Written by Sri Swami Chandrashekarendra
All religions teach people to be loving, to be truthful and to be free
jealousy, desire and greed. But our religion goes further by imposing on
us the performance of various samskaras to acquire these qualities in
practical life. There is no use in merely preaching, in asking people to
like this or that. A man must be kept bound to a system consisting of
works as would help him in practice to acquire the noble qualities
expected of them. Our religion alone does this.
Other religions, it is claimed, teach love and desirelessness. But
it is alleged, does not give any importance to such qualities and is,
besides, ritual-ridden. This view is totally erroneous. In fact, our
does more than others: while laying emphasis on the eight qualities, it
imparts lessons to take people beyond them, to a state that transcends
these very qualities. It also believes that merely talking about the
qualities will serve no purpose. After all, we know, don't we, that we
to be virtuous, truthful, loving and so on? Still we find it difficult
according to these ideals. What purpose is served if our canonical texts
merely keep urging us again and again to acquire noble qualities? That
why, unlike other faiths which contain a great deal of ethical and moral
instruction, our religion teaches ethics and morality only to the extent
needed. But is that all? Without stopping with mere precept it tells us
how we may- in actual practice- cultivate and acquire them. This it does
first by telling us stories through the Puranas of virtuous people who
obtained fame and of evil-doers who got ill fame. But it recognises that
such examples are not enough to provide the necessary inspiration, so it
lays down a number of samskaras for the purpose of obtaining inner
purity. Ours is the only religion that gives practical training in
people virtuous and in acquiring moral excellence. Instead of being
of this fact, is it right to feel that there is something lacking in our
The first of the eight qualities is love which is the chief teaching of
and the last of them is desirelessness which is the cardinal teaching of
Is it enough to give oral instruction about the qualities? In other
it enough merely to preach them? It is man's nature to be engaged in
some work or other. And, after all, if you want to accomplish something
you will have to work for it. Gandhiji taught truth and nonviolence,
about them all his life. In his asrama he was all the time not only
some work or other himself, he was also urging others to do the same.
His followers called him a hard taskmaster. He asked them to keep
turning the charka and expected them to clean their toilets themselves.
The dharmasastras have prescribed rites to make us inwardly pure and
impart us the eight qualities. In this context the sutras of Apastamba
Gautama have a dominant place. Among the Smrtis Manu's is the most
Apastamba and Gautama deal with the dharmas common to all people.
The former lays down the duties and samskaras separately for the
different castes also. Gautama deals with the forty samskaras and the
eight Atmagunas. These forty-eight are the means to take a man to
Brahmaloka on his death. He goes before the presence of Isvara, which is
like going to a great jnanin. He can remain quiescent in bliss. When
who conducts the world himself becomes formless, he too [the man who
attains Brahmaloka] will be dissolved in him. Until then he resides in
world of Isvara (saloka) and later attains sayujya, that is becomes one
with him. "Yasyaite catvarimsat samskarah astavatmagunah sa
Brahmanah sayujyam salokatam jayati", so it is said.
The body is involved in various ways in performing the forty samskaras.
When you work in an office you use your hands and feet and mouth,
don't you? So is the case with the samskaras. He who performs them and
cultivates the eight Atmagunas goes directly to the Brahmaloka in which
world there is neither sorrow nor happiness. When are you without
sorrow and happiness? When you are with the One who creates them.
The Atmic qualities are described as "Atmasakti". This term has recently
come into use in newspaper language. In the old Sanskrit and Tamil texts
we do not see the term "Atmasakti" used, only "Atmagunas".