The Mahabharata Home
"Bhishma said, 'In an excellent town called by the name of Mahapadma which was situate on the southern side of the river Ganga, there lived,
O, best of men, a Brahmana of concentrated soul. Born in the race of Atri, he was endued with amiability. All his doubts had been dispelled (by faith and contemplation) and he was well conversant with the path he was to follow. Ever observant of the religious duties, he had his anger under perfect control. Always contented, he was the, complete master of his senses. Devoted to penances and study of the Vedas, he was honoured by all good men. He earned wealth by righteous means and his conduct in all things corresponded with the mode of life he led and the order to which he belonged. The family to which he belonged was large and celebrated. He had many kinsmen and relatives, and many children and spouses. His behaviour was always respectable and faultless. Observing that he had many children, the Brahmana betook himself to the accomplishment of religious acts on a large scale. His religious observances, O king, had reference to the customs of his own family. 1 The Brahmana reflected that three kinds of duties have been laid down for observances. There were first, the duties ordained in the Vedas in respect of the order in which he was born and the mode of life he was leading (viz., a Brahmana in the observance of domesticity). There were secondly, the duties prescribed in the scriptures, viz., those especially called the Dharmasastras. And, thirdly, there were those duties that eminent and revered men of former times have followed though not occurring either in the Vedas or the scriptures. 2 Which of these duties should I follow? Which of them, again, followed by me, are likely to lead to my benefit? Which, indeed, should be my refuge?--Thoughts like these always troubled him. He could not solve his doubts. While troubled with such reflections, a Brahmana of concentrated soul and observant of a very superior religion, came to his house as a guest. The house-holder duly honoured his guest according to those ordinances of worship that are laid down in the scriptures. Beholding his guest refreshed and seated at ease, the host addressed him in the following words."
"The Brahmana said, 'O sinless one, I have become exceedingly attached to thee in consequence of the sweetness of thy conversation. Thou hast become my friend. Listen to me, for I wish to say something unto thee. O foremost of Brahmanas, after making over the duties of a householder to my son, I wish to discharge the highest duties of man.
[paragraph continues] What, O regenerate one, should be my path? Relying upon the Jiva soul, I wish to achieve existence in the one (supreme) soul. Alas, bound up in the ties of attachment, I have not the heart to actually set myself to the accomplishment of that task. 1 And since the best portion of my life has passed away in the observance of domesticity, I desire to devote the remnant of my life in earning the means of defraying the expenses of my journey in respect of the time to come. The desire has arisen in my mind of crossing the ocean of the world. Alas, whence shall I get the raft of religion (with which to accomplish my purposes)? Hearing that even the very deities are persecuted and made to endure the fruits of their acts, and beholding the rows of Yama's standards and flags floating over the heads of all creatures, my heart fails to derive pleasure from the diverse objects of pleasure with which it comes into contact. Beholding also that the Yatis depend for their sustenance upon alms obtained in course of their rounds of mendicancy, I have no respect for the religion of the Yatis as well. O my reverend guest, do thou, aided by that religion which is founded upon the basis of intelligence and reason, set me to the observance of a particular course of duties and observance! 2'
"Bhishma continued, 'Endued with great wisdom, the guest, hearing this speech of his host which was consistent with righteousness, said these sweet words in a melodious voice.'
"The guest said, 'I myself also am confounded with respect to this topic. The same thought occupies my mind. I am unable to arrive at definite conclusions. Heaven has many doors. There are some that applaud Emancipation. Some regenerate persons praise the fruits attainable by the performance of sacrifices. Some there are that take refuge in the forest mode of life. Some, again, betake themselves to the domestic mode of life. Some rely upon the merits attainable by an observance of the duties of kings. Some rely upon the fruits of that culture which consists in restraining the soul. Some think that the merits resulting from a dutiful obedience to preceptors and seniors are efficacious. Some betake themselves to restraints imposed on speech. Some by waiting dutifully upon their mothers and fathers, have gone to heaven. Some have ascended to heaven by practising the duty of compassion, and some by
practising Truth. Some rush to battle, and after laying down their lives, have attained to heaven. Some, again, attaining to success by practising the vow called Unccha, have betaken themselves to the path of heaven. Some have devoted themselves to the study of the Vedas. Endued with auspiciousness and wedded to such study, these men, possessed of intelligence, with tranquil souls, and having their senses under complete control, attain to heaven. Others characterised by simplicity and truth, have been slain by men of wickedness. Endued with pure souls, such men of truth and simplicity, have become honoured denizens of heaven. In this world, it is seen, that men betake themselves to heaven, through a thousand doors of duty, all standing wide open. My understanding has been troubled by thy question, like a fleecy cloud before the wind.'"
204:1 Family customs are always observed with great care. Even when inconsistent with the ordinances of the scriptures, such customs do not lose their binding force. Reprehensible as the sale of a daughter or sister is, the great king Salya, when he bestowed his sister Madri on Pandu, insisted upon taking a sum of money, alleging family custom not only as an excuse but as something that was obligatory. To this day, animals are slain in the sacrifices of many families which follow the Vaishnava faith, the justification being family custom.
204:2 The Vedas are, strictly speaking, not scriptures, for they are heard the scriptures being those ordinances that are written down. Of course, the Vedas have been reduced into writing, but for all that, they continue to be called the Srutis, as the Common Law of England, though reduced into writing, is still called the unwritten law etc. etc.
205:1 Some texts erroneously read sthitah for sthitim. Eka eva atmani sthitim kartum literally rendered, is to achieve existence in the one soul. This means to realise the union of the Jiva-soul with the 'Supreme Soul.' 'Relying upon the Soul I shall try to exist in the one Soul,' in brief, means, I shall try to unite the Jiva with Supreme Soul. The difference between Kankhami and Ichcchemi is well illustrated by the commentator by referring to the case of the man of weak stomach who craves for food of every kind but who does not wish to actually eat from fear of increasing his illness.
205:2 Sattwikani implies the deities and others that are endued with the attribute of Sattwa. Samyujyamanani refers to their births and deaths as deities and men in consequence of the fruits reaped of acts done. Niryyatyamanani is distressed or afflicted in consequence of such birth and deaths'. The rows of Yama's standards and flags refer to the diverse diseases that afflict all creatures.
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