The Mahabharata Home
Vaisampayana said, "Vyasa then dispelled the grief of the eldest son of Pandu., who, burning with sorrow on account of the slaughter of his kinsmen, had resolved to make an end of himself."
Vyasa said, 'In this connection is cited the old story, O tiger among men, that is known by the name of Asma's discourse. Listen to it, O Yudhishthira! Janaka the ruler of the Videhas, O king, filled with sorrow and grief, questioned a wise Brahmana of the name of Asma for the resolution of his doubts.'
"Janaka said, 'How should a man desirous of his own good behave upon occasions of the accession and the destruction of both kinsmen and wealth?'
"Asma said, 'Immediately after the formation of a man's body, joys and griefs attach themselves to it. Although there is a possibility of either of the two overtaking the person, yet whichever actually overtakes him quickly robs him of his reason like the wind driving away gathering clouds. (In times of prosperity) one thinks in this strain, viz., 'I am of high birth! I can do whatever I like!--I am not an ordinary man!' His mind becomes soaked with such triple vanity. Addicted to all earthly enjoyments, he begins to waste the wealth hoarded by his ancestors. Impoverished in course of time, he regards the appropriation of what belongs to others as even laudable. Like a hunter piercing a deer with his shafts, the king then punishes that wicked wight that robber of other people's possessions, that transgressor of law and rule. Without attaining to a hundred years (the usual period of human life), such men scarcely live beyond twenty or thirty years. Carefully observing the behaviour of all creatures, a king should, by the exercise of his intelligence, apply remedies for alleviating the great sorrows of his subjects. The causes of all mental sorrow are two, viz., delusion of the mind and the accession of distress. No third cause exists. All these diverse kinds of woe as also those arising from attachment to earthly enjoyments, that overtake man, are even such. 1 Decrepitude and Death, like a pair of wolves, devour all creatures, strong or weak, short or tall. No man can escape decrepitude and death, not even the subjugator of the whole earth girt by the sea. Be it happiness or be it sorrow that comes upon creatures., it should be enjoyed or borne without elation or depression. There is no method of escape from them. The evils of life, O king, overtake one in early or middle or old age. They can never he avoided, while those (sources of bliss) that are coveted never come. 2 The absence, of what is agreeable, the presence of what is disagreeable, good and evil, bliss and woe, follow Destiny. Similarly, the birth of creatures and their death, and the accessions of gain and loss, are all pre-ordained. Even as scent, colour, taste, and touch spring naturally, happiness and misery arise from what has been pre-ordained. Seats and beds and vehicles, prosperity and drink and food, ever approach leaving creatures according to Time's course. 3 Physicians even get ill. The strong become weak. They that are in the enjoyment of prosperity lose all and become indigent. The course of Time is very wonderful. High birth, health, beauty, prosperity, and objects of enjoyment, are all won through Destiny. The indigent, although they may not desire it, have many children. The affluent again are seen to be childless. Wonderful is the course of Destiny. The evils caused by disease, fire, water, weapons, hunger, poison, fever, and death, and falls from high places, overtake a man according to the Destiny under which he is born. It is seen in this world that somebody without sinning, suffers diverse ills, while another, having
sinned, is not borne down by the weight of calamity. It is seen that somebody in the enjoyment of wealth perishes in youth; while some one that is poor drags on his existence, borne down by decrepitude, for a hundred years. One borne in an ignoble race may have a very long life, while one sprung from a noble line perishes soon like an insect. In this world, it is very common that persons in affluent circumstances have no appetite, while they that are indigent can digest chips of wood. Impelled by destiny, whatever sins the man of wicked soul, discontented with his condition, commits, saying, 'I am the doer,' he regards to be all for his good. Hunting, dice, women, wine, brawls, these are censured by the wise. Many persons, however, possessed of even extensive knowledge of the scriptures are seen to be addicted to them. Objects, whether coveted or otherwise, come upon creatures in consequence of Time's course. No other cause can be traced. Air, space, fire, moon, sun, day, night, the luminous bodies (in the firmament), rivers, and mountains,--who makes them and who supports them? Cold, and heat, and rain, come one after another in consequence of Time's course. It is even so, O bull among men, with the happiness and the misery of mankind. Neither medicines, nor incantations, can rescue the man assailed by decrepitude or overtaken by death. As two logs of wood floating on the great ocean, come together and are again (when the time comes) separated, even so creatures come together and are again (when the time comes) separated. Time acts equally towards those men that (are in affluent circumstances and that) enjoy the pleasures of song and dance in the company of women and those helpless men that live upon the food that others supply. In this world a thousand kinds of relationship are contracted, such as mother and father and son and wife. In reality, however, whose are they and whose are we? No one can become anyone's own, nor can anyone become anybody else's own. Our union herewith wives and kinsfolk and well-wishers is like that of travellers at a road-side inn. Where am I? Where shall go? Who am I? How come I here! What for and whom I grieve? Reflecting on these questions one obtains tranquillity. Life and its environments are constantly revolving like a wheel, and the companionship of those that are dear is transitory. The union with brother, mother, father, and friend is like that of travellers in an inn. Men of knowledge behold, as if with corporeal eyes, the next world that is unseen. Without disregarding the scriptures, one desirous of knowledge should have faith. One possessed of knowledge should perform the rites laid down in respect of the Pitris and the gods, practise all religious duties, perform sacrifices, judiciously pursue virtue, profit, and pleasure. Alas, no one understands that the world is sinking on the ocean of Time that is so very deep and that is infested with those huge crocodiles called decrepitude and death. Many physicians may be seen afflicted with all the members of their families, although they have carefully studied the science of Medicine. 1 Taking bitters and diverse kinds of oily drugs, these succeed not in escaping death, like ocean in transcending its continents. Men well-versed in chemistry, notwithstanding chemical compounds applied
judiciously, are seen to be broken down by decrepitude like trees broken down by elephants. Similarly, persons possessed of ascetic merit, devoted to study of the Vedas, practising charity, and frequently performing sacrifices, succeed not in escaping decrepitude and death. As regards all creatures that have taken birth, neither years, nor months, nor fortnights, nor days, nor nights, that have once passed, do ever return. Man, whose existence is so transitory, is forced, in course of Time, whether he will or not, to come upon this inevitable and broad path that has to be trodden by every creature. 1 Whether the body springs from the creature or the creature springs from the body, one's union however, with wives and other friends is like that of travellers in an inn. 2 one cannot obtain a lasting companionship with anyone. One cannot obtain such companionship with one's own body. How then it can be had with anyone else? Where, O king, is thy sire today and where thy grandsire? Thou beholdst them not today and they do not behold thee. O sinless one! No person can see either heaven or hell. The scriptures, however, are the eyes of the virtuous. O king, frame thy conduct according to the scriptures. What pure heart, one should practise first the vow of Brahmacharya and then beget children and then perform sacrifices, for paying off the debt one owes to the Pitris, the gods, and men. Performing sacrifices and engaged in procreating (children), after having first observed the vow of Brahmacharya, one who bath wisdom for his eyes, casting off all anxiety of heart, should pay court to heaven, this world, and his own soul. 3 That king bent upon the practice of virtue who strives judiciously for acquiring Heaven and Earth and who takes of earthly goods just what is ordained (as the king's share) in the scriptures, wins a reputation that spread over all the worlds and among all creatures, mobile and immobile. The ruler of the Videhas, of clear understanding, having heard these words full of reason, become freed from grief, and taking Asma's leave proceeded towards his abode, O thou of unfading glory, cast off thy grief and rise up. Thou art equal to Sakra himself. Suffer thy soul to be gladdened. The earth has been won by thee in the exercise of Kshatriya duties. Enjoy her, O son of Kunti, and do not disregard my words.'"
51:1 Even such i.e., spring from such causes.
51:2 Man covets freedom from decay and immortality, but instead of obtaining what he covets for, decay and death become his portion on Earth.
51:3 i.e., these appear and disappear in the course of Time.
52:1 Literally, the science of Life.
53:1 This inevitable and broad path is the path of Life. What is said here is that every creature is subject to birth.
53:2 The first line of this verse refers to the disputed question of whether the body exists independent of life, or the creature exists independent of the body. This is much disputed by Hindu philosophers. The gross body may be dissolved, but the linga sarira (composed of the subtlest elements) exists as a cause for the unborn Soul. This is maintained by many.
53:3 Param here is explained by Nilakantha as Paramatma. Pay court i.e., seek to obtain and enjoy them.
Next: Section XXIX