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Lawful and Forbidden Actions (Vidhi-Nishedha)

by Swami Sivananda

Actions are of two kinds:

1. Lawful (Vidhi).

2. Forbidden or prohibitory (Nishedha).

Lawful actions are the injunctions of the Sastras. They are beneficial to the performer. "Satyam vada, Dharmam chara-speak the truth, do virtuous actions." These are lawful actions. They are best calculated to purify the heart of the performer and to prepare his mind for the reception of Brahma Jnana.

Forbidden are those actions which are interdicted by the scriptures, such as: "Do not drink liquor. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not steal, etc." They are harmful. They hurl the doer down to lower births.

The lawful actions are of four kinds:

1. Nitya Karmas-daily rites.

2. Naimittika Karmas-occasional rites.

3. Kamya Karmas-optional rites.

4. Prayaschitta Karmas-penances.

Morning bath and Sandhya in the three periods of time constitute Nitya Karmas. If you do not perform them daily you incur sin. You are subject to Pratyavaya Dosha (the sin of omission). The rites done during eclipse and Shraddha (ceremony) every year are Naimittika Karmas. Non-performance of these rites brings sin. That man who is struggling to obtain Moksha will not be affected by the harmful effects of leaving the Nitya and Naimittika Karmas. Kamya Karmas are performed with a motive of obtaining definite results. Sacrifices that are done for getting rain, and the offerings to fire for obtaining Svarga, are examples of Kamya Karmas.

Prayaschitta is done for the destruction of sin. In the Code of Manu you will find various kinds of Prayaschitta for the destruction of various kinds of sins, such as the murder of a Brahmin, killing of a cow, drinking alcohol or taking forbidden foods, adultery, etc. Prayaschitta is of two kinds, viz., 1. Extraordinary (Asaadharana) and 2. Ordinary (Saadharana). Extraordinary penances are those which are prescribed in the Code of Manu for the destruction of particular sins. Chandrayana Vrata, Krichhra Vrata and various other kinds such as carrying a skull in the hand and living on alms after renouncing all property, living underneath a tree, long pilgrimage till the end of one's life, and openly admitting before the public one's crime, are prescribed. If anyone repents and openly admits his minor offences, the sin is washed away. In doing Prayaschitta the offender actually suffers, he punishes himself by long fasting and other ordeals as described above. Action and reaction are equal and opposite. Complete fasting on Ekadasi and Pradosha days destroys many sins. Every one of you should practise this. Bathing in the Ganga, Japa and ordinary pilgrimage constitute ordinary Prayaschitta for the destruction of small sins.

A full-blown Jnani is above Vidhi and Nishedha. He can do anything he likes. He can kill thousands of Brahmins and millions of people. The Gita says: "He who is free from the egoistic notion, whose reason is not affected, though he slays these people, he slayeth not, nor is he bound." Ch. XVIII-17. This only glorifies the exalted state of the Jnani. He cannot do a single wrong action. He has disciplined himself in the beginning. He has practised Sama and Dama for a long time. Whatever he does will be in strict accordance with the injunctions of the scriptures. A Jnani has no idea of being an actor. He has no Kartru Bhava. He identifies himself with Brahman. He has established himself in his own Svarupa.

Karma may have been acquired in many previous births. Actions cause good and bad results. Some actions might have begun to bear fruits and others not. Therefore it is impracticable to consume by enjoyment in one single birth, that portion of the Karma which has not begun to bear fruit. Hence the certainty of subsequent embodied existence on account of the unenjoyed portion of the Karma.

The observance of obligatory Karma has not got the power of rendering inoperative good and bad deeds, which have not begun to bear fruit. There is a penalty if you do not perform obligatory Karma. There will be Pratyavaya Dosha (unpleasant consequences). It therefore follows that the observance of obligatory Karma only has the effect of warding off misery, the certain consequence arising from its non-performance, and has not the effect of consuming previous Karma which is yet to bear fruit. Obligatory Karma diminishes the sins stored in previous births.


"According as he acts and according as he conducts himself, so will he be."-Bri. Upanishad. Conduct is the cause of the quality of new birth.

The Upanishads declare: "Those whose conduct has been good will quickly attain some good birth, the birth of a Brahmin or a Kshatriya or a Vaishya, when the fruits of their good works have been all exhausted in the Chandraloka or the sphere of the moon. But those whose conduct has been evil will quickly attain an evil birth, the birth of a dog or hog.

In some places conduct is spoken of not as Purushartha but as Karmanga. In this case it produces no separate result; what, if considered as Purushartha, it has a special result of its own.

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