The Mahabharata Home
"Yudhishthira said, 'Tell me, O grandsire, what is beneficial for one that is unconversant with the truths of the scriptures, that is always in doubt, and
that abstains from self-restraint and the other practices having for their object the knowledge of the Soul.'
"Bhishma said, 'Worshipping the preceptor, always waiting reverentially on those that are aged, and listening to the scriptures (when recited by up competent Brahmanas),--these are said to be of supreme benefit (to a person like the one thou hast described). In this connection also is cited the old narrative of the discourse between Galava and the celestial Rishi Narada. Once on a time Galava, desirous of obtaining what was for his benefit, addressed Narada freed from error and fatigue, learned in the scriptures, gratified with knowledge, a thorough master of his senses, and with soul devoted to Yoga, and said, 'Those virtues, O Muni, by the possession of which a person becomes respected in the world, I see, dwell permanently in thee. Thou art freed from error and, as such, it behoveth thee to remove the doubts that fill the minds of men like ourselves that are subject to error and that are unacquainted with the truths of the world. We do not know what we should do, for the declarations of the scriptures generate an inclination for (the acquisition of) Knowledge simultaneously with the inclination for acts. It behoveth thee to discourse to us on these subjects. 1 O illustrious one, the different asramas approve different courses of conduct.--This is beneficial,--This (other) is beneficial--the scriptures exhort us often in this wise. 2 Beholding the followers of the four asramas, who are thus exhorted by the scriptures and who fully approve of what the scriptures have laid down for them, thus travelling in diverse courses, and seeing that ourselves also are equally content with our own scriptures, we fail to understand what is truly beneficial. If the scriptures were all uniform, then what is truly beneficial would have become manifest. In consequence, however, of the scriptures being multifarious, that which is truly beneficial becomes invested with mystery. For these reasons, that which is truly beneficial seems to me to be involved in confusion. Do thou then, O illustrious one, discourse to me on the subject. I have approached thee (for this), O, instruct me!'
"Narada said, 'The Asramas are four in number, O child! All of them serve the purposes for which they have been designed; and the duties they preach differ from one another. Ascertaining them first from well-qualified preceptors, reflect upon them, O Galava! 3 Behold, the announcements of the merits
of those Asramas are varied in respect of their form, divergent in respect of their matter, and contradictory in respect of the observances they embrace. 1 Observed with gross vision, verily, all the Asramas refuse to clearly yield their true intent (which, of course, is knowledge of Self). Others, however, endued with subtle sight, behold their highest end. 2 That which is truly beneficial, and about which there is no doubt, viz., good offices to friends, and suppression of enemies, and the acquisition of the aggregate of three (viz., Religion, Profit, and Pleasure), has been declared by the wise to be supreme excellence. 3 Abstention from sinful acts, constancy of righteous disposition, good behaviour towards those that are good and pious,--these, without doubt, constitute excellence. Mildness towards all creatures, sincerity of behaviour, and the use of sweet words,--these, without doubt, constitute excellence. An equitable apportionment of what one has among the deities, the Pitris, and guests, and adherence to servants,--these, without doubt, constitute excellence. Truthfulness of speech is excellent. The knowledge, however, of truth, is very difficult of acquisition. I say that that is truth which is exceedingly beneficial to creatures. 4 The renunciation of pride, the suppression of heedlessness, contentment, living by one's own self,--these are said to constitute supreme excellence. The study of the Vedas, and of their branches, according to the well-known rules, and all enquiries and pursuits having for their sake the acquisition of knowledge,--these, without doubt, are excellent. One desirous of achieving what is excellent should never enjoy sound and form and taste and touch and scent, to excess and should not enjoy them for their sake alone. Wandering in the night, sleep during the day, indulgence in idleness, roguery, arrogance, excessive indulgence and total abstention from all indulgence in objects of the senses, should be relinquished by one desirous of achieving what is excellent. 5 One should not seek self-elevation by depreciating others. Indeed, one should, by one's merits alone,
seek distinction over persons that are distinguished but never over those that are inferior. Men really destitute of merit and filled with a sense of self-admiration depreciate men of real merit, by asserting their own virtues and affluence. Swelling with a sense of their own importance, these men, when none interferes with them (for bringing them to a right sense of what they are), regard themselves to be superior to men of real distinction. One possessed of real wisdom and endued with real merits, acquires great fame by abstaining from speaking ill of others and from indulging in self-praise. Flowers shed their pure and sweet fragrance without trumpeting forth their own excellence. Similarly, the effulgent Sun scatters his splendours in the firmament in perfect silence. After the same manner those men blaze in the world with celebrity who by the aid of their intelligence, cast off these and similar other faults and who do not proclaim their own virtues. The fool can never shine in the world by bruiting about his own praise. The man, however, of real merit and learning obtains celebrity even if he be concealed in a pit. Evil words, uttered with whatsoever vigour of voice die out (in no time). Good words, uttered however softly, blaze forth in the world. As the Sun shows his fiery form (in the gem called Suryakanta), even so the multitude of words, of little sense, that fools filled with vanity utter, display only (the meanness of) their hearts. For these reasons, men seek the acquisition of wisdom of various kinds. It seems to me that of all acquisitions that of wisdom is the most valuable. One should not speak until one is asked; nor should one speak when one is asked improperly. Even if possessed of intelligence and knowledge, one should still sit in silence like an idiot (until one is asked to speak and asked in proper form). One should seek to dwell among honest men devoted to righteousness and liberality and the observance of the duties of their own order. One desirous of achieving what is excellent should never dwell in a place where a confusion occurs in the duties of the several orders. 1 A person may be seen to live who abstains from all works (for earning the means of his living) and who is well-content with whatever is got without exertion. By living amid the righteous, one succeeds in acquiring pure righteousness. After the same manner, one by living amid the sinful, becomes stained with sin. 2 As the touch of water or fire or the rays of the moon immediately conveys the sensation of cold or heat, after the same manner the impressions of virtue and vice become productive of happiness or misery. They that are eaters of Vighasa eat without taking any notice of the flavours of the edibles placed before them. They, however, that eat carefully discriminating the flavours of the viands prepared for them, should be known as persons still
tied by the bonds of action. 1 The righteous man should leave that place where a Brahmana discourses on duties unto disciples desirous of acquiring knowledge, as based on reasons, of the Soul, but who do not enquire after such knowledge with reverence. 2 Who, however, will leave that spot where exists in its entirety that behaviour between disciples and preceptors which is consistent with what has been laid down in the scriptures? What learned man desirous of respect being paid to himself will dwell in that place where people bruit about the faults of the learned even when such have no foundation to stand upon? 3 Who is there that will not leave that place, like a garment whose end has caught fire, where covetous men seek to break down the barriers of virtue? One should remain and dwell in that place, among good men of righteous disposition, where persons endued with humility are engaged in fearlessly practising the duties of religion. There where men practise the duties of religion for the sake of acquiring wealth and other temporal advantages, one should not dwell, for the people of that place are all to be regarded as sinful. One should fly away with all speed from that place, as if from a room in which there is a snake, where the inhabitants, desirous of obtaining the means of life, are engaged in the practice of sinful deeds. One desirous of what is beneficial should, from the beginning, relinquish that act in consequence of which one becomes stretched, as it were, on a bed of thorn and in consequence of which one becomes invested with the desires born of the deeds of past lives. 4 The righteous man should leave that kingdom where the king and king's officers exercise equal authority and where they are given to the habit of eating before feeding their relatives (when the latter come as guests). 5 One should dwell in that country where Brahmanas possessed of a knowledge of the scriptures are fed first: where they are always devoted to the due observance of religious duties, and where they are engaged in teaching disciples and officiating at the sacrifices of others. One should unhesitatingly dwell in that country where the sounds Swaha, Swadha, and Vashat are duly and continuously uttered. 6 One should leave that kingdom, like poisoned
meat, where one sees Brahmanas obliged to betake themselves to unholy practices, being tortured by want of the means of life. With a contented heart and deeming all his wishes as already gratified a righteous man should dwell in that country whose inhabitants cheerfully give away before even they are solicited. One should live and move about, among good men devoted to acts of righteousness, in that country where chastisement falleth upon those that are wicked and where respect and good offices are the portion of those that are of subdued and cleansed souls. One should unhesitatingly dwell in that country whose king is devoted to virtue and which the king rules virtuously, casting off desires and possessed of prosperity, and where severe chastisement is dealt to those that visit self-controlled men with the consequences of their wrath, those that act wickedly towards the righteous, those that are given to acts of violence, and those that are covetous. 1 Kings endued with such a disposition bring about prosperity to those that dwell in their kingdoms when prosperity is on the point of leaving them. 2 I have thus told thee, O son, in answer to thy enquiry, what is beneficial or excellent. No one can describe, in consequence of its exceedingly high character, what is beneficial or excellent for the Soul. 3 Many and high will the excellences be, through the observance of the duties laid down for him, of the man who for earning his livelihood during the time of his sojourn here conducts himself in the way indicated above and who devotes his soul to the good of all creatures.'" 4
335:1 The scriptures contain both kinds of instruction. There are declarations that are entirely in favour of Acts or observances. There are again declarations in favour of Knowledge. What the speaker asks is that the Rishi should discourse upon what the speaker should do, i.e., whether he should betake himself to the acquisition of Knowledge or to the doing of acts.
335:2 i.e., Each Asrama speaks of particular observances and courses of conduct as beneficial. This, therefore, is a source of confusion to men of plain understandings. Is there no distinction then among duties or observances in respect of their beneficial character? This is the question propounded. The commentator thinks by the word asramas is meant the four principal faiths and not the modes of life.
335:3 I retain the word asrama in the English version as it is very doubtful in what sense it has been used in the original. The commentator explains that by four asramas are meant the four principal forms of creed prevalent at one time in India. The first is that there is no p. 336 such thing as virtue or righteousness. This is ascribed to Sakya Simha or Buddha. The second is that righteousness consists in only the worship of trees, etc. The third is that only is righteousness which the Vedas have laid down. The fourth is that transcending righteousness and its reverse there is something for whose attainment one should strive. Yatha samkalpitah is explained by the commentator as yo yena sreyastena bhavitastasya tadeva sreyah.
336:1 Gunoddesam is Gunakirtanam or the announcement of merits. What Narada says here is this: the asramas are four. The merits of each have been proclaimed by their respective founders. The principal merit each claims is that it leads to knowledge of Self. Now, the announcement is nanarupam; it is also prithak; and lastly, it is viprasthitam or contradictory, for, as the commentator points out, that which a particular asrama announces to be righteous is according to another unrighteous. Both the vernacular translators give incorrect versions.
336:2 Te refers to asramas. Abhipretam is atma-tattwarupam. Yanti is equivalent to prapayanti.
336:3 Mitranam is taken by the commentator to be equivalent to sarva-bhuta-labhayapadanam, i.e., they who have given the pledge of harmlessness to all creatures. By enemies is meant here the envious and harmful.
336:4 In previous Sections the nature of Truth has been discussed. A formal truth may be as sinful as a lie, and a lie may be as meritorious as a Truth. Hence, the ascertainment of Truth is not easy.
336:5 Atiyoga and Ayoga are well-known words which have no chance of being misunderstood p. 337 in the way in which they have been misunderstood by both the vernacular translators. Indeed. K.P. Singha blunders ridiculously, while the Burdwan translator limits them to only the use of food, supposing the commentator's concrete examples exhaust the meaning.
337:1 i.e., where an intermingling takes place of the four orders of men, viz., where Varna-sankara occurs.
337:2 Mere companionship with the righteous leads to righteous acts; while that with the sinful leads to acts of sinfulness.
338:1 Anuvishayam is vishayam anu vartate, i.e., rasah or flavour. An eater of vighasa is a good or pious man. What is said here is that such men eat for only filling their stomachs and not because eating is source of enjoyment or gratification. Atmavishayan is Buddherviseshatovandhakan, i.e., rasa-viseshan.
338:2 Agamayamanam is Agamam pramanajam jnanam atmana ichcchatam.
338:3 Akasasthah is niralamvanah, i.e., men who have no foundations to stand upon. The Bombay text reads dosham, the Bengal texts, doshan; the sense remains unaltered. The Bombay reading is atmapujabhikama, while the Bengal reading is the same word in the plural form. I accept the singular form and take it as qualifying panditah.
338:4 Some of the Bengal texts read khattam. The Bombay reading is khatwam. The commentator explains that khatwam samarudhah Tibra duhkha-grastah. Anusayi means purvakarmavasanavan. The sense seems to be this: the desires born of one's past acts, i.e., acts of previous lives, adhere to the mind. Nothing can wipe them off, save Nivritti and Tattwajnanam or knowledge of truth. One should, therefore, practise the religion of Nivritti and seek to acquire knowledge of Truth.
338:5 Both the vernacular translators quietly skip over the word pratyanantarah.
338:6 i.e., where the people are virtuous and given to the performance of their duties.
Next: Section CCLXXXIX