From The Mahabharata
Santi Parva, Sections CCLIX to CCLXIV
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan ganguli
Jalali said: This course of duty that you, O holder of scales, preaches, closes the door of heaven against all creatures and puts a stop to the very means of their subsistence. From agriculture comes food. That food offers subsistence even to you. With the aid of animals and of crops and herbs, human beings, O trader, are enabled to support their existence. From animals and food sacrifices flow. Your doctrines smack of atheism. This world will come to an end if the means by which life is supported have to be abandoned.
Tuladhara said: I shall now speak on the object of the means of sustenance. I am not, O Brahmana, an atheist. I do not blame Sacrifices. The man, however, is very rare that is truly conversant with Sacrifices. I bow to that Sacrifice which is ordained for Brahmanas. I bow also to them that are conversant with that Sacrifice. Alas, the Bramanas, having given up the Sacrifice that is ordained for them, have betaken themselves to the performance of Sacrifices that are for Kshatriyas. [Note: The fact is, all Sacrifices in which injury is done to animal and vegetable life are Sacrifices for Kshatriyas. The only Sacrifice that Brahmanas should perform is Yoga.]
Many persons of faith, O regenerate one, that are covetous and fond of wealth, without having understood the true meaning of the declarations of the Srutis, and proclaiming things that are really false but that have the show of truth, have introduced many kinds of Sacrifices, saying, "This should be given away in this Sacrifice. This other thing should be given away in this other Sacrifice. The first of this is very laudable."
The consequence, however, of all this, O Jalali, is that theft and many evil acts spring up. It should be known that only that sacrificial offering which was acquired by righteous means can gratify the gods. There are abundant indications in the scriptures that the worship of the deities may be accomplished with vows, with libations poured on the fire, with recitations or chanting of the Vedas, and with plants and herbs. From their religious acts unrighteous persons get wicked offspring. From covetous men are born children that are covetous, and from those that are contented spring children that are contented.
If the sacrificer and the priest suffer themselves to be moved by desire of fruit (in respect of the Sacrifices they perform or assist in), their children take the stain. If, on the other hand, they do not yield to desire of fruit, the children born to them become of the same kind. From Sacrifices spring progeny like clear water from the firmament. The libations poured on the sacrificial fire rise up to the Sun. From the Sun springs rain. From rain springs food. From food are born living creatures.
In former days, men righteously devoted to Sacrifices used to obtain therefrom the fruition of all their wishes. The earth yielded crops without tillage. The blessing uttered by the Rishis produced herbs and plants. The men of former times never performed Sacrifices from desire of fruits and never regarded themselves as called upon to enjoy those fruits. Those who somehow perform sacrifices doubting the while their efficacy take birth in their next lives as dishonest, wily, and greedy men exceedingly covetous of wealth. That man who by the aid of false reasoning holds up all the authoritative scriptures as fraught with evil, is certain to go, for such sinful acts of his, into the regions of the sinful. Such a man is certainly possessed of a sinful soul, O foremost of Brahmanas, and always remains here, bereft of wisdom. [Note: ‘Bereft of wisdom’ is explained by the commentator as implying the non-attainment of emancipation.]
That man who regards those acts as obligatory which have been laid down in the Vedas and directed to be accomplished every day, who is penetrated with fear if he fails to accomplish them any day, who takes all the essentials of Sacrifice as identical with Brahma, and who never regards himself as the actor, is truly a Brahmana. [Note: The commentator refers to the Gita: The view expressed in the Gita is that we should do all acts believing ourselves to be only agents or instruments of the Supreme Deity. Acts are His, we are only His tools. Such a conviction is sure to guard us against all evil acts.]
If the acts of such a person become incomplete, or if their completion be obstructed by all unclean animals, even then those acts are, as heard by us, of superior efficacy. If, however, those acts are done from desire of fruit (and their completion be obstructed by such impediments), then expiation would become necessary. They who covet the acquisition of the highest objects of life (viz., Emancipation), who are bereft of cupidity in respect of all kinds of worldly wealth, who discard all provision of the future, and who are freed from envy, betake themselves to practice of truth and self-restraint as their Sacrifice.
[Note: When Sacrifices are done from a sense of duty, notwithstanding their incompleteness, they become efficacious. It is only when they are performed from desire of fruit that expiation becomes necessary if their completion be obstructed by any cause. Having thus applauded the Sacrifices (represented by acts) of the truly wise, other kinds of Sacrifices are indicated in verse 18.]
They that are conversant with the distinction between body and soul, that are devoted to Yoga, and that meditate on the Pranava (AUM) always succeed in gratifying others. The universal Brahman (viz., Pranava) which is the soul of the deities, dwells in him who is conversant with Brahma. When, therefore, such a man eats and is gratified, O Jalali, become gratified and contented. [Note: When such a man eats and is gratified, the whole universe becomes gratified.]
As one who is gratified with all kinds of taste feels no desire for any particular taste, after the same manner one who is gratified with knowledge has everlasting gratification which to him is a source of perfect bliss. Those wise men who are the refuge of righteousness and whose delight is in righteousness, are persons that have certain knowledge of what is to be done and what should not be done. One possessed of such wisdom always regards all things in the universe to have sprung from his own Self.
[Note: such a man regards all things as Brahman (The Supreme Reality), and himself as Brahman. Some that are endued with knowledge, that strive to reach the other shore (of this ocean of life), and that are possessed of faith, succeed in attaining to the region of Brahman, which is productive of great blessings, highly sacred, and inhabited by righteous persons,- a region which is freed from sorrow, whence there is no return, and where there is no kind of agitation or pain.
Such men do not covet heaven. They do not adore Brahman in costly sacrifices. They walk along the path of righteousness. The Sacrifices they perform are performed without injury to any creature. [Note: ‘The path of righteousness’ the commentator thinks, is Yoga.]
These men know trees and herbs and fruits and roots as the only sacrificial offerings. Covetous priests, for they are desirous of wealth, never officiate at the sacrifices of these (poor) men. These regenerate men, although all their acts have been completed, still perform sacrifices from desire of doing good to all creatures and constituting their selves as sacrificial offerings. [Note: They perform mental sacrifices.]
For this reason, grasping priests officiate at the Sacrifices of only those misguided persons who, without endeavouring to attain to Emancipation, seek for heaven. As regards those however, that are really good, they always seek, by accomplishing their own duties, to cause others to ascend to heaven. Looking at both these kinds of behaviour, O Jalali, I have abstained from injuring any creature in the world and have come to regard all creatures with an equal heart.
[Note: ‘For the reason’, i.e., because they cannot officiate at the Sacrifices of those that are truly good. Such men (the truly good) accomplish their own duties not for benefiting their own selves but for the good of others. Observing both kinds of behaviour, i.e., that of the good and that of the misguided, I follow the path of the former by abstaining from every kind of injury.]
Endued with wisdom, many foremost of Brahmanas perform Sacrifices (which with respect to their fruits are of two kinds, for some of them lead to Emancipation whence there is no return, and others lead to regions of bliss whence there is return). By performing those Sacrifices, they proceed, O great ascetic, along paths trodden by the gods. Of one class of Sacrificers, (viz., those who sacrifice from desire of fruit) there is return (from the region which they reach). Of those, however, that are truly wise (viz., those who sacrifice without being urged thereto by desire of fruit), there is no return. Although both classes of sacrificers, O Jalali, proceed along the path trodden by the deities (in consequence of the sacrifices they perform), yet such is the difference between their ultimate ends. [Note: What the speaker wishes to lay down is that only a certain class of sacrificers succeed in attaining to an end whence there is no return.]
In consequence of the success that attends the purposes formed in the minds of such men, bulls without being forced thereto, willingly set their shoulders to the plough for assisting at tillage and to the yoke for dragging their cars, and cows pour forth milk from udders untouched by human hands. Creating sacrificial stakes (and other necessaries of Sacrifice) by simple fiats of the will, they perform many kinds of Sacrifice well-completed with abundant presents. [Note: The sense seems to be that they perform mental Sacrifices and not actual sacrifices after created by Yoga-power all the necessary articles.]
One who is such a cleansed soul may slaughter a cow (as an offering in Sacrifice). [Note: The sin of slaughtering a cow will not touch such a person, his soul being above the influence of acts.] They, therefore, that are not of that kind should perform Sacrifices with herbs and plants (and not animals). Since Renunciation has such merit, it is for that reason that I have kept it before my eyes in speaking to you.
[Note; I have for this reason spoken in praise of Renunciation and not that frame of mind in which one acts from desire of fruit.]
The gods know him for a Brahmana who has given up all desires of fruit, which has no exertion in respect of worldly acts, who never bows down his head unto any one, who never utters the praises of others, and who is endued with strength though his acts have all been weakened. [Note: There are of course, the indications of complete Renunciation. Such a man never bends his head to another and never flatters another, for he is above all want.]
What, O Jalali, will be the end of him who does not recite the Vedas, unto others, who does not perform Sacrifices (properly), who does not make gifts unto deserving Brahmanas, and who follows and avocation in which every kind of desire is indulged? By properly reverencing, however, the duties that appertain to Renunciation, one is sure to attain to Brahman.
[Note: In the first two lines the speaker says that one who does not accomplish the acts specified, fails to attain to a desirable end. In the last line, the Sanskrit word ‘Idam" refers to the duties of a true Brahmana or the indications of the Renunciation. The Sanskrit term ‘Yajnam’ is Vishnu or Brahman as the Srutis declare.]
Jalali said: we had never before, O son of a trader, heard of these recondite doctrines of ascetics that perform only mental Sacrifices. These doctrines are exceedingly difficult of comprehension. It is for this reason that I ask you (about them). The sages of olden days were not followers of those doctrines of Yoga. Hence, the sages that have succeeded them have not propounded them (for general acceptance). If you say that only men of brutish minds fail to achieve sacrifices in the soil of the Soul, then, O son of a trader, by what acts would they succeed in accomplishing their happiness? Tell me this, O thou of great wisdom! Great is my faith in your words!.
Tuladhara said: Sometimes sacrifices performed by some persons do not become sacrifices (in consequence of the absence of faith of those that perform them). These men, it should be said, are not worthy of performing any sacrifice (internal or external). As regards the faithful, however, only one thing, viz., the cow, is fit for upholding all sacrifices by means of full libations of clarified butter, milk, and curds, the hair at end of her tail, her horns, and her hoofs.
[Note: The commentator explains: What is said here is this: the sacrifices of some men become lost through absence of faith. These men, it is plain, are not worthy of performing any kind of sacrifice internal or external. The performance of sacrifice, is easy. The cow and her products can minister to all sacrifices. In the case of those that are able, full libations of clarified butter, of milk, and of curds, are sufficient to enable them to perform whatever they wish. As regards those that are poor, the dust of a cow’s hoof and the water in which a cow’s tail and horns have been washed, are quite sufficient to enable them to perform their sacrifices. Purnahuti (the final oblations) should not, I think, be taken as different from Ghee (clarified butter) etc.]
(The vedas declare that sacrifices cannot be performed by an unmarried man). In performing sacrifices, according to the mode I have pointed out (viz., by abstaining from slaughter of animals and dedicating only clarified butter, etc), one may make Faith one’s wedded wife, for dedicating such (innocent) offerings to the deities. By duly reverencing such sacrifices, one is sure to attain to Brahman. To the exclusion of all animals (which are certainly unclean as offering in sacrifices), the rice-ball is a worthy offering in sacrifices.
O,Jalali, the Soul is itself a Tirtha (place of pilgrimage). Do not wander about on the earth for visiting sacred places. A person, by observing these duties (that I have spoken of and that do not involve injury to other creatures), and by seeking the acquisition of merit agreeably to his own ability, certainly succeeds in obtaining blessed regions hereafter.
[Note: The soul is itself a Tirtha. A Tirtha, of course, is a place containing sacred water. One should seek the acquisition of merit in the soul instead of going to places called sacred and lying in different parts of the earth. ‘According to his own ability’ means according to the best of his power. If one can perform a sacrifice with clarified butter, one should not do it with the dust of a cow’s hoofs.]
Bhishma continued: These are the duties, O Yudhishthira, which Tuladhara applauded, - duties that are consistent with reason, and that are always observed by those that are good and wise.
Published with the kind permission of www.hinduism.co.za.
Their ‘Understanding Hinduism’ website is an award winning site featuring a whole host of various articles promoting Hinduism. It truly is a wonderful, thoughtful and thought provoking work and a true beacon for the promotion of Hinduism and Vedic culture in the world today.
Please visit their enlightening website at www.hinduism.co.za.
Copyright reserved by the author.