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Saturday, December 23, 2017

Vyasa’s Questions: Maha Bharatha Series 58

In Book 12, Section 32 Vyasa asks some rhetorical questions. Are we human the doers or is He the doer? Is everything that happens the result of chance or of human effort? If man acts urged by the Supreme, should not the results of those actions, sin and all, belong to Him? If a person cuts tree with an axe, is the axe to be blamed? If axe is the material cause, should the maker of the axe get some blame? If there is no one to judge and punish, man can get away with anything. Man is the agent of all his good and bad acts and he is driven by Destiny and his Karma.

He then asks Yudhishtra, “If you think that there is no destiny, but only chance, how do you explain this horrible war? Can you see the events that led up to this war and truly believe they all happened by chance? It is the repeated sinful acts of the Kauravas that led up to it”. The implication is that they were driven by destiny and past karma. He asks Yudhishtra to take up the kingdom he won rightly and perform his dharma, even though many things he had to do were reproachable.

Just like the emphasis on destiny and karma, there is also emphasis on ritualistic repentance (expiation) and placation. Vyasa says that Yudhishtra should perform these expiatory ceremonies after taking up the kingdom to save himself from the sins of war. Vyasa also points out how if he does not take up the wealth he will not able to make those expiations and he will carry the sin. Later in sections 32 to 36, Vyasa lists a variety of acts which will be called “sins” and also how to atone for them.

Section 37 is a recount of Manu’s discourse on what should and should not be done. Some passages  comment on “what is sin” and “what is virtue” and about “how to expiate for sins that had been committed unwittingly”. According to this discourse, silent recitation of mantras, fasting, reflections ,self-inquiry, and pilgrimage to sacred places are cleansing acts for all kinds of sins.

Virtues include not taking what is not given, gift-giving (dana), study of scriptures, penance (tapas), non-injury (ahimsa), truth-telling (satyam), freedom from anger and worship of the gods. However, what is virtuous may not be so under some circumstances. Even killing and speaking untruth may be virtuous under some situations.

There is an interesting comment, that under Vedic point of view, virtue (what may be done) and sin (what should not be done) are of two kinds: by action and by inaction. Inaction in the form of withdrawal from vedic rites and reflection and meditation lead to liberation whereas action, in the form of performing vedic rites leads to the cycle of birth and death.

In contrast, virtue and sin from the worldly point of view are to be judged by the consequences – evil deeds lead to evil consequences and good deeds lead to good consequences. Acts that may appear evil lead to god consequences, if carried out with the intention of serving the gods, or saving lives. When actions are taken with the intention of harming someone or knowing that it may cause mischief, it is sinful. However, expiation is possible.

 Then come a list of items that can be eaten and items prohibited for eating etc. I can see the forerunner of many of our practices such as not eating something someone has touched with their lips etc. There is however no explicit prohibition from eating meat or fish.

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