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General, Purana, Upanishad

Have you fulfilled your three debts?

The ancient texts of the Hindu sages speak of three debts that are to be paid during ones life. These three debts known in sanskrit as the ṛṇa trayi, are considered central to the life of the Hindu where the obligation of fulfilling these debts are not ideals but rather obligatory.

The taittiriya samhita[1] states that ‘a child at birth is born with three debts’ it further goes on to describe these debts as the following:

1. ṛṣi ṛṇa – the debt to the sages
2. deva ṛṇa – the debt to the vedic deities
3. pitru ṛṇa – the debt to the ancestors

The question may arise as to why these debts have arisen in the first place taking into account the new born itself has no pre-requisite relationship with the three debtors. However this idea though logical is only applicable if the concept of the child having no past karma or sanskaras (latent impressions) from previous births, which would not be possible due to the ancient texts having declared that the human body is the fruit of numerous births through various living entities concluding in the perfect human body, hence the idea of having no past karma is impossible.

Also more importantly the taittiriya samhita verse further elucidates that these debts are directed to a child born to a brahmin family, however though we could take this verse literally and dismiss it’s importance to society in general, the wider and more befitting application and interpretation would be for those born in the Vedic faith, thus encapsulating all Hindus. Taking this understanding each debt would thus be applicable for all followers of the Vedic tradition.

We’ll now attempt to explain how the debts have come about.

1. ṛṣi ṛṇa – the debt to the sages
The Vedic faith rests exclusively on the seers of the Vedas who had heard the divine revelation of eternal truths whilst in deep meditation. Thus the foundation of Hinduism would not have existed if it wasn’t for the Vedic seers and hence we as the followers of the Vedic faith are ever indebted to the great seers of the past and the legacy of the disciplic succession they have left behind of where we reap the rich spiritual rewards.

2. deva ṛṇa – the debt to the vedic deities
Similar to the first debt, we are obliged to the deities of the Vedic faith for blessing us with the material we need to survive in this material world. It was by the grace of the Vedic deities that the ancient sages heard the divine revelations and thus allowing the Vedic religion to be codified for future generations. The Vedic deities sustain life on the material world and remove the ailments of the believers whilst ensuring the eternal laws of the Vedic texts are protected and not compromised.

3. pitru ṛṇa – the debt to the ancestors
According the Vedic tradition before the individual soul,  jiva,  of the individual is placed within the womb of the respective family, the jiva is first accepted by the ancestors of the family in allowing the individual soul to enter into their generation for birth. Thus having been accepted, the individual soul is indebted to the respective ancestors in allowing this honour.

Though the verse from the Taittiriya Samhita is adequate in explaining how one can be freed from the three debts, to show consistency throughout the Vedic texts regarding the threefold obligation, there is a verse within the srimad bhagavatam.

ṛṇaistribhirdvijo jāto devarṣipitṝṇāṁ prabho
yajñādhyayanaputraistānyanistīrya tyajanpatet
śrīmad bhāgavata purāṇa 10.84.39

Translation*: A twice born has three debts, to the deities, sages and ancestors [which can be removed by] sacrifice, studying [of the Vedic texts] and progeny, if [before] forsaking the body [they are not] completed [the individual] falls.

The śrīmad bhāgavata purāṇa very eloquently summarises what one should do to fulfil the debts placed upon them.

Debt No. Debt Name Solution
1 ṛṣi ṛṇa – the debt to the sages Studying and contemplation of Vedic texts
2 deva ṛṇa – the debt to the vedic deities Performance of Vedic sacrifices
3 pitru ṛṇa – the debt to the ancestors Fulfilment of progeny for future enhancement of the family

To delve in further by daily studying and contemplating on the Vedic texts we are released from the debt of the sages, this also intern allows us to contemplate on the higher spiritual and metaphysical levels of reality where we can elevate our consciousness to that of the sages, allowing us to be freed from the clutches of mundane material consciousness and come on to a plane where the dualities of life such as happiness, sorrow, hot and cold are meaningless and rather a state of bliss and the presence of the supreme divinity is realised.

The second, release from the Vedic deities is by performance of sacrifices. This however does not exclusively deal with the fire sacrifice we naturally associate sacrifice to mean but rather a more subtle and more spiritual sacrifice. Spending time and offering service to the temple, quietly chanting the holy name, doing your respective occupational work as an offering to God are all sacrifices to God. Though the act of performing mundane duties physically may appear the same, internally and mentally the concept of doing these duties are now spiritually inclined thus the idea of performing this duties as a form of sacrifice releases one from the debt.

The third is propagating the family lineage by progeny [within wedlock!]. This act satisfies the ancestors and ensures to them their lineage continues..

On a final point the shatapatha brahmana [2] suggests a fourth debt, manuśya ṛṇa, a debt to mankind. This debt suggests we should also not forget our debt to society at large. The scripture goes on to explain that release from this debt is by ensuring hospitality is given to all beings by offering food and other means. Though the scriptures does not go onto elaborate any further, it is common sense to acknowledge the text would ensure that all beings are treated with respect, courtesy and ensuring our actions are not detrimental to others.

According to Manu by fulfilling these debts the individual is released from the obligations allowing the individual  to concentrate and ‘apply his mind to (the attainment of) final liberation’ [3]

This now begs the question….

Have you fulfilled your three debts?

[1] Taittiriya Samhita: – jAyamano vai brAhmaNastribhir RuNavA jAyate brahmacharyeNa RuShibhyo yaj~jena devabhyaH prajayA pitRubhya eSha vA anRuNo yaH putrI yajvA brahmachArivAsI tat avadAnair eva avadayate tat avadAnAnAm avadAnatvaM

A Brahmana on birth is born with a threefold debt, austerity [study and contemplation of scriptures, performance of penances etc] to the Rishis, performance of sacrifice to the Vedic deities, of offspring to the ancestors. He is freed from his debt who lived as a pupil, who performs sacrifice and has a son; this [debt] he returnsby these givings, and that is why the givings have their name.

[2] shatapatha brahmana – Verily, whoever exists, he, in being born, is born as (owing) a debt to the gods, to the Rishis, to the fathers, and to men.

[3] Manu Smriti 6.35 When he has paid the three debts, let him apply his mind to (the attainment of) final liberation

* All translations are authored by the Jigyasa Team.

The copyright of the article Have you fulfilled your three debts? is owned by the Jigyasa Team. Permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.


About Makwana

A student of Sanatan Vedic Dharma


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