Vedas cannot be made common to all...This
is not acceptable in the least. I am a representative and spokesman of the
shaastras. It is my duty to state that this (making dharma common to all
castes) is not permitted by the sages who created the shaastras and
assigned the duties special to each caste. They (the sages) were known for
their spirit of sacrifice and impartiality and they had no interest other
than the happiness of mankind."

Anyway, the dharmashaastras are quite out-dated, IMO. A simple example
would be Apastamba dharma suutra (ADS) (1.5.17):
28. Mushrooms ought not to be eaten; that has been declared in a
29. (Nor the meat) of one-hoofed animals, of camels, of the Gayal, of
village pigs, of Sharabhas, and of cattle.
30. (But the meat) of milch-cows and oxen may be eaten.

Now I've seen everything! A Hindu scripture advocating the eating of
cows?! Maybe there really is something to the popular notion that the
Buddha made the Brahmins turn vegetarian. Ramana Maharshi has said that he
doesn't eat eggs because "they have life in them" (from "Talks"). I feel
meat ought not to be eaten, whether or not the dharma suutras permit it.

The Kaanchi Paramaachaarya quotes the ThirukkuraL (a famous work on ethics
in the Tamil language) which says that it is better to refrain from
killing one animal than to perform a thousand animal sacrifices.

There are other "sins" which require the severest of penances, quite
unimaginable in the present age.
Consider ADS (1.5.17)
21. All intoxicating drinks are forbidden.

So what if one happens to drink liquor? Is there a means of expiation from
this sin? ADS (1.9.25):
3. A drinker of spiritous liquor shall drink exceedingly hot liquor so
that he dies.

And the Gautama D.S. is in strong agreement regarding this (chapter 23):
1. They shall pour hot spiritous liquor into the mouth of a BraahmaNa who
has drunk such liquor; he will be purified after death.

Talk about punishment which fits the crime! I wonder how many "Brahmins"
would survive today if the above punishments were carried out :-)

Regarding forbidden food, ADS (1.6.18)
16. Food received from a multitude of givers must not be eaten,
17. Nor food offered by a general invitation (to all comers).
18. Food offered by an artisan must not be eaten...
21. A professional physician is a person whose food must not be eaten,...

But the above seems to contradict ADS (1.6.19)
10. Food offered unasked by any person whatsoever may be eaten.

What if a physician gives food unasked? Can it or can it not be eaten?

I have heard that widow remarriage is not allowed as per the shaastras. This
is not correct. There is a lot of freedom given to widows -- remarriage is
certainly allowed:
GDS (chapter 28)
4. A woman whose husband is dead and who desires offspring (may bear a son)
to her brother-in-law.
5. Let her obtain the permission of her Gurus, and let her have intercourse
during the proper season only.
6. (On failure of a brother-in-law she may obtain offspring) by (cohabiting
with) a SapiNDa, a Sagotra, a Samaanapravara, or one who belongs to the same

Apastamba is a Rishi revered by the advaita tradition, and he makes it
clear that the goal is Atma-GYAna.
ADS (1.8.22)
2. There is no higher (object) than the attainment of (the knowledge of
the) Atman.

and also (1.8.23)
1. That BraahmaNa, who is wise and recognises all creatures to be in the
Atman, who pondering (thereon) does not become bewildered, and who
recognises the Atman in every (created) thing, shines, forsooth, in

The reason for practising dharma is the eradication of faults:
3. But the eradication of faults is brought about in this life by the
means (called Yoga). A wise man who has eradicated the (faults) which
destroy the creatures, obtains salvation.
4. Now we will enumerate the faults which tend to destroy the creatures.
5. (These are) anger, exultation, grumbling, covetousness, perplexity,
doing injury (to anybody), hypocrisy, lying, gluttony, calumny, envy,
lust, secret hatred, neglect to keep the senses in subjection, neglect to
concentrate the mind. The eradication of these (faults) takes place
through the mean of (salvation called) Yoga.
6. Freedom from anger, from exultation... -- these (good qualities) have
been settled by the agreement (of the wise) for all (the four) orders; he
who, according to the precepts of the sacred law, practises these, enters
the universal soul.



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