Vedic Terms Denoting Virtues and Merits

in Vedic Cosmology and Ethics
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In an other publication (Bodewitz 2007a; this vol. ch. 22) I have discussed the lists of cardinal sins and vices, their specifications in the Veda and their parallels in the Western and Christian tradition. Now I will treat their positive counterparts (the virtues and merits), which do not have such clear enumerations (and partial parallels outside the Veda).1 Here the meaning of a few terms used to denote virtues and merits will be discussed and an attempt will be made to get some information on their actual contents and background.

There are five Sanskrit equivalents for virtue or merit: guṇá, dhárma, sukṛtám, púṇyam and śobhanám,2 but only sukṛtám and púṇyam are regularly found in the Vedic ritualistic and philosophical texts. They especially refer to meritorious actions or their resulting merits.

The adj. śobhaná (“excellent, auspicious, virtuous”) and the neuter noun śobhanám (“something auspicious, virtue”) resemble púṇya and púṇyam with their meaning and function, but are post-Vedic in this respect and therefore will not be treated here. In his commentaries on Vedic texts Sāyaṇa sometimes uses these terms to explain the Vedic concepts of sukṛtá(m) and púnya(m). See the following quotations made by Gonda (1966, 116, n. 6 and 117): śobhanayāgādīnāṁ kartā yajamānaḥ; śobhanadānayuktāya yajamānāya and śobhanasya kartāram.

The term guṇá seems to characterize the human qualities, pregnantly the good qualities, excellences, merits, virtues. However, with these meanings it is almost exclusively post-Vedic and especially found in the epics and Manu. Therefore it will be left out of account here.

The duties of man, his prescribed virtuous conduct as well as its religious merits are denoted by the noun dhárma. As such it is likewise mainly post-Vedic (especially if the Vedic Dharmasūtras are left out of account).

The virtues or merits called sukṛtám and púṇyam play a role in contexts dealing with the aim of reaching heaven (and immortality). They will be discussed in the next sections.

1 The Merit of sukṛtám

The sukṛtám (or sukṛtyā́) is accomplished by the sukṛ́t (the virtuous or meritorious man) who on account of this sukṛtám mostly wins the world of sukṛtám or of the sukṛ́ts. Gonda (1965b, 129) correctly observes: “The sukṛtaḥ are those who have acquitted themselves well of their religious duties, earned the merits thereof and enjoy the reward of their ritual meritorious deeds in the other world.” See also p. 123 where “the world of religious merit” is indeed the required translation.

However, in a later publication (Gonda 1966, 115–143) he changed his ideas. Now the sukṛtám is interpreted as something (especially or almost exclusively a ritual) which has been correctly or accurately carried out. The resulting merit would be based on the good quality of the performance and the root kar would refer to the ritual work. The sukṛ́t would be someone who is “doing (sacrificial) work well” (p. 118). The negative counterpart of the sukṛ́t, the duṣkṛ́t, then would be someone who makes mistakes in the performance of the sacrifice, but Gonda only once mentions him (p. 121). His rather helpless observation on these “bad performers” is: “who in any case are demeritorious people who may be burdened with the sins and inauspicious deeds of the others.”

His treatment of duṣkṛtám, the negative counterpart of sukṛtám, is referred to a mystifying meganote (pp. 126–128), which makes it clear that Gonda here has to admit that duṣkṛtám in fact means something like sin, vice or demerit. For a criticism of Gonda’s interpretation of sukṛtám and of Tull (1989), who followed Gonda, see Bodewitz (1997–1998, 590 f.; this vol. p. 8 f.) and with further references (i.a. Bodewitz 1993b; this vol. ch. 18).

It is quite clear that sukṛtám denotes the merit which qualifies man for life after death in heaven. It is also evident that in the ritualistic literature of the Veda the best way for gaining merit is the ritual, but this does not imply that the activity expressed by the root kar in sukṛtám would exclusively refer to the performance (by priests) of rituals of which the quality were to be expressed by su.3 This means that more information on the nature of the merit denoted by the term sukṛtám (to be distinguished from the adjective súkṛta, which has a different accentuation and means “well made”) is required.

1.1 What Has to Be Done for Obtaining Merit (sukṛtám) and by Whom?

The term sukṛtám often or even mostly denotes the reward for particular positive actions or behaviour stored in heaven for the human beings whose positive activity receives merits which produce a continuation of life after death in the heavenly world. This world is called the place, world or loká of the sukṛtám (the earned merit) or of the sukṛ́ts (the meritorious human beings who are already living there), but the earth is the place where this merit can be produced. See ṚV 10, 61, 6, where in a description of the myth of cosmic incest the seed falls on the surface (of the earth), in the source (or womb) (yóni) of sukṛtám. In the introduction to this hymn, Geldner (1951) observes on this verse: “Der Inzest wird ausdrücklich als Guttat bezeugt.” The pouring out of seed may also be interpreted as a sacrifice in which the seed as an oblation is poured on the earth regarded as the sacrificial place where the future benefits are produced. Cf. ṚV 3, 29, 8, where Agni is asked to place the sacrifice (yajñá) in the birthplace of merit (sukṛtásya yónau). Gonda (1966, 143) prefers the translation “birth-place of the meritorious act.” However, the yóni is the place out of which merit is produced (by an activity which is meritorious). That the result of a sacrifice is denoted by sukṛtám also appears from a verse in TS 7, 3, 11, 2, where the sacrifice is said to produce merit (sukṛtám) (i.e. continuation of life in heaven), cattle and offspring.

The reward for positive activity looks like the doctrine of karman, which, however, is not restricted to a life after death in heaven, but also refers to rebirth on earth (directly after death or after a limited stay in heaven). Moreover, life after death in heaven where one enjoys some sort of continuation of the earthly life, is not the ultimate aim of the doctrine of karman which is associated with the theory of mokṣa (missing in the oldest phases of Vedic religion). So at best one may regard the ideas about sukṛtám (meritorious activity and the resulting merit stored in heaven) as predecessors of the doctrine of karman.4 Rebirth on earth is not based on merits, but qualified by the moral or ethical good or bad nature of one’s behaviour. Release from this rebirth is not produced by merits or ethics and only plays a role in late Vedic texts.

The connection of sukṛtám with Vedic ritual is not to be denied and is even to be expected in Vedic texts, which mainly deal with ritual. Now the following questions remain to be answered. Does the meritorious behaviour exclusively concern the ritual? Are the sukṛ́ts who obtain the merit of their activities (the sukṛtám in heaven) the sacrificers (Yajamānas) or the priests in case the heavenly sukṛtám would be obtained by means of sacrifices denoted as sukṛtám? Does Gonda’s interpretation of sukṛtám as “well and accurately performed ritual” exclude the role of the Yajamānas, who hardly carry out actions in the ritual?

There are not many passages in the Vedic literature in which the concepts of sukṛtám and sukṛ́ts evidently do not concern the performance of rituals. In most contexts these terms explicitly refer to the ritual or at least do not exclude their association with rituals. The following examples form an exception.

1.2 The Non-sacrificial sukṛtám

In BĀU 6, 4, 3 a man appropriates the sukṛtam of a woman with whom he has sexual intercourse, if he has a particular knowledge about the symbolism of this act and of the role of women in this connection. Gonda (1966, 121, n. 30) refers this passage to a note and does not explain what is “the ‘merit’ of the women” here. It is clear that this merit cannot have been accumulated by sacrifices, since women do not carry out sacrifices or organize them, as the Yajamānas do; they are only present.

The text continues (6, 4, 4) with the statement that the men concerned leave this world at death without merits (visukṛtas), if they miss the knowledge required for this situation, since they lose it to the women concerned. Gonda (who translates visukṛtas with “devoid of merit”) observes: “The very occurrence of the compound vi-sukṛt- corroborates the view that sukṛt- was a fixed, more or less ‘technical’ term.”5 This may be correct (apart from the wrong analysis vi-sukṛt- instead of vi-sukṛta-; see n. 5), but would imply that sukṛtám primarily means “merit” and that the exact nature of the origin of this merit need not be the accurate performance of a ritual.

See also BĀU 6, 4, 12, where the Dvandva compound iṣṭāsukṛte (referring to the sacrificed material or the sacrifice as such and the merit which are taken away from someone) implies that sukṛtam need not be identical with the sacrifice. All translators of this place distinguish sukṛtam from the merits earned by sacrifices. The Dvandva compound iṣṭāsukṛte looks like a variation of iṣṭāpūrtam and this means that sukṛtam here is identical with pūrtam, the merit of giving to human beings instead of offering to the gods.6 The liberality expressed by pūrtam is not limited to giving presents to individuals (i.e. dānam) but may also refer to benefactions like establishing resthouses where all travellers might eat from one’s food (as king Jānaśruti did according to ChU 4, 1, 1). So pūrtam is like sukṛtam a form of doing good.

A woman also plays a role in connection with sukṛtám in ṚV 10, 95, 17, where Purūravas asks for Urvaśī’s return and then says: úpa tvā rātíḥ sukṛtásya tíṣṭhān ní vartasva, which Geldner (1951) translates “Auf dass der Lohn der Guttat dir zuteil werde, kehre um.” Gonda (1966, 125, n. 49) interprets rātíḥ sukṛtásya as “the gift of the well-prepared offering” and observes that the mortal Purūravas warns Urvaśī: “if she departs without more, the fruits of her deeds may not await her.” However, Urvaśī is an Apsaras and a woman and does not sacrifice and therefore cannot wait in vain for the merits of sacrifices stored for her in heaven. Probably her sukṛtám is her return to Purūravas and the reward would be given by him in the form of a nice renewal of their association (perhaps with sexual implications).

The fact that sukṛtam occurs together with two other terms of which the one refers to (i.a.) the sacrifice (iṣṭāpūrtam) and the other to asceticism (tapas) in JB 1, 97 may be an indication that sukṛtam does not simply mean the correct performance of a ritual. The sentence asmin vā ayaṁ loke puṇyaṁ jīvitveṣṭāpūrtena tapasā sukṛtenāsmān anvāgamiṣyati admits of various interpretations in as far as the construction is concerned. Caland (1919, 20) may be right in taking the three instrumentals with anvāgamiṣyati and translating “dieser wird, nachdem er auf dieser Welt … gut gelebt hat, durch Opferverdienst, Askese, Guttat uns nachfolgen.” My own translation (Bodewitz 1990, 111) runs: “Having lived a meritorious life in this world with sacrificing and liberality, asceticism and good deeds he will follow us (and reach heaven)” and assumes that the puṇya way of life in general is decisive. Anyhow, the context (1, 98) makes it clear that good behaviour rather than perfectly performed ritual is at stake. The gods introduce evil or bad behaviour in this world for man in order to prevent his rising to heaven. They even appoint Agni to obstruct the successful attempts to reach heaven of him who has overcome the innate, evil traits given to him by the gods and wants to behave in a virtuous way (yas … asmin loke sādhu cikīrṣāt). I am convinced that sādhu (kṛ), puṇyam (jīv) and sukṛtam more or less belong together in this passage and refer to good behaviour, whereas correct performance of the sacrifice does not play a role here.7

The agreement of sukṛtam and puṇyam also appears from the fact that the essence or fluid form (representing food in life after death?) (-rasa) of meritorious behaviour (i.e. the merit in heaven) may be preceded in a compound by sukṛta- as well as by the genitive of puṇyakṛtyā. See JB 1, 18 and JUB 3, 14, 6, where the deceased comes to the sukṛtarasa in heaven and JUB 1, 30, 4, where the “sap of good action” (puṇyakṛtyāyai rasaḥ, see Oertel 1896) is situated beyond the sun.

Even a human being may be denoted by the term sukṛtam. In 2, 4, 2 the deities refuse to enter a cow or a horse arguing that these living beings are not good enough for them. They approve of man and say sukṛtaṁ bata and the text explains this with puruṣo vāva sukṛtam. I think that the first sukṛtam means “Well done!” and the second “something meritorious” or “the origin of merit” (just like the place of the sacrifice is the place where merits are produced). There seems to be a wordplay of súkṛtam (= sú kṛtám) and sukṛtám in this passage, which unfortunately has no accentuation.

In ŚB 4, 1, 4, 5 two persons (a king and his Purohita) are associated with duṣkṛtám and sukṛtám in case one of the two is without special merits and their cooperation would be unsuccessful. Eggeling (1885) translates: “… let not a Brāhman desire to become the Purohita of any one Kshatriya (he may meet with), as thereby righteousness and unrighteousness unite; nor should a Kshatriya make any Brāhman (he may meet with) his Purohita, as thereby righteousness and unrighteousness unite.” Gonda (1966, 126 f., n. 53) criticizes Eggeling and observes: “The sukṛtam in all probability consists in having, or being, a (competent) purohita, the duṣkṛtam in making someone a purohita who may prove unfit for this profession or in serving an unworthy kṣatriya. If this interpretation is not beside the mark the sukṛtam results from the correct observance of the social and religious rules, of the dharma, the duṣkṛtam from their disregard.” Gonda overlooks the fact that not the choice of a Purohita or his acceptation of the invitation as such are sukṛtám or duṣkṛtám, but that one of the two persons may represent sukṛtám and the other duṣkṛtám. These two persons are qualified as merit and demerit (sukṛtám and duṣkṛtám). It seems that Gonda was misled by the neuter form of the two nouns, which here definitely refer to persons. The possible sukṛtám associated with a king has nothing to do with his ritual experience, nor does his possible duṣkṛtám with his inability in rituals.8

The localisation of sukṛtám mostly is heaven (the destination of merit earned on earth) or (on earth) the place of sacrifice. There are some exceptions. In ṚV 10, 85, 24 the bride becomes separated from the house of her parents and placed in the womb of order (ṛtásya yónau) and the world of merit (sukṛtásya loké) together with her husband; i.e. she becomes lawfully married. Gonda (1966, 142) rightly criticizes the translation of (i.a.) Geldner (1951) in which the world of sukṛtám is interpreted as heaven, but does not deny that the sacrifice on earth cannot be meant here. He supposes that the localisation should be taken as “the married state regarded as a manifestation of ṛta and of (the merit gained by) right action.”9 Indeed lawful marriage (i.e. started according to Ṛta) is a stage of life in which the bride (on account of her association with her husband) may gain merit (sukṛtám). However, the winning of merit by sacrifices hardly plays a role here.

On the same page Gonda deals with AV 14, 1, 59, where the bride leaves the house of her parents and the gods should place her in sukṛtám (in the future home?). He concludes: “Here the term practically comes to ‘happiness’ … . Sukṛtam used here without any reference to ritual activities and merits seems to have acquired a more or less fixed character, but we should remember that marriage too is a ritual act.” So it is not clear whether Gonda regards the sukṛtám in which the bride is placed as the “married state” (see above) or as a marriage ritual. His remark on sukṛtám having developed (from the bliss of merit obtained in heaven and based on perfectly carried out rituals) to a “more or less fixed character” of happiness in general, raises some questions, since the AV is not a very late Vedic text. I suppose that married life is sukṛtám because it potentially provides the opportunity of gaining merit (especially in comparison with the state of being an unmarried woman). There is no implication of rituals, let alone of sacrifices, and certainly not of their accurate and correct performance.

In ṚV 7, 35, 4 the sukṛtāni of the sukṛ́ts are invoked for the human beings and Renou (1959, 40) rightly translates “Heur nous soient les bienfaits des (dieux) bien-faisants,” because rituals and deceased sacrificers cannot play a role here.

1.3 The Role of the Yajamāna as the sukṛ́t

Man and wife are both called sukṛ́t in AV 12, 3, 44. Both are indeed involved in an Atharvavedic ritual in which a meal is offered as a Dakṣiṇā. The epithet translated with “performing pious deeds” by Bloomfield (1897, 191) is rather general and hardly refers to the correctness of their ritual activities (i.e. the cooking of the meal), but concerns their willingness to organize such a ritual and to give the meal to the priest. The accurateness of their contribution to this simple ritual does not play a role.

Two sukṛ́ts are mentioned in ṚV 3, 31, 2. The one seems to be the maker or producer of the sacrificial fire (i.e. the priest), the other he who takes the profit (i.e. the Yajamāna). The hymn is rather obscure. If the given interpretation is correct, the Yajamāna may be the one who obtains the sukṛtám (the merit) as an Āhitāgni, whereas the priest is the one who carries out the meritorious action (the Agnyādhāna). Gonda (1966, 118) criticizes Geldner’s translation “Guttäter.” It is possible, however, that two meanings of the term are used in this obscure hymn. As “skilful” it applies to the priest who produces fire, as “doing good” it denotes the organizer of the Agnyādhāna, the sacrificer. The priest does not win the sukṛtám in heaven. This merit is for the sacrificer.10

In several passages the Yajamānas are explicitly called the doers and winners of sukṛtám. The participle ījāná is used with the noun sukṛ́t and then indicates that the sukṛ́t has been a Yajamāna. See e.g. AV 9, 5, 8 and 12 occurring in a hymn dealing with the offering of a goat and five rice-dishes. Here the world of the sukṛ́ts is that of men who have organized sacrifices, paid the offerings and given Dakṣiṇās to the Brahmin priests. The priests are not the sukṛ́ts. It is the Yajamāna who meets after death with the merit of what he has sacrificed to the gods and given to human beings (especially priests). See e.g. TS 3, 3, 8, 5 where he comes together with his iṣṭāpūrtá (i.e. what he has offered and given). Therefore Gonda (1966, 131) is wrong in translating sukṛ́tām occurring in AV 9, 5, 8 in apposition with ījānā́nām with “who have performed the ritual well,” since the Yajamānas are not the performers. According to AV 11, 1, 17 the cooker of the rice-dish goes to the world of the sukṛ́ts and therefore is a sukṛ́t himself. This cooker, however, is not a priest, but a Yajamāna who makes his wife cook the Brahmaudana for the Brahmins. His merit is the giving of the meal and the quality of the cooking is rather irrelevant.

On these Yajamānas see further AV 18, 3, 20, where ancient sacrificers are described as iṣṭāvantas (having offered to the gods), rātiṣāco dádhānāḥ11 (givers of presents), dákṣiṇāvantas (givers of Dakṣiṇās), sukṛ́tas (meritorious men). It is clear that the sukṛ́t is a sukṛ́t because he gives goods to gods and priests and that his doing good has nothing to do with the correctness of the performance of the ritual.12 See also ṚV 10, 122, 3, where Agni is addressed and Gonda (1966, 116) mistranslates dā́śad dāśúṣe sukṛte with “when thou givest to the giver who performs (his ritual) work well.” The Yajamāna13 is someone who does good by giving and therefore Agni gives to him.

The hymn ṚV 1, 125 consists of a conversation between a rich host and his guest, who is an itinerant singer and wants to have Dakṣiṇās or presents in general from his host. Liberality rather than a great sacrifice (which cannot be organized ad hoc) let alone the correctness of its performance plays a role. Here Gonda (1966, 117) is aware of this fact and does not refer to the accurateness of a ritual, but observes that in verse 3 the singer “comes in search of the sukṛt- (i.e. the man who knows how to acquit himself of his social and ritual duties, the reception of a guest being a socio-religious affair …).” However, in verse 5 this sukṛ́t primarily appears to reach heaven on account of his liberality (yáḥ pṛṇā́ti sá ha devéṣu gacchati). See also ṚV 10, 107, 2, where in a hymn dedicated to the Dakṣiṇā we read “Hoch oben im Himmel haben die Dakṣiṇāgeber ihren Stand, die Rosseschenker, die sind bei der Sonne. Die Goldschenker werden der Unsterblichkeit teilhaft, die Kleidschenker verlängern ihr Leben, o Soma” (tr. Geldner 1951).

On the AV I have observed (1999c, 113; this vol. p. 144): “Actually, in almost all the hymns in which life after death in heaven plays a role, items are given to Brahmins or deposited in or with them by way of oblation.”

In AV 18, 4 it is perfectly clear that the sukṛ́ts are the Yajamānas. See AV 18, 4, 1, where the ījāná is placed in the world of the sukṛ́ts; AV 18, 4, 2, where the ījānās are said to go to heaven; 18, 4, 3 where their predecessors, the Aṅgirasas, are called sukṛ́ts; 18, 4, 7, where the yajñakṛ́ts, the sacrifice-makers (i.e. the organizers of the sacrifices, the Yajamānas), are called sukṛ́ts; AV 18, 4, 14, where the deceased who is laid on the funeral pile is called ījāná as well as sukṛ́t. In this hymn the term yájamāna occurs in the verses 4–7. The Yajamāna is the real sukṛ́t, the maker of sukṛtám, which mostly means the maker (i.e. organizer) of a sacrifice, the yajñakṛ́t.14

At the end of a sacrifice in which thousand cows are given as Dakṣiṇās the last cow is asked to announce the sacrificer to the gods as a sukṛ́t in TS 7, 1, 6, 8; PB 20, 15, 15; JB 2, 267 and ŚB 4, 5, 8, 10, and here it is clear that the Yajamāna is called thus because he has given an enormous amount of cows. The quality of the sacrificer and his ritual is the quantity of his liberality.

1.4 The sukṛtam in Late Vedic Texts

The world in heaven won by (sacrificial or other) merits (the sukṛtasya loka) is the final and highest destination of man in the older Vedic literature. The obstruction to that goal is formed by demerits (duṣkṛtam, pāpakṛtyā).15 In some late Vedic texts the highest aim is no longer a continuation of life in a world of merit (sukṛtasya loka) and therefore one wants to get rid of one’s duṣkṛtam as well as one’s sukṛtam.16 The obstruction to a higher state in heaven in the form of some sort of deliverance (mokṣa) now consists of a lack of the right knowledge.

The oldest evidence is to be found in a late stage of the JB (JB 1, 18; 1, 46; 1, 50). In JB 1, 46 the failure of man after death is described. He misses the right knowledge and is obstructed by the doorkeepers, i.e. he cannot shake off his sukṛtam and his duṣkṛtam. His sādhukṛtyās disappear threefoldly. The doorkeeper of the highest world takes one third, one third disappears in the air and with one third the deceased falls back in the direction of the earth, but stops in the world which has been earned by him with gifts (dānajita). This means that the sādhukṛtyā (i.e. sukṛtam) of which two thirds had been lost, consists of dānam, a specification of the concept of merit which does not refer to the ritual as such, though in the form of Dakṣiṇās may have connections with sacrifices. Again an indication that a world obtained in heaven need not be exclusively won by the correct performance of rituals.

2 The Merit of púṇyam

The adj. puṇya and the neuter noun puṇyam have some differences and agreements with the nouns sukṛtam and sukṛt. In comparison with them they are latecomers in Vedic literature. The term puṇya, occurring as an adjective, a neuter noun and in the beginning of compounds, hardly plays a role in the mantras of the Vedic Saṁhitās. Though sukṛt and sukṛtam explicitly refer to actions and these actions often have some associations with the ritual, whereas puṇya(m) originally (and even later) sometimes denotes what is good, positive or auspicious in general, even the ritualistic Brāhmaṇa texts more often use puṇya, puṇyam and their compounds. In the Vedic Upaniṣads puṇya more frequently occurs than sukṛta.

It is clear that the position of these terms dealing with merits has changed. The noun puṇyam seems to have taken over the role of sukṛtam or at least have become equal to this denotation of something meritorious, which again may be an indication that sukṛtam does not express the correctness or accurateness of the ritualistic activity. It is possible that puṇya may ultimately have obtained moral and ethical connotations. In the Upaniṣads its associations with the theory of karman definitely play a role.

The etymology of puṇya is disputed. Its basic meaning seems to refer to something which has a positive role and is auspicious, especially promising something good for the future. As such it need not have any moral implications. It is positive in that it points to future situations which are associated with happiness, prosperity, luck, success etc.17 This looks like the situation of sukṛtam which is the merit earned on earth which secures a future happy life in heaven.

On the moral aspects of the term Oldenberg (1919, 195) observes: “puṇya ist später in der Karmanlehre mit ihrem scharfen Gegensatz von lohnbringendem und strafebringendem Handeln das hervortretendste Schlagwort auf der Seite des Guten,” and assumes as its original meanings: “mit Glück, Wohlsein, Gedeihen begabt; ferner: Glück bringend, das Wohlsein vermehrend.” See also p. 196: “Man sieht, dass mit puṇya von Haus aus nicht eigentlich das Gute als Gegensatz des Bösen gemeint ist.” However, the development from economic prosperity to moral good cannot be traced in the terminology as accompanying the origin of the karman doctrine, since this occurs rather late in the Vedic literature, which in most texts associates doing good, meritorious work with a good future in heaven and does not pay much attention to the demerits and their results. The opposition between puṇyam and pāpam is found already before passages dealing with the karman doctrine, as will be shown in the following subsection 2.1.

Keith (1925, 469 f.) states that the Brāhmaṇa texts did “not develop any theory of morality,” but further on (p. 479) observes that the term puṇya “slowly develops, in lieu of its purely unethical sense of ‘fortunate’ or ‘lucky,’ the implication of goodness” and that it became “used in those passages of the Upaniṣads which touch on the essential connexion of the position of man in life as affected by the merit of his previous birth.” One may doubt, however, whether the merits (puṇyam = sukṛtam) qualifying for a stay in heaven in the Brāhmaṇas are entirely different from the merits determining the nature of a rebirth on earth in the Upaniṣads. According to Horsch (1971, 100) the rebirth would be determined by “vorwiegend ethisch qualifizierten … Taten.” Did the merits of the ritual texts develop into virtues in the later Vedic texts?

The agreements of puṇyam and sukṛtam appear in the parallellism of puṇyam + pāpam and sukṛtam + duṣkṛtam, which will first be treated.

2.1 puṇyam = sukṛtam and pāpam = duṣkṛtam

The opposition of merits and demerits, virtues and sins, especially plays a role in passages dealing with life after death. One should get rid of demerits or sins in order to be qualified for a loka in heaven, but of demerits or sins as well as of merits or virtues in later Vedic texts in which the idea of mokṣa occurs for the first time.

In post-Vedic texts in which puṇyam is mentioned together with pāpam, good and bad actions in general (and their resulting merits and demerits) are definitely meant. See e.g. the proverbs edited and translated by Böhtlingk (1870–18732), verse 2642 (= 1074 first ed.), where the effects, i.e. the merits and demerits, of very good and bad actions are enjoyed already on earth. Böhtlingk rightly translates atyugrapuṇyapāpānām ihaiva phalam aśnute with “Den Lohn für ungewöhnlich gute oder schlechte Thaten kostet man schon hier.” In verse 134 (= 53 of the first ed.) the opposition is formulated with puṇyam and duṣkṛtam, which implies that puṇyam and sukṛtam are regarded as equal. The guest who is not well treated with hospitality, takes away the merits (puṇyam) of the host and gives his own demerits (duṣkṛtam) to his host. According to Manu 8, 91 the deity residing in one’s heart observes one’s good and evil deeds (see Olivelle, 2004): puṇyapāpekṣitṛ.

Now I will treat the use of the opposition between good and bad in the Vedic texts, start with the ritualistic Brāhmaṇas in which the karman doctrine is still missing and then continue with the Vedic Upaniṣads in which the first traces of this doctrine become playing a role.

From ŚB 2, 5, 2, 8 it appears that the good deeds denoted as púṇyam need not refer to sacrifices even in a ritualistic text like a Brāhmaṇa: tád yáthā púṇyaṁ cakrúṣe púṇyaṁ kuryā́d eváṁ tát “as one returns a good deed by doing good to the one who has done that deed.” It is not clear whether púṇyam as the object of the verb kar here has any moral implications. The implied but not expressed opposition between puṇyam and pāpam here seems to belong to the sphere of profit and damage and quid pro quo.

Though in the above discussed passage the use of the verb kar with as object púṇyam does not necessarily imply that this object has a moral connotation, mostly the use of this verb has this moral implication or at least refers to merits. See JB 1, 15, where the opposition of sādhu (instead of puṇyam) kṛtam and pāpaṁ kṛtam agrees with that of sukṛtam and duṣkṛtam in the question yaj jīvan puruṣaḥ karoty eva sādhu karoti pāpaṁ kā tayor duṣkṛtasukṛtayor vyāvṛttir. In JB 1, 18 sādhu is likewise used instead of puṇyam in the opposition with pāpam, in a passage in which the lifebreath announces to the gods how much good and how much evil has been done on earth by the dead person (sa heyattāṁ devebhya ācaṣṭa iyad asya sādhu kṛtam iyat pāpam iti).18 For such an announcement compare JUB 1, 5, 1, where the doorkeeper of heaven judges idaṁ vai tvam atra pāpam akar nehaiṣyasi yo ha vai puṇyakṛt syāt sa iheyād iti and puṇya forms an opposition with pāpa in connection with the verb kar. The opposition of the puṇyakṛt and the pāpakṛt is also found in JB 1, 291, where it is observed that here on earth puṇyakṛtas as well as pāpakṛtas are active, whereas in yonder world only puṇyakṛtas are found. This opposition (like that of sukṛtas and duṣkṛtas) is too general to be limited to sacrificers.

In ŚB 13, 5, 4, 3 we find an opposition between kárma pā́pakam and púṇyaṁ kárma, in which the good (púṇya) activity is associated with a particular ritual and the bad (pā́paka) with sinful activity: Pārikṣitā́ yájamānā aśvamedhaíḥ parovará ájahuḥ kárma pā́pakaṁ púṇyāḥ púṇyena kármaṇā. Horsch (1966, 140) translates the last three words with “als Fromme mit frommer Tat,” kárma pā́pakam with “die böse Tat” and takes both singulars kárman as “Tat,” but in a note observes: “karman hier erstmals in ethischer Bedeutung?” I think that the bad karman should be interpreted as the collective bad activity and its results, but doubt whether this kárman has any relation with the doctrine of transmigration. Anyhow a moral aspect is possible, but the substitution of the ethical kárman19 by the ritualistic kárman points to the opposition of merits and demerits rather than of virtues and sins.

JUB 1, 60, 1 and 2, 3, 6 state that with the mind (manas) one thinks what is good and what is evil (puṇyaṁ cainena dhyāyati pāpaṁ ca). The difference between thinking (dhyāy) and doing or committing (kar) is only gradual. So here again a moral opposition is expressed.

PB 11, 5, 11 opposes the puṇya person to the pāpīyas as one person in two different situations. Here it is evident that no moral distinction is made. Caland (1931) correctly translates: “Therefore, he, who having been formerly successful, afterwards fares worse, should take the ākṣāra(sāman) as the Brahman’s chant. Unto him it (this sāman) causes to flow (‘to return’) valour, strength (and) pith.” So here we see puṇya and pāpa with the meanings “prosperous” and “economically or physically weak.” This is rather exceptional.

On the situation in the Upaniṣads Rodhe (1946, 34) correctly observes that there “we find pāpa constructed with karoti, consequently having the sense of wrong-doing” and that “[a]s its contrast often puṇya, good, is mentioned.”

The BĀU mentions some examples of the opposition of puṇya and pāpa. In BĀU 1, 5, 20 the deceased after having transferred his vital powers to his son20 now receives the cosmic or divine counterparts of three of these vital powers and becomes a god (i.e. Prajāpati). From the divine or cosmic waters and the moon the central vital power in the form of a new, divine lifebreath enters him. The conclusion runs (in the translation of Radhakrishnan of 1953): “Whatever sufferings creatures may undergo, these remain with them. But only merit goes to him. No evil ever goes to the gods.” So puṇyam goes to the divinized deceased and pāpam does not reach him, since pāpam never reaches divine beings. If Radhakrishnan is right in taking puṇyam as merit, then its opposite, pāpam, would be demerit or sin. Most translations are not very explicit in this respect. However, this passage reminds us of JB 1, 15, where someone who dies with a particular knowledge rises up as the vital breath with his good deeds (sukṛtam, i.e. whatever sādhu he has done) and leaves his bad deeds (duṣkṛtam, i.e. whatever pāpam he has done) with his body. On the other hand one might also take the suffering which is left with the creatures (yad u kiṁ cemāḥ prajāḥ śocanti, amaivāsāṁ tad bhavati) as the opposite of puṇyam and in that case the opposition would be that of good luck and distress.

BĀU 3, 2, 13 puṇyo vai puṇyena karmaṇā bhavati pāpaḥ pāpena definitely refers to good and bad activities and their results. However, it is unclear whether here a doctrine of karman and mokṣa is treated, because in the same context (3, 2, 10) the outdated concept of overcoming redeath21 is mentioned. See Deussen (1897, 431) on the rather undeveloped ideas of this passage and Horsch (1971, 112) who speaks of a “Nebeneinander der zwei gegensätzlichen Eschatologien” which continued “bis in die Upaniṣaden” and then refers to the present passage.

BĀU 4, 3, 15; 4, 3, 22 and 4, 3, 34 have puṇyam and pāpam as the objects of an other verb than kar, namely the verb “to see.” In the state of dreams one sees (i.e. experiences) good and evil, which have nothing to do with moral distinctions but refer to pleasant and unpleasant experiences. Therefore Rodhe (1946, 34) is wrong in mentioning (one of) these places together with other Upaniṣadic passages in which the opposition of puṇya and pāpa is found.

In BĀU 4, 4, 5 (and its context), however, puṇya and pāpa occur together with the root kar and the noun karman. Here the two terms definitely refer to moral and immoral behaviour and the doctrine of karman and transmigration: yathākārī yathācārī tathā bhavatipuṇyaḥ puṇyena karmaṇā bhavati pāpaḥ pāpena.

The much later PrU (in 3, 7) connects puṇyam and pāpam with life after death in a rather strange way: atha … udānaḥ puṇyena puṇyaṁ lokaṁ nayati pāpena pāpam ubhābhyām eva manuṣyalokam “Now … the upbreath leads, in consequence of good (work) to the good world, in consequence of evil to the evil world, in consequence of both to the world of men” (tr. Radhakrishnan 1953). The third option probably refers to transmigration and rebirth on earth which depends on the mix of good and bad karman. The merit expressed by puṇyam results in the old conception of a world in heaven, which has nothing to do with the karman doctrine of the Upaniṣads. The demerit (pāpam) may result in a stay in hell. There is no reference to mokṣa.

This mokṣa can be obtained according to MuU 3, 1, 3 by shaking off (vidhūya) good and evil, merit and demerit (puṇyam and pāpam). This more advanced view about the relative value of puṇyam is already found in KauṣU 1, 4 (tad sukṛtaduṣkṛte dhunute), which shows that puṇyam and pāpam continue the opposition of sukṛtam and duṣkṛtam. Even in a Brāhmaṇa text like the JB we find in 1, 18 and 1, 50 that not only demerits but also merits are given up. JB 1, 50 states that the deceased says to his Pitṛs: yat kiṁ ca puṇyam akaraṁ tad yuṣmākam and then these Pitṛs receive his sādhukṛtyā (= puṇyam) and his enemies his pāpakṛtyā (apparently = pāpam).

So the opposition of puṇyam and pāpam with moral implications was not first created by the Upaniṣads in connection with the introduction of the karman doctrine of transmigration. The world of merits (sukṛtaloka) has a parallel in the world of the puṇyakṛts in the Upaniṣads, in which, however, just as in some late Brāhmaṇa passages the ideas about rebirth on earth and release from transmigration became developed in Vedism.

2.2 The loka Obtained by puṇyam

In his publication on world and heaven in the Veda Gonda (1966, 104) rightly observes that the term loka does not always denote a world (in heaven) but may also mean “position, situation, state, status” and in this connection refers to ChU 8, 1, 6 tad yatheha karmajito lokaḥ kṣīyate evam evāmutra puṇyajito lokaḥ kṣīyate. It is clear that at least one of the two lokas here refers to a particular position and probably both, since loka here concerns one person and not a group.22

Such a loka is evidently obtained by doing puṇyam. See e.g. TB 3, 3, 10, 2 puṇyaṁ karma sukṛtasya lokaḥ; JUB 1, 5, 1 yo ha vai puṇyakṛt syāt sa iheyāt; PrU 3, 7 udānaḥ puṇyena puṇyaṁ lokaṁ nayati. Now it is remarkable that not only the meritorious actions undertaken on earth are called puṇya but that the resulting loka in heaven is also called puṇya. The compounds puṇyaloka and pāpaloka are misinterpreted by Gonda (1966, 53), who translates pāpalokas in AV 12, 5, 64 with “ ‘worlds’ of evil (or, rather, ‘of demerit’)” and assumes a Karmadhāraya noun puṇyalokam in PrU 3, 7 which does not exist and is based on a wrong reading instead of puṇyaṁ lokam.23 The compound pāpaloka is likewise interpreted by Griffith (1895–1896) as a Tatpuruṣa (“the worlds of sin”), whereas Whitney (1905) assumes a Karmadhāraya (“the evil worlds”). The very few occurrences of the noun pāpaloka do not support the interpretation of a Tatpuruṣa.

The compound puṇyaloka, which likewise is not current, is an adjective meaning “whose loka is puṇya.” See PB 12, 11, 12 svargyaṁ vā etat sāma svargalokaḥ puṇyaloko bhavaty aurṇāyavena tuṣṭuvānaḥ “Conducive to the attainment of heaven is this sāman; he who applies in lauding the aurṇāyava(-sāman) shares the world of heaven, the world of bliss” (tr. Caland 1931).24 The term puṇya here is an adjective. See also ŚB 3, 6, 2, 15 puṇyáloka ījāná iti “He who has sacrificed shares in the world of bliss” (tr. Eggeling 1885, which apparently was followed by Caland in PB 12, 11, 12). In ŚB 2, 2, 3, 6 the adjective puṇyaloka is turned into a noun by the suffix -tva (occurring in the instrumental -tvā instead of -tvena): sá jyótir evèhá śriyā́ yáśasā bhavati jyótir amútra puṇyalokatvā́ “and—the latter becomes a light of prosperity and glory in this, and a light of bliss in yonder, world” (tr. Eggeling 1882). Some hesitations about the reading puṇyalokatvā́ and its interpretation have been expressed,25 but it is quite clear that ihá and amútra as well as the two instrumentals śriyā́ and yáśasā (prosperity and renown on earth) and puṇyalokatvā́ (the fact that one has become someone whose loka in heaven is puṇya) correctly sketch the situation of a successful sacrificer.

The three places treated above in which a person is called puṇyaloka (“whose loka is puṇya”), deal with a destination based on a merit (puṇyam) which is ritualistic. The situation is different in the following two text places from the ChU.

In ChU 2, 23, 1–2 the adjective puṇyaloka qualifies persons who are not exclusively concerned with ritual, but whose way of life is based on the threefold dharma (1. sacrifice, study and liberality; 2. austerity; 3. staying permanently in the house of the teacher). This means that their puṇyam consists of three options and that sacrificing only represents one third of the first of these three options. Obtaining such a puṇya loka is opposed to the immortality of someone who is steadfast in Brahman, i.e. someone who obtains mokṣa. Olivelle (1996, 116) translates trayo dharmaskandhāḥ yajño ’dhyāyanaṁ dānam iti prathamas, tapa eva dvitīyo, brahmacāry ācāryakulavāsī tṛtīyaḥbrahmasaṁstho ’mṛtatvam eti as follows: “There are three types of persons whose torso is the Law (dharma). The first is one who pursues sacrifice, vedic recitation, and giftgiving. The second is one who is devoted solely to austerity. The third is a celibate student of the Veda living at his teacher’s house. …26 All these gain worlds earned by merit.27 A person who is steadfast in brahman reaches immortality.”28

ChU 5, 10, 10 states śuddhaḥ pūtaḥ puṇyaloko bhavati ya evaṁ veda and the knowledge required for obtaining the puṇya loka concerns the doctrine of the five fires which together with the doctrine of the two paths describes life after death of the human beings. Just as in ChU 2, 23, 1 this puṇya loka is not the destination of those who become released but is superior to the destination of the sinners mentioned in the preceding verse in ChU 5, 10, 9, who patanti, i.e. go to hell. The adjective puṇya qualifying the loka in the possessive compound puṇyaloka has been variously translated in this connection.29 This adjective does not only occur in the compound puṇyaloka but is also found as a separate adjective qualifying loka.

The goat which is offered and goes to heaven is addressed in AV 9, 5, 16 with … tváyā lokám áṅgirasaḥ prājānan taṁ lokáṁ púṇyaṁ prájñeṣam “… by thee the Aṅgirases foreknew [their] world; that pure (púṇya) world would I fain foreknow” (tr. Whitney 1905). The translation “pure” of púṇya (probably based on an etymology) does not convince, since evidently puṇya here refers to the human activities (in this case the organizing of a sacrifice), as also appears from 9, 5, 1, where the world which will be reached by the goat is called the sukṛ́tāṁ loká (translated by Whitney as “the world of the well-doing”). The translation of púṇya by Griffith (1895–1896) is “holy,” but Gonda (1966, 135, n. 21) correctly observes that the person praying desires to have foreknowledge which refers “to the ‘world to come’ … to the ‘world of merit’ awaiting him.”30 However, the púṇya lokás obtained by giving hospitality to a Vrātya in AV 15, 13, 1 ff. are translated as “pure (holy: puṇyāḥ)” by Gonda (1966, 57). The translators of the AV render púṇya occurring in AV 19, 54, 4, which qualifies a plural lokāḥ, with “pure” or “holy,” but Gonda (1966, 149) observes that the commentary here explains “puṇyān lokān as puṇyakarmabhir arjitān lokān ‘the “worlds” acquired by meritorious (good, virtuous, pure) deeds’.”

Gonda (1966, 81) explains his interpretation of PB 18, 3, 4 of puṇya loka translated as “holy world” in his note 41, in which he refers to PB 12, 11, 12 where puṇyaloka is translated as someone who “shares the ‘world’ of heaven, the ‘world of virtue’ (or ‘holy world’), i.e. the world of merit.”31 Gonda’s approach is rather intangible, since he changes his translations time and again and sometimes tries to show that they mean the same.32 See his treatment of MuU 1, 2, 6 (1966, 122; 130–131), in which on the one hand he translates eṣa vaḥ puṇyas sukṛto brahmalokaḥ as “this is your holy loka-which-is-oneness-with-brahman, prepared by your merit” (p. 130), on the other hand as “this is your pure (‘holy’, and meritorious) world of brahman, well made, i.e. gained by well performed deeds” (p. 131) and “This is your holy (or meritorious, puṇyaḥ) world of brahma, (‘well made’, i.e.) fashioned (prepared, gained) by merits (sukṛtaḥ)” (p. 122).33

In PB 19, 10, 4 and 19, 11, 8 someone who has a particular knowledge about a Stoma called Pakṣin (“having wings”) puṇyān lokān (i.e. worlds or positions in heaven) sañcarati, which Caland (1931) translates as “Winged … he … frequents the pure worlds.” I would prefer to interpret sañ-car as “to come into contact with, to reach” and doubt whether these worlds, to which one can fly with wings obtained with knowledge about the winged Stoma, are pure. By one’s merit obtained through a particular ritualistic knowledge one reaches worlds which are associated with merits.

In the Upaniṣads the adjective puṇya qualifies loka not only in MuU 1, 2, 6 (see above), but also in PrU 3, 7, where reaching a puṇya loka depends on the merit (puṇyena) obtained on earth. This agrees with ChU 8, 1, 16, where such a loka is not called puṇya but puṇyajita, which supports the assumption that the adjective puṇya which qualifies a loka does not mean “holy” or “pure” but means “based on, or acquired with, merits.” The nature of these merits depends on the contexts, but there is no reason to assume that the merits mentioned in the ritualistic texts were exclusively obtained by rituals whereas in later and non-ritualistic texts all kinds of merits became mixed up for the first time.34

2.3 The Persons Who Are Called puṇya

Even gods may be called puṇya. See ŚB 4, 5, 4, 1, where it is said that originally all the gods were the same and puṇya, translated with “good” by Eggeling (1885). Since later they wanted to become superior to each other, this being puṇya seems to refer to merits or qualities.35 In this case the merit has not been obtained in a former life on earth.

The group of the puṇyajanas is first mentioned in the AV 8, 8, 15 and 11, 9, 24 as some sort of semi-divine beings together with Gandharvas, Apsarases, Devas, serpents and Pitṛs. They are translated with “Holy Men” and “Holy Beings” by Griffith (1895–1896), with “pure-folks” by Whitney (1905), with “holy men” and “pious men” by Bloomfield (1897). The last mentioned scholar observes in a note (on p. 585) that “the puṇyajanā́ḥ are the sukṛ́taḥ, ‘pious deceased’,” which is correct. These semi-divine or divinized human beings have a position below the gods and above the Pitṛs.36

The human beings who will become members of the group of puṇyajanas are called puṇya because they are puṇyakṛts (“doers of puṇya, producers of merit”) and therefore need not be called “pure” or “holy.” The nature of their being puṇya depends on the nature of their puṇya activities or behaviour.

As qualification of human beings puṇya does not often occur. Sometimes it does not mean “meritorious” (let alone “pure” or “holy”). See PB 11, 5, 11 (treated above in section 2.1), where it means “prosperous.” See also PB 18, 8, 66 ātmanā vā agniṣṭomena ’rdhnoty ātmanā puṇyo bhavati, which Caland (1931) translates as “He himself (the Sacrificer) thrives through the agniṣṭoma, he himself gets spiritual merits.” This rendering may be correct, but the thriving of the sacrificer (the king) may also be connected with his becoming puṇya. In PB 18, 9, 21 the puṇya king who is called “full of sweet milk,” may be puṇya on account of his liberality in giving sacrificial fees (like cattle), but puṇya may also indicate that he is able to do so, i.e. that he is prosperous.

According to TS 1, 6, 11, 4 someone whom Prajāpati knows becomes puṇya, translated with “pure” by Keith (1914). However, in this context the sacrifice is described as a cow to be milked. Therefore prosperity rather than purity seems to play a role here. In TS 7, 2, 7, 3 the most significant terms in the translation of Keith (1914) are “prosperity,” “becoming worse,” and “misfortune” and then we find at the end “whose father and grandfather are holy, and who yet does not possess holiness.” It is evident that puṇya here has nothing to do with being holy, but refers to prosperity.

This does not imply that everywhere puṇya should mean “prosperous,” but it may imply that holiness and purity are not essential in the meaning of puṇya, which seems to refer to every kind of good investment including merits which have good results in a life after death.

Two text places in the BĀU show that one becomes puṇya by puṇyena karmaṇā (3, 2, 13 and 4, 4, 5). On the one hand, it is clear that becoming holy by a holy deed hardly suits the information on people being or becoming puṇya. On the other hand, becoming prosperous by prosperous activities is rather trivial. The correlation between puṇya karman and becoming puṇya here evidently is based on the doctrine of karman and refers to the nature of the rebirth on earth rather than to the merits obtained for a continuation of life in a puṇyaloka in heaven.

In a verse quoted by ŚB 13, 5, 4, 3 the Pārikṣitas are said to have overcome their kárma pā́pakam by means of púṇyena kármaṇā. These Pārikṣitas are said to be yájamānā aśvamedhaíḥ and to be púṇyāḥ. Eggeling (1900) translates: “The righteous Pārikṣitas, performing horse-sacrifices, by their righteous work did away with sinful work,” whereas Horsch (1966, 140) takes púṇyāḥ with púṇyena kármanā37 and renders: “Die opfernden Nachkommen des Parikṣit überwanden mit Pferdeopfern die böse Tat …, als Fromme mit frommer Tat.” The meaning of puṇya which denotes persons (i.e. Yajamānas) as well as their meritorious activities (i.e. the sacrifices organized by them) here refers to items which procure or have obtained merits and may be compared with sukṛt and sukṛtam, whereas renderings like “righteous” and “fromm” start from the persons involved. The fact that the sacrificers who become puṇya by their activities which are puṇya and qualify them for becoming puṇya in heaven here are already called puṇya on earth, is not surprising, since in this verse the karman doctrine rather than the winning of a loka in heaven forms the central theme.

We may conclude that the adjective puṇya qualifying human beings refers to their merits. The nature of these merits still forms a problem.

2.4 What Is the puṇyam Done by the Meritorious?

Often puṇyam is associated with derivations of the root kar (e.g. puṇyakṛt and puṇyaṁ karma) and then a ritualistic meaning has been assumed. This may be correct and even to be expected in ritual texts, but sometimes this is uncertain. Moreover associations with other verbs than kar play a role in other texts.

In JB 1, 97 (see section 1.2) puṇyaṁ jīv denotes good behaviour in life and perhaps is specified with the directly following instrumentals iṣṭāpūrtena tapasā sukṛtena, which would imply that apart from rituals also the giving of presents or fees (and perhaps of hospitality) and asceticism are puṇyam. The puṇyam which one has done on earth and which is given to the Pitṛs in JB 1, 50 is also called sādhukṛtyā and opposed to the pāpakṛtyā given to one’s enemies and obviously refers to doing good in general,38 unfortunately left unspecified.

AV 15, 13, 1 ff. promises puṇya lokas to someone who receives a Vrātya in his house. Since the puṇya lokas are obtained by puṇyam done on earth, we have to conclude that hospitality is a possible puṇyam.

In ChU 2, 23, 1 besides sacrifice other items qualifying for obtaining a puṇyaloka are mentioned, i.a. liberality (dānam) and asceticism (tapas).39

The puṇyaṁ karman may be a sacrifice,40 but other activities may also be denoted here. See BĀU 3, 2, 13 and 4, 4, 5, where the opposition between puṇya and pāpa more or less excludes the meaning sacrifice for karman, since bad sacrifices are not to be assumed here.41 In BĀU 1, 4, 15 the treated puṇyaṁ karma is called mahat and some translators misinterpret this passages and take mahat puṇyaṁ karma as a great and holy work or rite.42 Evidently the karman treated here is not a sacrifice but the technical term used for expressing the merits or demerits collected by a human being. The singular does not refer to a single act let alone to a ritual and the verb kar does not mean here “to perform” but “to produce.” Even if one has produced, i.e. collected, an enormous (mahat), positive or meritorious (puṇyam) amount of karman, this will become exhausted at the end.

On the other hand sometimes puṇyaṁ karman can only refer to rituals. See 2, 1, 7, where the moon produces the bright and the dark halves of the moon puṇyāya karmaṇe (i.e. for the halfmonthly rituals) and the waters give śraddhāṁ … puṇyāya karmaṇe (i.e. the longing for organizing a meritorious act in the form of a sacrifice).43 See also 2, 5, 1, where the son is born as the father’s second birth puṇyebhyaḥ karmabhyaḥ (for rituals which accumulate merits for him in yonder world).

In post-Vedic texts the adjective puṇyakarman often has nothing to do with rituals and denotes somebody whose behaviour is meritorious or virtuous. That doing puṇya(m) can mean “doing good” in the sense of hospitality, liberality or charity appears from the post-Vedic compounds puṇyagṛha and puṇyaśālā which denote “a house of charity.”44

So puṇyam means meritorious work such as sacrifices, hospitality, charity. Merits (rather than morality) play an essential role, since the aim of puṇyam is obtaining a particular position, especially in life after death. As an adjective puṇya qualifies the activities which produce merits as well as the persons who carry them out and therefore deserve their rewards. As a qualification of these rewards (in the form of a particular world or position in heaven) the adjective puṇya may be interpreted as “deserved” or as “good.”

3 What Are the Qualifications for Life after Death in Heaven?

In the preceding sections and subsections I have discussed two general terms denoting virtue or merit, sukṛtam and puṇyam. It appeared that these two terms were especially used to denote general qualifications for life after death in heaven, at least in the oldest stages of Vedic literature. Both terms were associated with the meritorious survivors after death in special, heavenly worlds. This means that merits rather than moral virtues played a role in the discussed contexts. Moreover in many cases the worlds of the meritorious people were almost exclusively reserved for those who had organized sacrifices. The merit consisted of sacrifices and accompanying liberality in the form of Dakṣiṇās.

However, liberality in general and hospitality which is not confined to special persons like Brahmins, might (unlike the sacrifice and its fees45) have a moral connotation. They were the moral merits in which doing good or well-doing could be interpreted as virtues.

The entrance to heaven, however, was not restricted to human beings who were distinguished by meritorious activities like organizing sacrifices, giving sacrificial fees, liberality in general and hospitality, i.e. spending one’s property on behalf of gods, Brahmins or even human beings in general. There were also other categories of candidates, as we will see.

In the oldest Vedic text, the Ṛgveda Saṁhitā, life after death was not mentioned in its oldest layers.46 The discovery of heaven for and by human beings took place in the course of the development of this text. So we shall first examine the data of this oldest text and what has been written on this topic by modern scholars.

3.1 Obtaining Heaven in the Ṛgveda Saṁhitā

In his history of Vedic religion, Oldenberg (19172, 512) observed: “An den nicht gerade häufigen Stellen, an denen im Veda … vom Jenseits die Rede ist, steht bedenklich im Vorgrund das Motiv vom Himmelslohn dessen, der den Priestern reichlich spendet.” We do not find much information on moral or ethical qualifications for life after death in heaven from the oldest Vedic text in this publication. See p. 5: “Von den Abgründen der Not und Schuld weiss diese Poesie wenig.” In his comparable handbook, Keith (1925, 409) remarked: “The idea of judgement of any sort is foreign to the Rigveda as to early Iran.” Gonda (1960) hardly dealt with the qualifications for reaching heaven according to the oldest text in his handbook on Vedic religion. On p. 41 he observes: “Diese gegenseitige Abhängigkeit von Menschen und Devas, … diese wesentlich amoralische, auf einem Austausch von Diensten beruhende Beziehung ist eines der wichtigsten Fundamente der altindischen ‘Religiosität’.”47 As we have seen above, his treatment of this topic in his study on loka (1966) was almost exclusively limited to the ritual merits qualifying for life in heaven especially as far as the oldest Vedic texts are concerned.

In his handbook on the religious system of the Ṛgveda, Oberlies (1998, 464–487) treats “Die ṛgvedischen Jenseitsvorstellungen” in an excursion of his interpretation of the Somarausch. On p. 467 f. he observes: “Wenn … von einer (erfreulichen) postmortalen Existenz im Himmel gesprochen wird, wird die Erlangung zumeist in unmittelbaren Zusammenhang mit dem Vollzug von Opfern und/oder dem Trinken des Soma gestellt.” However, there is a rather great difference between the organizing of a Soma sacrifice for the gods and the becoming intoxicated by drinking oneself the Soma. Indeed, Soma represents one of the regular offerings given to the gods and drunk by (i.a.) the priests, but in connection with immortality in heaven for the human beings it is only exceptionally mentioned in the oldest Vedic text. The only hymn extensively treated by Oberlies (8, 48) is found on the pages 449–454 (preceding the mentioned excursion) and 493–497 (following this excursion on the “Somarausch”). Here the drinking of Soma does not have the function of an offering qualifying the sacrificer for heaven, but it gives a preview of life in heaven by producing visions48 or hallucinations.

Such visions may be explained in the context of mysticism, if their contents refer to a central concept of their religion. Light and the sun are the central aims which one wants to obtain in this hymn after drinking Soma. Kuiper (1983, 56–89), in the reprint of an article originally published in IIJ 8 (1964, 96–129), treated the association of light and sun with life after death and with the concept of Ṛta (“cosmic order”) in the Vedic religion and its Old Iranian counterpart and tried to show that these items belong to old Aryan common ideas on mysticism. I quote: “Irrespective of whether, in a visionary state of mind, the poet here aspires to see the bliss of the blessed dead or rather prays for a place in the ‘immortal world’ in afterlife, this much is clear that this is the traditional picture of the blissful life in Yama’s realm” (1983, 82, commenting on ṚV 9, 113, 7–11); “This Old Aryan mysticism is also directly reflected in Zarathustra’s phraseology” (p. 86); “It is hoped … that the preceding remarks are sufficient for proving that, when Zarathustra professes that he will speak of ‘the bliss of Aša which manifests itself together with the lights’ he is using the traditional terminology of Aryan mysticism” (p. 87). As has been correctly observed by Oberlies (1998, 463, n. 52) unfortunately he hardly pays attention to the role of the “Soma-Rausch.” It is clear that the drinking of Soma by some persons may have influenced mysticism concentrated on light and the Ṛta (cosmic order) in life after death.49

The Ṛta is also mentioned in ṚV 10, 154 together with some other terms which refer to qualifications for life after death in heaven. Geldner (1951) translates ṛta with “Wahrheit” in 10, 154, 4, but in a note observes that this verse refers to the ascetics, since it also mentions tapas. Probably the Ṛta has to be interpreted in the context of mysticism, as was done above.50

This hymn mentions several types of human beings who have reached heaven through merits or virtues: brave warriors, liberal patrons, ascetics, mystics. On the one hand we find men in the world who bravely fight or give rich Dakṣiṇās at a sacrifice, on the other hand people who perform asceticism and have mystic experiences with the Ṛta (cosmic order) in heaven. The first category wins its aim by the virtue of braveness which looks like Plato’s cardinal virtue andria (see n. 1) and by the merit of liberality in the sacrificial sphere which was well-known as a puṇyam or sukṛtam, and the second temporarily tries to place itself outside the sphere of life on earth by ascetic exercises or the drinking of Soma (not explicitly indicated as such in this hymn). Since tapas and Soma also play a role in the ritual, it is uncertain whether different groups of Vedic human beings are meant in this hymn. Anyhow it is evident that Ṛtam here does not refer to the moral virtue of speaking the truth and that tapas is not a regular species of sukṛtam or puṇyam.51

The traditional association of immortality with merits like hospitality or liberality is incidentally found in layers of the Ṛgveda which do not belong to the latest. See 1, 31, 15 and 1, 125, 5 and Bodewitz (1994, 33; this vol. p. 104). In 1, 154, 5 one wants to reach heaven where human beings who love the gods are staying. This rather vague qualification (devayú) probably refers to pious ritualists.

In 1, 164 (an admittedly rather late hymn in this early layer) we find some different references to qualifications for immortality in heaven (see Bodewitz 1994, 34; this vol. p. 105). Though some verses (23; 30; 33) in this riddle hymn full of enigmas contain references to immortality and the soul and seem to refer to visionary experiences, knowledge and philosophy, the hymn is evidently connected with ritual or even one specific ritual.52 This makes its interpretation difficult in as far as the qualification for life after death in heaven is concerned.

There are some hymns in the late tenth book in which immortality in heaven is mentioned. However, apart from 10, 154 (see above) hardly any hymn refers to other qualifications for immortality than the merits of sacrifice, giving Dakṣiṇās and other forms of liberality. Morals and mysticism do not play an important role in this connection.

3.2 Qualifications for Heaven in the Atharvaveda Saṁhitā

In a publication on life after death in the Atharvaveda Saṁhitā (Bodewitz 1999c; this vol. ch. 11) I observed (on p. 117, n. 20; this vol. p. 143, n. 20): “It is remarkable that those portions of the Atharvaveda Saṁhitā which resemble the older layers of the ṚV and make a śrauta impresssion, hardly show traces of life after death in heaven. Just as in the ṚV heaven is indicated as sukṛtásya/sukṛtāṁ loká. … However, in the ṚV we find this designation of heaven only in the tenth book and no more than once or twice, whereas in the AV just as in some Brāhmaṇas the world of merit or of the meritorious is frequently mentioned … . winning the world of merit in the AV is reserved for people who organize very simple rituals with emphasis on liberality towards the Brahmins.”

The qualification for heaven may also be inferred from the disqualification based on sins and their punishment. In five text places (AV 5, 18, 13; 5, 19, 3; 12, 4, 3; 12, 4, 36; 12, 5, 64), disrespectful behaviour towards Brahmins plays a role (see this vol. p. 139, n. 9). The qualification for heaven forms its corresponding counterpart. “Actually, in almost all the hymns in which life after death in heaven plays a role, items are given to Brahmins or deposited in or with them by way of oblation … . We are in the sphere of the gṛhya or the specific Atharvavedic ritual in which the Brahmins more or less replace the gods.” (1999c, p. 113 f.; this vol. p. 144).

The merits have nothing to do with moral virtues.

3.3 How Is Heaven to Be Obtained in Vedic Prose Texts?

Since the mantras of the Yajurvedic Saṁhitās do not give much additional information, I will now concentrate on the pre-Upaniṣadic ritual prose texts (and also treat some Upaniṣadic parallels). As is to be expected, these texts mainly deal with reaching heaven by means of sacrifices. Incidentally we find references to moral issues. See e.g. TB 3, 3, 7, 10, where in a context which several times mentions reaching heaven, the opposition of ṛjukarmám (sic), satyám, súcaritam and vṛjinám, anṛtám, dúścaritam is found, be it not explicitly as a qualification for immortality in heaven. These virtues are honesty in speech and action. Here ethics evidently play a role. However, such information is rather scarce in the ritualistic Brāhmaṇa texts.

In 3, 12, 9, 7–8 of the same text it is said that a Brahmin who knows the ātman does not become polluted by evil karman. Here neither ethics or morals nor sacrificial merits play a role, but only knowledge, especially concerning the ātman, and we are in the sphere of the Upaniṣads, in which the doctrine of karman is associated with aims about liberation.

In the Brāhmaṇas we expect the earliest enumerations of virtues or merits corresponding to similar enumerations of sins or even cardinal sins.53 Indeed some enumerations (without much comment) are found.

TB 3, 12, 8, 5 mentions together satyam, śraddhā, tapas and dama.

In 7 (= TU 1) we find the following enumeration of duties: ṛtam, satyam, tapas, dama, śama, agnayas, agnihotram, atithayas, mānuṣam (?), prajā, prajana (?), prajāti (TU 1, 9). To each of these twelve items the text adds svādhyāya and pravacanam and then concludes this passage by quoting three authorities of whom the one prefers only satyam, the other only tapas and the third only svādhyāya and pravacanam, because these items would be equal to tapas. The twelvefold enumeration seems to consist of the duties for three types of men: the first five items concern the ascetic type, the next four perhaps the ritualist whose merits also consist of hospitality, the last three the simple householder. I assume that we should read prajananam instead of prajanas and mānasam instead of mānuṣam. The addition of svādhyāya and pravacanam means that perhaps general duties and not those of separate phases of life are treated here. This emphasis on study and teaching suits the context of TU 1. Further on, in 1, 11, the pupil who is leaving his teacher, is urged to dedicate his attention to satyam, dharma, svādhyāya, prajā, kuśalam, bhūti, svādhyāya and pravacanam, devakāryam and pitṛkāryam. This enumeration, in which tapas, dama and śama are missing, seems to be limited to the duties of the householder.

In an other Upaniṣad of the ( 10 = MNU) an enumeration similar to the one of TU 1, 9 is found: tapas, satyam, dama, śama, dānam, dharma, prajananam, agnayas, agnihotram, yajña, mānasam, nyāsa (MNU 505–516, ed. Varenne 1960). Again twelve items, but here the last is explicitly said to be the most important, which might mean that saṁnyāsa here (but not in the whole text of this Upaniṣad) is the main subject.54 MNU 196–197 equates all the items of the following series ṛtam, satyam, śrutam, śāntam, dama, śama, dānam and yajña with tapas, which might indicate a preference for asceticism. These Taittirīya texts, of which the MNU is the latest, show an increasing interest in asceticism and austerity, though the traditional merits of sacrifice and liberality receive some attention. Explicitly or implicitly all these approaches qualify for immortality in heaven, but the latest passages tend to have a special interest in mokṣa rather than aiming at a continuation of life after death.

In the Āraṇyaka-like Jaiminīya text JUB 4, 25, 3 the three items satyam, śama and dama, which are also found above in the Taittirīya texts, occur together: vedo brahma tasya satyam āyatanaṁ śamaḥ pratiṣṭhā damaś ca, translated by Oertel (1896, 222) as “The Veda is the brahman, truth is its abode, tranquility and restraint its foundation.” In its Upaniṣad, KeU 4, 8, this is formulated as follows: tasyai [a genitive referring back to brahmīm … upaniṣadam, the mystic interpretation of the Brahman] tapo damaḥ karmeti pratiṣṭhā vedās sarvāṅgāni satyam āyatanam.

This partial parallel proves that Oertel was wrong in taking vedas instead of brahma as the subject in JUB 4, 25, 3. In the KeU karman is added to śama (here replaced by tapas) and dama as one of the three items representing the basis55 of the interpretation of Brahman. This interpretation is based on three approaches, of which karman here is one, not to be taken as “work” or “action” but as “ritual,” as was correctly done by Olivelle (1996).56 The term āyatanam is mostly interpreted as abode, as was even done by Gonda (1975b, 347) in his translation of this sentence, but for a correct interpretation see Gonda (1975a, 204): “That means that the doctrine is firmly founded on austerity, etc., and it aims at, or leads to, truth which is identical with Brahman.” In the same publication Gonda sometimes takes āyatanam as “destination.” If now the aim or destination is Brahman which is satyam at the same time, this concept of satyam has nothing to do with moral or ethical virtues like speaking the truth (as a qualification for immortality in heaven), but rather has to be interpreted as cosmic order or reality (satyam = ṛtam). The passage from the KeU ends (in 4, 9) with the conclusion that he who knows thus this (brahmī upaniṣad), will become established in an endless heavenly world. Knowledge (about Brahman) obtained by ascetic practices (tapas and dama) and also based on studying the Veda and its ritual here give entrance to heaven and this knowledge is not a merit or a moral virtue.57

The above treated texts form a strange mixture of asceticism and traditional, partly ritualistic values. Even in an old text like the AB we find a similar combination: devā vai yajñena śrameṇa tapasāhutibhiḥ svargaṁ lokam ajayaṁs (3, 13, 6). It is true that here the gods and not the human beings obtain heaven, but these gods simply produce the example to be followed by the human beings. Here sacrifice and its oblations are playing a role together with the ascetic elements tapas and śrama as parts of the sacrifice.58 See also ŚB 12, 1, 3, 23, where even satyam is added to the enumeration and these more or less non-ritualistic elements refer to the dīkṣā of the Yajamāna which precedes the actual performance of the ritual.59

In GB 1, 1, 34 (an Upaniṣad-like portion of this late Brāhmaṇa) the following items occur together: prajā, karman, tapas, satyam, which indicates that traditional and innovating or at least originally non-ritualistic conceptions became mixed up. There is no reason to assume that here satyam should refer to the ethical category of speaking the truth.

4 Vedic, Late-Vedic, Post-Vedic and Non-Vedic Lists of Virtues or Rules of Life

Without any direct connection with the early Vedic concepts of sukṛtam and puṇyam there are also some enumerations of virtues or rules of life, which mostly concern the non-ritualists or at least are not especially focused on men inside society.60

In ChU 3, 17, 4 five moral virtues (tapas, dānam, ārjavam, ahiṁsā and satyavacanam) occur in the context of a symbolic sacrifice in which they are equated with the Dakṣiṇās. Here satyavacanam is found instead of satyam. The term tapas need not refer to asceticism of the renouncer, because dānam and renunciation exclude each other. It is true that ahiṁsā was associated with renouncers, but it occurred in rather late Vedic Dharma texts and the ritualistic Vedic texts do not mention ahiṁsā as a rule of life before the Upaniṣads, in which only ChU twice refers to it. In 3, 17, 4 the symbolic sacrifice should not be confused with the interiorization of Vedic sacrifices out of which renunciation would have developed according to some scholars.61

In VāsDhS 30, 8 “meditation, truthfulness, patience, modesty, ahiṁsā, contentment and abhaya represent the purely ascetic substitutes of sacrificial entities. Is this, however, really the interiorization of an actual, specific ritual, or should not one rather interpret this as the substitution of the ritualistic religious way of life by asceticism and renouncement?” (Bodewitz 1999a, 28, n. 19).

The five rules of ChU 3, 17, 4 have a partial parallel in Jainism, where ahiṁsā and satyam (= satyavacanam) likewise occur in a list of five which further consists of brahmacaryam, asteyam and aparigraha and originally may have represented a list of prohibitions for monks which later became relaxed for laymen.62 Buddhism likewise has a slightly different list of five rules and the same may be observed about the rules for Yogins in Hinduism. It is clear that originally these lists were prescribed for ascetics and that the occurrence of the item ahiṁsā seems to exclude the possibility that the Vedic tradition, focused on the merits of ritual with its bloody sacrifices, can be taken as their starting point.

The earliest Vedic references to ahiṁsā as one of the rules of life are found in ChU 3, 17, 4 and in ChU 8, 15. In both cases a householder is concerned. In 8, 15 (a late addition forming the conclusion of this Upaniṣad) the prescripts consist of study of the Veda, procreation, concentration on the ātman and being ahiṁsant towards all living beings except at Vedic sacrifices. This evidently is a late attempt to fit an ascetic rule of life in the Vedic tradition of ritualism. These rules of life are also characterized by a concentration on the ātman and the reaching of a goal which does not concern immortality after death in heaven but reaching (the world of) Brahman and being freed from rebirth. An evident attempt to combine tradition with late developments at the end of the Vedic period.

The five rules of life are prescripts, which in the Jaina version are prohibitions where the negation a- is used (ahiṁsā, aparigraha and asteyam) before sins. Such a correlation of virtues opposed by sins may also be assumed in lists of major sins. In ChU 5, 10, 9 we find a list of five (or rather four) major sins: stena (theft of gold), drinking of surā, having sex with the wife of the Guru, killing a Brahmin, and having contact with the performers of these sins. Three corresponding virtues are found in the list of Jaina rules (asteyam, brahmacaryam, ahiṁsā), but here the specifications of ChU 5, 10, 9, where the stealing of gold, sexual intercourse with a specific woman and the killing of a Brahmin are mentioned, are missing.

The fivefoldnes of the list in the ChU looks rather forced and points to borrowing from existing other lists. The specifications seem to concern Brahmins as sinners, as also appears from the item of abstention from alcohol, which is missing in the Jaina list, but may have been taken from the corresponding Buddhist list, and can only apply to Brahmins.63

It is clear that the list of ChU 5, 10, 9 represents an adaptation of lists from outside the Vedic tradition, where they originally applied to ascetics. A really fivefold list (not concerning householders) is found in the late Dharma text passage BaudhDhS 2, 10, 18, 2–3 and consists of ahiṁsā, satyam, astainyam, maithunasya varjanam, tyāga (= aparigraha), which almost completely agrees with the Jaina list and is too late for being a source for the Jains (see Bodewitz 2007a, 325; this vol. p. 351 f.).

5 Conclusions

The noun sukṛtám has been sometimes misinterpreted as the well performed sacrifice, but actually it denotes the merit which is mostly (but not exclusively) obtained by organizing a sacrifice. It may also refer to liberality, i.e. it denotes the giving of goods to gods in heaven and to the Brahmin priests, the gods on earth. It is an investment made by a sacrificer in order to reach heaven after death. It may even be associated with liberality in general and hospitality. As such ethics and morality hardly play a dominant role in this system of producing merits, though charity looks like a form of virtue, especially if one compares the enumerations of virtues in other cultures and takes a German term like “Wohltätigkeit” into account. The person who is called a sukṛ́t is the wealthy sacrificer or a wealthy giver in general who buys his own future. The negative counterpart of this noun, duṣkṛ́t, means evil-doer, but is not frequently found in Vedic literature.

Just like sukṛtám the noun púṇyam denotes merit rather than moral virtue and it is used in similar contexts. The adjective púṇya means meritorious rather than pure or holy, as some translators have assumed. The noun seems to have taken over the role of sukṛtám and in later texts to have adopted some moral associations. On the other hand the adjective púṇya (and perhaps even the noun púṇyam) sometimes seems to denote what is valuable or prosperous or fortunate rather than what is morally good. However, the opposition of púṇya(m) and pāpá(m) mostly is based on a moral judgement. Both puṇyakṛ́t and pāpakṛ́t do not frequently occur in Vedic texts and seem to be late. The successful sacrificer becomes púṇyaloka “whose world in heaven is puṇya or obtained by puṇyam” (in PB 12, 11, 12 and ŚB 3, 6, 2, 15), which excludes any association with ethics and only refers to merits. These merits often but not exclusively concern sacrifices just as in the case of sukṛtam.

The merits or virtues denoted by the general terms sukṛtam and puṇyam qualify the human beings for heaven. Their specifications are not fixed in lists of enumerations in the oldest texts which are mainly ritualistic. ṚV 10, 154 forms an exception in this respect. This hymn mentions together the sacrificer who has given many fees to his priests, the brave warrior who has died in a battle, the ascetic who will reach heaven by tápas and the mystic who concentrates his attention on cosmic truth or order (the Ṛtá). This looks like an enumeration of different approaches followed by different categories of human beings.

The Taittirīyas show the following development of prescripts, rules of life or approaches. In TB 3, 12, 8, 5: satyám, śraddhā́, tápas, damá (for ascetics?); in TU 1, 9: ṛtam, satyam, tapas, dama, śama (for ascetics and mystics?) + agnayas, agnihotram, mānasam, prajā, prajananam, prajāti (for the sacrificing, hospital and procreating householders); in MNU 505–516: again twelve items tapas, satyam, dama, śama + dānam, dharma, prajananam + agnayas, agnihotram, yajña, mānasam + nyāsa. The last text has an enumeration of rules for ascetics and householders and culminates in the life of saṁnyāsins. Similar lists are found in other Vedic prose texts (Brāhmaṇas and Upaniṣads).

A clear distinction between duties or rules of life of different types of human beings or stages of life occurs in ChU 2, 23, 1–2 (see section 2.2), where the carrying out of these duties produces a puṇya loka, which means that in fact these duties are merits. They are a) sacrifice, study, liberality; b) asceticism; c) staying permanently in the house of the Guru.

As one might expect, sometimes there is a correspondence between the cardinal sins and the principal virtues, in which the prohibition of the sins represents the virtues. See e.g. ChU 5, 10, 9, where four cardinal sins (stealing gold, drinking alcohol, sleeping with the wife of the Guru and killing a Brahmin) are mentioned of which the positive counterparts consist of their prohibitions found in Jain and Buddhist texts. The difference is that the sins of ChU 5, 10, 9 concern the Brahmins as committers or victims of the sins, whereas in the mentioned non-Vedic religions prohibitions like non-stealing (asteyam), not killing (ahiṁsā) and positive prescripts like chastity (brahmacaryam) or abstention from sexual intercourse in general are rules of life which primarily concern the ascetics or monks and only in a mitigated form the laymen and the married people.

Five virtues or merits are mentioned in ChU 3, 17, 4: tapas, dānam, ārjavam, ahiṁsā and satyavacanam, a mixture of general rules for all kinds of human beings and prescripts originally concerning the ascetics. They occur in a section in which man’s life is interpreted as a symbolic sacrifice and then these five items are the Dakṣiṇās.

The three items satyám, śraddhā́ and tápas, which were already mentioned in TB 3, 12, 8, 5 (see above) together with damá, also occur as items in a symbolic sacrifice elsewhere. See e.g. ŚāṅkhB 2, 8, where such a sacrifice has been treated.64 They are also found in the passages of ChU 5, 10, 1 and BĀU 6, 2, 15 on the pitṛyāna and devayāna, where in their common source satyam, śraddhā and tapas are associated with the devayāna and the staying in the araṇya and the ordinary sacrifices with the pitṛyāna and the staying in the village.65

Apparently the three mentioned items in one or other way were associated with asceticism and in some contexts an attempt was made to make a compromise between different approaches of aims in life and attempts to obtain results in life after death. The enumerations of items in the sphere of merits or virtues which are associated with different ways of life may illustrate this, as appears from lists consisting of purely ritualistic and apparently ascetic approaches.

Our final conclusion can only be that the ideas about merits and virtues and their results have enormously changed and developed in the course of Vedic literature. Reaching heaven by merits is only found in the last stages on the ṚV Saṁhitā. Merits and reaching a continuation of life in heaven lost their relevance, when at the end of the classical Vedic period the theories of karman (producing only a temporary life in heaven and a rebirth on earth depending on the quality of one’s karman) and of mokṣa (having the release from this rebirth as its highest aim) came into existence. The merits of sacrifices and liberality gradually were replaced by asceticism and knowledge about one’s identity, but attempts to combine the rather divergent approaches were found in all kinds of Vedic texts.66

*First published in Asiatische Studien / Études Asiatiques 67, 2013, pp. 31–73.
1The cardinal virtues according to Plato are four: wisdom or prudence (sofia), fortitude (andria), temperance (sofrosune) and justice (dikaiosune), to which the Christian tradition has added faith, hope and love or charity.
2See Mylius (1992, s.v. “Tugend”), who s.v. “Verdienst” again mentions sukṛtám and púṇyam and then adds pūrtám, which clearly is a mistake, since it does not denote the concept of merit as such but refers to a specific merit (namely reward, gift). See the Dvandva compound iṣṭāpūrtám which denotes two specific merits (see e.g. Gonda 1965b, 237). In Pāli “Tugend” and “Verdienst” are i.a. denoted by puñña. See Mylius (2008, s.v.).
3See Horsch (1971, 127): “Besonders aufschlussreich ist in diesem Zusammenhang der Terminus sukṛtá, ‘Guttat,’ da er bereits eine moralische Nuance enthält … . Sicherlich ist dieses Handeln noch vorwiegend rituell bestimmt, so dass der Ausdruck ‘Tugend’ für sukṛtá nur beschränkt zutrifft.” His approach is rather confusing. I prefer to interpret sukṛtám as merit, a more general term than virtue, which moreover may include items outside the sphere of morals like sacrifices.
4See Bodewitz (1997–1998, 589 ff.). Bollée (1956, 38) even translates sukṛtam with “good karma” in ṢaḍvB 1, 6, 1. Gonda (1966, 129) accepts this rendering more or less and states that it “may do duty for practical purposes,” but also observes: “The only question … is that as to the character of the ‘good karma,’ how and by what activities it was acquired. The context itself points, of course, in the direction of ritual performances.” It is true that the context of this passage is ritualistic and deals with expiatory measures against ritualistic mistakes which may deprive the deceased in heaven from enjoying their merits (sukṛtam), but the passage does not state that the mentioned merits had been obtained by the discussed ritual (with its faults) or by ritual at all.
5Gonda makes the impression of analysing visukṛt as vi-sukṛta (“without sukṛta”), which is not possible, since the prefix vi- is followed by sukṛt and not by the noun sukṛtam. However, it is evident that the correct reading of the compound in the plural should be visukṛtās. See BĀU 6, 4, 12 and KauṣU 1, 4, where visukṛta occurs in the singular and means “without sukṛtam.”
6See n. 2.
7The parallelism of the sukṛt and the puṇyakṛt had to be admitted by Gonda (1966, 120), who nevertheless translates sukṛtas with “those who have acquitted themselves well of their ritual duties” and puṇyakṛtas with “those who do right-good-pure deeds.” It is obvious that both have a meritorious behaviour and that the correctness of the performance of rituals hardly plays a role. The ritual as such rather than its exact performance produces the merit. For sādhukṛtyā representing sukṛtam see also JB 1, 18, where after having reached the sukṛtarasa the deceased gives the sādhukṛtyā to the Pitṛs. In this late Vedic passage the deceased does not need any more his sukṛtam, since by knowledge of his identity with the highest god he has become released. On the other hand, KaṭhU 2, 24 does not regard knowledge alone as sufficient and states that duścaritam (= duṣkṛtam) forms a hindrance. That this sādhukṛtyā (= sukṛtam) refers to virtuous behaviour in general appears from the parallel passage JB 1, 50, where the deceased gives to his forefathers whatever puṇyam he had done in his life and this puṇyam is in the same passage denoted by the term sādhukṛtyā. His enemies receive his pāpakṛtyā. This opposition between relatives and enemies who receive one’s merits and demerits in general (without any clear association with good and bad sacrifices) is expressed by KauṣU 1, 4 with an opposition between dear relatives and enemies (or relatives who are not dear) who receive sukṛtam and duṣkṛtam. The transfer of merits has a counterpart in a transfer of demerits. The merits expressed by sukṛtam may partially consist of sacrifices but need not exclusively be produced by sacrifices let alone by the quality of their performances.
8After this unconvincing treatment of ŚB 4, 1, 4, 5, Gonda continues his note with comments on several passages in which duṣkṛ́t and duṣkṛtám are discussed and the association of these terms with the ritual becomes more and more vague. At the end of his note 53, Gonda discusses AB 2, 7, 12, where the formula “O slayers, whatever shall here be well done, to us that; whatever ill done, elsewhere that” is used in addressing the slayers of the sacrificial victim. Gonda assumes that the correct or wrong performance is meant here. Indeed, the prose context seems to explain it in some way like this. However, the killing as such may be associated with merit and demerit. The slayers receive the demerit of the cruel action, the priests and the sacrificer the merit. The correctness of the ritual does not play a role in the formula.
9On such a non-physical, non-cosmographic “world” see also Gonda (1966, 68) discussing the bhadrasya loka and referring to “English phrases such as ‘the scientific world, the sporting world’ ” by way of comparison.
10See Jamison (1991, 19) who observes that the priests do the actual ritual work and that the Yajamāna derives all the benefit from the ritual.
11Whitney (1905) misinterprets these two words as “attached to giving … bestowers.” See also Gonda (1966, 117), who translates them with “dispensing gifts … bestowing.” These persons make (dhā) other people (in general, or Brahmins) receivers (sāc) of gifts.
12The correctness of the performance of the sacrifice and its opposite are expressed by sviṣṭam and duriṣṭam. A duriṣṭam may consist of the offering of a barren cow. According to ŚB 4, 5, 1, 7 (see Gonda 1966, 126, n. 53) Varuṇa receives the ill-offered part of the sacrifice, makes it well-offered (svìṣṭam) and returns the cow to the sacrificer as his own yájña (offering) and as his own merit (sukṛtám). This indicates that sukṛtám here does not mean “well-performed (sacrifice)” but “merit,” as even Gonda has to admit. Following Eggeling (1885) he translates “his own sacrifice, his own sukṛtam, i.e. ritual merit.” The faults, for which the priests are responsible, are redressed by the gods and the sacrificer keeps his merit.
13Sāyaṇa is quoted several times by Gonda (1966, 116 f.), who nevertheless keeps misunderstanding the texts which he discusses. See the introductory remarks of my article in which Sāyaṇa’s commentary is quoted (from Gonda) and the Yajamāna is explained as someone who is the doer of good (śobhanam), of meritorious (śobhana) items like sacrifices etc. and as someone who is engaged in the meritorious (śobhana) activity of liberality (dānam). There is no reference to the accuracy of the ritual performance.
14Gonda (1966, 129, n. 57) comments on AV 18, 3, 54, where a bowl filled with drinks is called the food of sukṛtám, which Whitney (1905) translates with “a draught of what is well done.” Gonda observes: “The commentary supplies yajñasya to sukṛtasya: ‘of the act of worship (sacrifice) which has been correctly executed’.” In my view the commentary does not qualify the sacrifice as well done, but equates the merit (sukṛtám) with the sacrifice without explaining this as having a correct performance. The food (sometimes in fluid form: sukṛtarasa) of the deceased in heaven which consists of his merits may indeed have been stored by the oblations, though other forms of merits are not excluded. Anyhow the term sukṛtám just means merit here and does not refer to the nature of the performance of a ritual.
15The opposition of sukṛtam and duṣkṛtam has a better parallel in sucaritam and duścaritam (see ŚB 3, 3, 3, 13, where wrong behaviour is opposed to good behaviour and the opposition has no moral aspects, but refers to social etiquette) than in sviṣṭam and duriṣṭam (see n. 12 on ŚB 4, 5, 1, 7), since it refers to religious behaviour and its merits rather than to the good and bad performance of a ritual. For duriṣṭam and sviṣṭam see also AB 3, 38, where otherwise than in ŚB 4, 5, 1, 7 (see n. 12) Varuṇa guards the sviṣṭam of the sacrifice and a comparison is made with a field which is ill-plowed (duṣkṛṣṭa) and then made sukṛṣṭa. Here the correct performance (sviṣṭa/sukṛṣṭa) rather than the meritorious activity (sukṛtam) plays a role (in spite of the attractive similarity of -kṛṣṭa and -kṛta).
16See n. 7.
17See e.g. ṚV 2, 43, 2 where luck is announced by the sound of a bird. On the other hand it may also qualify a characteristic which predicts such a luck. See AV 7, 115, 4 on a púnyā lakṣmī́.
18See Bodewitz (1973, 57, n. 12–13) referring to the weighing of good (sādhú) and wrong deeds in ŚB 11, 2, 7, 33.
19On the non-ritual karman in the Veda see Bodewitz (1993a; this vol. ch. 19), where some more examples of bad karman are treated. For the compensation of bad karman by the ritual see ŚB 1, 6, 1, 21, where the identification of the sacrificer with Prajāpati implies that he who knows thus “whether he has a sacrifice performed for him while he is far away, or while he is near, the sacrifice is performed in the same way as it would be performed if he were near; and he who knows this, even though he do much evil, is not shut out from the sacrifice” (tr. Eggeling 1882).
20The context clearly does not point to the karman doctrine of transmigration, but the cosmification of the deceased and his identification with Prajāpati looks like a forerunner of the idea of mokṣa from this transmigration.
21See Bodewitz (1996b, 34; this vol. p. 125 f.).
22However, Gonda’s interpretation of the text does not convince in all respects. He observes that “the good fruits of karman, whether they are gathered in this life or in the other world are not inexhaustible.” The gathering of the results of both activities takes place in one and the same world, namely on earth, but the fruits are enjoyed in two different worlds. The karmajita loka is the powerful position on earth obtained by profane or normal activities (karmajita has nothing to do with the karman doctrine), whereas the puṇyajita loka is enjoyed in heaven but obtained on earth by particular merits (puṇyam).
23This misreading is also found with Radhakrishnan (1953) who translates puṇyena puṇyalokaṁ nayati pāpena pāpam with “leads, in consequence of good (work) to the good world, in consequence of evil to the evil world.”
24Gonda (1966, 81, n. 41) interprets this sentence as “shares the ‘world’ of heaven, the ‘world of virtue’ (or ‘holy world’), i.e. the world of merit,” which obscures the exact analysis of the compound puṇyaloka, since it looks like “whose world is the world of puṇya, i.e. puṇyasya loka,” whereas in the compound puṇyaloka the first member is an adjective qualifying loka and not a noun forming the equivalent of sukṛtasya. For Gonda’s doubtful interpretation of the turn of phrase sukṛtasya loka, in which sukṛta is not taken as merit in general but too exclusively associated with ritual, see p. 115.
25See Minard (1949, paragraph 542 b) who mentions the suggested reading puṇyalokátra and observes that of the transmitted “le sens obtenu est médiocre.”
26In a probable insertion in the text it is explained that someone who permanently lives with his teacher is meant here.
27On p. 335 Olivelle leaves open the possibility that “the term puṇya, here translated as ‘earned by merit’ can also mean ‘pure’ or ‘pleasant’ ” without explaining the difference between “earned by merit” (referring to a loka) and “producing merit” (referring to a particular activity).
28In a note on p. 334 Olivelle observes: “My translation of this passage is based on taking dharmaskandhāḥ as a possessive compound (bahuvrīhi).” Indeed, there is an opposition between two types of persons, those who win a puṇya loka and those who reach immortality, but this need not imply that trayo dharmaskandhāḥ refers to three types of persons who follow dharma. The third category is expressed with a noun denoting a person (brahmacārin), but the first and the second categories are institutions. Here Olivelle’s translation changes these into types of persons, which is grammatically untenable. However, the compound puṇyalokās should be taken as denoting the persons involved in the mentioned three institutions, the three divisions of religious merits.
29See the following renderings of the compound in ChU 2, 23, 1 and 5, 10, 10: Deussen (1897) “bringen als Lohn heiligen Welten” and “bleibt er … in der Welt der Reinen”; Hume (19312) “become possessors of meritorious worlds” (p. 201) and “becomes … possessor of a pure world” (234); Senart (1930) “mènent aux séjours purs” and “il est … digne du monde des bienheureux”; Radhakrishnan (1953) “these attain to the worlds of the virtuous” and “he … obtains a virtuous world”; Gonda (1966) “they gain access to the lokas of merit”; Olivelle (1996) “these gain worlds earned by merit” and “attains a good world.” The adjective means holy, pure, meritorious, fortunate, good and virtuous. Most translators assume a relation between virtues and merits and the obtained lokas, but are not very consistent in their renderings. The merit by which in ChU 5, 10, 10 the future loka is earned, seems to be based on a particular knowledge, but since the obtained stay in heaven is limited, we may connect the people concerned with those mentioned in 5, 10, 3, who offer to the gods, give fees to the priests and perform charity. So merits (puṇyam) here is represented by ritual and doing good.
30On p. 141 in note 47 Gonda deals with the parallel of this verse in VS 20, 25 and 26 and then translates lokáṁ púṇyam as “pure or holy ‘world’.”
31See n. 24.
32See his publication on loka (1966, 108), where the puṇya world is, on the one hand, translated as “holy,” on the other hand, explained as “won by good deeds (MuṇḍU 1, 2, 6) or ritual methods (TB 3, 1, 5, 6; PrU 5, 5),” an observation which is followed by a note (8) referring to ch. XI. in which mainly the interpretation of merits is associated with the correct performance of the ritual.
33It is evident that here puṇya is more or less identical with sukṛta and means “produced by merits,” that it does not mean “holy” or “pure” and that sukṛta has no associations with a correct performance. Olivelle (1996) interprets MuU 1, 2, 6 as “built by good deeds and rites well done.” His translation of puṇya is correct, but of sukṛta untenable, since sukṛta does not exclusively refer to rituals, let alone to the correctness of their performance.
34See Gonda (1966, 150, n. 3): “Outside the ritualist circles no fundamental difference is made between the sources or origins of merit.”
35Oldenberg (1919, 21, n. 2) rejects Eggeling’s translation and prefers “glückvoll.”
36For such a group of which the name ends in -janās see Bodewitz (1973, 97 f., n. 23), where it is shown that the Devas may also occur as the Devajanas just like the Sarpas as the Sarpajanas. Such Janas form a group without individuals discerned by names.
37He refers to BĀU 3, 2, 13 puṇyo vai puṇyena karmaṇā, but there the puṇya karman is the cause of becoming puṇya, whereas here this is less clear and the instrumental may be taken as an apposition with aśvamedhaíḥ.
38See n. 7.
39See n. 29, where also ChU 5, 10, 10 has been treated.
40See ŚB 13, 5, 4, 3 discussed in section 2.3, where a puṇyaṁ karman in the form of a sacrifice destroys the karman which is called bad. Here the one singular refers to a specific rite and the other to the activity in general of the karma doctrine, but the two aspects become more or less mixed up.
41See section 2.1. In BĀU 4, 4, 5 the context (i.e. 4, 4, 6) makes it definitely clear that the karman doctrine is meant, since the text states that after having reached the end of this karman, i.e. of the results of whatever he has done in this world, he returns back from yonder world. Olivelle (1996) translates “Reaching the end of this action,” but the singular karman here does not denote an action but refers to the result of all one’s actions stored in heaven.
42See e.g. Radhakrishnan (1953): “Even if one performs a great and holy work, but without knowing this, that work of his is exhausted in the end,” and Olivelle (1996): “If a man who does not know this performs even a grand and holy rite, it is sure to fade away after his death.”
43Keith (1909) translates with “for good deeds,” rightly observes in a note that probably this refers to sacrificial acts, but misinterprets śraddhā as “faith.”
44Compare dharmaśālā “charitable asylum, hospital, esp. religious asylum” (tr. in Monier-Williams’ dictionary 1899). These compounds show that charity was associated with virtue, duty, merits and religion and that expenses made by the rich in the sphere of charity continued to be meritorious since Vedic times, in which ChU 4, 1, 1 illustrates this liberality and charity by referring to king Jānaśruti, who was śraddhādeyo bahudāyī bahupākyaḥ (“totally devoted to giving and used to give a lot, a man who gave a lot of cooked food”) and who sarvata āvasathān māpayāṁ cakre sarvata eva me ’tsyantīti (“had hospices built everywhere, thinking ‘People will eat food from me everywhere.’,” tr. Olivelle 1996).
45Jolly (1896, 104) observed: “schon in der vedischen Literatur spielt der Opferlohn (dakṣiṇā) wie überhaupt die Beschenkung der Brahmanen eine grosse Rolle. Je wertvoller das Geschenk, desto schöner der Himmelslohn.”
46See Bodewitz (1994; this vol. ch. 8).
47Geldner (1951) writes in a note on 4, 24, 9: “Das Verhältniss zwischen Gott und Sterblichen wird öfter als ein Handelsgeschäft dargestellt.”
48See Bodewitz (1991, 19).
49The fact that references to life after death are missing in the oldest layers of the ṚV and that in later layers Old Iranian parallels for the described mysticism are assumed, might look strange. However, one may start from the assumption that this mysticism belongs to other circles than those represented in the oldest, ritualistic books.
50See also Bodewitz (1994, 36, this vol. p. 107).
51However, in some Vedic prose texts tapas seems to be on a line with other forms of puṇyam. In JB 1, 97 (see sections 1.2 and 2.4) it may even be a specification of puṇyam. In ChU 2, 23, 1 (see section 2.2) tapas does not belong to the same group as sacrifice and liberality, but it still qualifies for a puṇyaloka and therefore may be regarded as puṇyam itself.
52See Houben (2000).
53For enumerations of these sins see Bodewitz (2007a, 324–328, this vol. pp. 350–356).
54For the interpretation of this passage see Bodewitz (1973, 297 ff.).
55Mostly pratiṣṭhā represents the two feet and is twofold.
56See also Gonda (1975a, 204), who translates with “socio-ritual activity.”
57In the late Vedic Upaniṣad MuU 3, 1, 5 knowledge and asceticism are mentioned together without ritual (satyam, tapas, saṁyagjñānam, brahmacaryam), but the aim is liberation rather than continuation of life in heaven and the persons concerned are ascetics.
58See Bodewitz (2007b, 156).
59See Bodewitz (2007b, 156, n. 270).
60On the problem of what is “in- or outside Vedism” see Bodewitz (1999a, 21).
61See Bodewitz (1999a, 27).
62See Bodewitz (1999a, 35).
63See Bodewitz (1999a, 36) and (2007a, 324 f.; this vol. p. 350 f.).
64See Bodewitz (1973, 240): “The passage ends with tad yathā ha vai śraddhādevasya satyavādinas tapasvino hutam bhavati evam haivāsya hutam bhavati ya evaṁ vidvān agnihotraṁ juhoti”. See also p. 235: “Speaking the truth is regarded as the offering of an oblation in the internal fires in ŚB 2, 2, 2, 19” and p. 236 on ŚB 11, 3, 1, 1 ff., where the identification of the flame of the fire with śraddhā and the oblation with satyam occurs: “The truth doctrine is not a real mental sacrifice …, it is rather a special way of life implying the speaking of truth and the meditation on truth, to be compared with tapas.”
65See Bodewitz (1973, 250 f.).
66In an interesting publication, Bronkhorst (19982) deals with the development of Indian asceticism and discerns two sources: the Vedic asceticism associated with ritualism and the non-Vedic asceticism. On p. 65 he first observes: “There is no reason to doubt that Vedic asceticism developed … out of certain aspects of the Vedic sacrifice. It is certainly not impossible that this development was aided by the simultaneous existence of non-Vedic forms of asceticism, but this seems at present beyond proof.” To some extent I agree with Bronkhorst, but I have some doubts about the exclusive connection with Vedic ritual. According to ṚV 10, 154 one could reach heaven by asceticism without any clear association with sacrifices. Ascetics and mystics did not receive much attention in the oldest Vedic text, but they seem to have been present and accepted already in the earliest period.Then Bronkhorst remarks on rebirth and karman: “We have seen that many of the earliest passages that introduce these ideas contain themselves indications that they had a non-Brahmanic origin. What is more, there are numerous passages in early Indian literature … which show that the ideas of rebirth and karman were associated in the Indian mind with non-Vedic currents of religion and asceticism.” Indeed, it is evident that orthodox Vedism underwent an important change in as far as ideas on life after death are concerned. The merits obtained i.a. by rituals lost their importance. External influences may have played an important role.

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Vedic Cosmology and Ethics

Selected Studies


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