The concept of ऋण: ṛiṇ – the debts of Human Life

Dr Yog B Mahadeo

The concept of ऋण: ṛiṇ is a fundamental conscious duty for everyone.

The fulfillment of human birth comes within the consequence of cosmic order (cosmic logic, also called Rita). In the unfolding of cosmic logic, one of the natural consequences of life is the utilization of universal materials. For example, the light of the sun, the matter of space, and so on.  The ancient philosophy of Hinduism teaches that the utilization of cosmic/universal materials to meet our life’s requirements incurs a debt towards these cosmic materials. Thus, our “debt” is towards these forces that provided for our creation and sustenance and such reasonable conscious servicing of this debt allows for easy passage through the challenges of life and to the afterlife.

It is recommended that one repays all debts before the end of life so as to avoid the karmic consequences of debts in subsequent lifetimes. Thus, one must become अनृण anriṇ or, free from debt.

A person who has freed himself from these debts is said to be जायमानो Jaayamaano, twice-born. The Bhagvat Puraana, the Manu Smriti, the Bhagwad Gita, and other scriptures, all speak to the efforts required on the concepts of these “debts”.

The Taittireeya Samhita and the Shatapatha Braahmana altogether give a total of five such debts to which conscious dedication is advised. These are देव ऋण:, ऋषि ऋण:, पितृ ऋण:, ृ ऋण:, भूत ऋण.

The Taittireeya Samhita

जायमानो वै ब्राह्मणस्त्रिभिर् ऋणवा जायते
ब्रह्मचर्ेण ऋषिभ्यो यज्ञ देवभ्
प्रजया पितृभ् एष वा अनृणो
पुत्री यज्वा ब्रह्मचारिवातत् अवदाैर् एव
अवदयते तत् अवदानाम् अवदानत्वं

Jaayamaano vai braahmaṇastribhir ṛuṇavaa jaayate
brahmacharyeṇa ṛuṣhibhyo yagyena devabhyah
prajayaa pitṛubhya eṣha vaa anṛuṇo yah
putrI yajvaa brahmachaarivaasI tat avadaanair eva
avadayate tat avadaanaanaam avadaanatvam

A Braahmanaa is born with a threefold debt; debt of knowledge or mantra (brahmacharya) to the Rishis, debt of sacrifice (yajna) to God, of offspring to the Pitris. He is freed from his debt who lived as a pupil, who performs yajna (to the Gods) and has offspring (putri); this (debt) he returns (avadayate) by these givings, and that is why the givings (avadaana) have their name.”

Shatapatha Braahmana

ऋणं ह वै जायते ोऽस्ति। जायमा एव देवेभ् ऋषिभ्ः पितृभ्यो मनुष्येभ्ः १.७.२.१

ṛiṇam ha vai jaayate yo’sti. Sa jaayamaana eva devebhya ṛiṣhabhyah pitribhyo manuṣhyebhyah.

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.

Manu Smriti 6.35

ऋणाि त्रीण्यपाकृत् मनो मोक्षे िवेशयेत्। अनपाकृत् मोक्षं तु ेवमानो व्रजत्यधः।

When he has paid the three debts, let him apply his mind to (the attainment of) final liberation

Shrimad bhagwatam:10.84.39
ऋणै्‍त्रिभिर्द्विजो जातो देवर्षिपितृणां प्रभो ।
यज्ञाध्ययनपुत्रै्ता्यनि्तीर् त्यजन् पतेत् ॥ ३९ ॥
ṛiṇais tribhir dvijo jaato devarṣhi-pitṝiṇaaṁ prabho.
Yajñaadhyayana-putrais taany anisteerya tyajan patet.
A twice born has three debts: to God, to the sages and to the ancestors. These are cleared by sacrifice, studying of the Vedic texts and looking after children. A successful person accomplishes these before forsaking the body. 

The debts are:
1) देव ऋण (Deva ṛin): The debt to God.
Life, the materials of life, the world, etc, everything is created by God and provided for us and our existence. The act of dharma, righteous living, and religious duties, as well as worship, japa, and communion, is the mode of such clearing of deva-rin.

2) ऋषि ऋण (Riṣhi ṛin): The debt to the rishis.
The Scriptures, all material knowledge, logic, math, science, and spiritual knowledge is generated by the Sages and seers. We are indebted to the avatars, the rishis, the prophets, and the scientists as well. Rishi Rin is cleared by studying and acquiring knowledge, giving thanks to those who impart the knowledge, and living what is learned.

3) पितृ ऋण (Pitri ṛin):
The debt to parents and ancestors. Our lineage and our life is due to the sacrifices of our foreparents. Pitri Rin is addressed by being dutiful to our parents when they are alive and by living up to their ideals and teachings.

4) ृ ऋण or मनुष्य ऋण (Nri ṛin also called Manuṣhya rin):
The debt to humanity. The Vedas declare the need to worship and develop ourselves together. We have an obligation to look out for each other and see the happiness of others as our own. The world at large provides our material sustenance and accommodates our life and actions. Our Nri Rin or Manushya-rin is addressed by treating others with respect and helping them.

5) भूत ऋण (Bhoot rin): The debt to nature.
We have an obligation to the plants, animals and all of nature. Plants provide oxygen as well as recycle water, animals and other creatures keep the cycle of creation going and fulfill their own purpose. The earth provides for us, the atmosphere also provides for us as do the sun and moon etc. Bhoot Rin is addressed by being environmentally friendly, by living in harmony with nature and by ensuring that nature is not destroyed.

These debts are all synchronized and addressed by observing and practicing the panchamahayajya – the five great daily duties:
Brahma Yajya – Morning and Evening communion with God
Deva Yajya – Agnihotra, purification of air and surroundings
Pitri Yajya – Duties to our parents
Atithi Yajya – Duty to guests and strangers
Valivaishvadeva (bhoot) Yajya – Duty to nature/environment (animals, plants, earth etc)

The establishment and fulfillment of our purpose is attained through the accomplishment of the four pillars of life called the four Purusharthas.
Dharma (Righteous living)
Artha (material prosperity)
Kaama (matial enjoyment)
Moksha (Spiritual liberation)

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