Satyarth Prakash is a treatise by Dayananda on his vision of vedic civilization. He attempted to present a comprehensive view of vedic civilization based on vedic literature. The importance of this book for hindu self-rejuvenation is critical, cannot be overlooked if hindu society has to regain its health and vitality. He addresses fundamental issues in this book.
The book outlines opinions from vedic sources on almost everything, from creation, social order, education, marriage, economy, governance to food habits, leaves nothing that is important in human matters.
With logic he presents views on creation as revealed in Vedas. Dayananda disagrees with the idea that left alone man learns by himself without any external help to begin with, he has to be taught and no idea can exist without words. Man received his foundational knowledge from god as revelations to great Vedic Rishis, not by any amount of mental exertion from his side. Vedas are revelations from god and other branches of knowledge evolved from this core. This is central idea of Dayananda’s vedic vision.
“There can be no ideas without words. No one but an All-knowing Being has the power to make such compositions as are full of all kinds of knowledge and require the perfect knowledge of music and poetry, meters, such chhandhaas and notes, etc. True, after having studied the Vedas, the Rishis, in order to elucidate the various branches of learning, made books on Grammar, Philology, Music and Poetry, etc. Had not God revealed the Vedas, no man would have been able to write anything. The Vedas, therefore, are revealed books. All men should conduct themselves according to their teachings, and when questioned as to his religion let everyone answer that his religion is Vedic, i.e., he believes in whatever is said in the Vedas.”
Using references from vedic literature Dayananda claimed the eternal distinct existence of God, nature and soul. They are eternally present through repeated cycles of creation and dissolution. God is one permeating whole existence. Soul is eternal with some attributes of god but limited in size and scope. Nature is also eternal, both soul and nature go through repeated cycles of creation and dissolution.
Soul is self willed, enjoys and suffers its own karma according to the divine law. God never interferes in this process of divine justice. Soul, when it realizes the nature of karma, bodily existence, makes efforts for emancipation. Only virtue, knowledge and devotion to God can lead to emancipation. Curiously, Dayananda claims this liberation of soul is not eternal, after enjoying freedom and bliss in God’s presence for many cycles of universal time, it returns back to the world of karma, birth and death. He rejects the claim that everything is Brahma and only ignorance is the cause of this illusuion of world. Nature and soul are distinct from Brahma and eternal, though he pervades them.
“The emancipated soul returns to this world from the state of emancipation in the Omnipresent God till after the end of the Grand-Dissolution (Mahaakalpa) and, thereafter, parts with that bliss and is again born into this world.” MUNDAK UPANISHAD 3: 2, 6. “
Dayananda’s most important contribution to the hindu society is his reformist agenda, solidly backed by references from vedic literature. He extensively quotes Manu smriti, much used and abused book by Macaulay intellectuals to corner hindu society, to defend his stand on various social and cultural issues. He vociferously opposed varna on the basis of birth, proved from vedic literature that everyone has right to receive vedic eduaction
“Are even women and Shoodraas (low-caste) allowed to study the Vedas?
All men and women ( i.e., the whole of mankind) have a right to study. You may go and hang yourselves. As for the text you have quoted, it is of you own fabrication, and is nowhere to be found either in the Vedas or any other authoritative book. On the other hand, here is a verse from the Yajur Veda that authorizes all men to study the Veda and hear it read:-
God says:- “As I have given this Word (i.e., the four Vedas) which is the word of salvation* for all making [Here some one might say that by the word Jana, which we have translated into all mankind, only Dwijas are meant, as in the Smritis** ( so-called) they alone are allowed to study the Veda but not women and Shoodraas, the other half of this verse answers this objection by adding] – Braahmans, Kshatryas, Vaishyaas, Shoodraas, women, servants, aye, even the lowest of the low, so should you all do, i.e., teach and preach the Veda and thereby acquire true knowledge, practise virtue, shun vice, and consequently being freed from all sorrow and pain, enjoy true happiness.” YAJUR VEDA 26:2.
Now sir, shall we believe your word or God’s ? God’s, certainly. He who will still refuse to believe, (that women and Shoodraas are entitled to Veda learning) shall be called a Nastika (an infidel) because Manu has said, “He is an infidel who is a reviler and disbeliever of the Veda.” Does not God desire the welfare of the Shoodraas? Is God prejudiced that he should allow the study of the Veda to Dwijas and disallow it to Shoodraas?
Had God meant that the Shoodraas should not study the Veda or hear it read, why should He have created the organs of speech and hearing in their bodies? As He has created the sun, the moon, the earth, the water, the fire, the air, various food and drinks, etc., for all, so has He revealed the Veda for all.
Wherever it is declared (in the books of Rishis) that the Shoodraas are debarred from the study of the Veda, the prohibition simply amounts to this that he, that does not learn anything even after a good deal of teaching, being ignorant and destitute of understanding, is called a Shoodraa. It is useless for him to learn, and for others to teach him any longer. As for you debarring women from education, that only shows your ignorance, selfishness and stupidity. Here is an authority from the Veda entitling girls to study:-
“Just as boys acquire sound knowledge and culture by the practice of Brahmacharya and then marry girls of their own choice, who are young , well educated, loving and of like temperament, should girl practice Brahmacharya study the Veda and other sciences and thereby perfect her knowledge, refine her character, give her hand to a man of her own choice, who is young, learned and loving.” ATHARVA VEDA 11, 14:3, 18.
It follows, therefore, that girls should also practise Brahmacharya and receive education.”
He further insists on the importance of basic universal education for both material and spiritual progress in the society
“Teachers should instil the aforesaid teachings into the minds of their pupils. They should take care that they do not neglect the education of Classes other than Braahmans, viz,/ – Princes and other Kshatriyaas, Vaishyaas, and intelligent Shoodras. Because, if Brahmans only were to acquire knowledge, there could be no advance in knowledge, religion, and government, nor increase in wealth, for Braahmans, whose sole duty is to acquire knowldge and disseminate it, depend for their living on Kshatriyaas, etc., to whom they are law-givers.
Brahmans would be relieved of all restraint and fear from Kshatriyaas, who, being uneducated, would be quite incapable of judging the soundness or unsoundness of their teachings. They would thus gradually use their power for their own selfish ends, drift into hypocrisy and do whatever they lied and their example would be followed by other Classes. But when Kshatriyaas and other Classes are also well educated, Brahmans study still harder to keep ahead of the other Classes and walk in righteousness.
They could never then falsely teach and lead selfish, hypocritical lives. It follows, therefore, that it is in their own interest, as well as that of the community at large, to try their best to teach the Veda and other true sciences and philosophies to the Kshatriyaas and other Classes, that are thr real cause of advance in knowledge, religion, and government, and of increase in wealth, etc. They never live on alms, and, therefore, can have no reason to be partial in religious or scientific matters. When all Classes are well educated and cultured, no one can set up any false, fraudulent, and irreligious practices.
All this goes to prove that it is the Brahmans, and the Sanyaasis, who keep Kshatriyaas and others in proper order and vice versa. Therefore all persons of all Classes should be given good and sound education and be well instructed in the principle of true religion.”
Dayananda strongly opposed child marriages and saw reasons for physical and mental degradation of society in them. From vedic sources he argued that minimum marriage age for girl and boy should be 16 and 24 years respectively, to allow for full blossoming of their physical reproductive abilities and strength. A great proponent of “Brahmacharya” before marriage, he cautioned against abuse and loss of reproductive element. The basis for marriage should be mutual consent or “swayamvara” for a happy married life. On the basis of Vedas he saw equal role for women.
He criticized unnecessary restrictions on food and sea travel as superstitions, showed from vedic literature how vedic influence spread across oceans and how its followers reached all corners of the globe for trade and relations.
During his time the debate on the Aryan invasion theory was raging. Dayananda dismissed the theory, he was of the view that man was created in Tibet from where Aryans came and settled in an uninhabited” Aryavartha” stretching from Himalayas to Vindhyas as far as Rameshwaram. His timeline for the creation of world and revelation of Vedas is close to two billion years.
Dayananda has also written on Raj Dharma and governanace, the dangers of despotic rulers, the need for an assembly of learned to supervise the affairs of state and advice rulers on different aspects of governance.