The Mahabharata/Book 13: Anusasana Parva

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The Mahabharata , translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli
Book 13: Anusasana Parva
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OM! HAVING BOWED down unto Narayana, and Nara the foremost of male beings, and unto the goddess Saraswati, must the word Jaya be uttered.

"Yudhishthira said, 'O grandsire, tranquillity of mind has been said to be subtile and of diverse forms. I have heard all thy discourses, but still tranquillity of mind has not been mine. In this matter, various means of quieting the mind have been related (by thee), O sire, but how can peace of mind be secured from only a knowledge of the different kinds of tranquillity, when I myself have been the instrument of bringing about all this? Beholding thy body covered with arrows and festering with bad sores, I fail to find, O hero, any peace of mind, at the thought of the evils I have wrought. Beholding thy body, O most valiant of men, bathed in blood, like a hill overrun with water from its springs, I am languishing with grief even as the lotus in the rainy season. What can be more painful than this, that thou, O grandsire, hast been brought to this plight on my account by my people fighting against their foes on the battle-field? Other princes also, with their sons and kinsmen, having met with destruction on my account. Alas, what can be more painful than this. Tell us, O prince, what destiny awaits us and the sons of Dhritarashtra, who, driven by fate and anger, have done this abhorrent act. O lord of men, I think the son of Dhritarashtra is fortunate in that he doth not behold thee in this state. But I, who am the cause of thy death as well as of that of our friends, am denied all peace of mind by beholding thee on the bare earth in this sorry condition. The wicked Duryodhana, the most infamous of his race, has, with all his troops and his brothers, perished in battle, in the observance of Kshatriya duties. That wicked-souled wight does not see thee lying on the ground. Verily, for this reason, I would deem death to be preferable to life. O hero that never swervest from virtue, had I with my brothers met with destruction ere this at the hands of our enemies on the battle-field, I would not have found thee in this pitiful plight, thus pierced with arrows. Surely, O prince, the Maker had created is to become perpetrators of evil deeds. O king, if thou wishest to do me good, do thou then instruct me in such a way that I may be cleansed of this sin in even another world.'

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"Bhishma replied, 'Why, O fortunate one, dost thou consider thy soul, which is dependent (on God and Destiny and Time) to be the cause of thy actions? The manifestation of its inaction is subtle and imperceptible to the senses. In this connection is cited the ancient story of the conversation between Mrityu and Gautami with Kala and the Fowler and the serpent. There was, O son of Kunti, an old lady of the name of Gautami, who was possessed of great patience and tranquillity of mind. One day she found her son dead in consequence of having been bitten by a serpent. An angry fowler, by name Arjunaka, bound the serpent with a string and brought it before Gautami. He then said to her,--This wretched serpent has been the cause of thy son's death, O blessed lady. Tell me quickly how this wretch is to be destroyed. Shall I throw it into the fire or shall I hack it into pieces? This infamous destroyer of a child does not deserve to live longer.'

"Gautami replied, 'Do thou, O Arjunaka of little understanding, release this serpent. It doth not deserve death at thy hands. Who is so foolish as to disregard the inevitable lot that awaits him and burdening himself with such folly sink into sin? Those that have made themselves light by the practice of virtuous deeds, manage to cross the sea of the world even as a ship crosses the ocean. But those that have made themselves heavy with sin sink into the bottom, even as an arrow thrown into the water. By killing the serpent, this my boy will not be restored to life, and by letting it live, no harm will be caused to thee. Who would go to the interminable regions of Death by slaying this living creature?'

"The fowler said, 'I know, O lady that knowest the difference between right and wrong, that the great are afflicted at the afflictions of all creatures. But these words which thou hast spoken are fraught with instruction for only a self-contained person (and not for one plunged in sorrow). Therefore, I must kill this serpent. Those who value peace of mind, assign everything to the course of Time as the cause, but practical men soon assuage their grief (by revenge). People through constant delusion, fear loss of beatitude (in the next world for acts like these). therefore, O lady, assuage thy grief by having this serpent destroyed (by me).

"Gautami replied, 'People like us are never afflicted by (such misfortune). Good men have their souls always intent on virtue. The death of the boy was predestined: therefore, I am unable to approve of the destruction of this serpent. Brahmanas do not harbour resentment, because resentment leads to pain. Do thou, O good man, forgive and release this serpent out of compassion.'

"The fowler replied, 'Let us earn great and inexhaustible merit hereafter by killing (this creature), even as a man acquires great merit, and confers it on his victim sacrificed as well, by sacrifice upon the altar. Merit is acquired by killing an enemy: by killing this despicable creature, thou shalt acquire great and true merit hereafter.'

"Gautami replied, 'What good is there in tormenting and killing an

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enemy, and what good is won by not releasing an enemy in our power? Therefore, O thou of benign countenance, why should we not forgive this serpent and try to earn merit by releasing it?'

"The fowler replied, 'A great number (of creatures) ought to be protected from (the wickedness of) this one, instead of this single creature being protected (in preference to many). Virtuous men abandon the vicious (to their doom): do thou, therefore, kill this wicked creature.'

"Gautami replied, 'By killing this serpent, O fowler, my son will not be restored to life, nor do I see that any other end will be attained by its death: therefore, do thou, O fowler, release this living creature of a serpent.

"The fowler said, 'By killing Vritra, Indra secured the best portion (of sacrificial offerings), and by destroying a sacrifice Mahadeva secured his share of sacrificial offerings: do thou, therefore, destroy this serpent immediately without any misgivings in thy mind!'

"Bhishma continued, 'The high-souled Gautami, although repeatedly incited by the fowler for the destruction of the serpent did not bend her mind to that sinful act. The serpent, painfully bound with the cord: sighing a little and maintaining its composure with great difficulty, then uttered these words slowly, in a human voice.'

"The serpent said, 'O foolish Arjunaka, what fault is there of mine? I have no will of my own, and am not independent. Mrityu sent me on this errand. By his direction have I bitten this child, and not out of any anger or choice on my part. Therefore, if there be any sin in this, O fowler, the sin is his.'

"The fowler said, 'If thou hast done this evil, led thereto by another, the sin is thine also as thou art an instrument in the act. As in the making of an earthen vessel the potter's wheel and rod and other things are all regarded as causes, so art thou, O serpent, (cause in the production of this effect). He that is guilty deserves death at my hands. Thou, O serpent, art guilty. Indeed, thou confessest thyself so in this matter!'

"The serpent said, 'As all these, viz., the potter's wheel, rod, and other things, are not independent causes, even so I am not an independent cause. Therefore, this is no fault of mine, as thou shouldst grant. Shouldst thou think otherwise, then these are to be considered as causes working in unison with one another. For thus working with one other, a doubt arises regarding their relation as cause and effect. Such being the case, it is no fault of mine, nor do I deserve death on this account, nor am I guilty of any sin. Or, if thou thinkest that there is sin (in even such causation), the sin lies in the aggregate of causes.'

"The fowler said, 'If thou art neither the prime cause nor the agent in this matter, thou art still the cause of the death (of his child). Therefore, thou dost deserve death in my opinion. If, O serpent, thou thinkest that when an evil act is done, the doer is not implicated therein, then there can be no cause in this matter; but having done this, verily thou deservest death. What more dost thou think?'

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"The serpent said, 'Whether any cause exists or not, 1 no effect is produced without an (intermediate) act. Therefore, causation being of no moment in either case, my agency only as the cause (in this matter) ought to be considered in its proper bearings. If, O fowler, thou thinkest me to be the cause in truth, then the guilt of this act of killing a living being rests on the shoulders of another who incited me to this end.' 2

"The fowler said, 'Not deserving of life, O foolish one, why dost thou bandy so many words, O wretch of a serpent? Thou deservest death at my hands. Thou hast done an atrocious act by killing this infant.'

"The serpent said, 'O fowler, as the officiating priests at a sacrifice do not acquire the merit of the act by offering oblations of clarified butter to the fire, even so should I be regarded with respect as to the result in this connection.'

"Bhishma continued, 'The serpent directed by Mrityu having said this, Mrityu himself appeared there and addressing the serpent spoke thus.

"Mrityu said, 'Guided. by Kala, I, O serpent, sent thee on this errand, and neither art thou nor am I the cause of this child's death. Even as the clouds are tossed hither and thither by the wind, I am like the clouds, O serpent, influenced by Kala. All attitudes appertaining to Sattwa or Rajas, or Tamas, are provoked by Kala, and operate in all creatures. All creatures, mobile and immobile, in heaven, or earth, are influenced by Kala. The whole universe, O serpent, is imbued with this same influence of Kala. All acts in this world and all abstentions, as also all their modifications, are said to be influenced by Kala, Surya, Soma, Vishnu, Water, Wind, the deity of a hundred sacrificer, Fire, Sky, Earth, Mitra and Parjanya, Aditi, and the Vasus, Rivers and Oceans, all existent and non-existent objects, are created and destroyed by Kala. Knowing this, why dost thou, O serpent, consider me to be guilty? If any fault attaches to me in this, thou also wouldst be to blame.'

"The serpent said, 'I do not, O Mrityu, blame thee, nor do I absolve thee from all blame. I only aver that I am directed and influenced (in my actions) by thee. If any blame attaches to Kala, or, if it be not desirable to attach any blame to him, it is not for me to scan the fault. We have no right to do so. As it is incumbent on me to absolve myself from this blame, so it is my duty to see that no blame attaches to Mrityu.'

"Bhishma continued, 'Then the serpent, addressing Arjunaka, said--Thou hast listened to what Mrityu has said. Therefore, it is not proper for thee to torment me, who am guiltless, by tying me with this cord.'

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"The fowler said, 'I have listened to thee, O serpent, as well as to the words of Mrityu, but these, O serpent, do not absolve thee from all blame. Mrityu and thyself are the causes of the child's death. I consider both of you to be the cause and I do not call that to be the cause which is not truly so. Accursed be the wicked and vengeful Mrityu that causes affliction to the good. Thee too I shall kill that art sinful and engaged, in sinful acts!'

"Mrityu said, 'We both are not free agents, but are dependent on Kala, and ordained to do our appointed work. Thou shouldst not find fault with us if thou dost consider this matter thoroughly.'

"The fowler said, 'If ye both, O serpent and Mrityu, be dependent on Kala, I am curious to know how pleasure (arising from doing good) and anger (arising from doing evil) are caused.'

"Mrityu said, 'Whatever is done is done under the influence of Kala. I have said it before, O fowler, that Kala is the cause of all and that for this reason we both, acting under the inspiration of Kala, do our appointed work and therefore, O fowler, we two do not deserve censure from thee in any way!'

"Bhishma continued, 'Then Kala arrived at that scene of disputation on this point of morality, and spoke thus to the serpent and Mrityu and the fowler Arjunaka assembled together.'

"Kala said, 'Neither Mrityu, nor this serpent, nor I, O fowler, am guilty of the death of any creature. We are merely the immediate exciting causes of the event. O Arjunaka, the Karma of this child formed the exciting cause of our action in this matter. There was no other cause by which this child came by its death. It was killed as a result of its own Karma. It has met with death as the result of its Karma in the past. Its Karma has been the cause of its destruction. We all are subject to the influence of our respective Karma. Karma is an aid to salvation even as sons are, and Karma also is an indicator of virtue and vice in man. We urge one another even as acts urge one another. As men make from a lump of clay whatever they wish to make, even so do men attain to various results determined by Karma. As light and shadow are related to each other, so are men related to Karma through their own actions. Therefore, neither art thou, nor am I, nor Mrityu, nor the serpent, nor this old Brahmana lady, is the cause of this child's death. He himself is the cause here. Upon Kala, O king, expounding the matter in this way, Gautami, convinced in her mind that men suffer according to their actions, spoke thus to Arjunaka.'

"Gautami said, 'Neither Kala, nor Mrityu, nor the serpent, is the cause in this matter. This child has met with death as the result of its own Karma. I too so acted (in the past) that my son has died (as its consequence). Let now Kala and Mrityu retire from this place, and do thou too, O Arjunaka, release this serpent.'

"Bhishma continued, 'Then Kala and Mrityu and the serpent went back to their respective destinations, and Gautami became consoled in mind as

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also the fowler. Having heard all this, O king, do thou forego all grief, and attain to peace of mind. Men attain to heaven or hell as the result of their own Karma. This evil has neither been of thy own creation, nor of Duryodhana's. Know this that these lords of Earth have all been slain (in this war) as a result of acts of Kalas.'"

Vaisampayana said, "Having heard all this, the powerful and virtuous Yudhishthira became consoled in mind, and again enquired as follows." Footnotes

4:1 The commentator explains this passage by the illustration that in the act of felling a tree the effect is produced by the intermediate act of raising the axe by some sentient agent, but that in the case of the burning of a forest, the fire is produced by the friction of the dry branches of trees without the intervention of any sentient agent.

4:2 Even as the wind indicates the dry twigs to ignite,' adds the commentator.