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Saturday, May 6, 2017

A unique Father and Son encounter – Maha Bharata Series 29

Book 3, section 310 starts with an episode during the period of Pandava’s exile. The brothers are thirsty and Yudhishtra asks Nakula to find and fetch water. Nakula finds a lake near which many cranes live and proceeds to take a drink. Just then a voice appears from the sky. It is that of a yaksha in the form of a crane. The mystic crane says: “This lake belongs to me. Before you drink water answer my question. Then you can drink this water and take away as much as you want”. Nakula is too thirsty and ignores the voice. As soon as he takes a sip, he falls down dead.

Yudhishtra gets concerned, since Nakula does not return in a reasonable time and sends Sahadeva in search of Nakula and the lake. He finds the lake and also his brother lying dead near the lake. He is now upset about the brother’s death. He is also thirsty. Therefore, he goes to drink. The voice comes and gives the same warning. Sahadeva also disobeys and drinks the water. He is also dead soon after he drinks.

The same sequence of events lead to the death of Arjuna and Bhima. Finally, Yudhishtra arrives at the scene and finds all of his brothers dead.  He is lamenting and wonders how such a tragedy can strike his brothers. He wonders how all the good things they have done could have gone without any benefit. He wonders how such heroes as Arjuna and Bhima could die so easily without any signs of struggle. He suspects that they are not really dead, and that some superior power is working.

Yudhishtra asks the “hidden force” about his identity and his whereabouts. The yaksha says that he is in the form of an invisible crane and that he is responsible for what happened to the four brothers. He shows himself in a huge frame and  warns that Yudhishtra will also reach the state of his brothers, if he tries to drink water from this lake  without answering his (yaksha’s) questions. Yudhishtra says with humility that he will try to answer within  the limits of his intelligence. Then begins the conversation which is a remarkable one.

Yaksha (hereafter indicated by Y): What makes the sun rise? What keeps him company? What causes him to set? What is his base of support?

Yudhishtra (hereafter indicated by D for Dharma): Brahman causes the sun to rise. The gods keep him company. Dharma causes him to set. Truth is his abode.

Y: How does one acquire learning and knowledge? How does one attain greatness?

D: By studying the srutis, one becomes learned. It is by penance (tapas) that one acquires greatness. One becomes wise by living with and serving the old. (The word tapas probably means ardor or intense effort and not standing on one leg for 12 years etc. Old probably stands for the experienced wise)

Y: What are the attributes of a Brahmana? What acts are pious and which ones are impious? What makes the Brahmans special?

D: The study of the Vedas gives them their divinity status. Their pious act is their penance. Slandering is their downfall.

Y: What are the attributes of a kshatriya? What acts are pious and which ones are impious? What makes the kshatriyas special?

D: Ksahtriyas get their divinity from their weapons. Their pious act is the sacrifices they conduct (yagnas) Their human attribute is fear. They become impious when  they refuse to protect (their subjects or one who comes for protection?)

Y: What is the Sama and the Yajus of the sacrifice? What is the refuge of the sacrifice? What is it that the sacrifice cannot do without?

D: Life is the Sama and mind is the Yajus of the sacrifice. Rk is the refuge and without Rk there cannot be any sacrifice.

Y: What is the foremost for a cultivator and for one who sows? What is the foremost for those who wish for prosperity of the world?

D: Rain is the foremost for the cultivator and the seeds for the one who sows. Off-springs are the foremost for those who wish prosperity of the world.

Y: What is more significant than this earth? What is higher than the heavens? What is faster than the wind? What is more numerous than grass?

D: Mother is more significant than earth. The father is higher than the heavens. The mind is faster than the wind. Our thoughts are more numerous than grass.

Y: What is it than does not close its eye when it sleeps? What is it that does not move after its birth? What is it which is without heart? What is it which moves on its own force?

D: A fish; the egg: a stone and river.

Y: Who is the friend for an exile? Who is the friend of a householder? Who is the friend of a sick person? Who is the friend of one who is about to die?

D: A companion is the friend in a foreign land. The wife is the householder’s friend. A sick man has his physician as a friend and for a dying person Charity is the best friend.

Y: What is the highest refuge of virtue? What is the highest refuge of fame? And that of heaven and of happiness?

D. Liberal thoughts are the highest refuge of virtue. Gift or charity (dana) is the refuge of fame. Truth is the refuge for heaven and good behavior is the refuge for happiness.

Y: What is the soul of man? Who is friend bestowed on man by the gods? What is man’s chief support? What is man’s refuge?

D: The son is the man’s soul and the wife is the friend bestowed on men by the gods. The cloud (I guess they mean rain and harvest) is the chief support and charity is his chief refuge.

To the next set of questions, Dharma says that the best of all laudable things is skill and the best of all possessions is one’s knowledge. The best of gains is good health and contentment is the best kind of happiness.

Dharma (Yudhishtra) also says that the highest duty is ahimsa (non-injury) and if we do not want to regret, the best way is to control the mind. Pride, if renounced makes one agreeable. Anger when controlled leads to absence of regrets. By renouncing desires one becomes wealthy and by renouncing greed one becomes happy.

Y: With what is the world enveloped? What is that owing to which a thing cannot discover itself? Why does one forsake friends? Why is it that one cannot attain heaven?

D: Darkness envelops the world. It is darkness which makes thing invisible. One forsakes friends due to greed and avarice. Too much attachment to the world prevents one from going to heaven.

Y: What is the sign of asceticism? What is true restraint? What is forgiveness? What is shame?

D: Asceticism is practicing one’s own tradition. Restraint of the mind is true restraint. Forgiving an enemy is true forgiveness. Shame is in performing unworthy acts.

Y: What is knowledge? What is tranquility? What is mercy? What is simplicity?

D: Knowledge of the divine is true knowledge. True tranquility is that of the heart. Mercy is wishing happiness for all. Simplicity is in the equanimity of the heart.

Y: What is man’s invincible enemy? What is man’s incurable disease? Who is considered honest and who dishonest?

D: Anger is the invincible enemy and covetousness is man’s incurable disease. An honest one wishes well for all creatures. One without mercy is a dishonest person.

Y: What is ignorance? What is pride? What is idleness? What is grief?

D: Not knowing one’s duty is ignorance. Pride is taking oneself seriously. Not performing one’s duty is idleness. Ignorance leads to grief.

Y: What is pride? What is hypocrisy? What is the grace of gods and what is wickedness?

D: Ignorance leads to pride. Setting up religious standards is hypocrisy. The grace of the gods is the fruit of our gifts and speaking ill of others is wickedness.

When asked what makes for a Brahmana, Dharma says: “One does not become a Brahmana by birth, learning or study. It is behavior which determines who a Brahmana is. (Dharma says the same thing in another conversation with Nahusha). He also adds that teachers and students who study scriptures and yet addicted to wicked habits should be considered illiterate.

To the last set of questions (on happiness, wonder, the path and the news), Dharma answers:

 “A man who lives in his own house, not in debt, and able to cook his own meals with meager provisions is a happy man”.

“It is a wonder that people consider themselves to be immortal even when they see people and creatures die every day all around them”.

“Discussions and arguments do not lead to certain conclusions on what the right path is. Srutis say different things and do not agree with each other. Rishis have their teachings but there is not one rishi who is acceptable to everyone. Teachings of religions are difficult to fathom (they are in caves). Therefore, the best path to follow is that of wise elders”.

“The bad news is that this world full of ignorance is like a pan. The sun is the fire and days and nights are the fuel. The months make for the firewood. Time is the cook who is cooking all creatures on the pan”.

The Yaksha is satisfied and asks Yudhishtra to choose one of his four brothers to be brought back to life. Yudhishtra asks the Yaksha to revive Nakula. The Yaksha is surprised and wants to know why Yudhishtra did not choose Arjuna or Bhima. Yudhishtra says: “I have two mothers – Kunti and Madri. Kunti has me. I want Madri also to have one living son”. The Yaksha is pleased and revives all four brothers.

Finally, the yaksha shows himself to Yudhishtra to be none other than Lord Dharma, Yudhistra’s real father.

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