The Mahabharata Home
"Yudhishthira said, 'Which of these, O grandsire, viz., kinsmen, or acts, or wealth, or wisdom should be the refuge of a person? Questioned by me, answer me this!'
"Bhishma said, 'Wisdom is the refuge of creatures. Wisdom is regarded as the highest of acquisitions. Wisdom is the highest felicity in the world. Wisdom is heaven in the estimation of the good and virtuous. It was through wisdom that Vali, Prahlada, Namuchi, and Manki, when they lost their (earthly) prosperity, succeeded in acquiring felicity. What is there that is superior to wisdom? In this connection is cited the old story of the discourse between Indra and Kasyapa. Listen to it, O Yudhishthira! Once on a time a prosperous Vaisya, in the enjoyment of prosperity, and proud of his affluence, threw down, by negligently driving his car, a Rishi's son of rigid vows named Kasyapa, devoted to penances. Prostrated on the ground, the young man, in exceeding pain, gave way to his wrath; and under the influence of despair resolved, saying, 'I shall cast off my life. A poor man has no need of life in this world.' While the Brahmana was lying in that state, silent and agitated, deprived of energy and at the point of death, Indra appeared on the scene in the form of a jackal and addressing him, said, 'All (inferior) creatures covet birth in the human race. Among men again, the status of a Brahmana is much desired. Thou, O Kasyapa, art a human being! Amongst human beings, thou art again a Brahmana. Among Brahmanas, thou art again one that is conversant with the Vedas. Having obtained that which is attainable with very great difficulty, it behoveth thee not to give up life from folly! All kinds Of (worldly) acquisitions are fraught with pride. The declaration of the Srutis in that respect is perfectly true. Thou lookest the picture of contentment.
[paragraph continues] In forming such a resolve (which is so derogatory of thy own self) about casting off thy life, thou actest from cupidity! O, they are crowned with success that have hands! I eagerly wish for the status of those creatures that have hands! We covet hands as eagerly as you covet riches. There is no acquisition that is more valuable than the acquisition of hands. Behold, O Brahmana, I cannot extract this thorn that has entered my body, or crush these insects and worms that are biting and afflicting me greatly! They that have bestowed upon them two hands with ten fingers, succeed in throwing away or crushing the worms (by scratching) that bite their limbs. They succeed in constructing shelters for themselves from rain, cold, and heat. They succeed also in enjoying excellent clothes for themselves, good food, comfortable beds, and excellent habitations. Lying on this Earth, they that have hands enjoy kine and other animals and cause them to carry burthens or drag their vehicles, and by the aid of diverse means bring those animals under sway (for their own purposes). Those living creatures that are without tongues, that are helpless, of little strength, and destitute of hands, bear all the several kinds of misery (indicated above). By good luck, O ascetic, thou art not like them. By good luck, thou art not a jackal, nor a worm, nor a mouse, nor a frog, nor an animal of any other miserable order. With this measure of gain (that thou hast won), thou shouldst, O Kasyapa, be contented! How happy, again, shouldst thou feel at the thought that amongst living creatures thou art a superior Brahmana! These worms are biting me! For want of hands I am unable to drive them off. Behold this my miserable plight! I do not cast off life because to do so is a very sinful act, and lest, indeed, I fall into a more miserable order of existence! This order of existence, viz., that of a jackal, to which I now belong is rather tolerable. Miserable as it is, there are many orders of existence below it that are more miserable still. By birth certain classes of creatures become happier than others who become subject to great woe. But I never see that there is any order of being which can be said to be in the possession of perfect happiness. Human beings, obtaining affluence, next wish for sovereignty. Having achieved sovereignty their next wish is for the status of gods. Having won that status they then wish for the chiefdom of the celestials. If thou becomest affluent, thou wilt never succeed in becoming a king (for thou art a Brahmana by birth), nor in becoming a god (because, in reality, thy status of Brahmanahood is equal if not superior to that of a god). If by any means (led away by the alluring prospect of heavenly bliss) thou becomest a god (instead of attaining to a superior position), thou wilt then covet for the chiefdom of the gods. In no condition wilt thou be contented. Contentment does not result from acquisition of desirable objects. Thirst is never slaked although there is profusion of water. 1 The thirst for acquisition only blazes up with each fresh acquisition like a fire with new faggots thrown into it. In thee there is grief. But joy also dwells in thee. Both happiness and misery dwell in thee. Why then shouldst thou
yield to grief? One should shut up, like birds in a cage, the very springs, viz., the understanding and the senses of, all one's desires and acts. There can be no cutting of a second head, nor of a third hand. That which does not exist can produce no fear. One that is not acquainted with the enjoyment a certain object affords, never feels a desire for that object. Desires arise from the actual experience of the pleasures that touch or sight, or hearing gives. Thou hast no idea of the taste of the wine called Varuni or of the meat of the birds called Ladwaka. There is no drink and no food more delicious than these. Thou hast no idea also, O Kasyapa, of every other superior kind of drink and food that exists among men, for thou hast never tasted it. Without doubt, therefore, not to taste, not to see, should be the vow of a man if he is to win happiness. Creatures that have hands, without doubt, become strong and earn wealth. Men are reduced by men to a state of servitude, and are repeatedly afflicted (at the hands of their own species) with death, imprisonment, and other tortures. Although such is their condition, yet even they (without yielding to grief) laugh and sport and indulge in merriment. Others again, though endued with might of arms, and possessed of knowledge and great energy of mind, follow censurable, sinful, and miserable professions. They seek to change such professions for other pursuits (that are more dignified) but then they are bound by their own acts (of a previous life) and by the force of Destiny. The vilest man of the Pukkasa or the Chandala orders never wishes to cast off his life. He is quite contented with the order of his birth. Behold the illusion in this respect! Beholding those amongst thy species that are destitute of arms, or struck with palsy, or afflicted with other diseases, thou canst regard thyself as very happy and possessed of valuable accompaniments amongst the members of thy own order. If this thy regenerated body remains safe and sound, and free from disease, and all thy limbs remain perfect, thou art sure of never incurring any reproach amongst men. It would not behove thee, O Brahmana, to cast off thy life even if any blame, founded on fact and capable of bringing about thy dismissal from caste, attached to thee! Rise, and practise virtue. It is not meet that thou shouldst throw away thy life! If, O regenerate one, thou listen to me and place credence on my words, thou wilt then obtain the highest reward of the religion inculcated in the Vedas. Do thou set thyself to Vedic studies, and duly maintain thy sacred fire, and observe truth, and self-restraint, and charity. Never compare thyself boastfully with another. They who, by devoting themselves to the study of the Vedas, become competent for performing sacrifices for themselves and others, have no need to indulge in any kind of regret or fear any kind of evil. They that are born under an auspicious constellation on an auspicious lunation and at an auspicious hour, strive their best for performing sacrifices, practising charity, and procreating children, and desiring to pass their time cheerfully in those acts, at last win very great happiness. 1 They, on the other hand, that are born
under evil constellations, inauspicious lunations, and at evil hours, become destitute of sacrifices and progeny and at last fall into the Asura order. 1 In my former life I had much useless learning. I always sought for reasons and had very little faith. I was a slanderer of the Vedas. I was destitute of the (fourfold) objects of life, and was devoted to that science of argumentation which is based upon ocular or tangible proofs. 2 I used to utter words based on (plausible) reasons. Indeed, in assemblies, I always spoke of reasons (and never faith). I used to speak irreverently of the declarations of the Srutis and address Brahmanas in domineering tones. I was an unbeliever, skeptical of everything, and though really ignorant, proud of my learning. This status of a jackal that I have obtained in this life is the consequence, O regenerate one, of those sins of mine! If even after hundreds of days and nights I that am a jackal can once again obtain the status of humanity, I shall then pass my life in contentment, heedful of the true objects of existence, and engaged in sacrifices and gifts. I shall then know what should be known, and avoid what should be avoided!' Thus addressed, the ascetic Kasyapa, rising up, said, 'O, thou art certainly possessed of knowledge and great intelligence! I am really surprised at all this!' With eyes whose vision was extended by knowledge, the Brahmana then beheld that being who had addressed him to be Indra, chief of the gods and the lord of Sachi. Kasyapa then worshipped that god having the best of steeds for the animal that bore him. Receiving afterwards the god's permission, the Brahmana returned to his abode.'"
18:1 The meaning is that even copious drafts do not slake thirst permanently, for after being slaked, it is sure to return.
19:1 In the Bengal texts, 44 is made a triplet. The correct reading, however, is to take 44 as a couplet and 45 as a triplet. Nilakantha points out that Icchantaste, etc., is grammatically connected with 45.
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