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Perhaps the most re-occuring tradition found around the world is that of a man, forewarned of a coming destruction (pralaya) by water, who escapes by boat, and preserves the human race. In the Vedic tradition he is known as Manu, the father of mankind.
The etymology of the word ‘man’ is ‘to think’ derived from the Sanskrit ‘manah’ for ‘the mind’. This is because, as descendants of Manu, our form of life is meant for higher levels of consciousness, above the base animalistic tendencies of eating, sleeping, mating, and defending.
In the Bhagavad Gita verse 4:1 we are told that Manu received the Divine instructions:
“The Blessed Lord said: I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvan, and Vivasvan instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Iksvaku.”
The Vedic scriptures tell us that Manu is a position occupied for a period of time. At the end of each period a great destruction occurs and mankind must begin again. We are currently in the age of the 7th Manu – Vaivasvata Manu (Manu, the son of Vivasvan).
According to the Matsya Purana, Manu was meditating at the base of Mount Malaya performing his daily ablutions in a pond by his hermitage. In scooping up the water he caught a small fish and, not wanting to hurt him, placed the fish in a small container. Each day the fish grew larger and larger, and Manu transferred to ever larger containers, ponds, and rivers. Finally, Manu placed the fish in the ocean where it grew to an enormous size. The fish, an incarnation of Lord Visnu as Matsya, told Manu of a coming flood that would destroy the world.
Manu then took the Vedas along with the Saptarishis (Seven Sages) in a boat while the world was engulfed in waters. The Seven Sages are the manasa putra (mind born sons) of Lord Brahma, who rule over the seven solar systems that make up in Western astronomy the Big Dipper. These seven sages always point towards Dhruvaloka – the polestar.
There are literally hundreds of traditions from all around the world that speak of this global flood. In the Hawaiian tradition, Nuu was a man who escaped a great flood by going to the top of Maunakea on the Big Island. Likewise the Bible has the story of Noah and his ark resting on Mount Ararat. The Roman writer Tacitus tells us in his book ‘Germania’, that the Germans were descended from a progenitor called Mannus (though little else of their tradition is preserved).
What then was the highest knowledge that Manu preserved? We find the answer in Bhagavad Gita 18:65:
man-mana bhava mad-bhakto
mad-yaji mam namaskuru
mam evaisyasi satyam te
pratijane priyo ‘si me
“Always think of Me and become My devotee. Worship Me and offer your homage unto Me. Thus you will come to Me without fail. I promise you this because you are My very dear friend.”
This is the imperishable knowledge our forefather Manu received – man is to always think of the Blessed Lord.