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Righteousness (Part 4) by The Mahabharata


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


Bhishma said: ‘Thus addressed by the intelligent Tuladhara on that occasion, Jalali of great intelligence, that foremost of ascetics, said these words unto him.’

Jalali said: ‘You sell all kinds of juices and scents, O son of a trader, as also (barks and leaves of) large trees and herbs and their fruits and roots. How have you succeeded in acquiring a certitude or stability of understanding? Whence has this knowledge come to you? O thou of great intelligence, tell me all this in detail.’

Bhishma continued: ‘Thus addressed by that Brahmana possessed of great fame, Tuladhara of the Vaisya (trader) order, well-acquainted with the truths touching the interpretations of morality and contented with knowledge, discoursed to Jalali who had undergone severe penances, upon the ways of morality.'

Tuladhara said: ‘O Jalali, I know morality, which is eternal, with all its mysteries. It is nothing else than that ancient morality which in known to all, and which consists of universal friendliness, and is fraught with beneficence to all creatures. That mode of living which is founded upon a total harmlessness towards all creatures or (in case of actual necessity) upon a minimum of such harm, is the highest morality. I live according to that mode, O Jalali!

This my house has been built with wood and grass cut by other people’s hands. Lac dye, the roots of Nymphaea lotus, filaments of the lotus, diverse kinds of good scents and many kinds of liquids, O regenerate Rishi, with the exception of wines, I purchase from other people’s hand and sell without cheating. He, O Jalali, is said to know what morality or righteousness is, who is always the friend of all creatures and who is always engaged in the good of all creatures, in thought, word and deed.

I never solicit anyone. I never quarrel with anyone. I never cherish aversion for anyone. I never cherish desire for anything. I cast equal eyes upon all things and all creatures. Behold, O Jalali, this is vow! My scales are perfectly even, O Jalali, with respect to all creatures.

[Note: The commentator explains: The meaning is that weighing creatures I regard all of them as equal. In my scales a Brahmana does not weigh heavier than a Chandala, or an elephant heavier than a dog or a cat.]

Know, O Jalali, that I cast equal eyes upon all creatures. O foremost of intelligent men, I see no difference between a clod of earth, a piece of stone, and a lump of gold. As the blind, the deaf, and they that are destitute of reason, are perfectly consoled for the loss of their senses, after the same manner am I consoled, by their example (for the enjoyments I abstain from). [Note: Persons whose senses (doors) have been closed by the deities, i.e., men with senses that are defective or lost.]

As they that are overtaken by decrepitude, they that are afflicted by disease, and they that are weakened and emaciated, have no relish for enjoyments of any kind, after the same manner have I ceased to feel any relish for wealth or pleasure or enjoyments. When a person fears nothing and himself is not feared, when he cherishes no desire and has no aversion for anything, he is then said to attain to Brahma (the Supreme Lord).

When a person does not conduct himself sinfully towards any creature in thought, word, or deed, then is he said to attain to Brahma. There is no past, no future. There is no morality or righteousness. He who is not an object of fear with any creature succeeds in attaining to a state in which there is no fear. [Note; The state is Brahma, and there is no fear of return from it. Hence it is called Abhayam Padam.]

On the other hand that person who for harshness of speech or severity of temper, is a source of trouble unto all creatures even as death itself, certainly attains to a state which abounds with fear. I follow the practices of high-souled and benevolent men of advanced years who with their children and children’s children live in the due observance of the ordinance laid down in the scriptures.

The eternal practices (laid down in the Vedas) are entirely given up by one who suffers himself to be stupefied by some errors that he may have noticed in the conduct of those that are admittedly good and wise. One, however, that is endued with learning, or one that has subdued one’s senses, or one that is possessed of strength of mind, succeeds in attaining to Emancipation, guided by that very conduct.

[Note: The sense is this: There is an eternal course of righteousness as laid down in the Vedas. That which is called the conduct of the good may sometimes be stained by some errors. Fools, led by this, give up righteousness itself. On the other hand, wise men, avoiding those errors, take what is good and are saved. An old saying is cited by the commentator to the effect that when all is threatened, a wise man gives up half for saving the remainder. A fool, however, gives up the whole when only half is threatened with destruction.]

That wise man who, having restrained his senses, practises, with a heart cleansed from all desires of injuring others, the conduct that is followed by those called good, is sure, O Jalali, to acquire the merit of righteousness (and Emancipation which is its fruits). In this world as in a river, a piece of wood that is being borne away by the current as it pleases, is seen to come into contact (for some time) with another piece that is being similarly borne away. There, on the current, other pieces of wood that had been joined together, are seen again to separate from one another. Grass, sticks, and cowdung cakes, are seen to be united together. This union is due to accident and not to purpose or design. He of whom no creature is frightened in the least is himself, O ascetic, never frightened by any creature. He, on the other hand, O learned man, of whom every creature is frightened as of a wolf, becomes himself filled with fear as aquatic animals when forced to leap on the shore from fear of the roaring Vadva fire.

This practice of universal harmlessness has arisen even thus. One may follow it by every means in one’s power. He who has followers and he who has wealth may seek to adopt it. It is sure to lead also to prosperity and heaven. In consequence of their ability to dispel the fears of others, men possessed of wealth and followers are regarded as foremost by the learned. They that are for ordinary happiness practise this duty of universal harmlessness for the sake of fame; while they that are truly skilled, practise the same for the sake of attaining to Brahma.

[Note: Men who seek ordinary felicity, viz., that which has a termination. The Patavah are the truly wise, i.e., those that seek felicity that is unending. Kritsna is Brahma; the truly wise practise it for the sake of Brahma.]

Whatever fruits one enjoys by penances, by sacrifices, by practising liberality, by speaking the truth, and by paying court to wisdom, may all be had by practising the duty of harmlessness. That person who gives unto all creatures the assurance of harmlessness obtains the merit of all sacrifices and at last wins fearlessness for himself as his reward.

There is no duty superior to the duty of abstention from injuring other creatures. He of whom, O great ascetic, no creature is frightened in the least, obtains for himself fearlessness of all creatures. He of whom everybody is frightened as one is of a snake ensconced within one’s sleeping chamber, never acquires any merit in this world or in the next. The very gods, in their search after it, become stupefied in the track of that person who transcends all states, the person, viz., who constitutes himself the soul of all creatures and who looks upon all creatures as identical with his own self.

Of all gifts, the assurance of harmlessness to all creatures is the highest (in point of merit). I tell thee truly, believe me, O Jalali! One who betakes himself to acts at first wins prosperity, but then (upon the exhaustion of his merit) he once more encounters adversity. Beholding the destruction of (the merits of) acts, the wise do not applaud acts. There is no duty, O Jalali, that is not prompted by some motive (of happiness). Duty, however, is very subtle. Duties have been laid down in the Vedas for the sake of both Brahma and heaven. [Note: Bhuta is explained by the commentator as Brahma, and Bhavya, as heaven or the regions of felicity in the next world. In the Vedas both kinds of duties occur, such as Samah, etc., for Brahma, and sacrifices, etc., for heaven.]

The subject of duties has many secrets and mysteries. It is so subtle that it is not easy to understand it fully. Amongst diverse conflicting ordinances, some succeed in comprehending duty by observing the acts of the good. [Note: The commentator cites some ordinances about the slaughter of cow. The subject of duty is thus confused, contradictory declarations being noticeable in the Vedas.]

Why do you not consume them that emasculate bulls and bore their noses and cause them to bear heavy burdens and bind them and put them under diverse kinds of restraint, and that eat the flesh of living creatures after slaying them? Men are seen to own men as slaves, and by beating, by binding, and by otherwise subjecting them to restraints, cause them to labour day and night. These people are not ignorant of the pain that results from beating and fastening in chains.

[Note: The Sanskrit word Badha here means striking or beating. If taken in the sense of ‘death’ the meaning would be putting some to death so that others may be frightened. These verses are noble protest against the institution of slavery.]

In every creature that is endued with the five senses live all the deities. Surya (sun), Chandramas (moon), the god of wind, Brahman, Prana, Kratu, and Yama (these dwell in living creatures). There are men that live by trafficking in living creatures! When they earn a living by such a sinful course, what scruples need they feel in selling dead carcasses? The goat is Agni. The sheep is Varuna. The horse is Surya. Earth is the deity Virat. The cow and the calf are Soma. The man who sells these can never obtain success. But what fault can attach to the sale of oil, or of Ghrita, or honey, or drugs, O regenerate one?

There are many animals that grow up in ease and comfort in places free from gnats and biting insects. Knowing that they are loved dearly by their mothers, men persecute them in diverse ways, and lead them into miry spots abounding with biting insects. Many draft animals (for pulling loads) are oppressed with heavy burdens. Others again, are made to languish in consequence of treatment not sanctioned by the scriptures. I think that such acts of injury done to animals are in no way distinguished from foeticide (abortion).

People regard the profession of agriculture to be sinless. That profession, however, is certainly fraught with cruelty. The iron-faced plough wounds the soil and many creatures that live in the soil. Cast your eyes, O Jalali, on those bullocks yoked to the plough. Cows are called in the Srutis the Unslayable. That man perpetrates a great sin who slays a bull or a cow. In the days of yore, many Rishis with restrained senses addressed Nahusha, saying, " You have, O king, slain a cow which is declared in the scriptures to be like unto one’s mother. You have also slain a bull, which is declared to be like unto the Creator himself.

[Note: The cow is called the mother because of the use to which she is subservient. Her milk nourishes every infant as much as mother’s bosom. The bull again, is Prajapati, because like Prajapati he creates offspring and assists man in the production of food.] You have perpetrated an evil act, O Nahusha, and we have been exceedingly pained at it.’

For cleansing Nahusha, however, they divided that sin into a hundred and one parts and converting the fragments into diseases cast them among the creatures. [Note: Nahusha had killed a cow and a bull for honouring the Rishis. The Rishis, however, expressed their dissatisfaction at the act, and cleansed him of the sin in the manner indicated in the text. The commentator cites the instance of how Indra (king of the gods in heaven) was cleansed of the sin of Brahmanicide (killing of a Brahmin or priest). The Rishis, in compassion, distributed the sin among all beings of the feminine sex. That sin manifests itself in their periodical flows and the consequent impurity.]

Thus, O Jalali, did those highly blessed Rishis cast that sin on all living creatures, and addressing Nahusha who had been guilty of foeticide, said "We shall not be able to pour libations in your sacrifice." Thus said those high-souled Rishis and Yatis conversant with the truths of all things, having ascertained by their ascetic power that king Nahusha had not been intentionally guilty of that sin.

[Note: The commentator explains that the Rishis addressed Nahusha in that style even when they knew he had not intentionally slain the cow and the bull. The object of the speaker is to show the enormity of the act when done intentionally.]

These, O Jalali, are some of the wicked and dreadful practices that are current in this world. You practise them because they are practised by all men from ancient times, and not because they agree with the dictates of your cleansed understanding. One should practise what one considers to be one’s duty, guided by reasons, instead of blindly following the practices of the world. Listen now, O Jalali, as to what my behaviour is towards him that injures and him that praises me.

I regard both of them in the same light. I have none whom I like and none whom I dislike. The wise applaud such a course of conduct as consistent with duty or religion. Even this course of conduct which is consistent with reasons, is followed by Yatis. The righteous always observe it with eyes possessed of improved vision.


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This article was published on Wednesday 27 May, 2009.
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