By Swami Harshananda
Muni literally means ‘one who is immersed in contemplation’.
The muni, who may be a rishi, is a sage. Muni is so called on account of his mananam (mananat muniruchyate). Mananam is that thought, investigation, and discussion which marks the independent thinking mind. First there is shravanam listening; then mananam, which is the thinking or understanding, discussion upon, and testing of what is heard as opposed to the mere acceptance on trust of the lower intelligence. There two are followed by nididhyasanam, which is attention and profound meditation on the conclusions (siddhanta) drawn from what is so heard and reasoned upon. As the Mahabharata says, "The Veda differ, and so do the Smriti. No one is a muni who has no independent opinion of his own" (nasau muniryasya matang na bhinnam).
Muni as per Ṛgveda
The word ‘muni’ is derived from the root-verb ‘man’. Hence it means anyone who contemplates deeply on God and the higher values of life. The Ṛgved calls munis as the sons of Vātaraśana who wear dirty clothes and are in ecstacy. Munis were befriended by Indra and other gods. Great sages and ascetics were called munis. The lists of munis generally include Vasiṣṭha, his son Śakti and Parāśara.
Muni as per Sanskrit Grammar
In the tradition of Sanskrit grammar, the three great grammarians are generally called ‘munitraya’. They are:
Muni as per Scriptures
Some of the scriptures like the Harivanśa call certain persons as munis. For instance:
- The teacher who gives dīkṣā,
- The teacher of the Vedas
- An ascetic
- An assembly of old ascetics
- An acclaimed man of wisdom
Muni as per Iconography
In iconographical works, images of munis are to be prepared according to the navatāla or the aṣtatāla system. They are generally shown standing and have two hands only in the poses of añjali or as offering flowers or with japamālā.
Belief Regarding Origin of Muni
The various munis are stated to have emerged out of the various parts of Brahmā’s body. For instance:
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore