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       =======  Understanding Hinduism  =======


A person may become virtuous although
he may be a slayer of animals by profession

The high and excellent virtue of women

The subtle truths of morality

That son is virtuous who realises these hopes of his parents

Click on underlined words to open paragraph

Virtue (A)

Virtue (B)

Virtue Part 1      Virtue Part 2    Virtue Part 3

Virtue Part 4   Virtue Part 5      Virtue Part 6

Virtue Part 7     Virtue Part 8     Virtue Part 9

Virtue Part 10

Virtue (A)
From the Mahabharata
Vana Parva, section CCIV
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

King Yudhishthira asked the illustrious Markandeya a difficult question about morality, saying: I desire to hear, O holy one, about the high and excellent virtue of women. I desire to hear from thee. O Brahmana, discourse about the subtle truths of morality. O regenerate Rishi, O best of men, the Sun, the Moon, the Wind, the Earth, the Fire, the father, the mother, the preceptor – these and other objects ordained by the gods, appear to us as Deities embodied! All these that are reverend ones are worthy of our best regard. So also is the woman who adores one lord. The worship that chaste wives offer unto their husbands appears to me to be fraught with great difficulty, O adorable one. It behoveth thee to discourse to us of the high and excellent virtue of chaste wives – of wives who restraining all their senses and keeping their hearts under complete control regard their husbands as veritable gods. O holy and adorable one, all this appears to me to be exceedingly difficult.

Of accomplishment, O regenerate one, the worship that sons offer to their mothers and fathers and that wives offer to their husbands, both seem to me to be highly difficult. I do not behold anything that is more difficult than the severe virtue of chaste women. O Brahmana, the duties that women of good behaviour discharge with care and the conduct that is pursued by good sons towards their fathers and mothers appear to me to be most difficult of performance. Those women that are each devoted to but one lord, they that always speak the truth, they that undergo a period of gestation for full ten months – there is nothing, O Brahmana, that is more difficult than that is done by these. O worshipful one, women bring forth their offspring with great hazard to themselves and great pain and rear their children, O bull among Brahmanas, with great affection!

Those persons also who being always engaged in acts of cruelty and thereby incurring general hatred, succeed yet in doing their duties accomplish what, in my opinion, is exceedingly difficult. O regenerate one, tell me the truths of the duties of the Kshatriya order. It is difficult, O twice-born one, for those high-souled ones to acquire virtue who by the duties of their order are obliged to do what is cruel. O holy one, thou art capable of answering all questions; I desire to hear thee discourse on all this. O thou foremost of Brigu’s race, I desire to listen to all this, waiting respectfully on thee, O thou of excellent vows!

Markandeya said: O thou foremost of the Bharata race, I will discourse to thee on all this truly, however difficult of answer thy question may be. Listen to me, therefore, as I speak unto thee. Some regard the mother as superior and some the father. The mother, however, that brings forth and rears up offspring what is more difficult. Fathers also, by ascetic penances, by worship of the gods, by adorations addressed to them, by bearing cold and heat, by incantations and other means desire to have children. And having by these painful expedients obtained children that are so difficult of acquisition, they then, O hero, are always anxious about the future of their sons and, O Bharata, both the father and the mother desire to see in their sons fame and achievements and prosperity and offspring and virtue. That son is virtuous who realises these hopes of his parents. And, O great king, that son with whom the father and the mother are gratified, achieves eternal fame and eternal virtue both here and hereafter. As regards women again, neither sacrifice nor shraddhas, nor fasts are of any efficacy. By serving their husbands only they can win heaven. O king, O Yudhishthira, remembering this alone, listen thou with attention to the duties of chaste women.

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Virtue (B)
From the Mahabharata, Vana Parva,
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Markandeya said: There was, O Bharata, a virtuous ascetic of the name of Kausika and endued with wealth of asceticism and devoted to the study of the Vedas, he was a very superior Brahmana and that best of the Brahmanas studied all the Vedas with the Angas and the Upanishads and one day he was reciting the Vedas at the foot of a tree and at that time there sat on the top of that tree a female crane and that she-crane happened at that time to befoul the Brahmana’s body and beholding that crane the Brahmana became very angry and thought of doing her an injury and as the Brahmana cast his angry glances upon the crane and thought also of doing her an injury, she fell down on the ground and beholding the crane thus fallen from the tree and insensible in death, the Brahmana was much moved by pity and the regenerate one began to lament for the dead crane saying: ‘Alas, I have done a bad deed, urged by anger and malice!’

Markandeya continued: Having repeated these words many times, that learned Brahmana entered a village for procuring alms. And, O bull of the Bharata race, in course of his eleemosynary round among the houses of persons of good lineage, the Brahmana entered one such house that he knew from before. And as he entered the house, he said, ‘Give’. And he was answered by a female with the word, ‘Stay.’ And while the housewife was engaged, O king, in cleaning the vessel from which alms are given, her husband, O thou best of the Bharatas, suddenly entered the house, very much afflicted with hunger. The chaste housewife beheld her husband and disregarding the Brahmana gave her lord water to wash his feet and face and also a seat and after that the black-eyed lady, placing before her lord savoury food and drink, humbly stood beside him desirous of attending to all his wants. And, O Yudhishthira, that obedient wife used every day to eat the orts of her husband’s plate and, always conducting herself in obedience to the wishes of the lord that lady ever regarded her husband, and all her heart’s affections inclined towards her lord. Of various and holy behaviour and skilful in all domestic duties and attentive to all her relatives, she always did what was agreeable and beneficial to her husband and she also, with rapt senses attended to the worship of the gods and the wants of guests and servants and her mother-in-law and father-in-law.

And while the lady of handsome eyes was still engaged in waiting upon her lord, she beheld that Brahmana waiting for alms and beholding him, she remembered that she had asked him to wait. And remembering all this, she felt ashamed. And then that chaste woman possessed of great fame, took something for alms and went out, O thou foremost of Bharatas, for giving it unto that Brahmana. And when she came before him, the Brahmana said: “O best of women, O blessed one, I am surprised at thy conduct! Having requested me to wait saying ‘Stay’ thou didst not dismiss me!”

Markandeya continued: O lord of men beholding that Brahmana filled with wrath and blazing with his energy, that chaste woman began to conciliate him and said: “O learned one, it behoveth thee to forgive me. My husband is my supreme god. He came hungry and tired and was being served and waited upon by me.”

Hearing this the Brahmana said: “With thee Brahmanas are not worthy of superior regard. You exalt your husband above them? Leading a domestic life, do you disregard Brahmanas? Indra (king of gods) himself bows down unto them, what shall I say of men on earth. Proud woman, dost thou not know it, hast thou never heard it, that the Brahmanas are like fire and may consume the entire earth?”

At these words of the Brahmana, the woman answered: “I am no she-crane, O regenerate Rishi! O you, who are endued with the wealth of asceticism, cast off this anger of yours. Engaged, as you are, what can you do to me with these angry glances of yours? I do not disregard Brahmanas. Endued with great energy of soul, they are like unto the gods themselves. But, O sinless one, this fault of mine it behoveth thee to forgive. I know the energy and high dignity of Brahmanas that are possessed of wisdom. The waters of the ocean have been made brackish and undrinkable by the wrath of the Brahmanas. I know also the energy of Munis of souls under complete control and endued with blazing ascetic merit. The fire of their wrath to this day has not been extinguished in the forest of Dandaka. It was for his having disregarded the Brahmanas that the great Asura – the wicked and evil minded Vatapi was digested when he came in contact with Agastya. It has been heard by us that the powers and merits of high-souled Brahmanas are great. But, O Brahmana, as regenerate ones of high souls are great in wrath, so are they equally great in forgiveness. Therefore, O sinless one, it behoveth thee to forgive me in the matter of this my offence.

O Brahmana, my heart inclines to that merit which springs from the service of my husband, for I regard my husband as the highest among all the gods. O best of Brahmanas, I practise that virtue which consists in serving my husband whom I regard as the highest deity. Behold, O regenerate one, the merit that attaches to the service of one’s husband!

I know that you burnt a she-crane with your wrath! But, O best of regenerate ones, the anger that a person cherishes is the greatest of foes, which that person has. The gods know him for a Brahmana who has cast off anger and passion. The gods know him for a Brahmana who always speaks the truth here, who always gratifies his preceptor, and who, though injured himself, never returns the injury. The gods know him for a Brahmana who has his senses under control, who is virtuous and pure and devoted to the study of the Vedas, and who has mastery over anger and lust. The gods know him for a Brahmana who, cognisant of morals and endued with mental energy, is catholic in religion and looks upon all equal unto himself. The gods know him for a Brahmana who studies himself and teaches others, who performs sacrifices himself and officiates at the sacrifices of others, and who gives away to the best of his means. The gods know that bull among the regenerate ones for a Brahmana who, endued with liberality of soul, practises the Brahmacharya vow and is devoted to study,- in fact who is vigilantly devoted to the study of the Vedas.

Whatever conduces to the happiness of the Brahmanas is always recited before these. Ever taking pleasure in truth, the hearts of such men never find joy in untruth. O thou best of regenerate ones, it has been said that the study of the Vedas, tranquillity of soul, simplicity of behaviour, and repression of the senses, constitute the eternal duties of the Brahmana. Those cognisant with virtue and morals have said that truth and honesty are the highest virtue. Virtue that is eternal is difficult of being understood. But whatever it is, it is based on truth. The ancients have declared that virtue depends on Sruti. But, O foremost of regenerate ones, virtue as exposed in Sruti appears to be of various kinds. It is, therefore, too subtle of comprehension. Thou, O holy one, art cognisant of virtue, pure, and devoted to the study of the Vedas. I think, however, O holy one, that thou dost not know what virtue in reality is. Repairing to the city of Mithila, enquire thou of a virtuous fowler there, if indeed, O regenerate one, thou art not really acquainted with what constitutes the highest virtue.

There lives in Mithila a fowler who is truthful and devoted to the service of his parents and who has senses under complete control. Even he will discourse to thee on virtue. Blessed be thou, O best of regenerate ones, if thou likest, repair thither. O faultless one, it behoveth thee to forgive me, if what I have said be unpalatable, for they that are desirous of acquiring virtue are incapable of injuring women!”

At these words of the chaste woman, the Brahmana replied, saying: I am gratified with thee. Blessed be thou; my anger has subsided, O beautiful one! The reproofs uttered by thee will be of the highest advantage to me. Blessed be thou, I shall now go and accomplish what is so conducive, O handsome one, to my benefit.”

Markandeya continued: “Dismissed by her, Kausika, that best of the regenerate ones, left her house, and, reproaching himself, returned to his own abode.”

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Virtuous Conduct
What Constitutes the Highest Virtue

Virtue Part 1
From the Mahabharata
Vana Parva, section CCV & CCVI
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli>

Markandeya continued:
[Addressing a learned Brahmin of the name of Kausika]

The chaste housewife said: Virtue that is eternal is difficult of being understood. But whatever it is, it is based on truth. The ancients have declared that virtue depends on Sruti (Vedas). But, O foremost of regenerate ones, virtue as exposed in Sruti appears to be of various kinds. It is, therefore, too subtle of comprehension. Thou, O holy one, art cognisant of virtue, pure, and devoted to the study of the Vedas. I think, however, O holy one, that thou dost not know what virtue in reality is. Repairing to the city of Mithila, enquire thou of a virtuous fowler there, if indeed, O regenerate one, thou art not really acquainted with what constitutes the highest virtue.

There liveth in Mithila a fowler who is truthful and devoted to the service of his parents and who has senses under complete control. Even he will discuss to thee on virtue. Blessed be thou, O best of regenerate ones, if thou likest, repair thither.

Markandeya said: Continually reflecting upon that wonderful discourse of the woman, Kausika began to reproach himself and looked very much like a guilty person and meditating on the subtle ways of morality and virtue, he said to himself: ‘I should accept what the lady has said and should, therefore, repair to Mithila. Without doubt there dwelleth in that city a fowler of soul under complete control and fully acquainted with the mysteries of virtue and morality. This very day I will repair unto that one endued with wealth of asceticism for enquiring of him about virtue.’ His faith in her was assured by her knowledge of the death of the she-crane [Note: as described in an episode in the previous section of Vana Parva, Mahabharata] and the excellent words of virtuous import she had uttered. Kausika (the Brahmin) thus reflecting with reverence upon all she had said, set out for Mithila, filled with curiosity.

And he traversed many forests and villages and towns and at last reached Mithila that was ruled over by Janaka and he beheld the city to be adorned with the flags of various creeds. And he beheld that beautiful town to be resounding with the noise of sacrifices and festivities and furnished with splendid gateways. It abounded with palatial residences and protected by walls on all sides. It had many splendid buildings to boast of. And that delightful town was also filled with innumerable cars. And its streets and roads were many and well laid and many of them were lined with shops. And the citizens were all in health and joy and they were always engaged in festivities. And having entered that city, that Brahmana (Brahmin) beheld there many other things.

And there the Brahmana enquired about the virtuous fowler and was answered by some twice-born persons. And repairing to the place indicated by those regenerate ones, the Brahmana beheld the fowler seated in a butcher’s yard and the ascetic fowler was then selling venison and buffalo meat and in consequence of the large concourse of buyers gathered round that fowler, Kausika stood at a distance. But the fowler, apprehending that the Brahmana had come to him, suddenly rose from his seat and went to that secluded spot where the Brahmana was staying and having approached him there, the fowler said: ‘I salute thee, O holy one! Welcome art thou, O thou best of Brahmanas! I am the fowler. Blessed be thou! Command me as to what I may do for thee. The word that the chaste woman said unto thee, viz., Repair thou to Mithila,are known to me. I also know for what purpose thou hast come hither.’

Hearing these words of the fowler that Brahmana was filled with surprise. And he began to reflect inwardly, saying: ‘This indeed, is the second marvel that I see!’

The fowler then said unto the Brahmana, saying, ‘Thou art now standing in place that is scarcely proper for thee, O sinless one. If it pleases thee, let us go to my abode, O holy one!’

Markandeya continued: ‘So be it’, said the Brahmana unto him, gladly. And thereupon, the fowler proceeded towards his home with the Brahmana walking before him. And entering his abode that looked delightful, the fowler reverenced his guest by offering him a seat. And he also gave him water to wash his feet and face. And accepting these, that best of Brahmanas sat at his ease. And he then addressed the fowler, saying, ‘It seems to me that this profession doth not befit thee, O fowler, I deeply regret that thou shouldst follow such a cruel trade.’

At these words of the Brahmana the fowler said: This profession is that of my family, myself having inherited it from my sires and grandsires. O regenerate one, grieve not for me owing to my adhering to the duties that belong to me by birth. Discharging the duties ordained for me beforehand by the Creator, I carefully serve my superiors and the old (the elderly). O thou best of Brahmanas! I always speak the truth, never envy others and give to the best of my power. I live upon what remains after serving the gods, guests, and those that depend on me. I never speak ill of anything, small or great.

O thou best of Brahmanas, the actions of a former life always follow the doer. In this world there are three principal professions, viz., agriculture, rearing of cattle and trade. As regard the other world, the three Vedas, knowledge, and the science of morals are efficacious. Service (of the other three orders of Brahmanas, Kshatriyas and Vaisyas) has been ordained to be the duty of the Sudra. Agriculture has been ordained for the Vaisyas, and fighting (soldiering) for the Kshatriyas, while the practice of the Brahmacharya vow, asceticism, recitation of Mantras, and truthfulness have been ordained for the Brahmanas. Over subjects adhering to their proper duties, the king should rule virtuously; while he should set those thereto that have fallen away from the duties of their order. Kings should ever be feared, because they are the lords of their subjects. They restrain those subjects of theirs that fall away from their duties as they restrain the motions of the deer by means of their shafts.

O regenerate Rishi, there existeth not in the kingdom of Janaka a single subject that followeth not the duties of his birth. O thou best of the Brahmanas, all the four orders here rigidly adhere to their respective duties. King Janaka punisheth them that is wicked, even if he were his own son; but never doth he inflict pain on him that is virtuous. With good and able spies employed under him, he looks upon all with impartial eyes. Prosperity, and kingdom, and capacity to punish, belong, O thou best of Brahmanas, to the Kshatriyas. Kings desire high prosperity through practice of the duties that belong to them. The king is the protector of all the four orders.

As regards myself, O Brahmana, I always sell pork and buffalo meat without slaying those animals myself. I sell meat of animals, O regenerate Rishi, that have been slain by others. I never eat meat myself; never go to my wife except in her season; I always fast during the day, and eat, O regenerate one, in the night. Even though the behaviour of his order is bad, a person may yet be himself of good behaviour. So also a person may become virtuous although he may be a slayer of animals by profession. It is in consequence of the sinful acts of kings that virtue decreases greatly, and sin begins to prosper. And when all this takes place the subjects of the kingdom begin to decay. And it is then, O Brahmana, that ill-looking monsters, and dwarfs, and hunch-backed and large-headed wights, and men that are blind or deaf or those that have paralysed eyes or are destitute of the power of procreation, begin to take their birth.

It is from the sinfulness of kings that their subjects suffer numerous mischiefs. But this our king Janaka casts his eyes upon all his subjects virtuously, and he is always kind unto them who, on their part, ever adhere to their respective duties. Regarding myself, I always with good deeds please those that speak well, as also those that speak ill of me. Those kings that live in the observance of their own proper duties, who are always engaged in the practice of acts that are good and honest, who are of souls under complete control and who are endued with readiness and alacrity, may not depend upon anything else for supporting their power.

Gift of food to the best of one’s power, endurance of heat and cold, firmness in virtue, and a regard and tenderness for all creatures - these attributes can never find place in a person, without an innate desire being present in him of separating himself from the world. One should avoid falsehood in speech, and should do good without solicitation. One should never cast off virtue from lust, from wrath, or from malice. One should never joy immoderately at a good turn or grieve immoderately at a bad one. One should never feel depressed when overtaken by poverty, nor when so overtaken abandon the path of virtue. If at any time one does what is wrong, he should never do its like again. One should always urge his soul to the doing of that which he regards as beneficial. One should never return wrong for wrong, but should act honestly by those that have wronged him. That wretched man, who desires to do what is sinful, slays himself. By doing what is sinful, one only imitates them that are wicked and sinful. Disbelieving in virtue they that mock the good and the pure saying: ‘There is no virtue’ undoubtedly meet with destruction. A sinful man swells up like a leather bag puffed up with wind. The thoughts of these wretches filled with pride and folly are feeble and unprofitable.

It is the heart, the inner soul, that discovers the fool like the sun that discovers forms during the day. The fool cannot always shine in the world by means of self-praise. The learned man, however, even if he were destitute of beauty, displays his lustre by refraining from speaking ill of others and well of himself. No example, however, can be met with, in this world, of a person shining brilliantly on account of attributes to be found in him in their reputed measure. If one repents of a wrong done by him, that repentance washes off his sin. The resolution of never doing it again saves him from future sin, even as, O thou best of Brahmanas, he may save himself from sin by any of those expiations obtained in the scriptures. Even this, O regenerate one, is the Sruti that may be seen in respect of virtue.

He that having before been virtuous, commits a sin, or commits it unknowingly may destroy that sin. For virtue, O Brahmana, drives off the sin that men commit from ignorance. A man, after having committed a sin, should cease to regard himself any longer as a man. No man can conceal his sins. The gods behold what one does, also the Being that is within every one. He that with piety and without detraction hides the faults of the honest and the wise like holes in his own attire, surely seeks his salvation. If a man seeks redemption after having committed a sin, without doubt he is purged of all his sins and looks pure and resplendent like the moon emerged from the clouds. A man that seeks redemption is washed of all his sins, even as the sun, upon rising, dispels all darkness. O best of Brahmanas, it is temptation that constitutes the basis of sin. Men that are ignorant commit sin, yielding to temptation alone. Sinful men generally cover themselves with a virtuous exterior, like wells whose mouths are covered by long grass. Outwardly they seem to possess self-control and holiness and indulge in preaching virtuous text, which, in their mouth are of little meaning. Indeed, everything may be noticed in them except conduct that is truly virtuous!

Markandeya continued: At these words of the fowler, that Brahmana, endued with great wisdom, then asked the fowler, saying: ‘How shall I know what is virtuous conduct? Blessed be thou, I desire to hear this, O thou foremost of virtuous men, from thee. Therefore, O thou of exalted soul, tell me all about it truly.’

Hearing these words the fowler replied, saying: ‘O best of Brahmanas, Sacrifice, Gift, Asceticism, the Vedas, and Truth – these five holy things are ever present in conduct that is called virtuous. Having subjugated lust and wrath, pride, avarice and crookedness, they that take pleasure in virtue because it is virtue, are regarded as really virtuous and worthy of the approbation of persons that are virtuous. These persons who are devoted to sacrifices and study of the Vedas have no independent behaviour. They follow only the practices of the honest and the good. This indeed, is the second attribute of the virtuous.

Waiting upon superiors, Truth, freedom from anger, and gift, these four, O Brahmana, are inseparably connected with behaviour that is virtuous. For the reputation that a person acquires by setting his heart on virtuous behaviour and adhering to it rigidly is incapable of acquisition except by practising the four virtues named above. The essence of the Vedas is Truth: the essence of Truth is self-control, and the essence of self-control is abstention from the pleasures of the world. These all are to be noticed in behaviour that is virtuous.

They that follow those deluded fools that mock the forms of faith prevailing among men, are dragged into destruction for walking in such a sinful path. They, however, that are virtuous and engaged in the observance of vows, who are devoted to the Srutis and the virtue of abstention from the pleasures of the world, they in fact who tread in virtue’s path and follow the true religion, they that are obedient to the mandates of their preceptors, and who reflect upon the sense of the scriptures with patience and carefulness – is these that are said to properly guide their higher intelligence. Forsaking those that are atheists, those that transgress virtue’s limits, those that are of wicked souls, those that live in sinfulness, betake thyself to knowledge reverencing those that are virtuous.

Lust and temptation are even like sharks in the river of life; the waters are the five senses. Do thou cross over to the other side of this river in the boat of patience and resignation, avoiding the shoals of corporeal existence (repeated births in this world). The supreme virtue consisting in the exercise of the intelligent principle and abstraction, when gradually super-added to virtuous conduct, becomes beautiful like dye on white fabrics. Truthfulness and abstention from doing injury to any one, are virtues highly beneficial to all creatures. Of these, that latter is a cardinal virtue, and is based on truth. Our mental faculties have their proper play when their foundation is laid in truth, and in the exercise of virtue truth is of the highest value.

Purity of conduct is the characteristic of all good men. Those that are distinguished for holy living are good and virtuous. All creatures follow the principles of conduct, which are innate in their nature. The sinful being who has no control over self acquire lust, anger and other vices. It is the immemorial rule that virtuous actions are those that are founded on justice, and it is ordained by holy men that all iniquitous conduct is sin. Those who are not swayed by anger, pride, haughtiness and envy, and those who are quiet and straightforward, are men of virtuous conduct. Those who are diligent in performing the rites enjoined in the three Vedas, who are wise, and of pure and virtuous conduct, who exercise self-restraint and are full of attention to their superior, are men of virtuous conduct. The actions and conduct of such men of great power are very difficult of attainment. They are sanctified by the purification of their own actions, and consequently sin in them dies out of itself.

This virtue of good conduct is wonderful, ancient, immutable and eternal; and wise men observing this virtue with holiness, attain to heaven. These men who believe in the existence of the Deity, who are free from false pride, and versed in holy writ, and who respect regenerate twice-born) men, go to heaven. Among holy men, virtue is differentiated in three ways – that great virtue which is inculcated in the Vedas, the other which is inculcated in the Dharmashashtras (the minor scriptures), and virtuous conduct. And virtuous conduct is indicated by acquisition of knowledge, pilgrimages to sacred places, truthfulness, forbearance, purity and straight-forwardness. Virtuous men are always kind to all creatures and well disposed towards regenerate men. They abstain from doing injury to any creature, and are never rude in speech. Those good men who know well the consequences of the fruition of their good and evil deeds, are commended by virtuous men. Those who are just and good-natured, and endowed with virtue, who wish well of all creatures, who are steadfast in the path of virtue, and have conquered heaven, who are charitable, unselfish and of unblemished character, who succour the afflicted, and are learned and respected by all, who practise austerities, and are kind to all creatures, are commended as such by the virtuous.

Those who are charitably disposed attain prosperity in this world, as also the regions of bliss (hereafter). The virtuous man when solicited for assistance by good men bestow alms on them by straining to the utmost, even to the deprivation of the comforts of his wife and servants. Good men having an eye to their own welfare, as also virtue and the ways of the world, act in this way and thereby grow in virtue through endless ages. Good persons possessing the virtues of truthfulness, abstention from doing injury to any one, rectitude, abstention from evil towards any one, want of haughtiness, modesty, resignation, self-restraint, absence of passion, wisdom, patience, and kindness towards all creatures, and freedom from malice and lust, are the witnesses of the world.

These three are said to constitute the perfect way of the virtuous, viz., a man must not do wrong to any body, he must bestow alms, and must always be truthful. Those high-souled good men of virtuous conduct, and settled convictions, who are kind to all and are full of compassion, depart with contentment from this world to the perfect way of virtue. Freedom from malice, forbearance, peace of mind, contentment, pleasant speech, renunciation of desire and anger, virtuous conduct and actions regulated according to the ordinances of holy writ, constitute the perfect way of the virtuous. And those who are constant in virtue follow these rules of virtuous conduct, and having reached the pinnacle of knowledge, and discriminating between the various phases of human conduct, which are either very virtuous or the reverse, they escape from the great danger. Thus, O great Brahmana, having introduced the subject of virtuous conduct, have I described to thee all this, according to my own knowledge and to what I have heard on the subject.

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Virtue Part 2
The Mahabharata Vana Parva, section CCV II
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Markandeya continued:

The pious fowler then said to that Brahmana: Undoubtedly my deeds are very cruel, but, O Brahmana, Destiny is all-powerful and it is difficult to evade the consequence of our past actions. And this is the Karmic evil arising out of sin committed in former life. But, O Brahmana, I am always assiduous in eradicating the evil. The Deity takes away life, the executioner acts only as a secondary agent. And we, O good Brahmana, are only such agents in regard to our Karma. Those animals that are slain by me and whose meat I sell, also acquire Karma; because (with their meat), gods and guests and servants are regaled with dainty food and the Manes are propitiated. It is said authoritatively that herbs and vegetables, deer, birds and wild animals constitute the food of all creatures.

And in the matter of animal food, this rule has been laid down by Munis (sages): - Whoever partakes of animal food after having first offered it duly and respectfully to the gods and the Manes, is not polluted by the act. And such man is not at all considered to have partaken of animal food.

O good Brahmana, knowing this to be the consequence of my own actions, I obtain my livelihood from this profession. The forsaking of one’s own occupation is considered, O Brahmana, to be a sin, and the act of sticking to one’s own profession is without doubt a meritorious act. The Karma of a former existence never forsakes any creature. And in determining the various consequences of one’s Karma, this rule was not lost sight of by the Creator. A person having his being under the influence of evil Karma, must always consider how he can atone for his Karma, and extricate himself from an evil doom, and the evil Karma may be expiated in various ways. Accordingly, O good Brahmana, I am charitable, truthful, assiduous in attending on my superior, full of respect towards regenerate Brahmanas, devoted to and free from pride and (idle) excessive talk.

Agriculture is considered to be a praiseworthy occupation, but it is well known that even there, great harm is done to animal life; and in the operation of digging the earth with the plough, numberless creatures lurking in the ground as also various other forms of animal life are destroyed. Dost thou not think so? O good Brahmana, Vrihi and other seeds of rice are all living organisms. What is thy opinion on this matter? Men, O Brahmana, hunt wild animals and kill them and partake of their meat; they also cut up trees and herbs; but, O Brahmana, there are numberless living organisms in trees, fruits, and also in water; dost thou not think so? This whole creation, O Brahmana, is full of animal life, sustaining itself with food derived from living organisms.

Dost thou not mark that fish preys upon fish, and that various species of animals prey upon other species, and there are species the members of which prey upon each other? Men, O Brahmana, while walking about hither and thither, kill numberless creatures lurking in the ground by trampling on them, and even men of wisdom and enlightenment destroy animal life in various ways, even while sleeping or reposing themselves. What has thou to say to this? – The earth and the air all swarm with living organisms, which are unconsciously destroyed by men from mere ignorance. Is not this so? The commandment that people should not do harm to any creature, was ordained of old by men, who were ignorant of the true facts of the case. For, O Brahmana, there is not a man on the face of this earth, who is free from the sin of doing injury to creatures. After full consideration, the conclusion is irresistible that there is not a single man who is free from the sin of doing injury to animal life. Even the sage, O good Brahmana, whose vow is to do harm to no creature, doth inflict injury to animal life.

Only, on account of greater heedfulness, the harm is less. Men of noble birth and great qualities perpetrate wicked acts in defiance of all, of which they are not at all ashamed. Good men acting in an exemplary way are not commended by other good men; nor are bad men acting in a contrary way praised by their wicked compeers; and friends are not agreeable to friends, albeit endowed with high qualities; and foolish pedantic men cry down the virtues of their preceptors. This reversal of the natural order of things, O good Brahmana, is seen everywhere in this world. What is thy opinion as to the virtuousness or otherwise of this state of things? There is much that can be said of the goodness or badness of our actions. But whoever is addicted to his own proper occupation surely acquires great reputation.

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Virtue Part 3
From the Mahabharata
Vana Parva, section  CCVII
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Markandeya continued: O Yudhishthira, the virtuous fowler, eminent in pity, then skilfully addressed himself again to that foremost of Brahmanas.

The fowler said: It is the dictum of the aged that the ways of righteousness are subtle, diverse and infinite. When life is at stake and in the matter of marriage, it is proper to tell an untruth. Untruth sometimes leads to the triumph of truth, and the latter dwindles into untruth. Whichever conduces most to the good of all creatures is considered to be truth. Virtue is thus perverted; mark thou its subtle ways. O best of virtuous men, man’s actions are either good or bad, and he undoubtedly reaps their fruits. The ignorant man having attained to an abject state, grossly abuses the gods, not knowing that it is the consequence of his own evil Karma. The foolish, the designing and the fickle, O good Brahmana, always attain the very reverse of happiness or misery. Neither learning nor good morals, nor personal exertion can save them. And if the fruits of our exertion were not dependent on anything else, people would attain the object of their desire, by simply striving to attain it.

It is seen that able, intelligent and diligent persons are baffled in their efforts, and do not attain the fruits of their actions. On the other hand, persons who are always active in injuring others and in practising deception on the world, lead a happy life. There are some who attain prosperity without any exertion. And there are others, who with the utmost exertion, are unable to achieve their dues. Miserly persons with the object of having sons born to them worship the gods, and practise severe austerities, and those sons having remained in the womb for ten months at length turn out to be very infamous issue of their race; and others begotten under the same auspices, decently pass their lives in luxury with heaps of riches and grain accumulated by their ancestors.

The diseases, from which men suffer, are undoubtedly the result of their own Karma. They then behave like small deer at the hands of hunters, and they are racked with mental troubles. And, O Brahmana, as hunters intercept the flight of their game, the progress of those diseases is checked by able and skilful physicians with their collection of drugs. And, the best of the cherishers of religion, thou hast observed that those who have it in their power to enjoy (the good things of this earth), are prevented from doing so from the fact of their suffering from chronic bowel complaints, and that many others that are strong and powerful, suffer from misery, and are enabled with great difficulty to obtain a livelihood; and that every man is thus helpless, overcome by misery and illusion, and again and again tossed and overpowered by the powerful current of his own actions (karma).

If there were absolute freedom of action, no creature would die, none would be subject to decay, or await his evil doom, and everybody would attain the object of his desire. All persons desire to outdistance their neighbours (in the race of life), and they strive to do so to the utmost of their power, but the result turns out otherwise. Many are the persons born under the influence of the same star and the same auspices of good luck but a great diversity is observable in the maturity of their actions. No person, O good Brahmana, can be the dispenser of his own lot. The actions done in a previous existence are seen to fructify in our present life. It is the immemorial tradition that the soul is eternal and everlasting, but the corporeal frame of all creatures is subject to destruction here. When therefore life is extinguished, the body only is destroyed, but the spirit, wedded to its actions, travels elsewhere.

The Brahmana replied: O best of those versed in the doctrine of Karma, and in the delivery of discourses, I long to know accurately how the soul becomes eternal?

The fowler replied: The spirit dies not, there being simply a change of tenement. They are mistaken, who foolishly say that all creatures die. The soul betakes itself to another frame, and its change of habitation is called its death. In the world of men, no man reaps the consequences of another man’s Karma. Whatever one does, he is sure to reap the consequences thereof; for the consequences of the Karma that is once done, can never be obviated. The virtuous become endowed with great virtues, and sinful men become the perpetrators of wicked deeds. Men’s actions follow them, and influenced by these, they are born again.

The Brahmana enquired: Why does the spirit take its birth, and why does its nativity become sinful or virtuous, and how, O good man, does it come to belong to a sinful or virtuous race?

The fowler replied: This mystery seems to belong to the subject of procreation, but I shall briefly describe to you, O good Brahmana, how the spirit is born again with its accumulated load of Karma, the righteous in a virtuous, and the wicked in a sinful nativity. By the performance of virtuous actions it attains to the state of gods, and by a combination of good and evil, it acquires the human state; by indulgence in sensuality and similar demoralising practices it is born in the lower species of animals, and by sinful acts, it goes to the infernal regions. Afflicted with the miseries of birth and dotage, man is fated to rot here below from the evil consequences of his own actions.

Passing through thousands of births as also the infernal regions, our spirits wander about, secured by the fetters of their own Karma. Animate beings become miserable in the next world on account of these actions done by themselves and from the reaction of those miseries, they assume lower births and then they accumulate a new series of actions, and they consequently suffer misery over again, like sickly men partaking of unwholesome food. And although they are thus afflicted, they consider themselves to be happy and at ease and consequently their fetters are not loosened and new Karma arises; and suffering from diverse miseries they turn about in this world like a wheel. If casting off their fetters they purify themselves by their actions and practise austerities and religious meditations, then, O best of Brahmanas, they attain the Elysian regions by these numerous acts and by casting off their fetters and by purification of Karma, men attain those blissful regions where misery is unknown to those who go there. The sinful man who is addicted to vices, never comes to the end of his course of iniquities. Therefore must we strive to do what is virtuous and forbear from doing what is unrighteous.

Whoever with a heart full of gratefulness and free from malice strives to do what is good, attains wealth, virtue, happiness and heaven (hereafter). Those who are purified of sins, wise, forbearing, constant in righteousness, and self-restrained enjoy continuous felicity in this as well as in the next world. Man must follow the standard of virtue of the good and in his acts imitate the example of the righteous. There are virtuous men, versed in holy writ and learned in all departments of knowledge. Man’s proper duty consists in following his own proper avocation, and this being the case these latter do not become confused and mixed up. The wise man delights in virtue and lives by righteousness. And, O good Brahmana, such a man with the wealth of righteousness which he hereby acquires, waters the root of the plant in which he finds most virtue. The virtuous man acts thus and his mind is calmed. He is please with his friends in this world and he also attains happiness hereafter. Virtuous people, O good man, acquire dominion over all and the pleasure of beauty, flavour, sound and touch according to their desire. These are known to be the rewards of virtue.

But the man of enlightened vision, O great Brahmana, is not satisfied with reaping the fruits of righteousness. Not content with that, he with the light of spiritual wisdom that is in him, becomes indifferent to pain and pleasure and the vice of the world influenceth him not. Of his own free will he becomes indifferent to worldly pursuits but he does not forsake virtue. Observing that everything worldly is evanescent, he tries to renounce everything and counting on more chance he devises means for the attainment of salvation. Thus does he renounce the pursuits of the world, shuns the ways of sin, becomes virtuous and at last attains salvation. Spiritual wisdom is the prime requisite of men for salvation, resignation and forbearance are its roots. By this means he attains all objects of this desire. But subduing the senses and by means of truthfulness and forbearance, he attains, O good Brahmana, the supreme asylum of Brahma.

The Brahmana again enquired: O thou most eminent in virtue and constant in the performance of the religious obligations, you talk of senses. What are they? How may they be subdued and what is the good of subduing them? And how does a creature reap the fruits thereof? O pious man, I beg to acquaint myself with the truth of this matter.

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Virtue  Part 4
From the Mahabharata
Vana Parva, section CCIX
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

[Senses. What are they? How may they be subdued and what is the good of subduing them? And how does a creature reap the fruits thereof?]

Markandeya continued: Hear, O king Yudhishthira what the virtuous fowler, thus interrogated by that Brahman said to him in reply.

The fowler said: Men’s minds are at first bent on the acquisition of knowledge. That acquired, O good Brahmana, they indulge in their passions and desires, and for that end, they labour and set about tasks of great magnitude and indulge in much-desired pleasures of beauty, flavour, &c. then follows fondness, then envy, then avarice and then extinction of all spiritual light. And men are thus influenced by avarice, and overcome by envy and fondness, their intellect ceases to be guided by righteousness and they practise the very mockery of virtue. Practising virtue with hypocrisy, they are content to acquire wealth by dishonourable means. With the wealth thus acquired the intelligent principle in them becomes enamoured of those evil ways, and they are filled with a desire to commit sins. And when, O good Brahmana, their friends and men of wisdom remonstrate with them, they are ready with specious answers, which are neither sound nor convincing.

From their being addicted to evil ways, they are guilty of a threefold sin. They commit sin in thought, in word, as also in action. They being addicted to wicked ways, all their good qualities die out, and these men of wicked deeds cultivate the friendship of men of similar character, and consequently they suffer misery in this world as well as in the next. The sinful man is of this nature, and now hear of the man of virtue. He discerns these evils by means of his spiritual insight, and is able to discriminate between happiness and misery, and is full of respectful attention to men of virtue, and from practising virtues, his mind becomes inclined to righteousness.

The Brahmana replied: Thou hast given a true exposition of religion which none else is able to expound. Thy spiritual power is great, and thou dost appear to me to be like a great Rishi.

The fowler replied: The great Brahmanas are worshipped with the same honours as our ancestors and they are always propitiated with offerings of food before others. Wise men in this world do what is pleasing to them, with all their heart. And I shall, O good Brahmana, describe to thee what is pleasing to them, after having bowed down to Brahmanas as a class.

Do thou learn from me the Brahmanic philosophy. This whole universe unconquerable everywhere and abounding in great elements, is Brahma, and there is nothing higher than this. The earth, air, water, fire and sky are the great elements. And form, odour, sound, touch and taste are their characteristic properties. These latter too have their properties which are also correlated to each other. And of the three qualities, which are gradually characterised by each, in order of priority is consciousness, which is called the mind. The seventh is intelligence and after that comes egoism; and then the five senses, then the soul, then the moral qualities called Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas. These seventeen are said to be the unknown or incomprehensible qualities. I have described all this to thee. What else doest thou wish to know?

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Virtue Part 5
From the Mahabharata
Vana Parva, section CCX
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Markandeya continued: O Bharata, The Brahmana, thus interrogated by the virtuous fowler, resumed again this discourse so pleasing to the mind.

The Brahmana said: O best of the cherishers of religion, it is said that there are five great elements. Do thou describe to me in full the properties of any one of the five.

The fowler replied: The earth, water, fire, air and sky all have properties interlapping each other. I shall describe them to thee. The earth, O Brahmana, has five qualities, water has four, fire thee and the air and sky together three also. Sound, touch, form, odour and taste, O austere Brahmana, have been described to thee as the properties of water, and sound, touch and form are the properties of fire and air has two properties sound and touch, and sound is the property of sky.

And, O Brahmana, these fifteen properties inherent in five elements, exist in all substances of which this universe is composed. And they are not opposed to one another; they exist, O Brahmana, in proper combination. When this whole universe is thrown into a state of confusion, then every corporeal being in the fullness of time, assumes another corpus. It arises and perishes in due order. And there are present the five elementary substances of which all the mobile and immobile world is composed. Whatever is perceptible by these senses, is called Vyakta (knowable or comprehensible) and whatever is beyond the reach of the senses and can only be perceived by guesses, is known to be Avyakta (not Vyakta). When a person engages in the discipline of self-examination, after having subdued the senses, which have of their own proper objective play in the external conditions of sound, form, &c, then he beholds his own spirit pervading the universe reflecting in itself. He who is wedded to his previous Karma, although skilled in the highest spiritual wisdom, is cognisant only of his soul’s objective existence, but the person whose soul is never affected by the objective conditions around, is never subject to ills, owing to its absorption in the elementary spirit of Brahman.

When a person has overcome the domination of illusion, his manly virtues consisting of the essence of spiritual wisdom, turn to the spiritual enlightenment, which illumines the intelligence of sentient beings. Such a person is styled by the omnipotent, intelligent Spirit as one who is without beginning and without end, self-existent, immutable, incorporeal and incomparable. This, O Brahmana, that thou hast enquired of me is only the result of self-discipline. And this self-discipline can only be acquired by subduing the senses. It cannot be otherwise. Heaven and hell are both dependent on our senses. When subdued, they lead to heaven; when indulged in, they lead to perdition. This subjugation of the senses is the highest means of attaining spiritual light. Our senses are at the (cause) root of our spiritual advancement as also at the root of our spiritual degradation. By indulging in them, a person undoubtedly contracts vices, and by subduing these, he attains salvation.

The self-restrained person, who acquires mastery over the six senses inherent in our nature, is never tainted with sin, and consequently evil has no power over him. Man’s corporeal self has been compared to a chariot, his soul to a charioteer and his senses to horses. A dextrous man drives about without confusion, like a quiet charioteer with well-broken horses. That man is an excellent driver, who knows how to patiently wield the reins of those wild horses, - the six senses inherent in our nature. When our senses become ungovernable like horses on the high road, we must patiently rein them in; for with patience, we are sure to get the better of them. When a man’s mind is overpowered by any one of these senses running wild, he loses his reason, and becomes like a ship tossed by storms upon the high ocean. Men are deceived by illusion in hoping to reap the fruits of those six things, whose effects are studied by persons of spiritual insight, who thereby reap the fruits of their clear perception.

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Virtue Part 6
From the Mahabharata
Vana Parva, section CCXI
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Markandeya continued: O Brahmana, the fowler having expanded these abstruse points, the Brahmana with great attention again enquired of him about these subtle topics.

The Brahmana said: Do thou truly describe to me, who now duly ask thee, the respective virtues of the qualities of Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas.

The fowler replied: Very well, I shall tell thee what thou hast asked. I shall describe separately their respective virtues, do thou listen.

Of them, Tamas is characterised by illusion (spiritual). Rajas incites (men to action), Sattwa is of great grandeur, and on that account, it is said to be the greatest of them. He who is greatly under the influence of spiritual ignorance, who is foolish, senseless and given to dreaming, who is idle, unenergetic and swayed by anger and haughtiness, is said to be under the influence of Tamas.

And, O Brahmana Rishi, that excellent man who is agreeable in speech, thoughtful, free from envy, industrious in action from an eager desire to reap its fruits, and of warm temperament, is said to be under the influence of Rajas.

And he who is resolute, patient, not subject to anger, free from malice, and is not skilful in action from want of a selfish desire to reap its fruits, wise and forbearing, is said to be under the influence of Sattwa. When a man endowed with the Sattwa quality, is influenced by worldliness, he suffers misery; but he hates worldliness, when he realises its full significance. And then a feeling of indifference to worldly affairs begins to influence him. And then his pride decreases, and uprightness becomes more prominent, and his conflicting moral sentiments are reconciled. And then self-restraint in any matter becomes unnecessary. A man, O Brahmana, may be born in the Sudra caste, but if he is possessed of good qualities, he may attain the state of Vaisya and similarly that of a Kshatriya, and if he is steadfast in rectitude, he may even become a Brahmana.

I have described to thee these virtues, what else dost thou wish to learn?

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Virtue Part 7
From the Mahabharata
Vana Parva, section CCXII
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

The Brahmana enquired:How is it that the fire (vital force) in combination with the earthly element (matter), becomes the corporeal tenement (of living creatures), and how does the vital air (the breath of life) according to the nature of its seat (the muscles and nerves) excite to action (the corporeal frame)?

Markandeya said: This question, O Yudhishthira, having been put to the Brahmana by the fowler, the latter, in reply, said to that high-minded Brahmana.

The fowler said: The vital spirit manifesting itself in the seat of consciousness, causes the action of the corporeal frame. And the soul being present in both of them acts (through them). The past, the present and the future are inseparably associated with the soul. And it is the highest of a creature’s possessions. It is of the essence of the Supreme Spirit and we adore it. It is the animating principle of all creatures, and it is the eternal Purusha (spirit). It is great and it is the intelligence and the ego, and it is the subjective seat of the various properties of elements. Thus while seated here (in a corporeal frame) it is sustained in all its relations external or internal (to matter or mind) by the subtle ethereal air called Prana, and thereafter, each creature goes its own way by the action of another subtle air called Samana. And this latter transforming itself into Apana air, and supported by the head of the stomach carries the refuse matter of the body, urine &c, to the kidneys and intestines. That same air is present in the three elements of effort, exertion and power, and in that condition it is called Udana air by persons learned in physical science, and when manifesting itself by its presence at all the junctional points of the human system, it is known by the name Vyana. And the internal heat is diffused over all the tissues of our system, and supported by these kinds of air, it transforms our food and the tissues and the humours of our system. And by the coalition of Prana and other airs, a reaction (combination) ensues, and the heat generated thereby is known as the internal heat of the human system that causes the digestion of our food.

The Prana and the Apana air are interposed within the Samana and the Udana air. And the heat generated by their coalition causes the growth of the body (consisting of the seven substances, bones, muscles, &c). And that portion of its seat extending to as far as the rectum is called Apana; and from that arteries arise in the five airs Prana, &c. The Prana air, acted on by the heat strikes against the extremity of the Apana region and then recoiling, it reacts on the heat. Above the navel is the region of undigested food and below is the region of digestion. And the Prana and all other airs of the system are seated in the navel. The arteries issuing from the heart run upwards, as also in oblique directions. They carry the best essence of our food, and are acted upon by the ten Prana airs. This is the way by which patient Yogis who have overcome all difficulties, and who view things with an impartial and equal eye, with their souls seated in the brain, find the Supreme Spirit. The Prana and the Apana airs are thus present in the body of all creatures. Know that the spirit is embodied in corporeal disguise, in the eleven allotropous conditions (of the animal system), and that though eternal, its normal state is apparently modified by its accompaniments,- even like the fire purified in its pan,- eternal, yet with its course altered by its surroundings; and that the divine thing which is kindred with the body is related to the latter in the same way as drop of water to the sleek surface of a lotus-leaf on which it rolls.

Know that Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas , are the attributes of all life and that life is the attribute of spirit, and that the latter again is the attribute of the Supreme Spirit. Inert, insensible matter is the seat of the living principle, which is active in itself and induces activity in others. That thing by which the seven worlds are incited to action is called the most high by men of high spiritual insight. Thus in all these elements, the eternal spirit does not show itself, but is perceived by the learned in spiritual science by reason of their high and keen perception. A pure-minded person, by purification of his heart, is able to destroy the good and evil effect of his actions and attains eternal beatitude by the enlightenment of his inward spirit. That state of peace and purification of heart is likened to the state of a person who in a cheerful state of mind sleeps soundly, or the brilliance of a lamp trimmed by a skilful hand. Such a pure-minded person living on spare diet perceives the Supreme Spirit reflected in his own, and by practising concentration of mind in the evening and small hours of the night, he beholds the Supreme Spirit, which has no attributes, in the light of his heart, shining like a dazzling lamp, and thus he attains salvation. Avarice and anger must be subdued by all means, for this act constitutes the most sacred virtue that people can practise and is considered to be the means by which men can cross over to the other side of this sea of affliction and trouble.

A man must preserve his righteousness from being overcome by the evil consequences of anger, his virtues from the effects of pride, his learning from the effects of vanity, and his own spirit from illusion. Leniency is the best virtue, and forbearance is the best of powers, the knowledge of our spiritual nature is the best of all knowledge, and truthfulness is the best of all religious obligations. The telling of truth is good, and the knowledge of truth may also be good, but what conduces to the greatest good of all creatures, is known as the highest truth. He whose actions are performed not with the object of securing any reward or blessing, who has sacrificed all to the requirements of his renunciation, is a real Sannayasin and is really wise. And as communion with Brahman cannot be taught to us, even by our spiritual preceptor,- he only giving us a clue to the mystery- renunciation of the material world is called Yoga. We must not do harm to any creature and must live in terms of amity with all, and in this our present existence, we must not avenge ourselves on any creature. Self-abnegation, peace of mind, renunciation of hope, and equanimity,- these are the ways by which spiritual enlightenment can always be secured; and the knowledge of self (one’s own spiritual nature) is the best of all knowledge.

In this world as well as hereafter, renouncing all worldly desires and assuming a stoic indifference, wherein all suffering is at rest, people should fulfil their religious duties with the aid of their intelligence. The Muni (sage) who desires to obtain Moksha (salvation), which is very difficult to attain, must be constant in austerities, for bearing, self-restrained, and must give up that longing fondness which binds him to the things of this earth. They call these the attributes of the Supreme Spirit. The Gunas (qualities or attributes) that we are conscious of, reduce themselves to agunas (non-gunas) in Him; He is not bound by anything, and is perceptible only by the expansion and development of our spiritual vision; as soon as the illusion of ignorance is dispelled, this supreme unalloyed beatitude is attained. By foregoing the objects of both pleasure and pain and by renouncing the feelings which bind him to the things of this earth, a man may attain Brahman (Supreme Spirit or salvation).

O good Brahmana, I have now briefly explained to thee all this, as I have heard. What else dost thou wish to know?

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Virtue Part 8
From the Mahabharata
Vana Parva, section CCXIII
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli
Markandeya said: When O Yudhishthira, all this mystery of salvation was explained to the Brahmana, he was highly pleased and he said addressing the fowler:

The Brahmana said: All this that thou hast explained, is rational, and it seems to me that there is nothing in connection with the mysteries of religion, which thou dost not know.

The fowler replied: O good and great Brahmana, thou shalt perceive with thine own eyes, all the virtue that I lay claim to, and by reason of which I have attained this blissful state. Rise, worshipful sir, and quickly enter this inner apartment. O virtuous man, it is proper that thou shouldst see my father and my mother.

Markandeya continued: Thus addressed the Brahmana went in, and beheld a fine beautiful mansion. It was a magnificent house divided in four suites of rooms, admired by gods and looking like one of their palaces. It was also furnished with seats and beds, and redolent of excellent perfumes. His revered parents clad in white robes, having finished their meals, were seated at ease. The fowler, beholding them, prostrated himself before them with his head at their feet.

His aged parents then addressed him thus: Rise, O man of piety, rise, may righteousness shield thee. We are much pleased with thee for thy piety. Mayest thou be blessed with a long life, and with knowledge, high intelligence, and fulfilment of thy desires. Thou art a good and dutiful son, for, we are constantly and reasonably looked after by thee, and even amongst the celestials thou hast not another divinity to worship. By constantly subduing thyself, thou hast become endowed with the self-restraining power of Brahmanas and all thy grandsires and ancestors are constantly pleased with thee for thy self-restraining virtues and for thy piety towards us. In thought, word or deed, thy attention to us never flags, and it seems that at present thou hast no other thought in thy mind (save as to how to please us). As Rama, the son of the Jamadagni, laboured to please his aged parents, so hast thou, O Son, done to please us, and even more.

Then the fowler introduced the Brahmana to his parents and they received him with the usual salutation of welcome, and the Brahmana accepting their welcome, enquired if they, with their children and servants, were all right at home, and if they were always enjoying good health at that time (of life).

The aged couple replied: At home, O Brahmana, we are all right, with all our servants. Hast thou, adorable sir, reached this place without any difficulty?

The Brahmana replied: Yes, I have.

Then the fowler addressing himself to the Brahmana said to him: These my parents, worshipful sir, are the idols that I worship. Whatever is due to the gods, I do unto them. As the thirty-three gods with Indra at their head are worshipped by men, so are these aged parents of mine worshipped by me. As Brahmanas exert themselves for the purpose of procuring offering for their gods, so do I act with diligence for these two (idols of mine). These my father and mother, O Brahmana, are my supreme gods, and I seek to please them always with offering of flowers, fruits and gems. To me they are like the three sacred fires mentioned by the learned; and, O Brahmana, they seem to me to be as good as sacrifices or the four Vedas. My five life giving airs, my wife and children and friends are all for them (dedicated for their service). And with my wife and children I always attend on them, O good Brahmana, with my own hands I assist them in bathing and also wash their feet and give them food and I say to them only what is agreeable, leaving out what is unpleasant. I consider it to be my highest duty to do what is agreeable to them even though it be not strictly justifiable. And, O Brahmana, I am always diligent in attending on them. The two parents, the sacred fire, the soul and the spiritual preceptor, these five, O good Brahmana, are worthy of the highest reverence from a person who seeks prosperity. By serving them properly, one acquires the merit of perpetually keeping up the sacred fire. And it is the eternal and invariable duty of all householders.

Virtue Part 9
From the Mahabharata
Vana Parva, section CCXIV
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

Markandeya continued: The virtuous fowler, having introduced his (both) parents to that Brahmana as his highest Guru, again spoke to him as follows.

The Fowler said: Mark you the power of this virtue of mine, by which my inner spiritual vision is extended. For this, thou wast told by that self-restrained truthful lady, devoted to her husband, ‘Hie thee to Mithila; for there lives a fowler who will explain to thee, the mysteries of religion.’

The Brahmana said: O pious man, so constant in fulfilling thy religious obligations, bethinking myself of what that truthful good-natured lady, so true to her husband, hath said. I am convinced that thou art really endowed with every high quality.

The fowler replied: I have no doubt, my lord, that what that lady, so faithful to her husband, said to thee about me, was said with full knowledge of the facts. I have, O Brahmana, explained to thee all this as a matter of favour. And now, good sir, listen to me. I shall explain what is good for thee. O good Brahmana, of irreproachable character, thou hast wronged thy father and thy mother, for thou hast left home without their permission, for the purpose of learning the Vedas. Thou hast not acted properly in this matter, for thy ascetic and aged parents have become entirely blind from grief at thy loss. Do thou return home to console them. May this virtue never forsake thee. Thou art high minded, of ascetic merit, and always devoted to thy religion but all these have become useless to thee. Do thou without delay return to console thy parents. Do have some regard for my words and not act otherwise. I tell thee what is good for thee, O Brahmana Rishi. Do thou return home this very day.

The Brahmana replied: This that thou hast said, is undoubtedly true. May thou, O pious man, attain prosperity. I am much pleased with thee.

The fowler said: O Brahmana, as thou practise with assiduousness those divine, ancient, and eternal virtues which are so difficult of attainment even by pure-minded persons, thou appearest (to me) like a divine being. Return to the side of thy father and mother and be quick and diligent in honouring thy parents; for, I do not know if there is any virtue higher than this.

The Brahmana replied: By a piece of a singular good luck have I arrived here, by a piece of similar good luck have I thus been associated with thee. It is very difficult to find out, in our midst, a person who can so well expound the mysteries of religion; there is scarcely one man among thousands, who is well versed in the science of religion. I am very glad, O great man, to have secured thy friendship. May thou be prosperous. I was on the point of falling into hell, but was extricated by thee. It was destined to be so, for thou didst (unexpectedly) come in my way. And, O great man, as the fallen King Yayati was saved by his virtuous grandsons (daughter’s sons), so, have I been saved by thee. According to thy advice, I shall honour my father and my mother; for a man with an impure heart can never expound the mysteries of sin and righteousness. As it is very difficult for a person born in the Sudra class to learn the mysteries of the eternal religion. I do not consider thee to be a Sudra. There must surely be some mystery in connection with this matter. Thou must have attained the Sudra’s estate by reason of the fruition of thine own past Karma. O magnanimous man, I long to know the truth about this matter. Do thou tell it to me with attention and according to thy own inclination.

The fowler replied: O good Brahmana, Brahmanas are worthy of all respect from me. Listen, O sinless one, to this story of a previous existence of mine. O son of an excellent Brahmana, I was formerly a Brahmana, well read in the Vedas, and an accomplished student of the Vedangas. Through my own fault I have been degraded to my present state. A certain king, accomplished in the science of Dhanurveda (science of archery), was my friend; and from his companionship, O Brahmana, I, Too became skilled in archery; and one day the king, in company with his ministers and followed by his best warriors, went out on a hunting expedition. He killed a large number of deer near a hermitage. I, too, O good Brahmana, discharged a terrible arrow. And a Rishi was wounded by that arrow with his head bent out. He fell down upon the ground, and screaming loudly said, ‘I have harmed no one, what sinful man has done this?’

And, my lord, taking him for a deer, I went up to him and found that he was pierced through the body by my arrow. On account of my wicked deed I was sorely grieved (in mind). And then I said to that Rishi of severe ascetic merit, who was loudly crying, lying upon the ground, ‘I have done this unwittingly, O Rishi.’ And also this I said to the Muni, ‘Do thou think it proper to pardon all this transgression.’

But, O Brahmana, the Rishi, lashing himself into a fury, said to me: ‘Thou shalt be born as a cruel fowler in the Sudra class.’


Virtue Part 10
From the Mahabharata
Vana Parva, section CCXV
Translated by Sri Kisari Mohan Ganguli

The fowler continued: Thus cursed by that Rishi, I sought to propitiate him with these words: ‘Pardon me, O Muni, I have done this wicked deed unwittingly. It behoves thee to pardon all that. Do thou, worshipful sir, soothe yourself.’

The Rishi replied: ‘The curse that I have pronounced can never be falsified, this is certain. But from kindness towards thee, I shall do thee a favour. Though born in the Sudra class thou shalt remain a pious man and thou shalt undoubtedly honour thy parents; and by honouring them thou shalt attain great spiritual perfection. Thou shalt also remember the events of thy past life and shalt go to heaven; and on the expiation of this curse, thou shalt again become a Brahmana,’

O best of men, thus, of old was I cursed by that Rishi of severe power, and thus was he propitiated by me.

Then, O good Brahmana, I extricated the arrow from his body, and took him into the hermitage, but he was not deprived of his life (the Muni recovered).

O good Brahmana, I have thus described to thee what happened to me of old, and also how I can go to heaven hereafter.

The Brahmana said: O thou of great intelligence, all men are thus subject to happiness or misery. Thou shouldst not therefore grieve for that. In obedience to the customs of thy (present) race, thou hast pursued these wicked ways, but thou art always devoted to virtue and versed in the ways and mysteries of the world. And, O learned man, these being the duties of thy profession, the stain of evil Karma will not attach to thee. And after dwelling here for some little time, thou shalt again become a Brahmana; and even now, I consider thee to be a Brahmana, there is no doubt about this. For the Brahmana who is vain and haughty, who is addicted to vices and wedded to evil and degrading practices, is like Sudra. On the other hand, I consider a Sudra who is always adorned with these virtues,- righteousness, self-restraint, and truthfulness,- as a Brahmana. A man becomes a Brahmana by his character and by his own evil Karma a man attains an evil and terrible doom. O good man, I believe that sin in thee has now died out. Thou must not grieve for this, for men, like thee who art so virtuous and learned in the ways and mysteries of the world, can have no cause for grief.

The fowler replied: The bodily afflictions should be cured with medicines, and the mental ones with spiritual wisdom. This is the power of knowledge. Knowing this, the wise should not behave like boys. Men of low intelligence are overpowered with grief at the occurrence of something, which is not agreeable to them, or non-occurrence of something which is good or much desired. Indeed, all creatures are subject to this characteristic (of grief or happiness). It is not merely a single creature or class that is subject to misery. Cognisant of this evil, people quickly mend their ways, and if they perceive it at the very outset they succeed in curing it altogether. Whoever grieves for it, only makes himself uneasy. Those wise men whose knowledge has made them happy and contended, and who are indifferent to happiness and misery alike, are really happy. The wise are always contended and the foolish always discontented. There is no end to discontentment, and contentment is the highest happiness. People who have reached the perfect way, do not grieve, they are always conscious of the final destiny of all creatures.

One must not give way to discontent for it is like a virulent poison. It kills persons of undeveloped intelligence, just as child is killed by an enraged snake. That man has no manliness whose energies have left him and who is overpowered with perplexity when an occasion for the exercise of vigour presents itself. Our actions are surely followed by their consequences. Whoever merely gives himself up to passive indifference (to worldly affairs) accomplishes no good. Instead of murmuring one must try to find out the way by which he can secure exemption from (spiritual) misery; and the means of salvation found, he must then free himself from sensuality. The man who has attained a high state of spiritual knowledge is always conscious of the great deficiency (instability) of all matter. Such a person keeping in view the final doom (of all), never grieves. I too, O learned man, do not grieve. I stay here (in this life) bidding my time. For this reason, O best of men, I am not perplexed (with doubts).

The Brahmana said: Thou art wise and high in spiritual knowledge and vast is thy intelligence. Thou who art versed in holy writ, art content with thy spiritual wisdom. I have no cause to find fault with thee. Adieu, O best of pious men, mayst thou be prosperous, and may righteousness shield thee, and mayst thou be assiduous in the practice of virtue.

Markandeya continued: The fowler said to him, ‘Be it so.’ And the good Brahmana walked round him (a form of Hindu etiquette at parting) and then departed. And the Brahmana returning home was duly assiduous in his attention to his old parents. I have thus, Yudhishthira, narrated in detail to thee this history full of moral instruction, which thou, my good son, didst ask me to recite,- the virtue of women’s devotion to their husbands and that of filial piety.

Yudhishthira replied: O most pious Brahmana and best of Munis, thou hast related to me this good and wonderful moral story; and listening to thee, O learned man, my time has glided away like a moment; but, O adorable sir, I am not as yet satiated with hearing this moral discourse.
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