Sanatan Dharma

What are SAstra-s (shAstra-s)?

Updated on: Created on 28-08-2020

Part II - Sanatan Dharma, Chapter 1/11 - What are SAstra-s (shAstra-s)?

This is Part II - Sanatan Dharma, Chapter 1 / 11

Table of Contents

8. What are shAstra-s?

As per Kanchi Paramacharya, SAstra (also spelled as shAstra or śāstra) is an order or commandment. Wise say that a SAstra covers all aspects of life. Hindu Dharma is the most organized way of life where each and every aspect of life be it spirituality or day-2-day activities are coded and organized in a proper and systematic structure. Topics covered include,

  • karma kANDa - vedic and Agamic - pUrva mimAmsA (rites and rituals, priestly duties, balancing forces of nature, staying in harmony with nature for good of all living beings mankind, animal, plant and mineral kingdom)

  • vedAnta and other spiritual texts for progressing spiritually and experiencing highest truth by various ways and methods. Realising essence of vedAnta means to achieve moksha, be liberated from cycle of birth and death.

  • dharma smriti-s for civil laws and rAja-dharma (dharma of king, art of administration, Judiciary system)

  • Grihya sUtra-s (Guidelines for day-2-day living)

  • dhanurvidyA (art of warfare)

  • gandharva veda (art of music and singing)

  • kauTilya artha shAstra (art of financial management)

  • chANakya niti, vidur niti, etc (art of politics)

  • ayurveda, charak samhitA, suShruta samhitA, AchArya vAgabhaTa's works on Ayurveda like Aṣṭāṅgahṛdayasaṃhitā (Heart of Medicine divided in eight parts (internal medicine, surgery, gynaecology and paediatrics, rejuvenation therapy, aphrodisiac therapy, toxicology, and psychiatry or spiritual healing, and ENT (ear, nose and throat)) and Aṣṭāṅgasaṅgraha (Compendium of Medicine) etc (art of healing, medical practice, surgery, blood transmutation, etc)

  • nATya shAstra (art of drama, acting)

  • nritya kalA like bharatnATyam, kathaka, kathakali, kuchipuDi, etc (art of dancing, expressing devotion by dancing, used in paurANika dramas)

  • Art of codifying secret messages like mathematical formulas, secrets of subtle bodies) in riddles

  • Devotional hymns and independent compositions for devotional purpose and instilling devotion in hearts of all.

  • varNa vyavasthA (Division of work by dedicating particular work to particular community)

  • haTha yoga (haTha yoga pradipikA, Siva samhitA, gherANDa samhitA) and other forms of yoga and tantra like patanjali yoga sUtra-s, dattAtraya yoga sUtra-s, Goraksha banI, Thirumandiram, etc (keep body fit, rise above body consciousness and merge in Brahman i.e. God, supreme consciousness)

  • nyAya shAstra / tarka shAstra / vaiseshikhA (school of logic and reasoning)

  • vyakaraNa like pANiNi sUtra-s, aShTAdhyAyi and it’s commentary, maheshvara sUtra-s, etc (grammer)

  • and many more ...

Covering all walks of life in a systematic way shows the intelligence, organization, management power and deep thinking ability of our ancestors. SAstra touches all walks of life.

Discussing matters related to dharma is called as ‘shAstrArtha’. This is especially done when establishing or objecting a siddhAnta (philosophy). In order to prove his/her point, one needs to quote shAstra-s in support of his/her claim. shAstra is one of the six pramANa-s (proofs or testimony) called as shabda pramANa accepted for argument. Other pramANa-s are mentioned later. All shAstra-s ar not considered equal in authority. veda-s and vedAnta (upanishads) are considered as top-most authority. These points are discussed in later sections.

According to upanishads, we are not physical body but pure consciousness. The ultimate goal of shAstra is to be know our true nature, be one with Brahman and attain moksha, the freedom from cycle of birth and death and attain immortality.

shAstra-s are not just dry philosophies. They can be practically applied in our life. The purport of shAstra-s, which is Self Realisation, is experienced by great saints.

Great rishi-s intuitively heard or saw verses with divine eyes and ears or they realised them as a flash in heart (realisation of truth by experience). They digested their meaning and explained to others in the way they have understood, but without compromising the core teachings. Hence one concept may be explained in different ways and all explanations are correct. In this sense, we can say that shAstra-s are collection of experience of innumerable saints since time immemorial.

Any SAstra i.e. Hindu spiritual doctrine, begins and ends with peace chant called as shAnti Mantra (shAnti mantra). Even independent works start with worshipping either God or Guru or both as in case of viveka chudAmaNi. This shows that concern for universal well-being and respect to God and Guru is deeply rooted within Hinduism.

Lets start our article with one such peace chant found in yajurveda.

Opening Invocation

ॐ सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः

सर्वे सन्तु निरामयाः ।

सर्वे भद्राणि पश्यन्तु

मा कश्चिद्दुःखभाग्भवेत् ।

ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥

Om Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah

Sarve Santu Nir-Aamayaah |

Sarve Bhadraanni Pashyantu

Maa Kashcid-Duhkha-Bhaag-Bhavet |

Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||


1: Om, May All become Happy,

2: May All be Free from Illness.

3: May All See what is Auspicious,

4: May no one Suffer.

5: Om Peace, Peace, Peace.

Above shAnti mantra adapted from a verse of brihadAraNayaka upanishad of yajurveda. Please note that this mantra is not seen in the beginning of upanishad, but similar verse is found in Br. Up. 1.4.14

Another shAnti mantra from taitariya and mANDukya upanishad of atharveda is

ॐ सह नाववतु |

सह नौ भुनक्तु |

सह वीर्यं करवावहै |

तेजस्विनावधीतमस्तु मा विद्विषावहै॥

ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः॥

Om saha nāvavatu

saha nau bhunaktu

saha vīryaṃ karavāvahai

tejasvi nāvadhītamastu

mā vidviṣāvahai |

Om śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ ||

Aum! May He protect us both together; may He nourish us both together;

May we work conjointly with great energy,

May our study be vigorous and effective;

May we not mutually dispute (or may we not hate any).

Aum! Let there be peace in me!

Let there be peace in my environment!

Let there be peace in the forces that act on me!

More shAnti mantra-s can be found here. Many Indian States have their own mottos. Indian Navy, Air force and Army also have their mottos. These mottos are taken from our SAstra-s. Please find the link here. It shows the richness our our culture. Every Indian must take pride in our rich culture. Indian Law also has many elements adapted from our dharma smriti-s. Though the repentance given in smriti- may not be practical today, but they show how well our forefathers thought of intensity of crime and gave equivalent punishments. Smriti-s show us that our forefathers thought in many directions. Having more than 36 dharma smriti-s (including 18 major and 18 minor) are proofs of showing deep thinking ability, structural and organizational ability of our ancestors. Infact there is more than one text found in almost all walks of life be it vedAnta, veda-s (karma kANDa), or any other topic listed above.

Lets now study what is Hindu Dharma.

Add - Motto of Indian States