Adherence to the Sastras

According to our tradition, there are fourteen branches of knowledge which are common to both general education and dharma. They are described as the sources of vidya and dharma. (Vedaah sthaanaani vidyaanaam dharmasyacha chaturdasa - the fourteen (chaturdasa vidyaas are, the four Vedas, the six Vedaangaas and the four Upaangaas. The six angaas (limbs) of the Vedas are: siksha vyaakaranam, cchandas, niruktam, jyotisham and kalpam). The Tamil expression, sadangu is derived from shadanga or six angaas. The four Upaangaas are: the puraanaas, which illustrate Vedic truths through stories-projecting the truths as if through a magnifying lens-nyaaya, meemaamsa and the smritis. The smritis deal with the Dharma Saastra portion of the Vedas. Between the vedaangaas and the Upaangaas, almost all branches of knowledge are covered. The jyotisha saastra, one of the Vedaangaas, covers the entire field of astronomy, astrology and the technique of prediction. A detailed study of this saastra will prove that our ancient Rishis had perfected what is now known as higher mathematics, long before the science of mathematics, was developed in the West. The Tamil expression saangopaangamaha i.e., with angaas and upaangaas, used to denote a work well done, is very significant. It coveys to us the idea that a job has been done correctly and well, without forgetting even the minutest details.

From the travel records written by Fa Hian and Huen Tsang, from the various records available in China and from archaeological excavations, we know the manner in which the ancient universities of Taxila and Nalanda had been functioning. It is seen that though these universities flourished in the heydays of Buddhism, all students were required to study first the chaturdasa vidyaas which included the Vedas also. Studies pertaining to Buddhism, of course, followed. I am mentioning this to show how these fourteen branches of knowledge have been regarded as basic for any education worth its name and for dharma.

Besides these chaturdasa vidyaas, there are four other branches of knowledge, known as upavedas, in the scheme of general education. Thus the number of branches of knowledge included for study in the scheme of general education becomes eighteen. These upavedas are: Ayurveda, science of medicine and surgery, which is stated to have originated from the Rig Veda; Dhanurveda, including physical culture and military science, originating from the Atharva Veda; Gandharva Veda, which is a term used for all fine arts, including music, dancing, painting, and sculpture, originating from the Sama Veda; and Artha Sastra: the science of politics and administration, having its origin in Yajur Veda.

Sri Harsha, in his Naishadha, has punned on the word, chaturdasa, when describing the education of Nala. He says:
Adhiti bodha aacharana prachaaranaih
Dasaaschatasrah pranayan upaadhibhih
Chaturdasastvam kritavaan kutasvayam
Navedmi vidyaasu chaturdasasvayam

The poet says in this verse that Nala made the chaturdasa vidyas into chaturdasa. Dasa, in the second chaturdasa, has to be given the meaning, "stage". The verse says that Nala's education in all the fourteen branches of knowledge was in four stages, namely adhiti (study), bodhah - (understanding), aachaarana- (adoption or practical use), and praacharana- (propagation). Pracharana, in this context, does not mean propaganda, as that word is ordinarily understood. It means, giving knowledge to person or persons tested and found fit to receive instruction. Propaganda is pressed into service mostly when the result aimed at is reaching a large number, for statistical purposes. In proselytisation, for example, the emphasis is on the number of converts, and not on the fact that conversion was secured only after those who were converted had understood, believed, and accepted particular tenets preached to them. In this process the truth of what we wish to propagate may be lost sight of. Our ancients were particular that truth and right understanding should be preserved. So, they were against propaganda in respect of both religion and knowledge. They believed that the seed of knowledge should germinate only in proper soil, in order that the fruit that it will yield later may be good and not forbidden fruit. Therefore, they laid down that the person receiving knowledge must be proved pakvi, fit to receive it and benefit from it. This was specially necessary in the case of mantras, whose literal meaning was "protects by repetition" mananaat traayate. As physical exercises strengthen the muscles by constant practice, mantraas strengthen the internal nerves by constant repetition. In the process, the mind is cleansed, so that the residence of God within us becomes pure. Mantraas can be studied and repeated beneficially and preserved only by those who are found fit for such study by their conduct and daily anushtaanaas.

When a person, by his study, observation and experience, comes to certain conclusions on problems which he considers beneficial to all, it is desirable that he should either record those conclusions in writing, or communicate them to those who are capable of appreciating the same, so that the benefit of his opinion may not be lost to the world. It may be that some of his views are not accepted immediately, or acted upon. But if it benefits even one kindred soul, it will be enough. Bhavabhuti dealing with this points sasys:

Ye naama kechidiha nah prathayanti avajnaam
Jaananti te kimapi taan pratinaisha yatnah
Utpatsyatesti mama kopi samaana dharmaa
Kaalohyayam niravadhih vipulaa cha prithvee

The substance of this verse is: "Time is eternal and the world is wide. Some where or at some time a kindred soul may be born who will appreciate what I have written, even though, for the moment, some may deride it as useless".

I was reminded of this verse when I read Mr. Hilton Brown's article in The Hindu wherein he has given the answer to the question, "why do I live in India". Here is a foreigner who is appreciative of the Hindu dharmic ideals and practices and finds in this country a peace and satisfaction which he could not obtain elsewhere.

We must realise the basic principles expounded by our saastraas and model our lives accordingly. The only lasting thing is our endeavor for the elevation of soul. Realising this, let us conduct ourselves in the proper manner.