The Mahabharata Home
Vaisampayana said, "When Yudhishthira, after saying these words, became silent, Arjuna, afflicted by that speech of the king, and burning with sorrow and grief, once more addressed his eldest brother, saying, 'People recite this old history, O Bharata, about the discourse between the ruler of the Videhas and his queen. That history has reference to the words which the grief-stricken spouse of the ruler of the Videhas had said to her lord when the latter, abandoning his kingdom, had resolved to lead a life of mendicancy. Casting off wealth and children and wives and precious possessions of various kinds and the established path for acquiring religious merit and fire itself. 1 King Janaka shaved his head (and assumed the garb of a mendicant). His dear spouse beheld him deprived of wealth, installed in the observance of the vow of mendicancy, resolved to abstain from inflicting any kind of injury on others, free from vanity of every kind, and prepared to subsist upon a handful of barley fallen off from the stalk and to be got by picking the grains from crevices in the field. Approaching her lord at a time when no one was with him, the queen, endued with great strength of mind, fearlessly and in wrath, told him these words fraught with reason: 'Why hast thou adopted a life of mendicancy, abandoning thy kingdom full of wealth and corn? A handful of fallen off barley cannot be proper for thee. Thy resolution tallies not with thy acts, 2 since abandoning thy large kingdom thou covetest, O king, a handful of grain! With this handful of barley, O king, wilt thou succeed in gratifying thy guests, gods. Rishis and Pitris? This thy labour, therefore, is bootless. Alas, abandoned by all these, viz., gods, guest and Pitris, thou leadest a life, of wandering mendicancy, O king, having cast off all action. Thou wert, before this, the supporter of thousands of Brahmanas versed in the three Vedas and of many more besides. How canst thou desire to beg of them thy own food today? Abandoning thy blazing prosperity, thou castest thy eyes around like a dog (for his food). Thy mother hath today been made sonless by thee, and thy spouse, the princess of Kosala, a widow. These helpless Kshatriyas, expectant of fruit and religious merit, wait upon thee,
placing all their hopes on thee. By killing those hopes of theirs, to what regions shalt thou go, O king, especially when salvation is doubtful and creatures are dependent on actions? 1 Sinful as thou art, thou hast neither this world nor the other, since thou wishest to live, having cast off thy wedded wife? 2 Why, indeed, dost thou lead a life of wandering mendicancy, abstaining from all actions, after having abandoned garlands and perfumes and ornaments and robes of diverse kinds? Having been, as it were, a large and sacred take unto all creatures, having been a mighty tree worthy of adoration and granting its shelter unto all, alas, how canst thou wait upon and worship others? If even an elephant desists from all work, carnivorous creatures coming in packs and innumerable worms would eat it up. What need be said of thyself that art so powerless? 3 How couldst thy heart be set on that mode of life which recommends an earthen pot, and a triple-headed stick, and which forces one to abandon his very clothes and which permits the acceptance of only a handful of barley after abandonment of everything? If, again, thou sayest that kingdom and a handful of barley are the same to thee, then why dost thou abandon the former! If, again, a handful of barley becomes an object of attachment with thee, then, thy original resolution (of abandoning everything) falls to the ground, If, again, thou canst act up to thy resolution of abandoning everything! then who am I to thee, who art thou to me, and what can be thy grace to me? 4 If thou beest inclined to grace, rule then this Earth! They that are desirous of happiness but are very poor and indigent and abandoned by friends may adopt renunciation. But he who imitates those men by abandoning palatial mansions and beds and vehicles and robes and ornaments, acts improperly, indeed. One always accepts gifts made by others; another always makes gifts. Thou knowest the difference between the two. Who, indeed, of these two shouldst be regarded the superior? If a gift be made to one who always accepts gifts, or to one that is possessed of pride, that gift becomes bootless like the clarified butter that is poured upon a forest-conflagration. 5 As a fire, O king, never dies till it has consumed all that has been thrown into it, even so a beggar can never be silenced tilt he receives a donative. In this world, the food that is given by a charitable person is the sure support of the pious. If, therefore, the king does not give (food) where will the pious that are desirous
of salvation go? 1 They that have food (in their houses) are house-holders. Mendicants are supported by them. Life flows from food. Therefore, the giver of food is the giver of life. Coming out from among those that lead a domestic mode of life, mendicants depend upon those very persons from whom they come. Those self-restrained men, by doing this, acquire and enjoy fame and power. One is not to be called a mendicant for his having only renounced his possessions, or for his having only adopted a life of dependence on eleemosynary charity. He who renounces the possessions and pleasures of the world in a sincere frame of mind is to be regarded a true mendicant. 2 Unattached at heart, though attached in outward show, standing aloof from the world, having broken all his bonds, and regarding friend and foe equally, such a man, O king, is regarded to be emancipated! Having shaved their heads clean and adopted the brown robe, men may be seen to betake themselves to a life of wandering mendicancy, though bound by various ties and though ever on the lookout for bootless wealth. They who, casting off the three Vedas, their usual occupations, and children, adopt a life or mendicancy by taking up the triple-headed crutch and the brown robe, are really persons of little understanding. Without having cast off anger and other faults, the adoption of only the brown robe, know, O king, is due to the desire of earning the means of sustenance. Those persons of clean-shaven heads that have set up the banner of virtue, have this only (viz., the acquisition of sustenance) for their object in life. Therefore, O king, keeping thy passions under control, do thou win regions of bliss hereafter by supporting them that are truly pious amongst men of matted locks or clean-shaven heads, naked or clad in rags, or skins or brown robes. Who is there that is more virtuous than he who maintains his sacred fire, who performs sacrifices with presents of animals and Dakshina, and who practises charity day and night?'
"Arjuna continued, 'King Janaka is regarded to have been a truth-knowing person in this world. Even he, in this matter (viz., the ascertainment of duty) had become stupefied. Do not yield to stupefaction! Even thus the duties of Domesticity are observed by persons practising charity. By abstaining from injuries of all kinds, by casting off desire and wrath, by being engaged in protecting all creatures, by observing the excellent duty of charity, and lastly by cherishing superiors and persons of age, we shall succeed in attaining such regions of bliss as we like. By duly gratifying gods, guests, and all creatures, by worshipping Brahmanas, and by truthfulness of speech, we shall certainly attain to desirable regions of bliss.'"
32:1 i.e., Sacrifice.
32:2 Literally, 'thy resolution is of one kind, while thy acts are of another kind!'
33:1 Paratantreshu is explained by Nilakantha as "dependent on destiny." If this means the fate that connects one's present life with the acts of a former one, the explanation is not incorrect. The more obvious meaning, however, is "dependent on action."
33:2 A wedded wife is the companion of one's religious acts.
33:3 Thou shouldst not, therefore, abandon action.
33:4 The meaning seems to be this: if a person can truly act up to his resolution of complete renunciation of everything, then that person stands alone in the midst of the world, and he is nobody's, and nobody is his. Hence, he can neither be pleased nor displeased with any one. King Janaka's abandonment, therefore, of wife and kingdom, is inconsistent with that Perfect renunciation or withdrawal of self within self. He might continue to enjoy his possessions without being at all attached to or affected by them.
33:5 Such libations, to be efficacious, ought to be poured upon fires properly kindled with mantras.
34:1 Therefore, Janaka should resume his kingdom and practise charity; otherwise, religious mendicants would be undone.
34:2 Such an man might rule even a kingdom without forfeiting his title to be regarded a mendicant, for he might rule without attachment.
Next: Section XIX