Random Musings- Part 19- The Path of Karma Anushtana
It is said that for those who cannot follow the path of Jnana (i.e. Nivritti or Sanyasa), the path of Karma (i.e. Pravritti consisting of Karma Anushtana- performance of all Samskaras and Yajnas) are suggested. And for those who cannot perform Karma according to rules must practice Bhakti. That is, if one cannot perform Karma by adhering to all its rules then one must perform certain rituals and Sadhana with Bhakti to best of one’s ability.
Scriptures prescribe a total of 41 Samskaras that include 15 Grihya Karmas, 5 Maha Yajnas (to be performed everyday) and 21 Yajnas (occasional performance) for those who are able to perform Karmas by following all rules. But, if a person cannot perform the 5 Maha Yajnas and 21 Yajnas, he must at least practice “Japa” of Om, Gayatri or some other mantra with devotion. Further, he must perform the 15 Grihya Karmas which are popularly called as “Samskaras” that are done at various stages of life.
Samskaras are very important and relevant at all times. The rituals, its relevance, and why and for what reason a certain ritual is conducted are all well-documented. For example, the Samskara of Garbha-adhana is performed at the time of conception. The main part of it is very simple, the husband utters some mantras just before entering the wife. This is done for the sake of proper conceiving and for purification of the male semen and female egg. There are few other portions of Garbhadhana that must be done only once after marriage and before conception. Similarly, the Samskara of Pumsavana that has purpose of begetting male child is performed in the third month, before the sex of fetus is formed. So, the relevance is indeed there.
If, it is complained that, different people perform it different way, what is to be considered right? The answer is, scriptures must be considered authority. Further, though the exact methods may vary, the essence behind them remains same. This variation in methods can be seen in scriptures too. Take Grihya Sutras for example, for the same ritual of Samskara like Pumsavana or Simanantonayana, if you browse through 4-5 Grihya Sutras, you would find that all of them often differ in details. In fact, sometimes the mantras used are also different. Yet, all of them have common elements and based on common essence. The Dharma Shastras themselves mention that, people should practice rituals as they are practiced in their time and place. Grihya Sutras etc are a guide in terms of general prescription or when there is confusion/contradiction. Otherwise, people can follow various different ways of doing as long as essence as prescribed in scriptures are maintained.
The much of the problem today is, most people are simply ignorant. Neither the common masses nor the priest, purohit etc most of them are ignorant. The Brahmanas who once had in-depth knowledge of all shastras, all rituals and essence, today have only surface understanding. Most are just parroting. But all is not lost, even today there are few who are well versed with the scriptures and understand their essence. If such a person who is well versed in Vedas and the Dharma Shastras and Kalpa Shastras, will come forward and compose a new Dharma Shastra and a new Grihya Sutras etc where the same tenets of Dharma, the same samskaras, the same rituals could be written, explained and adapted in much simpler and useful way as applicable to present times it may immensely help the masses. But, for that to happen, the masses should first show genuine and overwhelming interest to learn and practice Dharma.