Yudhiṣṭhira: As time passes by and all creatures are taken to the abode of death, which is the conduct that leads to śreyas (goodness)?
Bhīṣma: (What Mādhavī told her father) – What one knows to be good, he must do it at once. Or else, Death comes in the way. What one plans to do in the afternoon, one must do it in the morning. Death doesn't observe if one has done something or is yet to do something. Therefore, one must adhere to dharma and live by its principles from a young age. As one grows older, owing to the attachment towards wife and children, one might be compelled to undertake actions that must not be done.
Yudhiṣṭhira: How do joys and sorrows come to the rich and the poor? What is the nature of those?
Bhīṣma (What the brāhmaṇa Śamyāka said) – Without tyāga (giving up, renunciation), there is no sukha (peace, joy). Without tyāga, there is no para (joy in the hereafter). Without tyāga, even a fearless sleep is not possible. The most peaceful person is one who has renounced everything. The moment money comes into the hands of someone, anger and greed stick to him; his intellect loses the power of discernment; crooked vision, frowing face, knotted eyebrows, bitten lips, harsh words – all these come to him. He is overcome by the intoxication that he alone is handsome, wealthy, from a noble family, a man of achievements, and someone who is uber-human. If he loses all his wealth in sense-pleasures and sensual gratification, he extends his hands towards the wealth of others. He becomes a victim of punishment. In one sense, not having anything at all is greater than having an entire kingdom at one's disposal. Having observed all this – joys, sorrows, the nature of the world and people, and so forth – one must meditate on what is transient and what is permanent. One must not swell when peace and happiness is encounters and one must not shrink in the face of troubles and sorrows.
Yudhiṣṭhira: Whatever one does, one doesn't attain wealth. As for desires, they are always multitudinous. In such a case, what truly brings peace and joy?
Bhīṣma: A man attains peace and joy through the following: treating everyone alike, not taking troubles to heart, integrity, renunciation, and giving up selfish actions. Long ago, there lived a brāhmaṇa by name Maṅki. After all his efforts to become wealthy ended up being futile, he spent whatever little he had and purchased two bulls; he was bringing them home. On the way, they saw a sleeping camel; the bulls began jumping in fear. The camel awoke and ran towards them. Since the two bulls were tied to each other, as the camel rushed towards them, they were heaved above and settled on the camel like two heavy earrings. In this condition, the camel frantically kicked its legs and ran helter-skelter, finally running away with the bulls. At that point, the brāhmaṇa thought: What's the use of any amount of trying? How will something that is not destined come to me? If the human tries to put pressure on the Divine, will that work? Even though at times one might get the feeling that human effort yields result, upon contemplation one realizes that it is subordinate to the Divine will. Therefore, if one desires peace and joy, one has to take the path of renunciation and detachment. There's no one until now who has fulfilled all his desires; but desire is something that keeps growing all through a man's life. To the extent one falls prey to it, there will be sorrow; to the extent one renounces it, there will be joy.
Yudhiṣṭhira: What is the conduct that must be followed if one wants to be free from anxiety and attain the highest realms?
Bhīṣma: Long back, when Prahlāda asked a brāhmaṇa who was completely free from worry and anxiety: How are you so stress-free? And the brāhmaṇa said the following: Creatures don't listen to the words of anyone and are born without reason. They grow up and they die. Therefore, when I look at this, I neither feel joy nor sorrow. Everything goes according to its fundamental nature. That which is joined should part. That which is solid must melt. Therefore I don't bring in the feeling of inadequacy in my mind towards anything. Big and small, moving and stable, aerial and marine, all creatures have to perish some day. Great stars and planets themselves fall from the sky and perish. I sleep without the slightest anxiety knowing very well that it is utterly normal for all creatures to reach the abode of death. If by chance I get some quantity of food that comes of its own accord, it eat as much as I can get; if I don't get anything, I fast for as many days as I can. Sometimes, I get delectable food in large quantity; at other times, I don't get anything at all. Sometimes, I get small quantities of rice, or meat, or some other raw ingredients; I eat them as I receive them. There are times I sleep on a cot. At times I wear clothes made from tree barks, or clothes made from other fibers, or animal hide; at other times, I wear expensive silk – whatever I get, I wear. Any object of indulgence that I get in a dhārmic way, of its own accord, I don't refuse. I don't go in search of something I don't get. In this manner, I have been adhering to the 'Ajagara' oath.
One who can abandon passions and hatred, fear and greed, anxiety and attachments, and follow the 'Ajagara' oath, that great man will be always happy.
Yudhiṣṭhira: O Grandsire! What is the primary refugre for man? Is it karma (action), aiśvarya (wealth), or viveka (wisdom, discernment)?
Bhīṣma: It is indeed prajñā (all-round awareness) or viveka (wisdom) that is the greatest of refuges; the greatest benefits arise from that alone. In this matter, Indra had once instructed Kaśyapa. Listen to that story now.
To be continued…
This is an English translation of Prof. A R Krishna Shastri’s Kannada classic Vacanabhārata by Arjun Bharadwaj and Hari Ravikumar published in a serialized form.