On the Shrutis the whole fabric of Vaidika Dharma (वैदिक धर्म), the architecture of the Vedas, as it is truly named, is built. In modern days much criticism has been directed against the Vedas, because the occult knowledge, on the possession of which depends the understanding of their inner meaning, seems to have disappeared. They contain in their entirety a system, by the mastery of which all the energies of nature, may be controlled and even directed, for it is the system by which these energies were vitalized in our universe at its beginning, and are still directed by Ishwara, the Supreme Lord.
A true Vedavit (वेदवित्), knower of the Vedas could rule nature, and all her energies would be at his service. This is not an exaggeration but Truth in all its humility. It is therefore not wise to conclude hastily that passages in the Vedas are rubbish, or “the babblings of a childish humanity,” because they are not intelligible to the modern student, devoid of Yoga and of inner knowledge.
The student should suspend his judgment whenever he feels inclined to see absurdity, remembering that some of the keenest intellects produced by humanity have seen wisdom where he sees none, and he should wait for the riper years until increased purity of life has opened up, his vision.
The Vedas (वेद) are summed up in the Gayatri (गायत्री), the Gayatri in the Pranava (प्रणव), where the Pranava is the expression of the Absolute. This statement is repeatedly made in the Vedas themselves, and occurs again and again in Sanskrit (संस्कृत) literature. The real meaning or significance of this mysterious fact can only be discovered by prolonged study and meditation. Unless one truly commits to the purpose for which the Vedic framework was built in the first place, he shall miss life’s true purpose by and large.
Next in order to the Shrutis (शृति) in authority comes the Smritih (स्मृति), which explains and develops Dharma, laying down the laws which regulate Aryan national, social, family and individual obligations. They are the text- books of law, and are very numerous, but four of them are regarded as the chief, and these are sometimes related to the four Yugas (चतुर युग), Manu (मनु) being said to be the authority for the Satya Yuga (सतयुग) , Yajnavalkya (याज्ञवल्क्य) for the Treta, Shankha (शंख) and Likhita (लिखित) for the Dvapara, and Parashara (पराशर) for the Kali. [The laws] of Manu are declared for the Krita (Satya) Yuga, those of Yajnavalkya for the Treta; those of Shankha and Likhita are remembered for the Dvapara, those of Parashara are remembered for the Kali.
Thus we see that, as in the case of the Vedas, the Rishis (ऋषि) with the necessary authority made alterations and adaptations to suit the needs of the time. It was this flexibility, characteristic of Sanatana Dharma that preserved it through so many ages, when other ancient religions perished. The above saying, however, is in no way followed today. Of the authority of the Shruti and Smriti, Manu says: ” The Veda is known as Shruti, the Dharmashastras (धर्मशास्त्र) as Smriti : these should not be doubted (but carefully consulted and considered) in all matters, for, from them Dharma arose.” Of these Smritis, the two of Manu and Yajnavalkya are universally accepted at the present time as of chief authority all over India, and Yajnavalkya is chiefly consulted in all matters of Sanatana Dharma or the Eternal law. The other Smritis are drawn upon when it is necessary to supplement these.
Manu, the original lawgiver of the Aryan race, is said in the Narada Smriti (नारद स्मृति) to have composed Dharmashastras in 100,000 shlokas, arranged in 1080 chapters: this was reduced by Narada to 12,000 shlokas, by Markandeya (मार्कण्डेय) to 8000, and by Sumati (सुमति), Bhrigu’s (भृगु महराज) son, to 4000. The Laws now exist in 12 books, containing only 2685 shlokas.
Manu expounds the origin of the universe, and then desires Bhrigu to recite the Institutes as taught by himself. Bhrigu, accordingly, sketches the work, and then expounds in detail the duties of the student (chap, ii.), the householder (chap, iii.), and of one who is a Snataka (स्नातक, a person who has taken formal training in the science of Sanatana Dharma under a qualified Guru as a celibate student and now ready to enter into life as a householder) (chap, iv.); he then deals with food, impurity and purification, and with women (chap, v.), and finishes the orderly life by describing the two last stages of the forest-dweller and the Sannyasi (सन्यासी) (chap. vi.).
The duties of a king are then laid down (chap, vii.), and the administration of civil and criminal law (chap. viii.). This is followed by the “eternal laws for a husband and his wife,” the laws of inheritance, the punishments for some crimes, and some additional precepts as to royal duties (chap. ix.). The rules for the four castes, chiefly in times of distress, follow (chap, x.}, and then laws on penances (chap. xi.). The 12th chapter deals with transmigration and declares that supreme bliss is to be gained by the knowledge of Atma (आत्मा), on whom “the universe rests.”