Selections from the Law of Manu

The Law of Manu or Manusmriti is a legal code on dharma in Hinduism. It was used to formulate the Hindu law by the British colonial government.

Note that these legal texts are not really read by lay Hindus, who are more likely to read the Ghita and Upanishads.


On Caste and Stages of Life

Chapter 1, Verses 87-91

Translated by George Bühler

(87)  But in order to protect this universe He, the most resplendent one, assigned separate (duties and) occupations to those who sprang from his mouth, arms, thighs, and feet.

(88)  To Brahmans he assigned teaching and studying (the Veda), sacrificing for their own benefit and for others, giving and accepting (of alms).

(89)  The Kshatriya he commanded to protect the people, to bestow gifts, to offer sacrifices, to study (the Veda), and to abstain from attaching himself to sensual pleasures.

(90)  The Vaisya to tend cattle, to bestow gifts, to offer sacrifices, to study (the Veda), to trade, to lend money, and to cultivate land.

(91)  One occupation only the lord prescribed to the Sudra, to serve meekly even these (other) three castes.

Chapter 2, Verses 238-242

Translated by George Bühler

(238)  He who possesses faith may receive pure learning even from a man of lower caste, the highest law even from the lowest, and an excellent wife even from a base family.

(239)  Even from poison nectar may be taken, even from a child good advice, even from a foe (a lesson in) good conduct, and even from an impure (substance) gold.

(240)  Excellent wives, learning, (the knowledge of) the law, (the rules of) purity, good advice, and various arts may be acquired from anybody.

(241)  It is prescribed that in times of distress (a student) may learn (the Veda) from one who is not a Brahman; and that he shall walk behind and serve (such a) teacher, as long as the instruction lasts.

(242)  He who desires incomparable bliss (in heaven) shall not dwell during his whole life in (the house of) a non-Brahmanical teacher, nor with a Brahman who does not know the whole Veda and the subsidiary texts.

Chapter 6, Verse 87

Translated by George Bühler

(87)    The student, the householder, the hermit, and the ascetic, these (constitute) four separate orders, which all spring from (the order of) householders.

Chapter 3, Verses 77-78

Translated by George Bühler

(77)  As all living creatures subsist by receiving support from air, even so (the members of) all orders subsist by receiving support from the householder.

(78)  Because men of the three (other) orders are daily supported by the householder with (gifts of) sacred knowledge and food, therefore (the order of) householders is the most excellent order.

On Creation and Dharma

On Creation

Chapter 1, Verses 5-7

Translated by George Bühler

(5)    This (universe) existed in the shape of Darkness, unperceived, destitute of distinctive marks, unattainable by reasoning, unknowable, wholly immersed, as it were, in deep sleep.

(6)    Then the divine Self-existent (Svayambhu, himself) indiscernible, (but) making (all) this, the great elements and the rest, discernible, appeared with irresistible (creative) power, dispelling the darkness.

(7)    He who can be perceived by the internal organ (alone), who is subtle, indiscernible, and eternal, who contains all created beings and is inconceivable, shone forth of his own (will).

On Dharma

Chapter 2, Verses 1-5, 12-13

Translated by George Bühler

Note that the term “dharma” is translated as “sacred law” in verses 1, 12, and 13

(1)    Learn that sacred law which is followed by men learned (in the Veda) and assented to in their hearts by the virtuous, who are ever exempt from hatred and inordinate affection.

(2)    To act solely from a desire for rewards is not laudable, yet an exemption from that desire is not (to be found) in this (world): for on (that) desire is grounded the study of the Veda and the performance of the actions, prescribed by the Veda.

(3)    The desire (for rewards), indeed, has its root in the conception that an act can yield them (rewards), and in consequence of (that) conception sacrifices are performed; vows and the laws prescribing restraints are all stated to be kept through the idea that they will bear fruit.

(4)    Not a single act here (below, on earth) appears ever to be done by a man free from desire; for whatever (man) does, it is (the result of) the impulse of desire.

(5)    He who persists in discharging these (prescribed duties) in the right manner, reaches the deathless state and even in this (life) obtains (the fulfillment of) all the desires that he may have conceived.

(12)  The Veda, the sacred tradition, the customs of virtuous men, and what one’s own soul considers right (desirable), they are declared to be visibly the fourfold means of defining the sacred law.

(13)  The knowledge of the sacred law is prescribed for those who are not given to the acquisition of wealth and to the gratification of their desires; to those who seek the knowledge of the sacred law the supreme authority is the revelation.

On Karma

Chapter 12, Verses 3-8

Translated by George Bühler

Note that verses 5-7 are about undesirable actions to be avoided

(3)    Action, which springs from the mind, from speech, and from the body, produces either good or evil results; by action are caused the (various) conditions of men, the highest, the middling, and the lowest.

(4)    Know that the mind is the instigator here below, even to that (action) which is connected with the body, (and) which is of three kinds, has three locations, and falls under ten heads.

(5)    Coveting the property of others, thinking in one’s heart of what is undesirable, and adherence to false (doctrines), are the three kinds of (sinful) mental action.

(6)    Abusing (others, speaking) untruth, detracting from the merits of all men, and talking idly, shall be the four kinds of (evil) verbal action.

(7)    Taking what has not been given, injuring (creatures) without the sanction of the law, and holding criminal intercourse with another man’s wife, are declared to be the three kinds of (wicked) bodily action.

(8)    (A man) obtains (the result of) a good or evil mental (act) in his mind, (that of) a verbal (act) in his speech, (that of) a bodily (act) in his body.

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