Veda is divided into four major parts viz, Samhitas (prayers), Brahmanas (rituals), Aranyakas ( meditations) and Upanishads (The knowledge of self). The first three (Samhita, Brahmana & Aranyaka) are collectively called as Veda Purva (Starting) and the last one Upanishad is called as Veda Anta (ending) or Vedanta. The Veda Purva is also referred as Karma Kanda (Portion dealing with Rituals & Activities) and Vedanta as Jnana Kanda (Portion dealing with The Knowledge of Supreme Self).
In Hindu Philosophy and Religion, more importance is given to the basic personality of a person compared to what he/she can achieve or how to be successful in life. From the early times, Hindu systems lay emphasis upon the basic character of a person.
In the Vedas numerous passages are found where rta (truth, order, that which is proper and joined) and satya (truth, correct) are held above more subtle and sublime philosophies. In fact, there is a school of thought which upholds that rta is a foundation from where the whole concept of dharma has emerged.
So, we find that leading a dharmic life (orderly life) is being given more importance than leading a religious or spiritual life. One reason for this could be that if a person is basically upright and correct, then with that as basis that person can utilize his/her talent to the optimum levels and achieve what he/she sets out for before death.
We find that the echo of same thought permeates through later Puranas and Dharma Sastras and even in the medieval works. Thus we see in SrimadBhagavata MahaPurana, King Parikshit declaring five deeds that every person must refrain from. Here, as elsewhere, the emphasis is on avoiding actions involving deceit and falsehood.
Every person is urged to treat another as his/her own self since it is the same atman or soul is pervasive everywhere. Unlike other systems, Hindu seers do not enjoin a person to shun the enjoyments altogether for the sake of anything however higher. The Hindu concept of four Puruṣarthas exemplifies this. A person is allowed to indulge in enjoyments so long as they are not against basic dharma or righteousness.
The Hindu seers saw very early that the man shares the basic impulses with animals and hence they teach not to shun the enjoyments, but to see the lower value and meaning of these impulses compared to more higher human qualities. Therefore, everyone is urged to sublimate these impulses or kama to a higher dharma thereby leading one to salvation.
It was realized much earlier that it is the natural proclivity of all beings to satisfy natural cravings such as hunger, thirst and sex and hence not much stress is laid on curbing of these. Upanishads make a distinction between what is hita or beneficial and what is hitatamaor most beneficial.
Thus we see over the period of three thousand years a lot has been written on the qualities that every person must possess irrespective of his/her station and function in a society. These fall under the category called as samanya dharma or dharma for everyone. The number of these qualities also varies from time to time, region to region and sect to sect. However, over the period of time, eight basic qualities have come to be accepted by many. These are called Aṣta atma Gunasor eight qualities of the soul.
Gautama Dharma Sutras, composed some two thousand five hundred years ago, gives a list of these eight qualities of the soul. Numerous Sastras and thinkers describe these eight qualities in different words or ways and all of them hold these very high. There is also a saying that even if a person undergoes all the forty saṁskaras they are of no use to him/her unless he/she has these eight qualities and in the same way, even if a person is dishing out a lowly existence and has not undergone any saṁskara, the presence of these eight qualities makes that person higher than the most learned.
The Aṣta atma Gunas are 1) Daya or love and compassion for all beings, 2) Kṣanti or forbearance, 3) Anasuya or absence / freedom from envy, 4) Sauca or purity of body, thought and action, 5) Anayasa or absence of painful exertions that arise due to ambition and greed, 6) Mangala or possessing cheerfulness, lightness and auspiciousness, 7) Akarpanya or being generous and dignified and not demeaning oneself and 8) Asprha or absence of clamoring after undesirable things.
Daya means love and compassion for all creatures. When a person has compassion for all the creatures in the world, automatically that person will not harm anyone even by thought. Out of this emerges a strong love for all and this enables him/her to lead a peaceful, contented and fulfilled life. There has been a lot of debate as to whether in the place of Daya, the concept of Ahiṁsa or non-violence would have been more appropriate. But if a person has love and compassion for everyone and thereby not harming any one even by thought, he/she is naturally non-violent. So, Daya is more fundamental and also includes Ahiṁsa. For this reason, Daya is given a pride of a place among the essential qualities that every person should posses as it is the foundation from which all other qualities emerge.
Kṣanti means forbearance or patience. It is not in the negative sense of the term where a person has to endure patiently all the miseries one may face in life such as disease, poverty and so on. But it is the positive sense of loving every one, including those who do wrong to us by forgiving them and ignoring the pain and trouble that may arise in the due course of such an action that has to be understood, accepted and practiced. If a person with lots of hatred merely endures all the miseries, then that will do more harm to him/her. So, one should possess Daya, a basic quality which will give a person forbearance soaked in love.
Anasuya means absence of Asuya or jealousy. With compassion, one must love all and should not become jealous of another’s wealth or fame or beauty or ability. Jealousy creates heart burning in one, thereby spoiling the body and also removes peace of mind. When body is not well and mind is not at peace, then such a person will automatically resort to hatred and in extreme cases even violence. Sage Atris wife was called Anasuya because she was utterly free from jealousy. When one is free from jealousy, one’s mind and body will be in alignment and such a person will be more focused and work better than one who is afflicted with jealousy.
Sauca means cleanliness or purity. Everyone should maintain purity not only physically, but also in their mind. One should maintain only clear and pure thoughts for they determine how one’s actions are going to be exhibited. Sri Bhagavatpada adi Sankaracarya maintains that ahara means not merely what a person eats through his/her mouth, but all that is being consumed by our sense organs. Therefore ahara Suddhi means not only clean food but also purity in what we perceive through our senses. Therefore when a person, who maintains physical purity by means of bathing, wearing clean dress and eating clean food, also perceives only pure things through his/her senses, there will be a complete alignment of thought, word and action in such a person.
Anayasa is the opposite of ayasa which means strain, exertion, etc. Though anayasa is, technically, the opposite or absence of ayasa, it means variety of things. It means having lightness, to take things easy, absence of strain and painful exertions. More often than not, we see in the world, excessive ambition and greed pushes people to labor hard for many things. Though this trait has come to be accepted as one of modern day’s virtues, it causes endless harm to the body and mind. Such painful exertions make persons heavy, angry, jealous, violent and so on. One of the fundamental reasons for increased violence and intolerance in societies across the world is the fast vanishing of these Aṣta atma Gunas . No doubt, a person has to work hard and sincerely for anything that he/she takes up. But all labor and exertions propelled by excessive ambition and greed make a human being extraordinarily selfish and narrow minded. Due to the toll such a painful endeavor takes on the body and mind, a human being seldom has time for others or society. As the number of such selfish persons arise, it creates a society with very little values, more intolerance, families laden with greed and lust and in the end, brains that cannot grasp more subtle things than the given phenomena.
Mangala means auspiciousness. Here, it is the quality of being happy and cheerful at all times. There is inevitably an air of auspiciousness around a person who is happy and cheerful at all times. When a person is cheerful, happy, contented and lively, that person also spreads the air of happiness around. This creates the atmosphere of happiness. So mangala is essentially the quality of being light and cheerful and radiating a sense of cheerfulness and happiness. So, when a person who is full of love and compassion, who is pure, who is free from jealousy and is cheerful always [all the qualities mentioned hitherto] does a work, it is Anayasa, the previously mentioned quality.
Akarpanya is the opposite state of being krpana or miser. That is, being generous. The word also means not demeaning or abasing oneself and also behaving in a dignified manner. It is a quality of a courageous, generous and zestful person who tackles all situations calmly, with purity, determination and love. Miserliness shrinks and generosity expands one’s personality. There is nothing worse in the world than losing one’s dignity however lowly position a person finds himself/herself in.
Sprha means excessive desire and grasping nature. Asprha means a state where one does not have this grasping tendency. Though the Hindu Sastras allow a person to indulge in enjoyments that are not opposed to Dharma or righteousness, they encourage the people to see the frailty and uselessness of all desires. That is why it is even being said, “One should renounce all attachments and desires even if it is with the Lord”. That is the highest state and everyone should lead a dharmic life as enjoined by the Sastras and reach a state devoid of all desires.
May everyone in the world have all these eight qualities of the soul!
May all beings live in harmony and peace!
May all prosper with health, happiness and wealth!