The Mahabharata Home
"Yudhishthira said, 'The three regenerate classes, who are given to sacrifices and other rites, sometimes eat the remnants, consisting of meat and wine, of sacrifices in honour of the deities, from motives of obtaining children and heaven. What, O grandsire, is the character of this act?'
"Bhishma said, 'Those who eat forbidden food without being observant of the sacrifices and vows ordained in the Vedas are regarded as wilful men. (They are regarded as fallen even here). Those, on the other hand, who eat such food in the observance of Vedic sacrifices and vows and induced by the desire of fruits in the shape of heaven and children, ascend to heaven but fall down on the exhaustion of their merits.' 1
"Yudhishthira said, 'Common people say that fasting is tapas (penances). Is fasting, however, really so, or is penance something different?'
"Bhishma said, 'People do regard fast, measured by months or fortnights or days, as penance. In the opinion, however of the good, such is not penance. On the other hand, fast is an impediment to the acquisition of the knowledge of the Soul. 2 The renunciation of acts (that is so difficult for all) and humility (consisting in the worship of all creatures and consideration for them all) constitute the highest penance. That is distinguished above all kinds of penance. He who betakes himself to such penance is regarded as one that is always fasting and that is always leading a life of Brahmacharya. Such a Brahmana will become a Muni always, a deity evermore, and sleepless forever,
and one engaged in the pursuit of virtue only, even if he lives in the bosom of a family. He will become a vegetarian always, and pure for ever. He will become an eater always of ambrosia, and an adorer always of gods and guests. Indeed, he will be regarded as one always subsisting on sacrificial remnants, as one ever devoted to the duty of hospitality, as one always full of faith, and as one ever worshipping gods and guests.'
"Yudhishthira said, 'How can one practising such penance come to be regarded as one that is always fasting or as one that is ever devoted to the vow of Brahmacharya, or as one that is always subsisting upon sacrificial remnants or as one that is ever regardful of guests?'
"Bhishma said, 'He will be regarded as one that is always fasting if he eats once during the day and once during the night at the fixed hours without eating anything during the interval. Such a Brahmana, by always speaking the truth and by adhering always to wisdom, and by going to his wife only in her season and never at other times, becomes a Brahmacharin (celibate). By never eating meat of animals not killed for sacrifice, he will become a strict vegetarian. By always becoming charitable he will become ever pure, and by abstaining from sleep during the day he will become one that is always wakeful. Know, O Yudhishthira, that that man who eats only after having fed his servants and guests becomes an eater always of ambrosia. That Brahmana who never eats till gods and guests are fed, wins, by such abstention, heaven itself. He is said to subsist upon sacrificial remnants, who eats only what remains after feeding the gods, the Pitris, servants, and guests. Such men win numberless regions of felicity in next life. To their homes come, with Brahman himself, the gods and the Apsaras. They who share their food with the deities and the Pitris pass their days in constant happiness with their sons and grandsons and at last, leaving off this body, attain to a very high end.'"
124:1 The reading I adopt is Vrataluvdhah. If, however, the Bengal reading vrataluplah be adopted, the meaning would be "such men are deceived by their vows," the sense being that though acquiring heaven and the other objects of their desire, yet they fall down upon exhaustion of their merit and never attain to what is permanent, viz., emancipation, which is attainable by following the religion of nivritti only.
124:2 The object of Bhishma's two answers is to show that the giving of pain to others (sacrificing animals) is censurable, and the giving of pain to one's own self is equally censurable.
Next: Section CCXXII