Used with permission of the author: Originally published in May of 2008, this article was written by Willem Vandenberg (Varnadi das), who joined ISKCON in Amsterdam in 1990. He served in the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust in Sweden as a translator and editor and as a manager of one of its sub-complexes. After officially leaving ISKCON in 2010 he went on to further his career as a computer programmer in higher education. He now lives in Texas and enjoys life reading, writing, and traveling the world.

 

 

Cherry-Picking as an Art Form

 

This article is a rudimentary attempt to show how the Manu-Samhita[1] is represented in the works of Bhaktivedanta Swami.[2] To accomplish this, references to and quotes from the Manu-Samhita, as well as those mentioning the name Manu in relation to his laws, were extracted from Bhaktivedanta Swami’s books, lectures, conversations, and letters in the latest Vedabase,[3] and then categorize according to content and context. To this date the VedaBase is still not entirely complete, so more references may exist. However, the data used here comprises the bulk and I deem it fairly representative for the possible entirety.

A total number of 155 references have been categorized as statements made about the Manu-Samhita and quotations from the Manu-Samhita or references to such quotations. The former comprises 38% of the total and the latter 62%. The data shows that all statements made about the Manu-Samhita are solely meant to establish and highlight its importance as an authorized work of law and dharma that must be followed. Yet, despite this apparent importance a quarter of the material referencing the Manu-Samhita deals with the capital punishment of murderers and almost half with the dependence and control of women.

The question naturally arises why Bhaktivedanta Swami, after repeatedly establishing the Manu-Samhita as important, authoritative, and an almost absolute law for human kind, then chose to focus mostly on less than a handful of the 2,694 verses in this vast work. Although he harped endlessly on the so-called “vedic” culture and its history as he distilled it from the scriptures he worked with, and how it had to be re-established in this modern society through the introduction of the caste system and supreme brahmanistic rule, he completely ignored the Manu-samhita’s many other topics on duties, rights, laws, conduct, virtues and others as they applied to the mythological world of the Puranas.

Another question has been raised in this regard as to the significance of the letter to Madhusudana (Michael Blumert), in which we find the only instance where Bhaktivedanta Swami spoke against following the Manu-Samhita — about six months before his death. This, however, is considered by the recipient to be a specific instruction fitting a specific person and circumstance,[4] leaving the statistics untouched in outcome and meaning.

Summary Statistics

Total references: 155

Category Type References % of total
About the Manu-Samhita   59 38%
  As law or dharma-sastra 21 36%
  As a standard, guide, or authorized 22 37%
  Following or failing to follow 12 20%
  Miscellaneous definitions 4 7%
From the Manu-Samhita   96 62%
  The capital punishment of murderers 24 25%
  The dependence/protection of women 44 46%
  Satisfaction of women 6 6%
  Miscellaneous statements 22 23%

 

The references break down as follows.

SB stands for Srimad-Bhagavatam (Bhagavata Purana), the compilation with translation and commentary by Bhaktivedanta Swami.
BG stands for Bhagavad-Gita, the compilation with translation and commentary by Bhaktivedanta Swami.
CC stands for Caitanya-Caritamrta, the compilation with translation and commentary by Bhaktivedanta Swami.
TLK stands for Teachings of Lord Kapila, the compilation with translation and commentary by Bhaktivedanta Swami.

 

As law or dharma-sastra

BG 2.21: law book for mankind
BG 16.7: law of the human race
SB 2.1.36: standard law book for humanity
SB 4.27.5: laws meant for human beings
SB 4.27.5: contains laws regulating sex
SB 5.7.8: contains estate laws
SB 6.2.11: is a dharma-sastra
TLK 6.11: contains the laws of God
Lecture BG 4.10, Vrndavana, August 2, 1974: is a dharma-sastra
Lecture BG 7.3, Bombay, February 18, 1974: is Hindu law
Lecture BG 13.8-12, Bombay, September 30, 1973: is the law
Lecture SB 1.5.9-11, New Vrindaban, June 6, 1969: is a dharma-sastra
Lecture SB 3.25.11, Bombay, November 11, 1974: are the laws of God
Lecture SB 3.26.17, Bombay, December 26, 1974: are laws to control human society
Lecture SB 7.9.10, Mayapur, February 17, 1976: is the most important of the dharma-sastras
Room Conversation, July 9, 1975, Chicago: is Vedic law
Room Conversation, January 8, 1976, Nellore: is Hindu law
Garden Discussion on BG 16, June 26, 1976, New Vrindaban: is the law book of the human race
Discussion with Professor Kotovski, Moscow, June 22, 1971: is the Hindu law
Philosophy Discussions with Shyamasundara on Bertrand Russell: is the higher authority that we take the law from
Letter to Alfred Ford, Los Angeles, 16 July, 1974: is the Vedic law book

As a standard, guide, or authorized

BG 7.15: guide to religious principles
SB 1.7.37: contains civic codes and religious principles
SB 1.9.27: meant to give direction to kings for proper administration
SB 2.1.36: great book of social knowledge
SB 2.10: meant to give right direction in life
SB 2.7.9: authorized book of the great sages
SB 2.7.9: contains standard welfare codes
SB 6.1.7: is an authorized scripture
SB 7.8.48: contains directions based on varnasrama concerning how to live as a human being
SB 7.11.7: is an all-pervading authority
SB 8.1.10: contains instructions for all of human society
SB 8.1.16: is a guide to human society
CC Adi 2.91-92: guides the way to perfection in human life
Lecture BG 7.1, Bombay, January 13, 1973: directs people how to act and live
Lecture SB 1.3.20, Los Angeles, September 25, 1972: are rules and regulations for the human being
Lecture SB 3.26.17, Bombay, December 26, 1974: is Aryan literature
Lecture SB 3.26.17, Bombay, December 26, 1974: is Vedic literature
Lecture SB 6.2.11, Vrndavana, September 13, 1975: is authorized
Morning Walk, April 20, 1974, Hyderabad: contains moral principles for conducting society
Discussion with Professor Kotovski, Moscow, June 22, 1971: is an example of the standard of brahminical culture
Garden Conversation, June 28, 1976, New Vrindaban: decides who can vote
Philosophy Discussions with Hayagriva on Immanuel Kant: is a theocratic government

Following or failing to follow

SB 2.1.36: every human being is advised to follow it
SB 4.10.14: Hindus in India follow the laws given by Manu
SB 4.18.3: human society should follow the Manu-smrti
SB 5.12.7: duty of a King is to follow dharma-sastra
SB 7.8.48: human society must follow its principles to attain peace
SB 8.1.7: states ruled otherwise will not endure
Lecture BG 7.3 , Bombay, February 18, 1974: is not to be amended
Lecture SB 6.1.6, Nellore, January 5, 1976: failing prescribed atonement will lead to hell
Lecture SB 6.1.7, Honolulu, May 8, 1976: failing prescribed atonement will lead to hell
Garden Discussion on BG 16, June 26, 1976, New Vrindaban: is followed by Hindus to this day
Letter to Madhsudana, Vrndavana, May 19, 1977: mlecchas and yavanas cannot touch the Manu-Samhita
Letter to Madhsudana, Vrndavana, May 19, 1977: if you try to follow the Manu-Samhita then you become a mleccha and yavana and your career is finished

Miscellaneous definitions

BG 16.7: defines proper social behavior
Morning Walk, April 20, 1974, Hyderabad: is not religion
Discussion with Professor Kotovski, Moscow, June 22, 1971: is perfect
Discussion with Professor Kotovski, Moscow, June 22, 1971: is applicable for all time

The capital punishment of murderers

There is no specific reference in the Manu-Samhita stating that murderers should be killed or hanged and that this act is the mercy of the King. The closest reference would be: “But men who have committed crimes and have been punished by the king, go to heaven, being pure like those who performed meritorious deeds.” (Manu-Samhita 8.318) Killing in self-defense or for the protection of women and brahmanas doesn’t even incur sin (Manu-Samhita 8.349 and 8.350-351). Other than that, punishment differs for each caste and circumstance, and chapter 11 enumerates various forms of penance that can be performed instead of punishment — including capital punishment. Hanging is nowhere mentioned in the Manu-Samhita as a capital punishment.

BG 2.21: a murderer should be condemned to death
SB 4.25.8: it is necessary for a king to execute a murderer
SB 4.26.21: a King should be considered merciful when he condemns a murderer to death
SB 6.1.8: a man who has committed murder should be hanged
SB 7.1.12: a king bestows mercy upon a murderer by killing him
Lecture BG 2.1-11, Johannesburg, October 17, 1975: it is the government’s mercy when a murderer is hanged
Lecture BG 2.20-25, Seattle, October 14, 1968: a murderer should be condemned to death
Lecture BG 2.32, London, September 2, 1973: a murderer should be killed
Lecture SB 1.16.36, Tokyo, January 30, 1974: a murderer is condemned to death to save him
Lecture SB 1.16.36, Tokyo, January 30, 1974: if a murderer is killed, then he will not commit further murders
Lecture SB 5.5.3, Stockholm, September 9, 1973: when a person is a murderer, he should be killed
Lecture SB 6.1.6, Bombay, November 6, 1970: hanging a murderer is mercy
Lecture SB 6.1.6, Sydney, February 17, 1973: if a man commits murder then he should be hanged
Lecture SB 6.1.6-15, San Francisco, September 12, 1968: it is a king’s mercy to hang a murderer
Lecture SB 6.1.8, New York, July 22, 1971: it is of benefit if the king hangs a murderer
Lecture SB 6.1.8, New York, July 22, 1971: sanctions a life for a life
Lecture SB 6.1.32, Honolulu, May 31, 1976: it is a king’s mercy to hang a murderer
Lecture SB 6.2.16, Vrndavana, September 19, 1975: a murderer must be killed
Lecture CC Madhya 20.367-84, New York, December 31, 1966: punishment reduces sinful reactions
Room Conversation, July 9, 1973, London: a murderer should be hanged
Room Conversation, July 24, 1973, London: a murderer should be hanged
Morning Walk, December 16, 1973, Los Angeles: to hang a murderer is mercy
Interview with Newsweek, July 14, 1976, New York: a murderer should be killed
Letter to Alfred Ford, Los Angeles, 16 July, 1974: a murderer when hanged is released from sin

The dependence/protection of women

As to the issue of controlling women, I have placed references to the protection of women with those asserting their dependence, as they almost always appear together and share the same source (Manu-Samhita 9.3):

pita raksati kaumare
bharta raksati yauvane
raksanti sthavire putra
na stri svatantryam arhati

“The father protects her in childhood, the husband in youth, the sons in old age. A woman does not deserve independence.”

The general concept is clarified by the verse preceding this one (Manu-Samhita 9.2):

asvatantrah striyah karyah
purusaih svair divanisam
visayesu ca sajjantyah
samsthapya atmano vase

“Day and night, men should never give any freedom to women. By engaging them in proper activities they should keep them under their control.”

BG 16.7: a woman should not be given freedom
SB 3.22.25: a woman is never independent
SB 3.33.19: women should not have independence at any stage of life
SB 5.2.21: a woman needs a great deal of protection in order to remain pure and chaste
SB 6.18.30: a man should not associate with a woman in a solitary place
SB 8.9.9: every woman should be protected
SB 9.9.32: independence for a woman means miserable life
SB 9.14.38: a woman must always be protected
SB 9.14.38: women should not be given freedom
SB 10.4.5: women should never have chief executive posts
CC Antya 2.119: one should not sit closely to women
TLK 5.5: women should never be given freedom
Lecture BG, Ahmedabad, December 8, 1972: women should be given all protection

Lecture BG 2.44-45, 2.58, New York, March 25, 1966: a woman is always protected, never given independence
Lecture BG 4.11, New York, July 27, 1966: women should not be given independence is a Vedic truth
Lecture BG 4.12-13, New York, July 29, 1966: women should be given all protection
Lecture BG 7.4-5, Bombay, March 30, 1971: a woman has no independence
Lecture BG 7.4-5, Bombay, March 30, 1971: a woman’s real happiness is to remain always dependent
Lecture BG 7.5, Vrndavana, August 11, 1974: women never deserve to be independent
Lecture BG 16.7, Hawaii, February 3, 1975: a woman should be given protection
Lecture BG 16.7, Hawaii, February 3, 1975: a woman is never given independence
Lecture BG, Ahmedabad, December 8, 1972: women should not be free
Lecture BG, Ahmedabad, December 8, 1972: woman should not be given freedom
Lecture SB 1.3.21, Los Angeles, September 26, 1972: women should not be given independence
Lecture SB 1.3.21, Los Angeles, September 26, 1972: women should remain under the intelligent men, not declare freedom
Lecture SB 1.7.43, Vrndavana, October 3, 1976: women should be given protection, no freedom
Lecture SB 1.7.43, Vrndavana, October 3, 1976: women should not be given freedom, they must be protected
Lecture SB 2.1.2-5, Montreal, October 23, 1968: women should be given all protection
Lecture SB 2.1.2-5, Montreal, October 23, 1968: women should not be allowed independence
Lecture SB 2.3.1, Los Angeles, May 19, 1972: woman cannot be given independence, they must be protected
Lecture SB 3.25.5-6, Bombay, November 5, 1974: woman should not be given freedom
Lecture SB 3.26.8, Bombay, December 20, 1974: a woman neither requires nor deserves independence
Lecture SB 3.28.18, Nairobi, October 27, 1975: women should be always protected
Lecture SB 5.6.4, Vrndavana, November 26, 1976: a woman should not be given independence
Lecture SB 7.6.6-9, Montreal, June 23, 1968: women should be always protected
Lecture SB 7.6.6-9, Montreal, June 23, 1968: a woman should never be given independence
Evening Darsana, May 9, 1977, Hrishikesh: for women there is no independence
Room Conversation, May 14, 1969, Columbus: a woman does not deserve independence
Room Conversation, July 9, 1975, Chicago: describes a woman’s dependence
Room Conversation, July 9, 1975, Chicago: a woman is not to be given freedom
Room Conversation, January 7, 1977, Bombay: a woman should not be given independence
Garden Discussion on BG 16, June 26, 1976, New Vrindaban: a woman should not be given freedom
Garden Discussion on BG 16, June 26, 1976, New Vrindaban: proper social behavior is to protect women in every stage of life
Morning Walk, December 14, 1975, New Delhi: women should not be given independence

Satisfaction of women

SB 4.25.41: keep a wife satisfied with ornaments [MS 3.55, 59]
Lecture BG 4.39-5.3, New York, August 24, 1966: women dress according to their position
Lecture BG 6.47, Ahmedabad, December 12, 1972: must be married to produce nice children
Lecture SB 1.9.2, Los Angeles, May 16, 1973: women are kept satisfied with gifts [MS 3.55, 59]
Lecture SB 2.9.11, Tokyo, April 27, 1972: women are kept satisfied by giving them ornaments [MS 3.55, 59]
Morning walk, April 30, 1973, Los Angeles: one cannot touch a woman’s property

Miscellaneous statements

BG 3.39: lust cannot be satisfied
SB 3.22.16: mentions eight forms of marriage [MS 3.20-35]
SB 4.11.7: attacking innocent citizens is sinful
SB 6.4.9: teaches curbing of material tendencies
SB 6.13.8-9: enumerates names of inter-varnic offspring
SB 7.11.14: enumerates the duties of brahmins
CC Adi 1.46: explains the duties of an acarya
CC Madhya 10.145: enjoins the dress code for sannyasis
CC Antya 20.147: names the teacher of supplementary scripture
Lecture BG 4.18, Bombay, April 7, 1974: the tendency of humans is to enjoy
Lecture BG 7.3 , Bombay, February 18, 1974: states that there is no divorce
Lecture SB 1.3.17, Los Angeles, September 22, 1972: the son inherits the father’s debt [generalized interpretation of MS 8.162]
Lecture SB 1.7.32-33, Vrndavana, September 27, 1976: the son inherits the father’s debt [generalized interpretation of MS 8.162]
Lecture SB 5.5.1-2, London (Tittenhurst), September 13, 1969: states that widow marriage is prohibited [MS 9.65]
Room Conversation, June 5, 1974, Geneva: sudras are not to be instructed
Room Conversation, June 5, 1974, Geneva: Europeans and Americans are mlecchas and yavanas [likely inferred from MS 10.41-45]
Letter to Madhsudana, Vrndavana, May 19, 1977: states that we are all mlecchas and yavanas [likely inferred from MS 10.41-45]
Morning Walk, April 20, 1974, Hyderabad: forbids killing completely
Morning Walk, January 22-23, 1976, Mayapura: the son inherits the father’s debt [generalized interpretation of MS 8.162]
Arrival Address, London, September 11, 1969: has no divorce law
SB 1.7.37: the killer of an animal is to be considered a murderer [Not if an animal is killed for sacrifice]
Lecture SB 5.5.1-2, Stockholm, September 7, 1973: enumerates the persons involved in animal killing [MS 5.51]

 

 


References

[1] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manusm%E1%B9%9Bti

[2] Bhaktivedanta Swami compiled and commented on several dozen Indian scriptures from antiquity, which he erroneously presented as works to be taken literally and containing the factual history and culture of an advanced civilization.

[3] The VedaBase is a digital Folio collection of all of Bhaktivedanta Swami’s books, articles, essays, and letters, as well as transcripts of all his recorded lectures, dictations, and conversations, from his arrival in the United States in 1965 until his death in 1977. See: http://www.prabhupada.com/Vedabase/VedaBase.html

[4] The Secretary‘s Letter to Madhusudana, 19 May, 1977, states: “According to the Manu-samhita you are all mlecchas and yavanas. You cannot touch the Manu-samhita, what to speak of translating it. So if you try to follow the Manu-samhita then you become a mleccha and yavana and your career is finished.” When asked for clarification, Madhusudana wrote in a published exchange on October 13, 2003: “At the time, my wife and I were having trouble conceiving a child for many years. Various sanskritists were beginning to recommend following the many rituals for auspicious conception etc. So I had asked Prabhupada if I should do those things and that was his response. Of course, Prabhupad’s instruction was to simply chant 50 rounds before trying to conceive. My understanding is that the 50 rounds of chanting should not be minimized as being less effective that the Manu-samhita rituals. Also, it’s clear that I and many others were (I still am) mlecchas and yavanas (which became all too obvious when we screwed up the movement as we did), so how could we know how and when to apply the Manu-samhita. I think Prabhupada answered [was] based on the time, place, and recipient.”