By Swami Harshananda
Satyārthaprakāśa literally means ‘a work which brings out the truth’.
The Satyārthaprakāśa is the magnum opus of Svāmi Dayānanda Sarasvatī, a pioneer in the renaissance of religion during the 19th century. He was the founder of the well-known Ārya-samāj. It is a powerful work on general religion written in Hindi language. It has 14 ullāsas or chapters with a concluding section in which he has given his own views on the various principles of religion.
Content of Satyārthaprakāśa
A brief summary of the work is as follows:
Various names of God are mentioned here with relevant quotations from the Vedas.
This chapter discounts certain Vedic rites connected with the birth of a child and some techniques of training and educating it. It also discounts the claims of astrologers who cast the horoscope and ridicules the ignorance of people who believe in ghosts and evil spirits.
After emphasizing the need for good education, both for boys and girls, the work explains in detail the following:
Here the author forcefully advocates the study of the Vedas by the śudras and women also.
The topics dealt with in this chapter are:
- Eight types of marriage
- Certain saṅskāras or sacraments like pumsavana
- Pañcamahāyajñas or the five daily sacrifices
- Duties of a gṛhastha or a householder
- Characteristics of a good student
- Criticism of Parāśarasmrti
The two āśramas, vānaprasthāshram and sanyāsāshram are described here. There is a clear declaration that only brāhmaṇas are eligible for sanyāsa. In this chapter, it is interesting to note, that the Manusmrti has been quoted extensively.
The entire chapter deals with political science in detail. The Manusmṛti is quoted profusely.
The following subjects are dealt with in this section:
- Brahman or God
- Nature of Brahman and his worship through prayer and meditation
- Denial of the theory that God incarnates
- About the nature of the jīva or individual soul
- Jīva and Brahman are different though a little similarity exists
- Vedas were created by īśvara or God
- Vedic Samhitās are the real Vedas and supreme.
The topic of this chapter is creation. There are three fundamental realities:
- Īśvara or Paramātman - Īśvara does the primary creation of the whole world using prakṛti as the material.
- Jīva or the individual souls - The jīva does his own, using the articles available in the world.
- Prakṛti or nature
The subjects dealt with in this chapter are:
- Characteristics of knowledge and ignorance
- Rejection of the various views of the advaitins
- Mukti or liberation of the jīva and his 24 special powers
The mukta or the liberated soul returns to this world after the end of parāntakāla In mukti he enjoys the bliss of Brahman, being established in Brahman who is infinite or all-pervading, the jiva himself being aṇu or atomic in size.
This section deals with several topics normally dealt with in the dharmaśāstra works such as:
- Sadācāra - good conduct
- Service to parents and elders
- Purity of food
- Unity of all the varṇas
- Need to avoid flesh-eating
- Eschewing intoxicating drinks
- Mutual love and respect among all varṇas
This is the biggest section dealing with several, miscellaneous, topics. They can be defined briefly as follows:
- Greatness of the knowledge and wisdom in the country
- Destruction of the true spirit of the brāhmaṇas leads to total destruction
- True meaning of animal sacrifices such as Aśvamedha, Gomedha or Puruṣa-medha
- Criticism of śrāddha conception
- Criticism of the various stories of the purāṇas
- True nature of tapas or austerity
- Murtipujā shown as defective including the worship of the various deities
- Pilgrimages decried
- Purāṇas are not by Vyāsa
- Bhāgavata considered as Bopadeva’s work and hence not authoritative
- Śudras and women can study the Vedas
- No belief in astrology
- Dānas or making gifts accepted
- Criticism of many other schools
The Philosophy of Dayānanda Sarasvati as Revealed in this Treatise
Since the author has been devastatingly critical of most of the schools of the religion, it is necessary to know what exactly his own philosophy is. This he has done in the last section titled Svaman-tavya-Amantavya-Prakāśah which means revealing what is acceptable and also not acceptable to himself. The following is a brief summary of the concepts:
Īśvara or God
Pramānas means Means of Knowledge. The Saṅhita portions of the four Vedas are the basic pramāṇas. The other parts of the Vedas like the Brāhmaṇas, Vedāṅgas and the Upavedas are accepted in so far as they do not conflict with the Samhitās. In addition, eight pramānas are accepted. They are:
- Pratyakṣa - direct perception
- Anumāna - inference
- Śabda - verbal testimony, the Vedas
- Upamāna - comparison
- Arthāpatti - postulation
- Anupalabdhi - non-perception
- Sambhava - possibility
- Aitihya - past history
Dharma means righteousness. It is the code of conduct given by the Vedas and not against the spirit of the Vedas.
There are many jīvas. They are all different from īśvara, though similar in nature, īśvara being omnipresent, pervades them.
Prakṛti means nature. The world is created by īśvara using this prakṛti as the material cause.
Śrsti means creation. Creation is done by īśvara to help the jīvas in their path of further evolution, according to their karmas.
Mukti means liberation from all sorrows and sufferings. The liberated soul will get full freedom to move about in the whole creation like īśvara who is all pervading. However, the liberated soul has to come back at the end of a parāntakāla, the life duration of Brahmā. The means of attaining Brahmā are:
- Īśvaropāsana - worship of God through yoga
- Vidyā - knowledge
- Practice of dharma
- Company of the spiritually evolved souls
Devas and Asuras
Devapujā means Worship of God. The devapujā in real sense is:
- Honoring the men of wisdom
- Honoring one’s own parents
- Honoring the teacher
- Honoring a just king
- Honoring guests
- Honoring virtuous persons
Śiksana means education and the training that helps one to eliminate the impurities of the mind and develop great virtues is śikṣaṇa in the true sense.
It is the Brāhmaṇas of the Vedas that are accepted as the purāṇas and not the present eighteen purāṇas.
Tirthas are the places of pilgrimage. It is the cultivation of virtues like truth, knowledge and the company of the spiritually great souls that is true ‘tirtha’ and not the physical places of pilgrimage.
Purusaprayatna means self-effort. Even prārabdha karma can be over-come by purṣaprayatna.
Yajñas means sacrifices. Simple Vedic rituals are accepted but not the complicated system of sacrifices.
Svarga and Naraka
Svarga and naraka means heaven and hell respectively. The experience of joy and happiness here is svarga and the opposite is naraka.
Karma and Punarjanma
Punarjanma means rebirth. The usual theories are accepted.
Niyoga means levirate. This ancient system is accepted within the framework of the rules prescribed. The other rituals accepted along with this are:
- Upāsanā - worship and meditation
- Prārthanā - prayer
- He lived in A. D. 1824-1883.
- His nature is described to be formless and all-pervading.
- It is defined as abhinna-nimitta-upādāna-kāraṇa.
- Parāntakāla means duration of Brahma’s life; 3 x 1013 years.
- Cārvāka means materialism.
- Sat-Cit-Ananda means Truth, Consciousness and Bliss respectively.
- Nitya means uncreated and eternal.
- Aṇu means atomic in size.
- Guṇa means qualities of the mind.
- Karma means actions in accordance with them.
- Vidvāmsas are the men of wisdom.
- Avidvāmsas are the men of ignorance.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore