Henry David Thoreau
"The Laws of Menu,"
Selected by Thoreau, first appeared in The Dial (Vol. III, No. 3, Jan., 1843, p. 331.)
[In pursuance of the design intimated in our Number for July, to give a series of ethnical scriptures, we subjoin our extracts from the Laws of Menu. We lear, from the preface of the translator, that "Vyasa, the son of Parasara, has decided that the Veda, with its Angas, or the six compositions deduced from it, the revealed system of medicine, the Puranas, or sacred histories, and the code of Menu, were four works of supreme authority, which ought never to be shaken by arguments merely human." The last, which is in blank verse, end is one of the oldest compositions extant, has been translated by Sir William Jones. It is believed by the Hindoos "to have been promulged in the beginning of time, by Menu, son or grandson of Brahma," and "first of created beings." Brahma is said to have "taught his laws to Menu in a hundred thousand verses, which Menu explained to the primitive world in the very words of the book now translated." Others affirm that they have undergone successive abridgments for the convenience of mortals," while the gods of the lower heaven, and the band of celestial musicians, are engaged in studying the primary code.""A number of glosses or comments on Menu were composed by the Munis, or old philosophers, whose treatises, together with that before us, constitute the Dherma Sastra, in a collective sense, or "Body of Law." Culluca Bhatta* was one of the more modern of these.]
PURIFICATION AND SACRIFICE.
15. "If thou be not at variance by speaking falsely with Yama the Subduer of al], with Vaivaswata the Punisher with that great divinity who dwells in the breast, go not on a pilgrimage to the river Ganga, nor to the plains of Curu, for thou hast no need of expiation."
16. "Whoever cherishes not five orders of beings,--the deities, those who demand hospitality, those whom he ought by law to maintain, his departed forefathers, and himself,-- that man lives not, even though he breathe."
19. "Some constantly sacrifice their breath in their speech, when they instruct others, or praise God aloud, and their speech in their breath, when they meditate in silence; perceiving in their speech and breath, thus employed, the imperishable fruit of a sacrificial offering."
21. "Equally perceiving the supreme soul in all beings, and al] beings in the supreme soul, he sacrifices his own spirit by fixing it on the spirit of God, and approaches the nature of that sole divinity, who shines by his own effulgence."
23. "Cari, child of Angiras, taught his paternal uncles and cousins to read the Veda, and, excelling them in divine knowledge, said to them 'Little sons.'" They, moved with resentment, asked the gods the meaning of that expression; and the gods, being assembled, answered them, 'The child has addressed you properly ; '" For an unlearned man is in truth a child; and he who teaches him the Veda is his father: holy sages have always said child to an ignorant man, and father to a teacher of scripture."
24. "Greatness is not conferred by years, not by gray hairs, not by wealth, not by powerful kindred; the divine sages have established this rude: 'Whoever has read the Vedas, and their Angas, he among us is great."'"The seniority of priests is from sacred learning; of warriors, from valor; of merchants, from abundance of grain; of the servile class, only from the priority of birth."
REWARD AND PUNISHMENT.
31. "O friend to virtue, that supreme spirit, which thou believes" one and the same with thyself, resides in thy bosom perpetually, and is an all-knowing inspector of thy goodness or of thy wickedness."
32. "Action, either mental, verbal, or corporeal, bears good or evil fruit, as itself is good or evil; and from the actions of men proceed their various transmigrations in the highest, the mean, and the lowest degree."
37. "But, if it had generally been addicted to vice, and seldom attended to virtue, then shall it be deserted by those pure elements, and, having a. coarser body of sensible nerves, it feels the pains to which Yama shall doom it."
38. "Souls, endued with goodness, attain always the state of deities; those filled with ambitious passions, the condition of men; and those immersed in darkness, the nature of beasts: this is the triple order of transmigration."
WOMEN AND MARRIAGE.
42. "Let him choose for his wife a girl, whose form has no defect; who has an agreeable name; who walks gracefully, like a phenicopteros, or like a young elephant; whose hair and teeth are moderate respectively in quantity and in size; whose body has exquisite softness."
49. "Let him never, for the sake of a subsistence, have recourse to popular conversation; let him live by the conduct of a priest, neither crooked, nor artful, nor blended with the manners of the mercantile class."
56. "All that depends on another gives pain; all that depends on himself gives pleasure; let him know this to be in few words the definition of pleasure and of pain."As for the Brahmin who keeps house,-"Let him say what is true, but let him say what is pleasing; let him speak no disagreeable truth, nor let him speak agreeable falsehood : this is a primeval rule."
57. "Let him say 'well and good,' or let him say 'well' only; but let him not maintain fruitless enmity and altercation with any man.''" Giving no pain to any creature, let him collect virtue by degrees, for the sake of acquiring a companion to the next world, as the white ant by degrees builds his nest."
61. "Continually, therefore, by degrees, let him collect virtue, for the sake of securing an inseparable companion; since, with virtue for his guide, he will traverse a gloom- how hard to be traversed! "
65. "Not solicitous for the means of gratification, chaste as a student, sleeping on the bare earth, in the haunts of pious hermits, without one selfish affection, dwelling at the roots of trees; for the purpose of uniting his soul with the divine spirit."
66. "Or, if he has any incurable disease, let him advance in a straight path, towards the invincible north-eastern point, feeding on water and air, till his mortal frame totally decay, and his soul become united with the Supreme."
70. "Let him have no culinary fire, no domicile: let him, when very hungry, go to the town for food; let him patiently bear disease; let his mind be firm: let him study to know God, and fix his attention on God alone."
72. "Let him not wish for death; let him not wish for life; let him expect his appointed time, as a hired servant expects his wages."Entirely withdrawn from the world,-"without any companion but his own soul, let him live in this world, seeking the bliss of the next."
73. "Late in the day let the Sannyasi beg food: for missing it, let him not be sorrowful; nor for gaining it let him be glad; let him care only for a sufficiency to support life, but let him not be anxious about his utensils "
74. "Let him reflect also, with exclusive application of mind, on the subtil, indivisible essence of the supreme spirit, and its complete existence in all beings, whether extremely high, or extremely low."
76. "A mansion with bones for its rafters and beams; with nerves and tendons for cords; with muscles and blood for mortar; with skin for its outward covering, filled with no sweet perfume, but loaded with faeces and urine; "
77. "A mansion infested by age and by sorrow; the seat of malady, harassed with pains, haunted with the quality of darkness, and incapable of standing long; such a mansion of the vital soul, let its occupier always cheerfully quit."
78. "As a tree leaves the bank of a river, when it falls in, or as a bird leaves the branch of a tree at his pleasure, thus he, who leaves his body by necessity, or by legal choice, is delivered from the ravening shark, or crocodile, of the world."
80. "The divine spirit is the whole assemblage of gods; all worlds are seated in the divine spirit; and the divine spirit, no doubt, produces the connected series of acts performed by embodied souls."
81. "He may contemplate the subtil ether in the cavities of his body; the air in his muscular motion and sensitive nerves; the supreme solar and igneous light, in his digestive heat and his visual organs; in his corporeal fluids, water; in the terrene parts of his fabric, earth; "
82. "In his heart, the moon; in his auditory nerves, the guardians of eight regions; in his progressive motion, Vishnu; in his muscular force, Hara; in his organs of speech, Agni; in excretion, Mitra; in procreation, Brahma: "
83. "But he must consider the supreme omnipresent intelligence as the sovereign lord of them all; a spirit which can only be conceived by a mind slumbering; but which he may imagine more subtil than the finest conceivable essence, and more bright than the purest gold."
84. "Him some adore as transcendentally present in elementary fire; others in Menu, lord of creatures; some, as more distinctly present in Indra, regent of the clouds and the atmosphere; others, in pure air; others, as the most High Eternal Spirit."
85. "Thus the man, who perceives in his own soul the supreme soul present in all creatures, acquires equanimity towards them all, and shall be absorbed at last in the highest essence, even that of the Almighty himself."
87. "Devotion is equal to the performance of all duties; it is divine knowledge in a Brahmin; it is defence of the people in a Cshatriya; devotion is the business of trade and agriculture in a Vaisya; devotion is dutiful service in a Sudra."
89. "Whatever is hard to be traversed, whatever is hard tobe acquired, whatever is hard to be visited, whatever i'hard to be performed, all this may be accomplished by truedevotion; for the difficulty of devotion is the greatest of all."
Thanks to Bradley P. Dean for preparing this text.
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