By Swami Harshananda
- mode of behaviour; conduct
- ritual; method; approach; practice
- in Tantrik tradition, the seven different types of prescribed methods of practice and approach meant for different (lower to higher) stages of psycho-spiritual capacity and development.
The smṛtis and dharmaśāstras, the law books that regulate the life of individuals, both at the personal and at the social level, deal with three important topics :
- Ācāra - ceremonial duties
- Vyavahāra - civil and criminal laws
- Prāyaścitta - penances and expiatory rites
Of the three, ācāra usually gets the pride of place. Ācāra is often compared with sadācāra, the conduct of good and great men, so much so that dharma itself is said to be born out of ācāra, 'ācāraprabhavo dharmah’
Whenever one is in doubt with regard to one’s duty or action in a particular situation in life, one is advised to seek the guidance of the wise elders of impeccable character. Their words should be implicitly obeyed.
At the personal level, the ṣaṭkarmas or seven duties associated with a daily routine, are the most important aspects of ācāra:
- Snāna - bath
- Sandhyā - sandhyā (evening) ritual
- Japa - repetition of mantra
- Devapujā - ritualistic worship of the family Deity
- Homa - sacrifice
- Vaiśvadeva - offering of cooked food to the Gods
- Ātithya - honoring guests
Undergoing the various sanskāras and performing the prescribed duties as per one’s varṇa and āśrama are the other important aspects of ācāra.
The word ācāra is also used in the sense of ‘customs and tradition’.
One has to rely upon the smṛtis and sadācāra in matters relating to the regulation of society when they are not dealt with in sruti. However, in matters of dispute, falling within the jurisdiction of jurisprudence, ācāra is often the decisive factor, provided it is not against the spirit of the Vedas and smṛtis. Such ācāra can be
- Deśācāra - pertaining to the particular region
- Jātyācāra - pertaining to the particular caste
- Kulācāra - pertaining to the particular family
Even judges or kings are expected to take cognizance of these ācāras before giving a verdict.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore
- Ācāra by Jit Majumdar