Śāstra- Content of Sacred text

Rami SivanRami Sivan, Priest, Dharma teacher, counsellor, Gov. Advisor
April 16th, 2020 – April 19th, 2020

The purpose of Shastra is defined as:–

ajñāta jñāpanam iti śāstra — the objective of Shastra is to teach us that which we cannot learn from other sources such as:–

pratyakṣam — tangible evidence
anumānam — reason,

So the basis of knowledge is always evidence first. The evidence produced must be rational and subject to investigation, analysis and criticism and testing. There are certain important topics which cannot be known from either evidence or reason and so we then seek trustworthy testimony known as āpta-vākya.

“Trustworthy testimony” is that knowledge which comes from a source that is free from self-interest or invested-interest and has an impeccable reputation.

According to the Hindu tradition such a source of impersonal knowledge on occult topics is the VEDA known also as Śābda – verbal transmission.

The Purpose of Narrative

When an author composes a narrative the general intent is to communicate a message.

The specific reasons could be:—
(1) To convey some information or knowledge.
(2) To issue some instructions or directions.
(3) To describe an event or thing.
(4) To entertain and delight.
(5) To register or record something.
(6) To praise or glorify someone or something.

All these categories are to be found in the Vedas, Itihasas, Puranas and Tantras.

Mimāmsa classifies all the subject matter of this vast body of literature under five different headings which you will need to memorise: —

  1. Directives (vidhi)
  2. Hymns or sonic formulae (mantra),
  3. Categories or descriptions (nāmadheya),
  4. Prohibitions (niṣedha)
  5. Corroborative or illustrative passages (arthavāda).

The most important factor of all śāstra is the VIDHI. Indian philosophy is above all pragmatic – all knowledge must be converted into ACTION.


vidhi is defined as any statement that induces one to act.

All actions (karma), according to Mīmāṃsa are said to have two effects:

  1. one external, manifest and gross; (dṛṣṭārtha)
  2. the other mental, potential and subtle (adṛṣṭārtha).

The mental aspect of an act is regarded as being long-lasting, while the external effect is transitory.

All actions create saṁskāras (mental impressions or “subliminal activators”) through their positive and negative results, they are, therefore the seeds, planted in the mind, of future activity and resulting effects both good and bad — KARMA.

Originally Mīmāṃsa was concerned about the directives in the Vedas relating to yajñas. So the Vedic texts were analysed in order to extract the correct and appropriate directive for the correct performance of the yajñas.

With the decline of the Vedic yajña in both Vedānta (Jñāna-khāṇḍa) and Tantra; the implication of the Vidhi has been broadened to include statements about the Supreme Truth (Brahman) and the nature of the Self (jīvātman), the meaning of life and proper course of action for living the good life and for promoting human flourishing (Dharma).

So whatever text is under discussion it must be analysed for the VIDHI. When reading a story in the Purānas, the question to ask yourself is – what is the VIDHI here – what are the implications for esoteric knowledge, action or practice?

So for example – there is a story about Krishna stealing the clothes of the Gopis who were bathing naked in the river. He hung the clothes up in a tree and demanded that they all exist the river one by one holding their hands above their heads and approach him to retrieve their garments.

So what is the VIDHI in this story?

  1. Krishna is the Supreme Purusha and the Gopis represent the jīvātmas.
  2. The way of surrender – śaraṇāgati or prapatti is being illustrated.
  3. The VIDHI is to surrender to the Lord by letting go of all sense of shame, self-pride, self-esteem or feeling of separateness between jīvātman and paramātman.
  4. The details of the story are not important or relevant.

This brings us to the other most important of the five topics mentioned above:–


An arthavāda is a corroborative state or one that affirms or supports a VIDHI.

Arthavāda is passage which extols and encourages the performance of a positive injunction (Vidhi) or censures and discourages the performance of a prohibition (Niṣedha).

Arthavādas are classified differently by various authorities but generally fall under 13 general categories which can be summarized as being of five kinds:—

  1. Condemnation.
  2. Eulogy
  3. Heroic performance
  4. Past incident.
  5. Explanatory

Understanding the principles of ARTHAVĀDA will clarify a huge number of doubts and quandaries.

a. Condemnatory Arthavādas

A condemnatory arthavāda devotes itself to praising the thing enjoined by condemning things other than that.

E.G. “One who purchases a girl, becomes a demon in the forest; who steals a gem, becomes a base-born; who steals vegetables, becomes a peacock; thief of pearl-necklace becomes a shrew; of grains, a rat; of fruit, a monkey; of animals, a goat; of water, a crow; of meat, an eagle; of cloth, a leper; and of salt, a ragged one. (Yajnavalkya 12: 5-6)

The vidhi in this passage is the injunction not to purchase girls, not to steal gems or vegetables etc.

The arthavāda is the negative consequences – becoming demons etc. these statements are not to be taken literally but serve the purpose of disincentive only.

Likewise all the statements about going to hell if xxxx is done are ALL arthavāda.

b. Eulogistic Arthavādas

These are statements which are exaggerated and give superlative results for following a specific vidhi.

E.G. “Let him never eat any dainty food which he does not offer to the guest; the hospitable reception of guests procures wealth, fame, long-life, and heavenly bliss.” (Manu 3;106)

The vidhi is – never eat dainty food alone but always share it with a guest, be hospitable.

The arthavāda is the statement of rewards – wealth, fame, long-life, and heavenly bliss. Not to be taken literally.

c. Heroic performance Arthavādas

Is a statement which indicates that a particular work was done by a great personage or persons in order to act as an incentive;

Manu 10: 106. -108 Vamadeva, who well knew right and wrong, did not sully himself when, tormented (by hunger), he desired to eat the flesh of a dog in order to save his life. Bharadvaja, a performer of great austerities, accepted many cows from the carpenter Bribu, when he was starving together with his sons in a lonely forest. Visvamitra, who well knew what is right or wrong, approached, when he was tormented by hunger, (to eat) the haunch of a dog, receiving it the hands of a Chandala.

The vidhi in this passage is if in dire straits one may eat or accept anything without guilt.

The arthavāda is the list of previous great and heroic sages who did exactly that.

d. Past incident Arthavādas

— that which indicates something that has previously been narrated by another;

E.G. The Blessed Lord said: 1. I taught this imperishable Yoga to Vivasvan; Vivasvan taught it to Manu; Manu declared it to Ikshvaku. Thus handed down in succession, the royal sages knew this (Karma Yoga). But with long lapses of time, O Arjuna, this Yoga was lost to the world. (Gita chap. 4)

The vidhi here is an introduction to the importance of Karma Yoga.

The arthavāda is the mention of the names of the previous practitioners. The purpose is to generate interest and attention in the mind of the student. Again not to be taken literally.

d. Explanatory Arthavādas

An explanatory arthavāda may not be connected with a vidhi but alone serves to metaphorically explain why a certain thing is as it is.

E.G. 1 “Indra opened the hole of Vrtra; the topmost cattle he grasped by the back and pulled out; a thousand cattle followed it, they all became hump-backed.” KYV II:11.1.5

The explanation of why cattle are hump-backed is off course cute and entertaining and does not link to any vidhi.

E.G. 2 “Indra having killed the son of Tvaṣṭra was guilty of the sin of killing a Brahmin He ran to women and asked then: “take upon yourselves a 3rd of my sin!” They said: “what will we gain by doing that?” Indra said: “choose a boon.” They said: “May we obtain children during our season and may we live at pleasure with our husbands till the time of giving birth to our children.” Having obtained the boon they took upon themselves a 3rd of the sin of Indra. Therefore they become guilty of the sin of killing a brahmin every month with their discharge.” (Vasishtha Dharma śāstra 6)

The second example is linked to the Vidhi that women should take rest and keep social distancing during their periods, the arthavāda is the Indra-incident.

N.B. An arthavāda carries no authority in itself and can happily be disregarded and discarded.

So when reading Puranas and Itihāsas it is extremely important to bear in mind the twin concepts of VIDHI & ARTHAVĀDA.

When reading a story or passage ask yourself – “what is the vidhi here?” And the descriptive, eulogistic past incident stuff can all be disregarded as arthavāda and must not be taken as literal or even significant.