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"Markandeya continued, 'The pious fowler, O Yudhishthira, then said to that Brahmana, 'Undoubtedly my deeds are very cruel, but, O Brahmana, Destiny is all-powerful and it is difficult to evade the consequence of our past actions. And this is the karmic evil arising out of sin committed in a former life. But, O Brahmana, I am always assiduous in eradicating the evil. The Deity takes away life, the executioner acts only as a secondary agent. And we, O good Brahmana, are only such agents in regard to our
karma. Those animals that are slain by me and whose meat I sell, also acquire karma, because (with their meat), gods and guests and servants are regaled with dainty food and the manes are propitiated. It is said authoritatively that herbs and vegetables, deer, birds and wild animals constitute the food of all creatures. And, O Brahmana, king Sivi, the son of Usinara, of great forbearance attained to heaven, which is hard to reach, giving away his own flesh. And in days of yore, O Brahmana, two thousand animals used to be killed every day in the kitchen of king Rantideva; and in the same manner two thousand cows were killed every day; and, O best of regenerate beings, king Rantideva acquired unrivalled reputation by distributing food with meat every day. For the performance of the fourmonthly rites animals ought to be sacrificed daily. 'The sacred fire is fond of animal food,' this saying has come down to us. And at sacrifices animals are invariably killed by regenerate Brahmanas, and these animals being purged of sin, by incantation of hymns, go to heaven. If, O Brahmana, the sacred fire had not been so fond of animal food in ancient times, it could never have become the food of any one. And in this matter of animal food, this rule has been laid down by Munis:--Whoever partakes of animal food after having first offered it duly and respectfully to the gods and the manes, is not polluted by the act. And such a man is not at all considered to have partaken of animal food, even, as a Brahmacharin having intercoursed with his wife during the menstrual period, is nevertheless considered to be a good Brahmana. After consideration of the propriety and impropriety of the matter, this rule has been laid down. King Saudasa, O Brahmana, when under a curse, often used to prey upon men; what is thy opinion of this matter? And, O good Brahmana, knowing this to be the consequence of my own actions, I obtain my livelihood from this profession. The forsaking of one's own occupation is considered, O Brahmana, to be a sin, and the act of sticking to one's own profession is without doubt a meritorious act. The Karma of a former existence never forsakes any creature. And in determining the various consequences of one's Karma, this rule was not lost sight of by the Creator. A person having his being under the influence of evil Karma, must always consider how he can atone for his Karma, and extricate himself from an evil doom, and the evil Karma may be expiated in various ways. Accordingly, O good Brahmana, I am charitable, truthful, assiduous in attending on my superior, full of respect towards regenerate Brahmanas, devoted to and free from pride and (idle) excessive talk. Agriculture is considered to be a praiseworthy occupation, but it is well-known that even there, great harm is done to animal life; and in the operation of digging the earth with the plough, numberless creatures lurking in the ground as also various other forms of animal life are destroyed. Dost thou not think so? O good Brahmana, Vrihi and other seeds of rice are all living organisms. What is thy opinion on this matter? Men, O Brahmana, hunt wild animals and kill them and partake of their meat; they also cut up trees and herbs; but, O Brahmana, there are numberless living organisms in trees, in fruits, as also in water; dost thou not think so? This whole creation, O Brahmana, is full of animal life, sustaining itself
with food derived from living organisms. Dost thou not mark that fish preys upon fish, and that various species of animals prey upon other species, and there are species the members of which prey upon each other? Men, O Brahmana, while walking about hither and thither, kill numberless creatures lurking in the ground by trampling on them, and even men of wisdom and enlightenment destroy animal life in various ways, even while sleeping or reposing themselves. What hast thou to say to this?--The earth and the air all swarm with living organisms, which are unconsciously destroyed by men from mere ignorance. Is not this so? The commandment that people should not do harm to any creature, was ordained of old by men, who were ignorant of the true facts of the case. For, O Brahmana, there is not a man on the face of this earth, who is free from the sin of doing injury to creatures. After full consideration, the conclusion is irresistible that there is not a single man who is free from the sin of doing injury to animal life. Even the sage, O good Brahmana, whose vow is to do harm to no creature, doth inflict injury to animal life. Only, on account of greater needfulness, the harm is less. Men of noble birth and great qualities perpetrate wicked acts in defiance of all, of which they are not at all ashamed. Good men acting in an exemplary way are not commended by other good men; nor are bad men acting in a contrary way praised by their wicked compeers; and friends are not agreeable to friends, albeit endowed with high qualities; and foolish pedantic men cry down the virtues of their preceptors. This reversal of the natural order of things, O good Brahmana, is seen everywhere in this world. What is thy opinion as to the virtuousness or otherwise of this state of things? There is much that can be said of the goodness or badness of our actions. But whoever is addicted to his own proper occupation surely acquires great reputation.
Next: Section CCVIII