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Sunday, January 1, 2017

Markandeya Purana - Maha Bharatha Series 18


Markandeya Purana starts at Section 182 (English version) of Book 3.

When the Pandavas are in exile at the Kamyaka forest, the saint Markandeya arrives at their court soon after Lord Krishna arrives. Markandeya is said to be thousand years old, but looked like he was only 25. Krishna requests Markandeya to instruct everyone present about the “eternal rules of righteous conduct”. At about this time, Narada also arrives and joins the audience.

Yudhishtra starts with a set of questions. “How is it that we are in this exile whereas the evil sons of Dhritarashtra are flourishing? Do men reap the fruits of their actions? If so, what has God to do with it? Do the actions of men follow them only in this life or do they follow them in subsequent births? Is what we experience in this life a consequence of our actions in this life? Or is it from the prior birth? If actions follow men from birth to birth, where do they rest when the person is dead?”

Markandeya says that Brahma, the Lord of lives on earth sprang from the original Source (Brahman) created noble human beings initially. They were of virtuous character, lived for thousands of years and could go back and forth between the celestial sphere and the earth. Over the course of time they were confined to earth only because of their own greed, anger, lust, falsehood and senselessness. They went to the netherworld, suffered and were born again on earth, repeating the same mistakes.

The destiny of every creature is determined by its actions in this world. At the end of this life, accumulated effects of actions stay with the subtle body (sukshma sarira) when the physical body (sthula sarira) is worn away. It enters another body immediately for “it never remains non-existent even for a single moment”. To understand this point, one has to know a little about Samkhya philosophy.

According to this system, when the physical body dies, the 10 subtle principles (five sensory, five organs of action and the mind) stay on as subtle body and enter another physical body. They need to do this until one of two things happen: 1. After repeated births and deaths, gets washed of all karma by acquisitions of true knowledge and merges with the original Source (attains Moksha) or 2. Never attains Moksha and merges naturally with the Source at the end of one cosmic cycle, called Pralaya.

Markandeya says: “Some attain happiness in this world; not in the next. They are those of immense wealth who indulge in worldly pleasures without any other thought. Some attain happiness in the next; but not in this world. They are those who focus on the study of the Vedas and meditation, ascetic in nature while performing their duties even while straining their body, who have subdued their passions and who practice non-violence (ahimsa). Those who attain happiness in this and in the next world are those who practice virtuous and pious lives, earn wealth by virtuous means (dharma) and use it according to dharma in their married life (grahastashrama) by supporting others and performing sacrifices etc. Finally, there are those who do not attain happiness in this or the next world. They do not learn the scriptures, do not practice charity and indulge in all sorts of pleasures".

There is a passage in the story of Atri as told by Markandeya that the co-operation between  Kshatriya and the Brahmana is powerful and is necessary for keeping the social order. It says that the Kshatriya keeps the order, but it is the Brahmana who gives support and power to the kshatriya. They are compared to the fire burning a forest with the help of the wind. The relationship between the ruling class and the priestly class is known in all cultures. The priests gave legitimacy to the kings by being the mediator between the divine and the human.

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