The Mahabharata Home
"Yudhishthira said, 'Alas, those cruel men, who, discarding diverse kinds of food, covet only flesh, are really like great Rakshasas! Alas, they do not relish diverse kinds of cakes and diverse sorts of potherbs and various species of Khanda with juicy flavour so much as they do flesh! My understanding, for this reason, becomes stupefied in this matter. I think, when such is the case, that, there is nothing which can compare with flesh in the matter of taste, I desire, therefore, O puissant one, to hear what the merits are of abstention from flesh, and the demerits that attach to the eating of flesh, O chief of Bharata's race. Thou art conversant with every duty. Do thou discourse to me in full agreeably to the ordinances on duty, on this subject. Do tell me what, indeed, is edible and what inedible. Tell me, O grandsire, what is flesh, of what substances it is, the merits that attach to abstention from it, and what the demerits are that attach to the eating of flesh.'
"Bhishma said, 'It is even so, O mighty-armed one, as thou sayest. There is nothing on earth that is superior to flesh in point of taste. There is nothing that is more beneficial then flesh to persons that are lean, or weak, or afflicted with disease, or addicted to sexual congress or exhausted with travel. Flesh speedily increases strength. It produces great development. There is no food, O scorcher of foes, that is superior to flesh. But, O delighter of the Kurus, the merits are great that attach to men that abstain from it. Listen to me as I discourse to thee on it. That man who wished to increase his own flesh by the flesh of another living creature is such that there is none meaner and more cruel than he. In this world there is nothing that is dearer to a creature than his life. Hence (instead of taking that valuable possession), one should show compassion to the lives of others as one does to one's own life. Without doubt, O son, flesh has its origin in the vital seed. There is great demerit attaching to its eating, as, indeed, there is merit in abstaining from it. One does not, however, incur any fault by eating flesh sanctified according to the ordinances of the Vedas. The audition is heard that animals were created for sacrifice. They who eat flesh in any other way are said to follow the Rakshasa practice. Listen to me as I tell thee what the ordinance is that has been laid down for the Kshatriyas. They do not incur any fault by eating flesh that has been acquired by expenditure of prowess. All deer of the wilderness were dedicated to the deities and the Pitris in days of old, O king, by Agastya. Hence, the hunting of deer is not censured. There can be no hunting without risk of one's own life. There is equality of risk between the slayer and the slain. Either the animal is killed or it kills the hunter. Hence, O Bharata, even royal sages betake themselves to the practice of hunting. By such conduct they do not become stained with sin. Indeed, the practice is not regarded as sinful. There is nothing, O delighter of the Kurus, that is equal in point of merit, either here or
hereafter, to the practice of compassion to all living creatures. The man of compassion has no fear. Those harmless men that are endued with compassion have both this world and the next. Persons conversant with duty say that that Religion is worthy of being called Religion which has abstention from cruelty for its indication. The man of cleansed soul should do only such acts as have compassion for their soul. That flesh which is dedicated in sacrifices performed in honour of the deities and the Pitris is called Havi (and, as such, is worthy of being eaten). That man who is devoted to compassion and who behaves with compassion towards others, has no fear to entertain from any creature. It is heard that all creatures abstain from causing any fear unto such a creature. Whether he is wounded or fallen down or prostrated or weakened or bruised, in whatever state he may be, all creatures protect him. Indeed, they do so, under all circumstances, whether he is on even or uneven ground. Neither snakes nor wild animals, neither Pisachas nor Rakshasas, ever slay him. When circumstances of fear arise, he becomes freed from fear who frees others from situations of fear. There has never been, nor will there ever be, a gift that is superior to the gift of life. It is certain that there is nothing dearer to oneself than one's life. Death, O Bharata, is a calamity or evil unto all creatures. When the time comes for Death, a trembling of the whole frame is seen in all creatures. Enduring birth in the uterus, decrepitude and afflictions of diverse kinds, in this ocean of the world, living creatures may be seen to be continually going forward and coming back. Every creature is afflicted by death. While dwelling in the uterus, all creatures are cooked in the fluid juices, that are alkaline and sour and bitter, of urine and phlegm and faeces,--juices that produce painful sensations and are difficult to bear. There in the uterus, they have to dwell in a state of helplessness and are even repeatedly torn and pierced. They that are covetous of meat are seen to be repeatedly cooked in the uterus in such a state of helplessness. Attaining to diverse kinds of birth, they are cooked in the hell called Kumbhipaka. They are assailed and slain, and in this way have to travel repeatedly. There is nothing so dear to one as one's life when one comes to this world. Hence, a person of cleansed soul should be compassionate to all living creatures. That man, O king, who abstains from every kind of meat from his birth, without doubt, acquires a large space in Heaven, They who eat the flesh of animals who are desirous of life, are themselves eaten by the animals they eat, without doubt. Even this is my opinion. Since he hath eaten me, I shall eat him in return,--even this, O Bharata, constitutes the character as Mansa of Mansa. 1 The slayer is always slain. After him the eater meets with the same fate. He who acts with hostility towards another (in this life) becomes the victim of
similar acts done by that other. Whatever acts one does in whatever bodies, one has to suffer the consequences thereof in those bodies. 1 Abstention from cruelty is the highest Religion. Abstention from cruelty is the highest self-control. Abstention from cruelty is the highest gift. Abstention from cruelty is the highest penance. Abstention from cruelty is the highest sacrifice. Abstention from cruelty is the highest puissance. Abstention from cruelty is the highest friend. Abstention from cruelty is the highest happiness. Abstention from cruelty is the highest truth. Abstention from cruelty is the highest Sruti. Gifts made in all sacrifices, ablutions performed in all sacred waters, and the merit that one acquires from making all kinds of gifts mentioned in the scriptures,--all these do not come up to abstention from cruelty (in point of the merit that attaches to it). The penances of a man that abstains from cruelty are inexhaustible. The man that abstains from cruelty is regarded as always performing sacrifices. The man that abstains from cruelty is the father and mother of all creatures. Even these, O chief of Kuru's race, are some of the merits of abstention from cruelty. Altogether, the merits that attach to it are so many that they are incapable of being exhausted even if one were to speak for a hundred years."
243:1 Mansa is flesh. This verse explains the etymology of the word, Mam (me) sa; Me he eateth, therefore, I shall eat him. The words following Me he should be supplied in order to get at the meaning.
244:1 The sense is this; one, while endued with a human body injures another, the consequences of that injury the doer will suffer in his human body. One becomes a tiger and slays a deer. The consequences of that act one will have to endure while one becomes reborn as a tiger.
Next: Section CXVII