The Mahabharata Home
"Vyasa said, 'These, then, are the obligatory acts ordained for Brahmanas. One possessed of knowledge always attains to success by going through (the prescribed) acts. If no doubt arises in respect of acts, then acts done are sure to lead to success. The doubt to which we refer is this: whether acts are obligatory or whether they are optional. 1 As regards this (doubt about the true character of acts, it should be said that), if acts are ordained for man for inducing knowledge (by which alone Brahma or Emancipation is to be attained, even then) they should be regarded as obligatory (and not optional). I shall now discourse on them by the light of inferences and experience. Listen to me. 2 With respect to acts some men say that Exertion is their cause. Others say that Necessity is their cause. Others, again, maintain that Nature is the cause. Some say that acts are the result of both Exertion and Necessity. Some maintain that acts flow from Time, Exertion, and Nature. Some say that of the three (viz., Exertion, Necessity, and Nature), one only (and not the other two) is the cause. Some are of opinion that all the three combined are the cause. 3 Some persons that are engaged in the performance of acts say, with respect to all objects, that they exist, that they do not exist, that they cannot be said to exist, that they cannot be said not to exist, that it is not that they cannot be said to exist, and lastly, that it is not that they cannot be said not to exist. (These then are the diverse views entertained by men). They, however, that are Yogins, behold Brahma to be the universal cause. The men of the Treta, the Dwapara, and the Kali Yugas are inspired with doubts. The men, however, of the Krita Yuga are devoted to penances, possessed of tranquil souls, and observant of righteousness. 4 In that age all men regard the Richs, the Samans, and the Yajuses as identical not withstanding their apparent diversity. Analysing desire and aversion, they worship only
penance. 1 Devoted to the practice of penances, steadfast in them, and rigid in their observance, one obtains the fruition of all desires by penances alone. By penance one attains to that by becoming which one creates the universe. By penance one becomes that in consequence of which one becomes the puissant master of all things. 2 That Brahma has been expounded in the declarations of the Vedas. For all that, Brahma is inconceivable by even those that are conversant with those declarations. Once more has Brahma been declared in the Vedanta. Brahma, however, cannot be beheld by means of acts. 3 The sacrifice ordained for Brahmans consists in japa (meditation and recitation), that for Kshatriyas consists in the slaughter of (clean) animals for the gratification of the deities; that for Vaisyas consists in the production of crops and, the keep of domestic animals; and that for Sudras in menial service of the: three other orders. By observing the duties laid down for him and by studying the Vedas and other scriptures, one becomes a Dwija (regenerate). Whether one does any other act or not, one becomes a Brahmana by becoming the friend of all creatures. 4 In the beginning of Treta, the Vedas and sacrifices and the divisions of caste and the several modes of life existed in, their entirety. In consequence, however, of the duration of life being decreased in Dwapara, those are overtaken by decline. In the Dwapara age as also in the Kali, the Vedas are overtaken by perplexity. Towards the close of Kali again, it is doubtful if they ever become even visible to the eye. 5 In that age, the duties of the respective order disappear, and men become afflicted by iniquity. The juicy attributes of kine, of the earth, of water, and (medicinal and edible) herbs, disappear. 6 Through (universal) iniquity the Vedas disappear and with them all the duties inculcated in them
as also the duties in respect of the four modes of life. They who remain observant of the duties of their own order become afflicted, and all mobile and immobile objects undergo a change for the worse. 1 As the showers of heaven cause all products of the earth to grow, after the same manner the Vedas, in every age, cause all the angas to grow. 2 Without doubt, Time assumes diverse shapes. It has neither beginning nor end. It is Time which produces all creatures and again devours them. I have already spoken of it to thee. Time is the origin of all creatures; Time is that which makes them grow; Time is that which is their destroyer; and lastly it is time that is their ruler. Subject to pairs of opposites (such as heat and cold, pleasure and pain, etc.), creatures of infinite variety rest on Time according to their own natures (without being otherwise than how they have been ordained by supreme Brahma).' 3
176:1 Whether karma is swabhava or jnanam means (as the commentator explains) whether it is obligatory or optional. Jnanam, of course, means here jnana-janakam, i.e., leading to knowledge. Knowledge is essential to success or emancipation. If acts become necessary for leading to knowledge, the doubt may then arise that they cease to be obligatory, for knowledge may be supposed to be attainable otherwise than by acts. K.P. Singha translates this verse correctly, the Burdwan translator incorrectly, and, as usual, misunderstands the gloss completely.
176:2 The first line of this verse is exceedingly terse. The construction, as explained by the commentator, is Tatra (samsaye) purusham prati Jnanam (jnanajanakam) chet (karma) syat, (tarhi) sa (eva) Vedavidhih. One cannot help admiring Nilakantha for his patience and ingenuity.
176:3 Daiva is explained by the commentator as Grahah or Kalah. I think, it is used to signify some kind of blind force whose origin is untraceable. Hence, I render it necessity. Vritti in verse 5 is evidently Exertion, for the word implies course, of conduct, Avivekam is samuchchayam or a combination of all the three.
176:4 Inspired with doubt,' with reference to the declarations of the Srutis. 'Possessed of p. 177 tranquil souls,' i.e., not penetrated by doubts of any kind.
177:1 In the Treta and the other Yugas people are seen professing attachment or devotion to one only of the Vedas and not to the others, be it the Richs, the Samans, or the Yajuses. The speaker, dissatisfied with this refers to the Krita age as one in which such difference of faith were not observable. The men of that age regarded all the Vedas equally, and, in fact, as even identical.
177:2 Jiva or Chit becomes puissant and succeeds in creating the universe by means of penance. By penance one attains to Brahma, and, therefore, universal puissance. This has been sufficiently explained in the previous Sections.
177:3 This is one of the most important verses in this section, for, as the commentator explains, this furnishes the answer to the question proposed in the previous section, viz., 'what is that knowledge?' In the Vedas both acts and knowledge have been spoken of. In the province of acts, Brahma has been represented as Indra and the other gods. Brahma, therefore, as spoken of there, is 'gahana', or hidden to (or inconceivable by) even those that are conversant with that province or sphere of the Vedas. In the Vedanta, again, knowledge or Vidya has been spoken of as the means by which to attain to Brahma. The knowledge or Vidya, therefore, which is the subject of the question, is not what is implied by Pravritti dharma or by Nivritti as used in the previous section.
177:4 The second line of this verse corresponds with the second line of verse 87 of Chapter II of Manusmriti.
177:5 They are seen and not seen is an idiomatic expression for 'becoming invisible.'
177:6 i.e., kine do not yield copious and sweet milk; the soil ceases to be fertile; water ceases p. 178 to be sweet; and the medicinal and edible herbs lose their virtues of healing as also their flavour.
178:1 The commentator thinks that Swadharmasthah is connected with asramah in the first line. I prefer the more obvious construction.
178:2 Varshati means pushnati. Angani means the observances necessary for the practice of Yoga as also all kinds of rites and vows. The Vedas cause these to grow, and they, in their turn, aid all students of the Vedas in achieving their purposes.
178:3 Prabhavah is uttpattih, or origin; sthanam is poshanam. Both the Vernacular translators skip over the last word, thinking that prabhavasthanam, is one word. The commentator notices them as separate. In the beginning of the second line, yatra is understood, Swabhavena, is explained by the commentator as Brahmabhavena, natu vikritena rupena. I think the explanation is correct, and have adopted it accordingly in the text.
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