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The Mahabharata - First Book

Adi Parva

Section XC

"Ashtaka said,

'Capable of assuming any form at will, thou hast lived for a million years in the gardens of Nandana. For what cause, O foremost of those that flourished in the Krita age, hast thou been compelled to leave that region and come hither?'

Yayati answered,

'As kinsmen, friends, and relatives forsake, in this world, those whose wealth disappears [Page 192] so, in the other world, the celestials with Indra as their chief, forsake him who hath lost his righteousness.'

Ashtaka said,

'I am extremely anxious to know how in the other world men can lose virtue.

Tell me also, O king, what regions are attainable by what courses of action. Thou art acquainted, I know, with the acts and sayings of great beings."

"Yayati answered,

'O pious one, they that speak of their own merits are doomed to suffer the hell called Bhauma. Though really emaciated and lean, they appear to grow on Earth (in the shape of their sons and grandsons) only to become food for vultures, dogs, and jackals.

Therefore, O king, this highly censurable and wicked vice should be repressed.

I have now, O king, told thee all. Tell me what more I shall say.'

"Ashtaka said,

'When life is destroyed with age, vultures, peacocks, insects, and worms eat up the human body. Where doth man then reside? How doth he also come back to life? I have never heard of any hell called Bhauma on Earth!'

"Yayati answered,

'After the dissolution of the body, man, according to his acts, re-entereth the womb of his mother and stayeth there in an indistinct form, and soon after assuming a distinct and visible shape reappeareth in the world and walketh on its surface.

This is that Earth-hell (Bhauma) where he falleth, for he beholdeth not the termination of his existence and acteth not towards his emancipation. Some dwell for sixty thousand years, some, for eighty-thousand years in heaven, and then they fall.

And as they fall, they are attacked by certain Rakshasas in the form of sons, grandsons, and other relatives, that withdraw their hearts from acting for their own emancipation.'

"Ashtaka asked,

'For what sin are beings, when they fall from heaven, attacked by these fierce and sharp-toothed Rakshasas? Why are they not reduced to annihilation? How do they again enter the womb, furnished with senses?'

"Yayati answered,

'After falling from heaven, the being becometh a subtile substance living in water. This water becometh the semen whence is the seed of vitality. Thence entering the mother's womb in the womanly season, it developeth into the embryo and next into visible life like the fruit from the flower.

Entering trees, plants, and other vegetable substances, water, air, earth, and space, that same watery seed of life assumeth the quadrupedal or bipedal form. This is the case with all creatures that you see.'

"Ashtaka said,

'O tell me, I ask thee because I have my doubts. Doth a being that hath received a human form enter the womb in its own shape or in some other? How doth it also acquire its distinct and visible shape, eyes and ears and consciousness as well?

Questioned by me, O, explain it all! Thou art, O father, one acquainted with the acts and sayings of great beings.'

Yayati answered,

'According to the merits of one's acts, the being that in a subtile form co-inheres in the seed that is dropped into [Page 193] the womb is attracted by the atmospheric force for purposes of re-birth. It then developeth there in course of time; first it becomes the embryo, and is next provided with the visible physical organism.

Coming out of the womb in due course of time,
it becometh conscious of its existence as man,
and with his ears becometh sensible of sound;
with his eyes, of colour and form;
with his nose, of scent;
with his tongue, of taste;
by his whole body, of touch;
and by his mind, of ideas.

It is thus, O Ashtaka, that the gross and visible body developeth from the subtile essence.'

"Ashtaka asked,

'After death, the body is burnt, or otherwise destroyed. Reduced to nothing upon such dissolution, by what principle is one revived?'

Yayati said,

'O lion among kings, the person that dies assumes a subtil form; and retaining consciousness of all his acts as in a dream, he enters some other form with a speed quicker than that of air itself.

The virtuous attain to a superior, and the vicious to an inferior form of existence. The vicious become worms and insects.

I have nothing more to say, O thou of great and pure soul! I have told thee how beings are born, after development of embryonic forms, as four-footed, six-footed creatures and others with more feet.

What more wilt thou ask me?'

"Ashtaka said,

'How, O father, do men attain to those superior regions whence there is no return to earthly life? Is it by asceticism or by knowledge? How also can one gradually attain to felicitous regions? Asked by me, O answer it in full.'

"Yayati answered,

'The wise say that for men there are seven gates through which admission may be gained into Heaven. There are asceticism, benevolence, tranquillity of mind, self-command, modesty, simplicity, and kindness to all creatures.

The wise also say that a person loseth all these in consequence of vanity.

That man who having acquired knowledge regardeth himself as learned, and with his learning destroyed the reputation of others, never attaineth to regions of indestructible felicity. That knowledge also doth not make its possessor competent to attain to Brahma.

Study, taciturnity, worship before fire, and sacrifices, these four remove all fear. When, however, these are mixed with vanity, instead of removing it, they cause fear.

The wise should never exult at (receiving) honours nor should they grieve at insults. For it is the wise alone that honour the wise; the wicked never act like the virtuous.

I have given away so much
— I have performed so many sacrifices,
— I have studied so much,
— I have observed these vows,
— such vanity is the root of fear.

Therefore, thou must not indulge in such feelings. Those learned men who accept as their support the unchangeable, inconceivable Brahma alone that ever showereth blessings on persons virtuous like thee, enjoy perfect peace here and hereafter.'"

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