Penance
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       =======  Understanding Hinduism  =======

Penance
The Mahabharata
Santi parva, Section CLXI
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Addressing king Yudhishthira

Bhishma said: They that are possessed of knowledge say that everything has penance for its root. That foolish person who has not undergone penances does not meet with the rewards of even his own acts. The puissant Creator created this entire universe with the aid of penances. After the same manner, the Rishis (seers) acquired the Vedas through the power of penances. It was by the aid of penances that the Grandsire created food, fruit and roots. It is by penances that persons crowned with ascetic success behold the three worlds, with rapt souls. Medicines and all antidotes to injurious substances, and the diverse acts (seen here), produce their intended results through the aid of penance. Whatever things there are that are apparently unattainable are sure to be won by the aid of penance. Without doubt, the Rishis obtained their six fold divine attributes through penance.

A person that drinks alcoholic stimulants, one that appropriates the possessions of others without their consent, one guilty of foeticide, one that violates one’s preceptor’s bed, are all cleansed by penance properly practised. Penances are of many kinds. They exhibit themselves through various outlets. Of all kinds of penances, however, that one may practise after abstaining from pleasure and enjoyment, abstention from food is the highest and best. The penance involved in abstention from food is superior, O king, to even compassion, truthfulness of speech, gifts, and restraining the senses. There is no act more difficult to accomplish than gift. There is no mode of life that is superior to serving one’s mother. There is no creature superior to those that are conversant with the three Vedas. Similarly, Renunciation constitutes the highest penance. People keep their senses under control for taking care of their virtue and heaven. In respect of such control over the senses as also in the acquisition of virtue, there is no penance higher than abstention from food. The Rishis, the gods, human beings, beasts, birds, and whatever other creatures there are, mobile or immobile, are all devoted to penances, and whatever success they win is won through penance. Thus it was through penance that the gods acquired their superiority. These (luminaries in the firmament) that have got their shares of felicity are always the results of penance. Without doubt, through penance the very status of godhead may be acquired.

_______________

Penance
From The Mahabharata
Anusasana Parva, Section CXXII
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli
Addressing Maitreya

Bhishma said: … Listen to me as I discourse to thee upon what is even superior (in efficacy) to gift. Whatever scriptures and religious treatises there are, whatever righteous inclinations are observable in the world, they have flowed in their due order, agreeably with the lead of the Vedas, according to their due order. Following them I applaud gift. Thou praisest penances and Vedic lore. Penances are sacred. Penances are the means by which one may acquire the Vedas and heaven also. With the aid of penances and of knowledge, one attains to the highest fruits, we have heard. It is by penances that one destroys one’s sins and all else that is evil. It has been heard by us that with whatever purpose in view one undergoes penances, one attains the fruition thereof in consequence of those penances. The same may be said of knowledge.

Whatever is difficult to accomplish, whatever is difficult to conquer, what is difficult to attain, and whatever is difficult to cross, can all be achieved with the aid of penances. Of all things, penances are possessed of very superior might. The man who drinks alcohol, or he that takes by force what belongs to others, or he that is guilty of foeticide, or he that violates the bed of his preceptor, succeeds in crossing with the aid of penances. Indeed, one becomes cleansed of all these sins through penances. One possessed of all knowledge and, therefore, having true vision, and an ascetic of whatever kind, are equal. One should always bow unto these two.

[Note: The sense is that an ascetic observant of penances, in whatever stage, and a man possessed of omniscience, are regarded as equal.]

All men who have the Vedas for their wealth should be worshipped. Similarly, all men endued with penances deserve to be worshipped. Those who make gifts obtain happiness hereafter and much prosperity here. Righteous men of this world, by making gifts of food obtain both this world and that of Brahman himself with many other regions of superior felicity. Those men who are adored by all, themselves adore him who makes gifts. Those men that are honoured everywhere themselves honour him who make gifts. Wherever the giver goes, he bears himself praised. He who does acts and he who omits to do them gets each what is proportionate to his acts and omissions. Whether one dwells in the upper regions or in the nether, one always attains to those places to which one becomes entitled by one’s acts. As regards thyself, thou wilt certainly obtain whatever food and drink thou may covet, for thou art endued with intelligence, good birth, Vedic lore, and compassion! Thou art possessed of youth, O Maitreya! Thou art observant of vows. Be thou devoted to righteousness. Do thou take instructions from me regarding those duties, which thou should first follow, - the duties, viz., of householders.

In that house in which the husband is gratified with his wedded wife, and the wife gratified with her husband, all auspicious results ensue. As filth is washed away from the body with water, as darkness is dispelled by the splendour of fire even so is sin washed off by gifts and penances. Bless thee, O Maitreya, let mansions be thine! I depart hence in peace. Do thou keep in mind what I have said. Thou shalt then be able to reap many advantages! Maitreya then walked round his illustrious guest and bowed his head unto him, and joining his hands in reverence said: “Let blessings be to thee also, O holy one!”

==============
Related articles
Gifts
Renunciation and abandonment
Fasting (religious)

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