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Posted by karmalily on January 27, 2008

This is a piece from the Mahabharata, in which a father is answering his son’s question about leading a virtuous life, and his son’s reply:

First, learn the Vedas, son, by living as a Vedic student. Then you should desire sons to purify your forefathers, establish the sacred fires, and offer sacrifices. Thereafter, you may enter the forest and seek to become an ascetic.

When the world is thus afflicted and surrounded on all sides, when spears rain down, why do you pretend to speak like a wise man?

How is the world afflicted? And by whom is it surrounded? What are the spears that rain down? Why, you seem bent on frightening me!

The world is afflicted by death. It is surrounded by old age. These days and nights rain down. Why can’t you understand?

When I know that death never rests, how can I wait, when I am caught in a net?

When life is shortened with each passing night, who can enjoy pleasures, when we are like fish in a shoal?

This very day do what’s good. Let not this moment pass you by, for surely death may strike you even before your duties are done.

Tomorrow’s task perform today. Evening’s work finish before noon, for death does not wait to ask whether your duties are done.

For who knows whom death’s legions may seize today? Practice good from your youth, for uncertain is life’s erratic path.

Those who do good enjoy fame in this life and happiness hereafter. Foolish indeed are those who toil for the sake of son and wife, providing for their welfare by means proper and foul.

Such a man, full of desire and attached to sons and cattle, death carries away, as flood waters would a tiger sound asleep.

Death will carry away a man obsessed with amassing wealth, his desires still unfulfilled, as a tiger would a domestic beast.

“This I’ve done. This I must do. And that I have yet to complete.” A man who is thus consumed by desires and pleasures, death will bring under its sway.

Death carries away a man who is attached to his field, shop, or house, even before he reaps the fruits of the works he has done, fruits to which he is so attached.

When death, old age, disease, and misery of all sorts cling to the body, why do you stand as if you were in great shape?

Death and old age accompany an embodied soul from his very birth so as to destroy him. The two embrace all these beings, both the mobile and the immobile.

The delight one finds in living in a village is truly the house of death, while the wilderness is the dwelling place of the gods – so the Vedas teach.

The delight one finds in living in a village is the rope that binds. The virtuous cut it and depart, while evil-doers are unable to cut it.

Those who do not cause injury to living beings in thought, word, or deed, are themselves not oppressed by acts that harm their life or wealth.

Without truth one can never check the advancing troops of death. Never abandon truth, for immortality abides in truth.

I do not injure, I seek the truth, I am free of love and hate, I remain the same in pleasure and pain, and I am safe – so I laugh at death like an immortal.

In the self alone and by the self I am born, on the self I stand, and, though childless, in the self alone I come into being; I will not be saved by a child of mine.
The M ahabharata is an Indian Sanskrit text from around the 5th century BCE. I’m currently taking Eastern Religious Traditions in school, and we were assigned this text. I found it beautiful, and decided to share it here. Our professor is also reading the Ramayana to us, which I would recommend to anyone who’s interested in Indian/Hindu tradition.


One Response to “Mahabharata”

  1. Anonymous said

    Perhaps the following take on the Mahabharata might be of interest?


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