(Kadamba Kanana Swami, 6 December 2019, Cape Town, South Africa, Srimad Bhagavatam 2.7.20)
The higher planetary systems have heavenly planets where one can enjoy, but above these celestial planets are planets of sages – the Maharloka and the Tapaloka, and ultimately the Brahmaloka. So, the Maharloka is the residence of the manus according to the Brhad-Bhagavatamrta. So the manus are basically prajapatis – they are forefathers of mankind. In the beginning, the universe is empty and only Brahma is there within the universe. Then from the mind of Brahma, various sages manifest and finally some of these personalities are to become prajapatis or those who generate praja. Praja means living beings, and so gradually the universe becomes populated. Not all prajapatis are manus but some of them are. So these manus are establishing the religious principles for the universe and up to 1959 in India, the Manu Samhita was the law book for society. It is interesting how it survived that long, even twelve years after the partition. Still, the Manu Samhita was followed and it had been followed for thousands of years. So during British rule in India, there was the British law applying for the British and then Manu Samhita applying for the Indian population. It was very interesting how they kept that intact and separate. And only in 1959 did India adopt British law, 12 years after the British left. The Manu Samhita has given so many instructions for civilised human beings.
However, the Manu Samhita, although it gives injunctions for how human society should behave, it is not completely transcendental and therefore Vaishnavas do not fully accept the Manu Samhita. For example, there is regulated meat-eating in the Manu Samhita that we will never accept. The Manu Samhita is simply mundane instruction on how to regulate society, but pure transcendental instructions are of another nature that is found in Srimad Bhagavatam. Therefore, Srimad Bhagavatam is the literature that one can accept one hundred percent. So, there are many Vedic literatures and there is a hierarchy within Vedic literatures and even if there are verses quoted from particular Vedic literatures, that does not make the entire book necessarily authorized.
There are many books from Manu Samhita, and also many books that our acaryas will quote from, because it is an authorised Vedic source, but that does not mean that we accept the whole Manu Samhita. So in this way we rely on acaryas – dharmasya tattvaṁ nihitaṁ guhāyāṁ (Caitanya Caritamrta, Madhya-lila, 17.186). The true purport of scriptures remains hidden in the hearts of great saintly personalities and it is only through their revelation that one can approach scripture. Therefore the guru principle is essential.
imaṁ rājarṣayo viduḥ
sa kāleneha mahatā
yogo naṣṭaḥ paran-tapa.
This transcendental knowledge is coming through a line of spiritual masters who take this transcendental knowledge, based on scriptures, realise this transcendental knowledge and then teach it. And they are carrying forward the proper conclusions from scriptures (Bhagavad-gita 4.2). If one tries to ascertain what is true, simply by studying books alone, one will get lost in the wilderness. We require the acaryas to establish what actually is to be accepted and what is not to be accepted. That is the nature of transcendental culture.