Sunday, May 9, 2010

Reincarnation in Dharmashastra (The Laws of Manu)

Posted by Manju-Ganesh | Sunday, May 9, 2010 | Category: |

The Dharmashastra dedicates an entire chapter on the theme of karma-samsara, where the mechanism of the transmigration of soul is explained7'. The Book of Manu introduces a threefold origin of karma: manas (mind), vac (speech) and deha (body) (12.3). Sinful actions which spring from the mind will lead to rebirth in a low caste, evil actions from speech will cause rebirth as a bird of a beast and bodily sinful actions will lead one to be reborn as something inanimate. The book of Law classifies men into three categories according to the predominance of one or the other of the
three constitutive principles (guna) which determine the character of an individual, viz., the sattva (principle of clarity and tranquillity), the rajas (principle of activity and movement), and the tamas (principle of obscurity and inertia)72. Those in whom sattva prevails are characterized by goodness and purity, are enlightened by spiritual knowledge and do good works; those in whom rajas prevail are characterized by greediness for fame, power and material goods, and occupy themselves with activities of love and hatred; and those, instead, in whom tamas prevail are characterized by lethargy, impiety, cruelty, ignorance and desires of sensual pleasures. The prevailing of one or other principle derives from the merits or demerits of the past lives73.
Then the Book of Law then deals in details with the types of future re-births corresponding to the acts done by each one, acts which arise from the above-mentioned principles. At the moment of death, those in whom tamas predominate will be reborn as grass, trees, insects of every type, fishes, snakes, reptiles, birds, lions, boars, evil men, etc., depending on the amount of tamas each one has gathered during his present life and the non-expiated ones of his previous life (12. 42-45); those in whom rajas prevail will be reborn as kings, kshatriyas, servants, drunkards, etc., depending on the amount of rajas each one has collected (12. 46); and those in whom sattva prevails will be reborn as Brahmins, hermits, apsaras (servants of god), sages, etc. (12. 47-50), again depending on the amount of sattva one has gathered.
The Book of Manu deals in a particular way with mahapataka (mortal sins), viz., killing of a Brahman, drinking, stealing and adultery (11. 55), which will lead the offenders to spend large numbers of years in dreadful hells and after that enter into the wheel of samsara. It also deals, in great detail, with the rebirths of all kinds of thieves (12. 61-69) and finally with the rebirths of those who are not faithful to the specific duties of their varnas (four castes): "will migrate into despicable bodies" and "will become the servants of the Dasyus"74.
In the Dharmasastras the description of various types of rebirth for different types of evil actions outweigh by far the attention given to theoretical considerations and analyzing the technique of karma and rebirth.
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