The Mahabharata Home
"Yudhishthira said, 'Time, that is fraught, with terror unto all creatures, is running his course. What is that source of good after which one should strive? Tell me this, O grandsire!'
"Bhishma said, 'In this connection is cited the old narrative of a discourse between a sire and a son. Listen to it, O Yudhishthira! Once on a time, O son of Pritha, a regenerate person devoted only to the study of the Vedas had a very intelligent son who was known by the name of Medhavin. Himself conversant with the religion of Emancipation, the, son one day asked his father who was not conversant with that religion and who was engaged in following the precepts of the Vedas, this question.'
"The son said, 'What should a man of intelligence do, O sire, knowing that the period of existence allotted to men runs fast away? Tell me this truly and in proper order, O father, so that, guided by thy instructions I may set myself to the acquisition of virtue.'
"The sire said, 'Having studied the Vedas all the while observing the duties
of Brahmacharya, O son, one should then desire for offspring for the sake of rescuing one's sires. Having established one's fire then and performing the sacrifices that are ordained, one should then retire into the woods and (having lived as a forest-recluse) one should then become a Muni (by casting off everything and calmly waiting for dissolution).'
"The son said, 'When the world is thus assailed and thus besieged on all sides, and when such irresistible (bolts) are falling in every direction, how can you speak so calmly?'
"The sire said, 'How is the world assailed? By what is it besieged? What are those irresistible bolts that are falling on every side? Dost thou frighten me with thy words?'
"The son said, 'The world is assailed by Death. It is besieged by what is it besieged? What are those irresistible bolts that are falling on every side? Dost thou frighten me with thy words?'
"The son said, 'The world is assailed by Death. It is besieged by Decrepitude. Days and Nights are continually falling (like bolts). Why do you not take heed of these? When I know that Death does not wait here for any one (but snatches all away suddenly and without notice), how can I possibly wait (for his coming) thus enveloped in a coat of Ignorance and (heedlessly) attending to my concerns? When as each night passes away the period of every one's life wears away with it, when, indeed, one's position is similar to that of a fish in a piece of shallow water, who can feel happy? Death encounters one in the very midst of one's concerns, before the attainment of one's objects, finding one as unmindful as a person while engaged in plucking flowers. 1 That which is kept for being done tomorrow should be done today; and that which one thinks of doing in the afternoon should be done in the forenoon. Death does not wait, mindful of one's having done or not done one's acts. Do today what is for thy good (without keeping it for tomorrow). See that Death, who is irresistible, may not overcome thee (before you accomplish thy acts). Who knows that Death will not come to one this very day? Before one's acts are completed, Death drags one away. One should, therefore, commence to practise virtue while one is still young (without waiting for one's old age). for life is uncertain. By acquiring virtue one is sure to eternal happiness both here and hereafter. Overpowered by folly one girds up one's loins for acting on behalf of one's sons and wives. By accomplishing acts foul or fair, one gratifies these (relatives). Him possessed of sons and animals, and with mind devotedly attached to them, Death seizes and runs away like a tiger bearing away a sleeping deer. 2 While one is still engaged
in winning diverse objects of desire, and while still unsatiated with one's enjoyment, Death seizes one and runs away like a she-wolf seizing a sheep and running away with it. 'This has been done',--'this remains to be done',--'this other is half done',--one may say thus to oneself; but Death, unmindful of one's desire to finish one's unfinished acts, seizes and drags one away. One that has not yet obtained the fruit of what one has already done, amongst those attached to action, one busied with one's field or shop or house, Death seizes and carries away. The weak, the strong; the wise, the brave, the idiotic, the learned, or him that has not yet obtained the gratification of any of his desires, Death seizes and bears away. Death, decrepitude, disease, sorrow, and many things of a similar kind, are incapable of being avoided by mortals. How, then, O father, canst thou sit so at thy ease? As soon as a creature is born, Decrepitude and Death come and possess him for his destruction. All these forms of existence mobile and immobile, are possessed by these two (viz., Decrepitude and Death). When the soldiers that compose Death's army are on their march, nothing can resist them, except that one thing, viz., the power of Truth, for in Truth alone Immortality dwells. The delight that one feels of residing in the midst of men is the abode of Death. The Sruti declares that that which is called the forest is the true fold for the Devas, while the delight one feels in dwelling in the midst of men is, as it were, the cord for binding the dweller (and making him helpless). 1 The righteous cut it and escape. The sinful do not succeed in cutting it (and freeing themselves). He who does not injure other creatures in thought, word and deed, and who never injures others by taking away their means of sustenance, is never injured by any creature. 2 For these reasons, one should practise the vow of truth, be steadily devoted to the vow of truth, and should desire nothing but the truth. Restraining all one's senses and looking upon all creatures with an equal eye, one should vanquish Death with the aid of Truth. Both Immortality and Death are planted in the body. Death is encountered from folly, and Immortality is won by Truth. Transcending desire and wrath, and abstaining from injury, I shall adopt Truth and happily achieving what is for my good, avoid Death like an Immortal. Engaged in the Sacrifice that is constituted by Peace, and employed also in the Sacrifice of Brahma, and restraining my senses, the Sacrifices I shall perform are those of speech, mind, and acts, when the sun enters his northerly course. 3 How can one like me perform an Animal Sacrifice which is fraught with cruelty?
[paragraph continues] How can one like me, that is possessed of wisdom, perform like a cruel Pisacha, a Sacrifice of Slaughter after the manner of what is laid down for the Kshatriyas,--a Sacrifice that is, besides, endued with rewards that are terminable? In myself have I been begotten by my own self. O father, without seeking to procreate offspring, I shall rest myself on my own self. I shall perform the Sacrifice of Self, I need no offspring to rescue me. 1 He whose words and thoughts are always well-restrained, he who has Penances and Renunciation, and Yoga, is sure to attain to everything through these. There is no eye equal to Knowledge. There is no reward equal to Knowledge. There is no sorrow equal to attachment. There is no happiness equal to Renunciation. For a Brahmana there can be no wealth like residence in solitude, an equal regard for all creatures, truthfulness of speech, steady observance of good conduct, the total abandonment of the rod (of chastisement), simplicity, and the gradual abstention from all acts. 2 What need hast thou with wealth and what need with relatives and friends, and what with spouses? Thou art a Brahmana and thou hast death to encounter. Search thy own Self that is concealed in a cave. Whither have thy grandsires gone and whither thy sire too?' 3
"Bhishma said, 'Hearing these words of his son, the sire acted in the way that was pointed out, O king! Do thou also act in the same way, devoted to the religion of Truth.'"
287:1 All Brahmanas have to pluck flowers in the morning for offering them to the deities they worship. The task takes many minutes, because a good many have to be plucked for the purpose. This being a daily occupation and they going as they do to places where flowers abound, the act of plucking goes on while the plucker is mentally engaged with other things.
287:2 The Bengal reading sputam vyaghro mrigamiva, etc. is preferable to the Bombay reading sputam vyaghram mahaughova. If the Bombay reading be accepted, the meaning would be 'Him Death snatches away as a mighty wave sweeps away a sleeping tiger.' The idea of a sleeping tiger being swept away by a surging wave is very unfamiliar.
288:1 Devas here evidently refer to the senses. The senses are, as it were, cattle. Their true fold is the forest and not peopled cities and towns. In the forest there are no temptations to try them as in the midst of cities and towns.
288:2 Jivitarthapanayenaih is connected with hinsati. To take it (as the Burdwan translator does) as an adjective qualifying 'pranibhih' would be incorrect.
288:3 The Sacrifice of Peace is opposed to the Sacrifice of Slaughter. The Sacrifice of Brahma is Yoga which leads to a knowledge of the Soul. The Sacrifice of Speech is Vedic recitation or Japa. The Sacrifice of Mind is contemplation, and that of Acts is baths, performance of other acts of purity, waiting dutifully upon the preceptor, etc.
289:1 To perform the Sacrifice of Self is to merge the Soul in the Supreme Soul.
289:2 The Bombay reading danda-vidhanam is a blunder for the Bengal reading danda nidhanam. To interpret vidhanam as equivalent to abandonment or giving up, by taking the prefix vi, in the sense of vigata would be an act of violence to the word.
289:3 The guha or cave referred to is the body.
Next: Section CCLXXVIII