The Mahabharata Home
"Yudhisthira said, 'I wish to know, O royal sage, whether any fault is incurred by one who from interested or disinterested friendship imparts instructions unto a person belonging to a low order of birth! O grandsire, I desire to hear this, expounded to me in detail. The course of duty is exceedingly subtile. Men are often seen to be stupefied in respect of that course.'
"Bhishma said, 'In this connection, O king, I shall recite to thee, in due order, what I heard certain Rishis say in days of yore. Instruction should not be imparted unto one that belongs to a low or mean caste. It is said that the preceptor who imparts instruction to such a person incurs great fault. Listen to me, O chief of Bharata's race, as I recite to thee, O Yudhishthira, this instance that occurred in days of old, O monarch, of the evil consequences of the imparting of instruction unto a low-born person fallen into distress. The incident which I shall relate occurred in the asylum of certain regenerate sages that stood on the auspicious breast of Himavat. There, on the breast of that prince of mountains, was a sacred asylum adorned with trees of diverse kinds. Overgrown also with diverse species of creepers and plants, it was the resort of many animals and birds. Inhabited by Siddhas and Charanas also, it was exceedingly delightful in consequence of the woods that flowered these at every season. Many were the Brahmacharins that dwelt there, and many belonging to the forest mode of life. Many also were the Brahmanas that took up their residence there, that were highly blessed and that resembled the sun or the fire in energy and effulgence. Ascetics of diverse kinds, observant of various restraints and vows, as also others, O chief of the Bharatas, that had undergone Diksha and were frugal in fare and possessed of cleansed souls, took up their residence there. Large numbers of Valakhilyas and many that were observant of the vow of Sanyasa also, used to dwell there. The asylum, in consequence of all this, resounded with the chanting of the Vedas and the sacred Mantras uttered by its inhabitants. Once upon a time a Sudra endued with compassion for all creatures, ventured to come into that asylum. Arrived at that retreat, he was duly honoured by all the ascetics. Beholding those ascetics of diverse classes that were endued with great energy, that resembled the deities (in purity and power), and that were observing diverse kinds of Diksha, O Bharata, the Sudra became highly pleased at heart. Beholding everything, O chief of Bharata's race, the Sudra felt inclined to
devote himself to the practice of penances. Touching the feet of the Kulapati (the head man of the group), O Bharata, he addressed him saying, 1 'Through thy grace, O foremost of regenerate persons, I desire, to learn (and practise) the duties of religion. It behoveth thee, O illustrious one, to discourse to me on those duties and introduce me (by performing the rites of initiation) into a life of Renunciation. I am certainly inferior in colour, O illustrious one, for I am by caste a Sudra, O best of men. I desire to wait upon and serve you here. Be gratified with me that humbly seek thy shelter.'"
"The Kulapati said, 'It is impossible that a Sudra should live here adopting the marks specially intended for those practising lives of Renunciation. If it pleases thee, thou mayest stay here, engaged in waiting upon and serving us. Without doubt, by such service thou shalt attain to many regions of high felicity.'"
"Bhishma continued, 'Thus addressed by the ascetic, the Sudra began to reflect in his mind, O king, saying, How should I now act? Great is my reverence for those religious duties that lead to merit. Let this, however, be settled, that I shall do what would be for my benefit.' 2 Proceeding to a spot that was distant from that asylum, he made a hut of the twigs and leaves of trees. Erecting also a sacrificial platform, and making a little space for his sleep, and some platforms for the use of the deities, he began, O chief of the Bharatas, to lead a life regulated by rigid observances and vows and to practise penances, abstaining entirely from speech all the while. He began to perform ablutions thrice a day, observe other vows (in respect of food and sleep), make sacrifices to the deities, pour libations on the sacrificial fire, and adore the worship and deities in this way. Restraining all carnal desires, living abstemiously upon fruits and roots, controlling all his senses, he daily welcomed and entertained all that came to his retreat as guests, offering them herbs and fruits that grew plentifully around. In this way he passed a very long time in that hermitage of his. 3 One day an ascetic came to that Sudra's retreat for the purpose of making his acquaintance. The Sudra welcomed and worshipped the Rishi with due rites, and gratified him highly. Endued with great energy, and possessed of a righteous soul, that Rishi of rigid vows conversed with his host on many agreeable subjects and informed him of the place whence he had come. In this way, O chief of the Bharatas, that Rishi, O best of men, came into the asylum of the Sudra times out of a number for the object of seeing him. On one of these occasions, the Sudra, O king, addressing
the Rishi said,--I desire to perform the rites that are ordained for the Pitris. Do thou instruct me kindly in this matter.--Very well,--the Brahmana said in reply unto him, O monarch. The Sudra then, purifying himself by a bath, brought water for the Rishi to wash his feet, and he also brought some Kusa grass, and wild herbs and fruits, and a sacred seat, and the seat called Vrishi. The Vrishi, however, was placed by the Sudra towards the south, with his head turned to the west. Beholding, this and knowing that it was against the ordinance, the Rishi addressed the Sudra, saying,--Place the Vrishi with its head turned towards the East, and having purified thyself, do thou sit with thy face turned towards the north--The Sudra did everything as the Rishi directed. Possessed of great intelligence, and observant of righteousness, the Sudra received every direction, about the Sraddha, as laid down in the ordinance, from that Rishi endued with penances regarding the manner of spreading the Kusa grass, and placing the Arghyas, and as regards the rites to be observed in the matter of the libations to be poured and the food to be offered. After the rites in honour of the Pitris had been accomplished, the Rishi, was dismissed by the Sudra, whereupon he returned to his own abode. 1 After a long time, the whole of which he passed in the practice of such penances and vows, the Sudra ascetic met with his death in those woods. In consequence of the merit he acquired by those practices, the Sudra in the next life, took birth in the family of a great king, and in course of time became possessed of great splendour. The regenerate Rishi also, when the time came, paid his debt in Nature. In his next life, O chief of Bharata's race, he took birth in the family of a priest. It was in this way that those two, viz., that Sudra who had passed a life of penances and that regenerate Rishi who had in kindness given the former some instructions in the matter of the rites performed in honour of the Pitris, became reborn, the one as scion of a royal race and the other as the member of a priestly family. Both of them began to grow and both acquired great knowledge in the usual branches of study. The Brahmana became well versed in the Vedas as also in the Atharvans. 2 In the matter, again of all sacrifices ordained in the Sutras, of that Vedanga which deals with religious rites and observances, astrology and astronomy the reborn Rishi attained great excellence. In the Sankhya philosophy too he began to take great delight. Meanwhile, the reborn Sudra who had become a prince, when his father, the king died, performed his last rites; and after he had purified himself by accomplishing all the obsequial ceremonies, he was installed by the subjects of
his father as their king on his paternal throne. But soon after his own installation as king, he installed the reborn Rishi as his priest. Indeed, having made the Brahmana his priest, the king began to pass his days in great happiness. He ruled his kingdom righteously and protected and cherished all his subjects. Everyday, however, the king on the occasion of receiving benedictions from his priest as also of the performance of religious and other sacred rites, smiled or laughed at him loudly. In this way, O monarch, the reborn Sudra who had become a king, laughed at sight of his priest on numberless occasions. 1 The priest, marking that the king always smiled or laughed whenever he happened to cast his eyes on him, became angry. On one occasion he met the king in a place where there was nobody else. He pleased the king by agreeable discourse. Taking advantage of that moment, O chief of Bharata's race, the priest addressed the king, saying,--'O thou of great splendour, I pray thee to grant me a single boon.'
"The king said, 'O best of regenerate persons, I am ready to grant thee a hundred of boons, what dost thou say then of one only? From the affection I bear thee and the reverence in which I hold thee, there is nothing that I cannot give thee.'
"The priest said, 'I desire to have only one boon, O king, thou hast been pleased with me. Swear that thou wouldst tell me the truth instead of any untruth.'
"Bhishma continued, 'Thus addressed by the priest, O Yudhishthira, the king said unto him--So be it. If what thou wouldst ask me be known to me, I shall certainly tell thee truly. If on the other hand, the matter be unknown to me, I shall not say anything.'
"The priest said, 'Every day, on occasions of obtaining my benedictions, when, again, I am engaged in the performance of religious rites on thy behalf, on occasions also of the Homa and other rites of propitiation, why is it that thou laughest upon beholding me? Seeing thee laugh at me on all occasions, my mind shrinks with shame. I have caused thee to swear, O king, that thou wouldst answer me truly. It does not behove thee to say what is untrue. There must be some grave reason for thy behaviour. Thy laughter cannot be causeless. Great is my curiosity to know the reason. Do thou speak truly unto me.'
"The king said, 'When thou hast addressed me in this strain, O regenerate one, I am bound to enlighten thee, even if the matter be one that should not be divulged in thy hearing. I must tell thee the truth. Do thou listen to me with close attention, O regenerate one. Listen to me, O foremost of twice-born persons, as I disclose to thee what happened (to us) in our former births. I remember that birth. Do thou listen to me with concentrated mind. In my former life I was a Sudra employed
in the practice of severe penances. Thou, O best of regenerate persons, wert a Rishi of austere penances. O sinless one, gratified with me, and impelled by the desire of doing me good, thou, O Brahmana, wert pleased to give me certain instructions in the rites I performed (on one occasion) in honour of my Pitris. The instructions thou gayest me were in respect of the manner of spreading the Vrishi and the Kusa blades and of offering libations and meat and other food to the manes, O foremost of ascetics. In consequence of this transgression of thine thou hast taken birth as a priest, and I have taken birth as a king, O foremost of Brahmanas. Behold the vicissitudes that Time brings about. Thou hast reaped this fruit in consequence of thy having instructed me (in my former birth). It is for this reason, O Brahmana, that I smile at sight of thee, O foremost of regenerate persons. I do not certainly laugh at thee from desire of disregarding thee. Thou art my preceptor. 1 At this change of condition I am really very sorry. My heart burns at the thought. I remember our former births, hence do I laugh at sight of thee. Thy austere penances were all destroyed by the instructions thou gayest me. Relinquishing thy present office of priest, do thou endeavour to regain a superior birth. Do thou exert so that thou mayst not obtain in thy next life a birth meaner than thy present one. Take as much wealth as thou wishest. O learned Brahmana, and cleanse thy soul, O best of men.'
"Bhishma continued, 'Dismissed by the king (from the office of priest), the Brahmana made many gifts, unto persons of his own order, of wealth and land and villages. He observed many rigid and severe vows as laid down by the foremost of Brahmanas. He sojourned to many sacred waters and made many gifts unto Brahmanas in those places. Making gifts of kine unto persons of the regenerate order, his soul became cleansed and he succeeded in acquiring a knowledge of it. Repairing to that very asylum whither he had lived in his former birth, he practised very severe penances. As the consequence of all this, O foremost of kings, that Brahmana succeeded in attaining to the highest success. He became an object of veneration with all the ascetics that dwelt in that asylum. In this way, O best of monarchs, that regenerate Rishi fell into great distress. Unto Sudras, therefore, the Brahmanas should never give instructions. Hence, O king, the Brahmana should avoid imparting instructions (to such as are low-born), for it was by imparting instruction to a low-born person a Brahmana came to grief. O best of kings, the Brahmana should never desire to obtain instruction from, or impart instruction to, a person that belongs to the lowest order. Brahmanas and Kshatriyas and Vaisyas, the three orders, are regarded as twice-born. By imparting instruction unto these, a Brahmana does not incur any fault. They, therefore, that are good, should never discourse on any subject, for imparting any instruction, before persons of the inferior order. The course of morality is exceedingly subtile and incapable of being comprehended
by persons of uncleansed souls. It is for this reason that ascetics adopt the vow of silence, and being respected by all, pass through Diksha (initiation) without indulging in speech. 1 For fear of saying what is incorrect or what may offend, ascetics often forego speech itself. Even men that are righteous and possessed of every accomplishment, and endued with truth and simplicity of behaviour, have been known to incur great fault in consequence of words spoken improperly. Instruction should never be imparted on anything unto any person. If in consequence of the instructions imparted, the instructed commit any sin, that sin, attaches to the Brahmana who imparted the instruction. The man of wisdom, therefore, that desires to earn merit, should always act with wisdom. That instruction which is imparted in barter for money always pollutes the instructor. 2 Solicited by others, one should say only what is correct after settling it with the aid of reflection. One should impart instruction in such a way that one may, by imparting it, earn merit. I have thus told thee everything respecting the subject of instructions. Very often persons become plunged into great afflictions in consequence of imparting instructions. Hence it is meet that one should abstain from giving instruction unto others.'"
26:1 Tapasye is Tapah karishye. There being no indirect narration in Sanskrit, such forms cannot be helped. A Kulapati is an ascetic that owns ten thousand ascetics for his disciples, Kanwa, the foster-father of Sakuntala, was a Kulapati.
26:2 i.e. renouncing service which is the duty ordained for person of his order, he desired to betake himself to universal Renunciation or Sanyasa, without, however, the lingam or marks of that vow.
26:3 Sankalpa-niyamopetah means Sankalpasya nigraha, of chittavritti nirodha; tena upetah.
27:1 No Brahmana, the scriptures declare, should ever assist a Sudra in the performance of his religious or Pitri rites. Those Brahmanas that violate this injunction fall away from their superior position. They are condemned as Sudra-yajins. Here the Rishi, by only giving directions to the Sudra as to how the Pitri rites were to be performed, became a Sudra-yajin. There are many families to this day whose status has been lowered in consequence of such or similar acts of indiscretion on the part of their ancestors.
27:2 Atharva Veda Veda cha implies that the Atharvans were not generally included under the term Veda by which the first three Vedas only were meant.
28:1 Punyaha-vachana is a peculiar rite. The priest or some other Brahmana is invited. Gifts are then made to him, and he utters benedictions in return upon the giver. Yudhishthira used to invite every day a large number of Brahmanas and make them very valuable presents for obtaining their benedictions.
29:1 Or rather, superior. Guru is used to denote any senior as well as preceptor.
30:1 The Diksha is that rite which one passes through by way of preparation for those sacrifices and vows that one seeks to perform.
30:2 Satyanrite is equivalent to trade or barter.
Next: Section XI