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The Wheel of Life by The Mahabharata


From The Mahabharata
Aswamedha Parva, Section XLV
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

The Brahmana said: The wheel of life moves on. It has the understanding for its strength; the mind for the pole (on which it rests); the group of senses for its bonds, the five great elements for its nave, and home for its circumference.

[Note: It is difficult to understand which part of the wheel is intended to be expressedly ‘Bandhanam’ or the bond; I take it for the spokes. Pariskandha is Samuha or the materials that together compose an object. Here it may be taken for the nave or centre. Home is called the circumference because, as the circumference limits the wheel, even so home (wife and children) limits the affections and acts of life.]

It is overwhelmed by decrepitude and grief, and it has diseases and calamities for its progeny. That wheel relates in time and place. It has toil and exercise for its noise. Day and night are the rotations of that wheel. It is encircled by heat and cold. Pleasure and pain are its joints, and hunger and thirst are the nails fixed into it. Sunshine and shade are the ruts (it causes). It is capable of being agitated during even such a short space of time as is taken up by the opening and the closing of the eyelid. It is enveloped in the terrible waters of delusion. It is ever revolving and void of consciousness. It is measured by months and half months. It is not uniform (being ever changing), and moves through all the worlds.

Penances and vows are its mud. Passion’s force is its mover. It is illuminated by the great egoism, and is sustained by the qualities. Vexations (caused by the non-acquisition of what is desired) are the fastenings that bind it around. It revolves in the midst of grief and destruction. It is endued with actions and the instruments of action. It is large and is extended by attachments. It is rendered unsteady by cupidity and desire. It is produced by variegated Ignorance. It is attended upon by fear and delusion, and is the cause of the delusion of all beings. It moves towards joy and pleasure, and has desire and wrath for its possession. It is made up of entities beginning with Mahat and ending with the gross elements. It is characterised by production and destruction going on ceaselessly. Its speed is like that of the mind, and it has the mind for its boundary.

This wheel of life that is associated with pairs of opposites and devoid of consciousness, the universe with the very immortals should cast away, abridge, and check. That man who always understands accurately the motion and stoppage of this wheel of life, is never seen to be deluded, among all creatures. Freed from all impressions, divested of all pairs of opposites, released from all sins, he attains to the highest goal.

The householder, the Brahmachari (Celibate student), the forest recluse and the mendicant, - these four modes of life have all been said to have the householder’s mode for their foundation. Whatever of system of rules is prescribed in this world, their observance is beneficial. Such observance has always been highly spoken of. He who has been first cleansed by ceremonies, who has duly observed vows, who belongs in respect of birth to a race possessed of high qualifications, and who understands the Vedas, should return (from his preceptor’s house).

[Note: Implying that he should go to the house of his preceptor, study and serve there, and after completing his studies, return for leading a life of domesticity.]

Always devoted to his wedded spouse, conducting himself after the manner of the good, with his senses under subjugation, and full of faith, one should in this world perform the five sacrifices. He who eats what remains after feeding deities and guests, who is devoted to the observance of Vedic rites, who duly performs according to his means sacrifices and gifts, who is not unduly active with his hands and feet, who is not unduly active with his eye, who is devoted to penances, who is not unduly active with his speech and limits, comes under the category of Sishta or the good. One should always bear the sacred thread, wear white (clean) clothes, observe pure vows, and should always associate with good men, making gifts and practising self-restraint. One should subjugate one’s lust and stomach, practise universal compassion, and be characterised by behaviour that befits the good. One should bear a bamboo stick, and a water pot filled with water.

Having studied, one should teach; likewise should also make sacrifices of others. One should also make gifts made to oneself. Verily, one’s conduct should be characterised by these six acts. Know that three of these acts should constitute the livelihood of the Brahmanas, viz., teaching (pupils), officiating at the sacrifices of others, and the acceptance of gifts from a person that is pure. As to the other duties that remain, numbering three, viz., making of gifts, study, and sacrifice, these are accompanied by merit.

[Note: The sense seems to be that these last three duties are productive of merit and should, therefore, be performed. The first three, however, are sources of living.]

Observant of penances, self-restrained, practising universal compassion and forgiveness, and looking upon all creatures with an equal eye, the man that is conversant with duties should never be heedless with regard to those three acts. The learned Brahmana of pure heart, who observes the domestic mode of life and practises rigid vows, thus devoted and thus discharging all duties to the best of his power, succeeds in conquering Heaven.


Related article: Ashramas – The Four Modes of life


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This article was published on Wednesday 27 May, 2009.
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