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Righteousness (Part 1) by The Mahabharata


From The Mahabharata
Santi Parva, Sections CCLIX to CCLXIV
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan ganguli

Yudhishthira said: All men that inhabit this earth are filled with doubts in respect of the nature of righteousness. What is this that is called righteousness? Whence also does righteousness come? Tell me this, O Grandsire! Is righteousness for service in this world or is it for service in the next world? Or, is it for service both here and hereafter? Tell me this, O Grandsire!

Bhishma said: The practices of the good, the Smritis, and the Vedas, are the three indications (sources) of righteousness. Besides these, the learned have declared that the purpose (for which an act is accomplished) is the fourth indication of righteousness.

The Rishis of old have declared what acts are righteous and also classified them as superior or inferior in point of merit. The rules of righteousness have been laid down for the conduct of the affairs of the world. In both the worlds, that is, here and hereafter, righteousness produces happiness as its fruits. A sinful person unable to acquire merit by subtle ways, becomes stained with sin only. Some are of the opinion that sinful persons can never be cleansed of their sins. In seasons of distress, a person by even speaking an untruth acquires the merit of speaking the truth, even as a person who accomplishes an unrighteous act acquires by that very means the merit of having done a righteous act.

Conduct is the refuge of righteousness.

Conduct is the refuge of righteousness. You should know what righteousness is, aided by conduct. (It is the nature of man that he neither sees nor proclaims his own faults but notices and proclaims those of others). The very thief, stealing what belongs to others, spends the produce of his theft in acts of apparent virtue. During a time of anarchy, the thief takes great pleasure in appropriating what belongs to others. When others, however, rob him of what he has acquired by robbery, he then wishes forthwith for a king (for invoking punishment on the head of the offenders). At even such a time, when his indignation for offended rights of property is at its highest, he secretly covets the wealth of those that are contended with their own. Fearlessly and without a doubt in his mind (when he is himself the victim of a robbery) he repairs to the king’s palace with a mind cleansed of every sin. Within even his own heart he does not see the stain of any evil act.

To speak the truth is meritorious. There is nothing higher than truth. Everything is upheld by truth, and everything rests upon truth. Even the sinful and ferocious, swearing to keep the truth amongst themselves, dismiss all grounds of quarrel and uniting with one another set themselves to their (sinful) tasks, depending upon truth. If they behave falsely towards one another, they would then be destroyed without doubt.

One should not take what belongs to others. That is an eternal obligation. Powerful men regard it as one that has been introduced by the weak. When, however, the destiny of these men becomes adverse, this injunction then meets with their approval. Then again they that surpass others in strength or prowess do not necessarily become happy. Therefore, do not ever set your heart on any act that is wrong. One behaving in this way has no fear of dishonest men or thieves or the king. Not having done any injury to any one, such a man lives fearlessly and with a pure heart. A thief fears everybody, like a deer driven from the woods into the midst of an inhabited village. He thinks other people to be as sinful as himself. One that is of pure heart is always filled with cheerfulness and has no fear from any direction. Such a person never sees his own misconduct in others (implying that such a man is always alive to his own faults. He never thinks that others are guilty of an offence which he, in a moment of temptation, may have committed).

Practice of charity is another high duty

Persons engaged in doing good to all creatures have said that the practice of charity is another high duty. They that are possessed of wealth think that this duty has been laid down by those that are indigent. When, however, those wealthy men meet with poverty in consequence of some turn of fortune, the practice of charity then recommends itself to them. Men that are exceedingly wealthy do not necessarily meet with happiness.

Knowing how painful it is to himself, a person should never do that to others which he dislikes when done to him by others. What can one who becomes the lover of another man’s wife say to another man (guilty of the same transgression)? It is seen, however, that even such a one, when he sees his lady with another lover, becomes unable to forgive the act. How can one who, to draw breath himself think of preventing another by a murderous act, from doing the same? Whatever wishes one entertains with respect to one’s own self, one should certainly cherish with respect to another.

With the surplus wealth one may happen to own one should relieve the wants of the indigent. It is for this reason that the Creator ordained the practice of increasing one’s wealth.

One should walk alone that path by proceeding along which one may hope to meet with the deities; or, at such times when wealth is gained, adherence to the duties of sacrifice and gift is laudable.

The sages have said that the accomplishment of the objects by means of agreeable (pacific) means is righteousness. See, O Yudhishthira, that even this is the criterion that has been kept in view in declaring the indications of righteousness and iniquity. In days of old the Creator ordained righteousness endowing it with the power of holding the world together. The conduct of the good, that is fraught with excellence, is subjected to (numerous) restraints for acquiring righteousness which depends upon many delicate considerations. The indications of righteousness have now been recounted to you, O foremost one of Kuru’s race! Do not, therefore, at any time set your understanding upon any act that is wrong.



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This article was published on Wednesday 27 May, 2009.
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