Bhagavad-gita-rahasya (or Karma-yoga Shastra)

by Bhalchandra Sitaram Sukthankar | 1935 | 327,828 words

The English translation of the Bhagavad-Gita Rahasya, also known as the Karma-yoga Shastra or “Science of Right Action”, composed in Marathi by Bal Gangadhar Tilak in 1915. This first volume represents an esoteric exposition of the Bhagavadgita and interprets the verses from a Mimamsa philosophical standpoint. The work contains 15 chapters, Sanskri...

Chapter 2 - The Desire to know the Right Action (karma-jijn̄āsā)

kiṃ karma kim akarmeti kavayo 'py atra mohitāḥ | [1]
  —Gītā (4.16).

"What is doable (right action), and what it is not-doable (wrong action or inaction) is a question which puzzles even sages"

The critical position in which Arjuna had found himself in the commencement of the Bhagavadgītā, as a result of being caught between two mutually contradictory paths of duty and become doubtful about bis proper duty is not something unique. The cases of persons who, taking up Asceticism (saṃnyāsa), give up the world and live in the woods, or of selfcentred weaklings who meekly submit to all kinds of injustice in the world without a murmur, are different. But those great and responsible persons, who have to live in society and to do their duties consistently with righteousness and morality often find themselves in such circumstances. Whereas Arjuna got confused and was filled with this desire to know his proper duty in the commencement of the war, Yudhiṣṭhira, was in the same position when he was later on faced with the duty of performing the śraddhā ceremonies of the various relatives who had been killed in the war; and the Śāntiparva has come to be written in order to pacify the doubts by which he was then puzzled. Nay, great writers have written charming poems or excellent dramas based on such puzzling situations of duty and non-duty which they have either found in history or imagined. For instance, take the drama Hamlet of the wellknown English dramatist Shakespeare. The uncle of the Prince of Denmark, named Hamlet had murdered his ruling brother, that is, the father of Hamlet, and married his widow and seized the throne. This drama has portrayed in an excellent manner the state of mind of the young and tender-hearted Hamlet, who on this occasion was faced with the puzzle as to whether he should put to death his sinful uncle and discharge his filial obligations towards his father, or pardon him, because he was his own uncle, his step-father, as also the ruling king; and how he later on became, insane because he did not find any proper pathshower and guardian like Śrī Kṛṣṇa; and how ultimately the poor fellow met his end while vacillating between "to be" and "not to be". Shakespeare has described another similar occasion in a drama of his called Coriolanus. Coriolanus was a brave Roman potentate, who had boon driven out of Rome by the citizens of Rome and on that account had gone and joined hands with the enemies of Rome, whom he promised never to forsake. After some time, the camp of the hostile army under his command came to be placed outside the gates of Rome itself, he having attacked and defeated the Romans and conquered territory after territory. Then, the women of Rome put forward the wife and the mother of Coriolanus and advised him as to his duty to his motherland, and made him break the promise given by him to the enemies of Rome. There are numerous other similar examples of persons being puzzled as to duty and non-duty in the ancient or the modern history of the world. But it is not necessary for us to go so far. We may say that our epic Mahābhārata is a mine of such critical occasions. In the beginning of the book (Ā. 2), while describing the Bhārata, Vyāsa himself has qualified it by the adjectives "sukṣmārtha-nyāyayutam" (i.e., filled with the discrimination between subtle positions) and "aneka samayānvitam" (i.e., replete with numerous critical occasions), and he has further praised it by saying that, not only does it contain the philosophy of Ethics (dharma-śāstra), the philosophy of wealth (artha-śāstra) and the philosophy of Release (mokṣa- śāstra) but that in this matter, "yad ihāsti tad anyatra yan nehāsti na tat kvacit", i.e., "what is to be found here, is to be found everywhere and what cannot be found here can be found nowhere else". (Ā. 62.53). It may even be said that the Bhārata has been expanded into the 'Mahābhārata' for the sole purpose of explaining to ordinary persons in the simple form of stories how our great ancient personages have behaved in numerous difficult circumstances of life; for, otherwise, it would not be necessary to write 18 parvas (cantos) for describing merely the Bhārata war or the history known as 'Jaya'.

Some persons may say:–"Keep aside the case of Śrī Kṛṣṇa and Arjuna; why is it necessary for you or us to enter into such deep questions? Have not Manu and the other writers of the Smṛtis laid down in their own books, clear rules as to how persons should behave in worldly life? If one follows the ordinary commandments prescribed for everybody in all religions, such as: 'Do not commit murder', 'Do not hurt others', ' Act according to moral principles', 'Speak the truth', 'Respect your elders and your preceptors', 'Do not commit theft or adultery', etc., where is the necessity of entering into these puzzling questions?" But I will in reply ask them:–"So long as every human being in this world has not started living according to these rules, should virtuous people, by their virtuous conduct, allow themselves to be caught in the nets spread by rascals or should they give measure for measure by way of retaliation and protect themselves?" Besides, even if these ordinary commandments are considered as unchanging, and authoritative, yet responsible persons are very often faced with such situations, that two or more of these commandments become applicable simultaneously; and then, the man is puzzled as to whether he should follow this commandment or that commandment, and loses his reason. The situation into which Arjuna had found himself was such a situation; and the Mahābhārata contains in several places critical descriptions of similar circumstances having engulfed other illustrious persons besides Arjuna. For instance, let us take the precept of "Harmlessness" (ahiṃsā) which is one of the five eternal moral principles enjoined by Manu (Manu-Smṛti 10.63) as binding on all the four castes namely, "ahiṃsā satyam asteyaṃ śaucam indriya-nigrahaḥ" i.e., Harmlessness (ahiṃsā), Truth (satya), Not-stealing (asteya), Purity of the body, the mind, and of speech (śauca), and Control of the organs (indriya-nigraha). "ahiṃsā paramo dharmaḥ" i.e., "Harmlessness is the highest religion" (Śriman Mahābhārata Ā. 11.13.), is a principle which has been accepted as preeminent not only in our Vedic religion but in all other- religions. The religious commandments given in the Buddhistic and Christian sacred books have given the first place to the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' as has been done by Manu. 'Hiṃsā' does not mean only destroying life but also includes, harming the minds or the bodies of others. Therefore, 'ahiṃsā' means 'not harming in any way any living being'. Patricide, matricide, homicide, etc. are the most terrible forms of hiṃsā and this religion of Harmlessness is looked upon as the highest, religion according to all people in the world. But, assuming for the sake of argument that some villain has come, with a weapon in his hands to kill you, or to commit rape on your wife or daughter, or to set fire to your house, or to steal all your wealth, or to deprive you of your immoveable property; and, there is nobody there who can protect you; then should you close your eyes and treat with unconcern such a villain (ātatāyin) saying:–"ahiṃsā paramo dharmaḥ?" or should you, as much as possible, punish him if he does not listen to reason?

Manu says:–

guruṃ vā bālavṛddhau vā brāhmaṇaṃ vā bahuśrutam |
ātatāyinam āyāntaṃ hanyād evāvicārayan ||

I.e., "such an ātatāyin that is, villain, should be killed without the slightest compunction and without considering whether he is a preceptor (guru) or an old man or a child or learned Brahmin".

For the Śāstras say:–on such an occasion, the killer does not incur the sin of killing, but the villain is killed by his own unrighteousness (Manu-Smṛti 8.350). Not only Manu, but also modern criminal law has accepted the right of self-defence with some limitations. On these occasions, self-protection is considered to be of higher importance than Harmlessness. The killing of tender infants (bhrūṇa-hatyā) is considered to be the most objectionable of murders; but, if the child is being born by transverse presentation, is it not necessary to cut the child and deliver the mother? The slaughter of animals for the purposes of ritualistic sacrifice (yajña) is considered blameless even by the Vedas (Manu-Smṛti 5.31); yet, that at least can be avoided by making an animal of flour for purposes of sacrifice (Śriman Mahābhārata Śān. 337; Anu. 115.56). But how are you going to stop the killing of the numerous micro-organisms with which the air, water, fruit etc., and all other places are filled?

Arjuna in the Mahābhārata says:–

sūkṣmayonīni bhūtāni tarkagamyāni kāni cit |
pakṣmaṇo 'pi nipātena yeṣāṃ syāt skandhaparyayaḥ ||
  (Śriman Mahābhārata Śān.15.26).

I.e., "there are in this world so many micro-organisms invisible to the naked eye, of which the existence can, however, he imagined, that merely by the moving of one's eye-lids, their limbs will be destroyed!"

Then, where is the sense of repeating orally:–"Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not kill"? It is on the basis of this discrimination, that hunting has been justified in the Anuśāsanaparva (Anu. 116). In the Vana-parva, there is a story that a Brahmin, being urged by anger to destroy a virtuous woman, and being unsuccessful, surrendered himself to that woman; then, that woman sent him to a hunter in order to learn from him the true import of one's duties. This hunter earned his living by selling flesh and he was extremely devoted to his parents. Seeing the way in which the hunter was earning his living, this Brahmin was filled with intense surprise and sorrow. Then the hunter explained to him the true principle of Harmlessness and opened his eyes! Does not everybody eat everybody else in this world? "Jīvo jīvasya jīvanam" (Bhāga. 1.13.46) i.e., "life is the life of life", is an eternal truth; and it is stated not only in the Smṛtis (Manu-Smṛti 5.28: Śriman Mahābhārata 15.21) but also in the Upaniṣads (Vedānta-Sūtras 3.4.28; Chāndogyopaniṣad 5.2.1; Bṛhadāraṇyakopaniṣad 6.1.14) that in times of distress "prāṇasyānnam idaṃ sarvaṃ", i.e., "all this is the food for life". If everyone becomes harmless, how is warriorship to continue? And when once warriorship has come to an end, subject-people will have no protectors and anybody will be in a position to destroy anybody else. In short, the ordinary rules of morality are not always sufficient, and even the most principle maxim of Ethics, namely that of Harmlessness, does not escape the necessity of discrimination between the duty and the non-duty.

The Śāstras have recommended the qualities of forgiveness, peace and kindness consistently with Harmlessness, but how will it be possible to practise peace on all occasions?

Prahlāda in the Mahābhārata first points out to his grandson Bali, that people will not stop at openly running away with even the wife and children of an always peaceful man and he advises Bali as follows:

na śreyaḥ satataṃ tejo na nityaṃ śreyasī kṣamā |
tasmān nityaṃ kṣamā tāta paṇḍitair apavāditā ||

I.e., "Forgiveness in all cases or warlikeness in all cases is not the proper thing. Therefore, O, my son! the wise have mentioned exceptions to the law of forgiveness" (Vana. 28.6, 8).

Prahlāda has then described some of the occasions which would be proper occasions for forgiveness, but Prahlāda does not explain the principle by which these occasions are to be recognised; and if someone takes advantage of the prescribed exceptions, without knowing the occasions when they apply, he will be guilty of misbehaviour; therefore, it is extremely important to understand the principle by which these occasions are to be recognised.

There is another law which has become wholly authoritative and acceptable to everybody in the world, whether old or young, and male or female, in all countries, and among all religions, and that is the law of Truth. Who can sufficiently praise the worth of Truth? 'Ṛtaṃ' and 'satyaṃ' came into existence before the world. The Vedas extol the worth of Truth by saying that it is satya which controls the firmament, the earth, the air and the other primordial elements. See the incantations: "ṛtaṃ ca satyaṃ cābhīddhāt tapaso 'dhyajāyata" (Ṛ. 10.190.1) i.e., " Law (ṛtaṃ) and Truth (satyaṃ) have been brought into existence after the performance of effulgent penance", and "satyenottabhitā bhūmiḥ" (Ṛ. 10.85.1) i.e. "the Earth has become dignified on account of Truth". The root meaning of the word 'satya' is 'which exists,' that is, 'which never ceases to exist,' or 'which is not touched by the past, present or the future'; and therefore, the value of satya has been properly described by saying:–" there is no religion like Truth, Truth is Parabrahma".

The statement: "nāsti satyāt paro dharmaḥ" (Śān. 162.24) i.e., "there is no religion higher than Truth", is found in many places in the Mahābhārata which also says:–

Aśvamedha-sahasraṃ ca satyaṃ ca tulayā dhrtam |
aśvamedha-sahasrād dhi satyam eva viśiṣyate ||

I.e., " when the respective merits of a thousand aśvamedha yajñas and of Truth were weighed in the scale, it was found that Truth weighed more" (Ā. 74.102).

This refers to the ordinary rule of Truth. Manu in addition says about speaking the truth that:

vācy arthā niyatāḥ sarve vāṅmūlā vāgviniḥsṛtāḥ |
taṃ tu yaḥ stenayed vācaṃ sa sarvasteya-kṛnnaraḥ ||
  (Manu-Smṛti 4.256).

I.e., "all the activities of mankind are carried on by speech; there is no other means like speech for the communication of thoughts; then, that man who sullies this fountain-head of speech, which is the basic foundation of all these activities, that is to say, the man who is false to his own speech must be said to be despoiling everything at one stroke".

Therefore, says Manu: "satyapūtāṃ vaded vācaṃ" (Manu-Smṛti 6.46) that is, "Speak only that which has been purified by Truth." In the Upaniṣads also, the law of Truth has been given a higher place than all other laws, in the following words: "satyaṃ vada I dharmaṃ cara I " (Taittirīya Upaniṣad 1.11.1) that is: "Speak the truth, do what is right "; and Bhīṣma, who was lying on the bed of arrows, after having in the Śāntiparva and the Anuśāsanaparva taught to Yudhiṣṭhira all the various laws, has before yielding up his breath preached to everyone the law of Truth as being the sum and substance of all laws, in the following words: "satyeṣu yatitavyaṃ vaḥ satyaṃ hi paramaṃ balaṃ" i.e. "You should strive for Truth, in as much as Truth is the highest power." (Śriman Mahābhārata Anu. 167.50). "We find that the very same laws have been adopted into the Buddhistic and Christian religions.

Can anyone dream that there can be exceptions to this eternally-lasting law of Truth, which is thus established on all hands? But life in this world, which is full of villains, is difficult. Suppose, you have seen some persons escaping from the hands of marauders and hiding in a thick forest; and the marauders, who follow them with naked swords in their hands, stand before you and ask you, where those people are! What answer will you give? Will you speak the truth or will you save the lives of unoffending and innocent people?

I ask this question because, preventing the murder of innocent people is according to the Śāstras a religion, as highly important as Truth itself. Manu says:–

nāpṛṣtaḥ kasyacid brūyān na cānyāyena prcchataḥ
  (Manu-Smṛti 2.110; Śriman Mahābhārata Śān. 287.34)

That is, "Do ̥ not speak to anyone unless he questions you, and if someone asks you a question unjustly, then, do not give a reply, even if you are questioned";


jānann api hi medhāvī jaḍaval loka ācaret

I.e. "even if you know the answer simply say: 'hm! hm!' like an ignorant person",

And save the situation.

Very well; but, is not saying merely: 'Hm! hm!' in effect speaking the untruth? It is stated in many places in the Bhārata itself that: na vyājena cared dharmaṃ", i.e. "do not somehow satisfy yourselves by being false to morality; morality is not deceived, it is you who are deceived" (Śriman Mahābhārata Ā. 215.34). But if you cannot save the situation even by saying: ' Hm! hm! ', what is to be done? What will you do if a thief is sitting on your chest with a dagger in his hand and asking you where the money is, and you are sure to lose your life if you do not give a proper reply?

The Blessed Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa who understood the inner meaning of all laws says to Arjuna in the Karṇaparva (Kaṭhopaniṣad 69.61), after giving him the illustration of highway robbers mentioned above, and later on in the Satyānṛtādhyāya, of the Śāntiparva, Bhīṣma also says to Yudhiṣṭhira:–

akūjanena cen mokṣā nāvakūjet kathaṃcana |
avaśyaṃ kūjitavye vā śaṅkaran vāpy akūjanāt |
śreyas tatrānṛtaṃ vaktuṃ satyād iti vicāritam ||
  (Śān. 109.15, 16.)

I.e. "if you can escape without speaking, then do not speak under any circumstances: but if it is necessary to speak, or if by not speaking you may rouse suspicion in the mind (of another), then, telling a lie has been found, after mature deliberation, to be much better than speaking the truth."

Because, the law of Truth is not confined to speech, and that conduct which leads to the benefit of all, cannot be looked upon as objectionable merely on the ground that the vocal expression is untruthful. That by which everybody will harmed is neither Truth nor Harmlessness.

Nārada says to Śuka in the Śāntiparva on the authority of Sanatkumāra:–

satyasya vacanaṃ śreyaḥ satyād api hitaṃ vadet |
yad bhūta-hitam atyantam etat satyaṃ mataṃ mama ||
  (Śriman Mahābhārata Śān. 329.13; 287.19).

I.e., "speaking the truth is the proper thing; but rather than truth, speak that which will lead to the welfare of all; because, that in which the highest welfare of all consists is in my opinion the real Truth".

Seeing the words 'yad bhūta-hitaṃ', one will certainly think of the modern western Utilitarians, and these words may be looked upon as an interpolation. I, therefore, say that these words have appeared more than twice in the Vanaparva of the Bhārata in the conversation between the Brahmin and the hunter; and in one of those places, there is a verbal change as: "ahiṃsā satya-vacanaṃ sarva-bhūta-hitaṃ param" (Vana. 206.73), and in another place, there is another verbal difference as: "yad bhūta-hitaṃ atyantaṃ tat satyam iti dhāraṇā" (Vana. 208.4). There is no other reason for the fact that the truthful Yudhiṣṭhira confused Droṇa by the ambiguous answer:–"naro vā kuñjaro vā" i.e., "either the man (named Aśvatthāmā) or the elephant", and the same rule applies to other similar things. Our religion does not ask us to save the life of a murderer by telling a lie. Because, as the Śāstras themselves have prescribed the punishment of death for a murderer, such a person is certainly punishable or fit for death, All the Śāstras say that one who bears false witness on such or similar occasions, goes to hell personally, and also sends to the same place seven or more of his ancestors (Manu-Smṛti 8.89–49; Śriman Mahābhārata Ā. 7.3). But what are you going to do when, as in the illustration of the highway robbers given above from the Karṇa-parva, speaking the truth will lead to innocent persons being unnecessarily killed? The English writer Green has in his book named Prolegomena to Ethics said that books on moral philosophy are silent on this question. It is true that Manu and Yājñavalkya look upon such situations as exceptions to the law of Truth.

But as even according to them, untruthfulness is the less praiseworthy conduct, they have prescribed a penance for it in the following words:

tat pāvanāya nirvāpyaś caruḥ sāraśvato dvijaiḥ ||
  (Yājña. 2.83; Manu-Smṛti 8.104–6).

i.e., "Brahmins should expiate that sin by offering the 'Sārasvata' oblation".

Those learned Western philosophers who have not been surprised by the exceptions to the law of Harmlessness, have attempted to blame our law-givers on account of the exceptions to the law of Truth! I will, therefore, explain here what, authoritative Christian preachers and Western writers on Ethics have said on this subject. The following words of St. Paul who was a disciple of Christ namely: "for, if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto His glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner?" (The Romans 3.7) are to be found in the New Testament of the Bible; and Millman, who has written a history of the Christian religion says that ancient Christian preachers very often followed the same principle. Moralists will not in the present times, as a rule, consider it justifiable to delude people or to cheat them and convert them. Nevertheless, even they do not say that the law of Truth is without exception. Take, for instance, the book on Ethics written by the scholar Sidgwick, which is being taught in our colleges. Sidgwick decides questions of morality, where there are doubts as to what is doable and what not-doable, by the rule of the 'greatest happiness of the greatest number'; and by the test of that principle he has ultimately laid down that: "We do not think that truth ought always to be told to children, or madmen, or invalids, or by advocates; and we are not sure that we are bound to tell it to enemies or robbers, or even to persons who ask questions which they know they have no right to ask (if a mere refusal to answer would practically reveal an important secret)". (Sidgwick's Methods of Ethics Book III Chapter XI, Paragraph 6, p. 355, 7th Edition. Also see pp. 315–317). Mill has included this exception to the law of Truth in his book on Ethics.[2]

Besides these exceptions, Sidgwick also says in his book that:

"Again, though we esteem candour and scrupulous sincerity in most persons, we scarcely look for them in a diplomatist who has to conceal secrets, or in a tradesman describing his goods, (for purchasers can find out the defects of what they buy)".[3]

In a third place, he says that similar exceptions are made in favour of Christian missionaries and soldiers. Leslie Stephen, another Western writer, who discusses

Ethics from the material point of view, gives other similar illustrations and says ultimately that:–

"It seems to me that the known consequences of an action must always be relevant to its morality. If I were absolutely certain that a lie would do good, I should certainly hesitate before speaking the truth, and the certainty might be of such a kind as to make me think it a duty to lie ".[4]

Green, who has considered the subject of Ethics from the metaphysical (adhyātma) point of view, definitely says with reference to such occasions, that in these cases the principles of Ethics do not satisfy the doubts of men; and ultimately comes to the conclusion that:

"A true Moral Philosophy does not recognise any value in conformity to the universal rule, simply as such, but only in that which ordinarily issues in such conformity, viz., the readiness to sacrifice every lower inclination in the desire to do right for the sake of doing it ".[5]

The same is the opinion of other Western writers on Ethics, such as, Bain, Whewell, and others.[6]

If you compare the rules laid down by the Western philosophers mentioned above, with the rules laid down by our lawgivers, you will clearly see who had greater respect for Truth.

It is true that our religions texts (Śāstras) say:

na narmayuktaṃ vacanaṃ hinasti na strīṣu rājan na vivāhakāle |
prāṇātyaye sarvadhanāpahāre pañcānṛtāny āhur apātakāni ||
  (Śriman Mahābhārata Ā. 82.16).

i.e., " There is no sin in speaking the untruth on the following five occasions, namely, if in joke or while speaking with women or at the time of marriage, or if your life is in danger, or for protecting your own property." (See also Śān. 109 and Manu-Smṛti 8.110).

But that does not mean that one must always speak the untruth in speaking with women, and these exceptions are to be understood in the same way in the Mahābhārata, as those mentioned by Prof. Sidgwick with reference to "children, or madmen or invalids". But Western philosophers, who have shelved the metaphysical as also the next-world view of the matter, have gone further and have barefacedly permitted even merchants to tell any lies they like for their own benefit, which is a thing our lawgivers have not done! It is true that where there is a conflict between Verbal Truth, that is to say, truthful speech, and Practical Truth, that is to say, the benefit of humanity, they have permitted that the situation may be saved by telling a lie, if, from the practical point of view, that is unavoidable. Nevertheless, as they look upon the moral laws of Truth etc. as permanent, that is to say, immutable under all circumstances, they have considered this speaking of untruth as a sin to a certain extent, from the next-world point of view, and have prescribed relative penances. Purely materialistic philosophers will say, that these penances are mere bugbears. But as those who prescribed these penances or those for whom these penances were prescribed, were not of the same opinion, one has got to say that both these classes look upon these exceptions to the law of Truth as the less proper course of conduct; and the same moral has been conveyed by the relative traditional stories on this point. For instance, Yudhiṣṭhira, on a difficult occasion, half- heartedly and only once, uttered the words "naro vā kuñjaro vā." But on that account his chariot, which till then used to move in the air about four inches above the surface of the earth began to move in contact with the earth like the chariots of other people, and he had also to spend a few hours in hell, as has been stated in the Mahābhārata itself (Droṇa. 191.57, 58 and Svargā. 3.15). In the same way, as Arjuna killed Bhīṣma, taking shelter behind Śikhaṇḍi, though according to the laws of warfare, he had to suffer defeat later on at the hands of his son Babhruvāhana, as has been stated in the Aśvamedhaparva (Śriman Mahābhārata Aśva. 81. 10).

From this it will be seen that these exceptions, which have been contigently permitted, are not to be treated as the rule or as authority, and that our religious writers have drawn, the following ultimate philosophical proposition, namely:

ātmahetoḥ parārthe vā narmahāsyāśrayāt tathā |
ye mṛsā na vadantīha te narāḥ svargagāminaḥ ||

That is: "those persons alone attain heaven, who never speak the untruth in this world, whether for their own benefit, or for the benefit of others, or in joke;"

As was explained by Mahādeva to Pārvatī. (Śriman Mahābhārata Anu. 144.19).

The law of Truth consists in performing one's promises or vows. Śrī Kṛṣṇa and Bhīṣma both said, that the Himalaya might move from its site, or fire itself would become cold, but what they had said would not be otherwise (Śriman Mahābhārata Ā. 103 and U. 81.48); and even Bhartṛhari has described righteous persons in the following terms:–

tejasvinaḥ sukkham asūn api saṃtyajanti ।
satyavratavysanino na punaḥ pratijñām ॥

That is: "illustrious i.e. high-principled persons will willingly sacrifice their lives, but will not break a vow".

In the same way, the vows of Dāśarathī Rāmchandra of being true to his speech and shooting only one arrow have become as famous as his vow of monogamy, as appears from: "dviḥ śaraṃ nābhisaṃdhatte Rāmo dvir nābhibhāṣate" i.e., "Śrī Rāma had not to draw an arrow twice nor did he prevaricate"–(Subhāśita); and there are tales in the Purāṇas; that Hariścandra served as a domestic for drawing water in the home of a burner of dead bodies in order to carry out a promise which he had given in a dream. But, on the other hand, it is stated in the Vedas that even the gods themselves broke the pledges made by them with Vṛtra or found out some loop-holes in them and killed Vṛtra; and the murder of Hiraṇyakaśipu is justified in the Purāṇas on the same basis. Besides, some agreements made in ordinary life are such as are considered unlawful or unfit for observance according to law. A similar story is related in the Mahābhārata with reference to Arjuna. Arjuna had made a vow that he would immediately behead any person who asked him to surrender his Gāṇḍiva bow to another. Later on, when Karṇa had defeated Yudhiṣṭhira in the war, and Yudhiṣṭhira naturally said to him (Arjuna) in despair: "What has been the use of your Gāṇḍiva bow to us? Throw it away from your hands", Arjuna rose, sword in hand, to behead Yudhiṣṭhira. But as Śrī Kṛṣṇa was near him at the time, he critically expounded to him the religion of Truth from the philosophical point of view, and said to him:–"You are a fool, you do not understand the subtle points of morality, and you must learn them from your elders; you have not learnt at the feet of elders–'na vṛddhāḥ sevitās tvayā'. If you wish only to be true to your vow, then deprecate Yudhiṣṭhira, because for respectable persons, deprecation is as painful as death, etc."; and he thus saved him from the sin of murder of an elder brother which he would have thoughtlessly committed, as has been stated in the Karṇaparva. (Śriman Mahābhārata Karṇa. 69). The discrimination between Truth and Falsehood which was made by Śrī Kṛṣṇa on this occasion, has been subsequently preached by Bhīṣma to Yudhiṣṭhira in the Satyānṛtādhyāya of the Śāntiparva (Śān. 109); and all must bear it in mind in relation to the affairs of ordinary life. Yet, it is difficult to explain how to recognise these subtle exceptions, and my readers will readily notice that although the law of fraternity was in this particular case looked upon as superior to the law of veracity, yet, the occasion mentioned in the Gītā was just the opposite, and there the warrior-religion has been pronounced to be superior to the law of fraternity.

If there is so much difference of opinion with reference to Harmlessness (ahiṃsā) and Veracity (satya), then why should one be surprised if the game line of reasoning is applied to the third common law, namely of Not-Stealing (asteya)? If stealing or taking away by force that wealth which a man has lawfully acquired is permitted, then people will stop accumulating wealth, and all will suffer; and chaos will reign as a result of the arrangement of society being broken up. But, there are exceptions to this rule. When such a calamity (āpatti) arises that food cannot be had, whether for money or by labour or for charity on account of a general famine, shall we look upon as a sinner, some person who thinks of saving his life by committing theft? There is a story in the Mahābhārata that when such a difficult contingency befell Viśvāmitra, as a result of famine for twelve consecutive years, he was on the point of saving his life by stealing a leg of dog's flesh hung up in the home of a butcher (Śān. 141), and by eating that uneatable food; thereupon, this butcher gave him. much advice based on the Śāstras, not to commit the sin of eating such uneatable food, and that too by theft, and quoted:–"pañca pañcanakhā bhakṣyāḥ" (Manu-Smṛti 5.18).[7]

But Viśvāmitra rejected that advice, saying:

pibanty evodakaṃ gāvo maṇḍukeṣu ruvatsv api |
na te 'dhikāro dharme 'sti mā bhūr ātmapraśaṃsakaḥ ||

That is:–"butcher! cows do not stop drinking water, although frogs remonstrate. Keep quiet! you have no right to explain principles of morality to me, do not boast unnecessarily".

Viśvāmitra has on this occasion also said:–"jīvitaṃ maraṇāt śreyo jīvan dharmam avāpnuyāt" i.e., "if one remains alive, then he can think of religion; and therefore, even from the point of view of religion, keeping alive is better than dying"; and Manu has given the illustration not only of Viśvāmitra but also of Ajīgarta, Vāmadeva, and other ṛṣis who have, in similar circumstances, behaved similarly (Manu-Smṛti 10.105–108). The English writer Hobbes says in his book that: "If in a great famine, he takes the food by force or stealth, which he cannot obtain for money nor charity; or, in defence of his life, snatch away another man's sword, he is totally excused for the reason next before alleged";[8] and Mill has said that in such circumstances, it is the duty of every human being to save his own life even by committing theft.

But are there no exceptions to this theory of Viśvāmitra that:–'Keeping alive is better than dying'? Keeping alive is not the only thing worth doing in this world! Even crows keep alive, for many years, by eating the piṇḍa offerings. Therefore, Vīrapatnī Vidulā says to her son that:–"Rather than that you should rot in the bed or remain cooped up in the house for a hundred years, it is better that you show warrior- like prowess even for a few hours and then die"–"muhūrtaṃ jvalitaṃ śreyo na ca dhūmāyitaṃ ciram" (Śriman Mahābhārata U. 132.15). If one is bound to die either to-day or to-morrow or at any rate after a hundred years (Śrīmad Bhāgavatpurāṇa 10.1.38; Bhagavadgītā 2.27), then why be afraid of it or cry or dread it or lament? From the metaphysical point of view, the Self (Ātman) is eternal and never dies. Therefore, in considering the question of death, all that one has to consider is the body which has fallen to one's lot according to one's destiny (prārabdha). This body is perishable in any case. But in as much as this perishable human body is the only means by which one can perform whatever is to be performed in this world for the benefit of the Ātman, even Manu says: "ātmānaṃ satataṃ rakṣet dārair api dhanair api"–i.e. "it is better first to protect one's Self (ātman) before protecting one's wife, children or property (7.213). Yet, noble souls have willingly sacrificed their lives in the fire of duty, in order to obtain something much more permanent than this perishable human body, e.g. for their God or religion, or for the sake of truth, or for acting according to their avowed purpose or sacred vow, or their professed course of conduct, or for protecting their reputation, or for the sake of success, or for the benefit of the entire world! There is a story in the Raghuvaṃśa that Dilīpa, while offering his body to a lion in order to protect the cow of Vaśiṣṭha from him, said to him: "People like me are indifferent towards the human body which is made up of the five elements; therefore, look at my virtuous body rather than at my physical body" (Raghu. 2. 57) and the story of Jīmūtavāhana having sacrificed his own body to an eagle in order to protect the lives of serpents, is to be found in the Kathāsaritsāgara, as also in the Nāgānanda drama.

In the Mṛcchakaṭika (10. 27) Cārudatta says:

na bhīto maraṇād asmi kevalaṃ dūṣitaṃ yaśaḥ |
viśuddhasya hi me mṛtyuḥ putrajanmasamaḥ kila ||

That is: "I am not afraid of death; I am unhappy only because my reputation will be tarnished. If my reputation remains untarnished, then even if I have to suffer death, I will be as happy about it as if a son were born to me";

And on this same principle, the king Śibi, in order to protect a kapota bird, which had surrendered itself to him, took the form of a śyena bird and cut off pieces of flesh from his own body and offered them to the Dharma who was hunting the kapota bird; and when a sword made out of the bones of a ṛṣi named Dadhīci was needed for killing Vṛtra, the enemy of the gods, all the gods went to that ṛṣi and said to him: "śarīratyāgaṃ lokahitārthaṃ bhavān kartum arhati " i.e., "Ṛṣi, be pleased to give up your life for the sake of the benefit of all", and thereupon, that ṛṣi most willingly gave up his life and allowed the gods to take his bones. These stories are to be found respectively in the Vanaparva and the Śāntiparva of the Bhārata (Vana. 100 and 131; Śān. 342). When the god Sūrya (Sun) came to know that Indra was going to the most generous Karṇa in the form of a Brahmin for begging from him the shield and ear-ornaments (kavaca-kuṇḍala) with which he had come to birth, he (Sūrya), warned Karṇa not to part with the same by gift to anybody and said to him that though he (Karṇa) was known as a most magnanimous person, yet he should not part with the shield and ear-ornaments to anybody, as his life would be in danger if he did so; and "mṛtasya kīrtyā kiṃ kāryaṃ" i.e., "once he was dead, fame would be of no use to him." Hearing this message of the Sun-god, Karṇa gave him the fearless reply that: "jīvitenāpi me rakṣyā kīrtis tad viddhi me vrataṃ" i.e., "I do not care, if I lose my life, but protecting my reputation is my avowed purpose" (Śriman Mahābhārata Vana. 299. 38). I may even say that such warlike doctrines as: "If you die you will go to heaven and if you win, you will enjoy the wealth of the earth" (Bhagavadgītā 2.37) or "svadharme nidhanaṃ śreyaḥ" (Bhagavadgītā 3.35), i.e., "Even if you meet your death, in acting according to your own religion, yet there is virtue in that", are based on the same principle; and consistently with that principle Śrī Samartha Rāmadāsa Svāmi has preached that: "If you think of your reputation, you will have no happiness and if you pursue happiness, you will have to sacrifice your reputation" (Dāsabodha 12.10.19; 19.10.25); and that therefore: "When you have shed your body, your renown should survive you; O my mind! righteous persons should act in this way". Nevertheless the questions: "What is the use of renown after you are dead, though it may be true that by doing good to others you obtain renown?" or, "Why should a righteous man prefer death to disgrace? (Bhagavadgītā 2.34), or prefer doing good to others to saving his own life?" will not be satisfactorily answered unless one enters into the consideration of the Self and the Non-self (ātmānātma); and even if these questions are answered otherwise, yet in order to understand on what occasions it is proper to sacrifice one's life and when it is not proper to do so, one has also to consider the question of the philosophy of Action and Non-Action (karmākarma); otherwise, far from acquiring the glory of having sacrificed one's life, one will have incurred the sin of having foolishly committed suicide.

The religion of worshipping and serving one's mother, father, preceptor, etc., who are worshipful persons, as if they were deities, is looked upon as an important religion out of the several general and generally accepted religions, Because, if such were not the case, the family, the gurukula and even society itself will not be properly arranged. Therefore, not only in the Smṛti treatises but also in the Upaniṣads, it is stated that each preceptor after first preaching "satyaṃ vada । dharmaṃ cara । ", i.e., "speak the truth, live righteously" to the disciple who left him to go home after finishing his instruction, used next to preach to him: "mātṛdevo bhava । pitṛdevo bhava । ācāradevo bhava । " i.e. "treat your mother, your father, and your preceptor as if they were gods" (Taittirīya Upaniṣad 1.11.1. and 2); and that is the sum and substance of the chapter on the conversation between the Brahmin and the hunter in the Mahābhārata (Vana. 213).

But even in this religion, unexpected difficulties arise. Manu has said:–

upādhyāyān daśācāryaḥ ācāryaṇaṃ śataṃ pitā
sahasraṃ tu pitṛn mātā gauraveṇātiricyate ॥
  (Manu-Smṛti 2.145).

I.e., " the preceptor is more in worth than ten lecturers, the father is worth more than a hundred preceptors, and the mother is worth more than a thousand fathers".

Yet, it is a well-known story that because his mother had committed a grievous sin, Paraśurāma, at the instance of his father, cut her throat (Vana. 116.14); and in the Cirakārikopākhyāna of the Śāntiparva (Śān. 265) the question of the relative propriety of killing one's mother at the behest of one's father or of disobeying one's father, has been considered in all its bearings with arguments pro and con in a separate chapter by itself.

From this it will be seen that the practice of discussing such subtle positions in life from the ethical point of view was fully in vogue at the date of the Mahābhārata. Everyone is conversant with the story of Śrī Rāmacandra having at the behest of his father willingly accepted banishment into the forests for 14 years in order to give effect to the promise made by his father. But the principle which has been enunciated above with reference to the mother, has occasionally to be applied to the case of the father.

For instance, if after a son has become a king by his own prowess, he has occasion to try some crime committed by his father, should he in his capacity as a king, punish his father or let him off because he is his father? Manu says:

pitācāryaḥ suhṛn mātā bhāryā putraḥ purohitaḥ |
nādaṇḍyo nāma rājño 'sti yah svadharme na tiṣṭhati ||

I.e., "May he be a father or a preceptor or a friend or a son or a priest, may she be a mother, or a wife, if he or she have not behaved according to their own duties, they are not unpunishable for the king; that is, the king must give them condign punishment" (Manu-Smṛti 8.335; Śriman Mahābhārata Śān. 121. 60).

Because, in this situation, the religion of sonhood is inferior to the religion of kinghood. And it is stated both in the Bhārata and the Rāmāyaṇa, that the most illustrious King Sagara, belonging to the Sūryavaṃśa banished his son, acting on this principle, because he found that his son was unreasonable and ill-behaved and was harassing his subjects. (Śriman Mahābhārata 107; Rāma. 1.38). Even in the Manu-Smṛti, there is a story that a ṛṣi named Āngirasa, having acquired excellent knowledge already at a tender age, his uncles (paternal and maternal) and other elders began to learn at his feet; on one such occasion Āngirasa, in addressing them, naturally used the words: 'my children' which are used by a teacher in addressing his pupils - "putrakā iti hovāca jñānena parigṛhya tān" i.e. "having imparted knowledge to them, he addressed them as 'my children'!"–Then what an uproar arose! All the old people became livid with anger, and were convinced that the boy had become arrogant; and they made a complaint to the gods that he should be properly punished. The gods listened to the pleadings on either side, and ultimately gave the decision that the words which Āngirasa had used in addressing them were perfectly proper; because:

na tena vṛddho bhavati yenāsya palitaṃ śiraḥ |
yo vai yuvāpy adhīyānas taṃ devāḥ sthaviraṃ viduḥ ||

That is:–"if his hair have become white, a man does not on that account alone, become old; although a man may be young, yet if he is learned, the gods look upon him as old" (Manu-Smṛti 2.156; and also Śriman Mahābhārata Vana. 133.11; Śalya, 51.47).

This principle has been accepted not only by Manu and Vyāsa but also by the Lord Buddha. Because, the first line of the above verse from the Smṛti has been adopted verbatim into the wellknown Buddhistic treatise on Ethics, in the Pali language, known as the 'Dhammapada'[9] (Dhammapada, 260); and later on it is said in the same book that the man who has become mature only by age, has lived in vain; and that in order that a person should become truly religious and old, he must have acquired the virtues of veracity, harmlessness etc.; and in another treatise named 'Cullavayya', the Lord Buddha has himself permitted that even if the bhikṣu, (mendicant) who may be preaching may be young, yet he should sit on a high pedestal and preach the religion to other bhikṣus who had been previously invested into the creed and may be older than him (Cullavagga, 6.13.1). The story of Prahlāda having disobeyed his father Hiraṇyakaśipu, and won the Blessed Lord mentioned in the Purāṇas is well-known; and from these stories it will be seen that as a result of other important considerations coming into existence, one has unavoidably to temporarily forget not only the relationship between the older and the younger in age, but also the universally accepted relationship between father and son. But if, when such an occasion has not arisen, an arrogant son begins to abuse his father, will he not be looked upon as a brute? Bhīṣma has said to Yudhiṣṭhira: "gurur garīyān pitṛto mātrtaś ceti me matiḥ" (Śān. 108.17), i.e., "the preceptor is superior even to the mother or the father."

But it is stated in the Mahābhārata itself, that when the preceptor of the king Marutta had abandoned him for his selfish interests, Marutta said:–

guror apy avaliptasya kāryākāram ajātaḥ
utpathapratipannsya nyāyyaṃ bhavati śāsanam ॥
  (Śriman Mahābhārata Ā. 142. 53–53).

i.e., "Even a preceptor, who, disregarding what ought to be done and what ought not to be done, takes up arrogantly the wrong path, deserves punishment".

This verse has appeared four times in the Mahābhārata. (Śriman Mahābhārata Ā. 142.52–53; U. 179.24; Śān. 57.7; 140.48). Out of these, the reading in the first reference is as above and in the other references, the fourth part of the verse reads: "daṇḍo bhavati śāśvataḥ" or "parityāgo vidhīyate". But where this verse has appeared in the Valmiki Rāmāyaṇa (Rāmā. 2.21.13), the reading mentioned above is the only reading which has appeared; and therefore, I have adopted it in this book. The fights between Bhīṣma and Paraśurāma and between Arjuna and Droṇa were justified on the same principle and when the preceptors of Prahlāda appointed by Hiraṇyakaśipu began to advise him against worshipping the Blessed Lord, he has disregarded their advice him the same principle.

In the Śāntiparva, Bhīṣma himself says to Śrī Kṛṣṇa that, although a preceptor may be venerable yet he also must be bound by rules of Ethics; otherwise:

samayatyāgine lubdhān gurūn api ca keśava
nihanti samare pāpān kṣatriyaḥ sa hi dharmavit॥
  (Śān. 55. 16).

That is: "Oh Keśava, that kṣatriya is truly law-abiding, who kills such persons as break laws, ethical principles, or rules of proper conduct, or is greedy or sinful, notwithstanding that they occupy the position of preceptors."

So also, in the Taittirīyopaniṣad, after first stating: "ācāryadevo bhava", i.e., "Treat your preceptor, as a deity", it is immediately afterwards stated that:

yāny asmākaṃ sucaritāni | tāni tvayopāsyāni | no itarāṇi ||
  (Taittirīya Upaniṣad 1.11.2),

I.e., "Imitate only such of our actions as are good, and disregard the others".

From this, it is quite clear that the net advice of the Upaniṣads is that, even if the elders are god-like, because they are preceptors, or parents, yet, do not become addicted to drink, because they were addicted to drink; because, the position of ethical principles or of laws is even higher than that of the mother or the father or the preceptor, etc. The statement of Manu that: "Follow your religion; if anyone destroys his religion, that is to say, disregards it, that religion will, without fail, destroy him." (Manu-Smṛti 8.14–16), has been made on the same principles. The king is a deity who is even more worshipful than the preceptor (Manu-Smṛti 7. 8, and Śriman Mahābhārata Śān. 68.40). But, the Manu-Smṛti says that even he does not escape the binding force of laws, and that if he breaks them, he will be destroyed; and the same idea is conveyed by the histories of the two kings Vena and Khanīnetra mentioned in the Mahābhārata (Manu-Smṛti 7, 41 and 8. 128; Śriman Mahābhārata Śān. 59. 92–100 and Aśva. 4).

Control of the organs is placed on the same level with Harmlessness (ahiṃsā), Veracity (satya), and Not-stealing (asteya), in the ordinary general religions (Manu-Smṛti 10. 63). All the Śāstras contain the advice that Desire (kāma), Anger (krodha) and Avarice (lobha) are the enemies of man, and that unless they are fully conquered, neither he nor society will in any way be benefitted; and it is stated in the Viduranīti, as also in the Bhagavadgītā, that:

trividhaṃ narakasyedaṃ dvāraṃ nāśanam ātmanaḥ |
kāmaḥ krodhas tathā lobhas tasmād etat trayaṃ tyajet ||

I.e., " Kāma, krodha and lobha are the three gateways of hell; and as they are destructive agents, they must be eschewed" (Bhagavadgītā 16.21; Śriman Mahābhārata U. 32.70).

But the Blessed Lord has in the Gītā itself described his own form in the following words:

dharmāviruddho bhūteṣu kāmo 'smi bharatarṣabha
  (Bhagavadgītā 7.11),

I.e., "O, Arjuna! I am that Kāma (desire) which exists in the hearts of living things, being consistent with law (dharma)".

Therefore, that Kāma (desire) which is inconsistent with dharma is the gateway of hell and other kinds of Kāma are not proscribed by the Blessed Lord; and even Manu has said:–"parityajed arthakāmau yau syātāṃ dharmavarjitau", i.e., "that wealth (artha) and desire (Kāma) which are inconsistent with justice (dharma) should be eschewed" (Manu-Smṛti 4.176). If to-morrow all living beings decide to say good-bye to the Lord Kāma, and to observe celibacy the whole of their lives, the entire living creation will come to an end within fifty or at most one hundred years, and the silence of death will reign everywhere; and that creation, in order to save which from destruction, the Blessed Lord takes incarnations every now and then, will within a short lime, be destroyed. Kāma and krodha are enemies, it is true, but, when? If you allow them to become uncontrolled. Even Manu and the other writers of the Śāstras have accepted the position that Kāma and krodha are extremely essential, within proper limits, in order that the world should go on (Manu-Smṛti 5.56). The highest civilisation consists in putting a proper restraint on these powerful mental impulses, and not in totally destroying them.

It is stated in the Bhāgavata that:

loke vyavāyāmiṣamadyasevā nityāsti jantor na hi tatra codanā |
vyavasthitis teṣu vivāhayajña-surāgraherāsu nivṛttir iṣṭā ||
  (Śrīmad Bhāgavatpurāṇa 11.5.11).

I.e., "In this world, it is not necessary to tell anyone to indulge in the enjoyment of sexual intercourse or in eating flesh or drinking wine. These are things which human beings want naturally. And it is in order to systematise these three impulses, that is to say, in order to give them a systematic basis by subjecting them to limitations or restraint, that the writers of the Śāstras have ordained marriage, and the Somayāga and the Sautrāmaṇi-yajña respectively for them; but even with reference to these matters, the most excellent course is Renunciation (nivṛtti), that is to say, Desireless Action".

Although the word 'nivṛtti', when used in relation to fifth-case-ended nouns, means, 'renunciation of a particular thing' or 'giving up a particular Action altogether'; yet, as the adjective 'nivṛtta' is in the Karma-Yoga applied to the noun 'karma', the word 'nivṛtta-karma', it must be borne in mind, means 'Action which is to be performed desirelesely'; and the word has been used clearly in those meanings in the Manu- Smṛti and in the Bhāgavata-purāṇa (Manu-Smṛti 12. 89; Śrīmad Bhāgavatpurāṇa 11.10.1 and 7.15.47).

In speaking about anger (krodha) Bhāravika says in the Kirāta-kāvya (1.33) that:

amarṣaśūnyena janasya jantunā na jātahārdena na vidviṣādaraḥ ||

I.e., "if a man does not get angry or annoyed when he has been insulted, it is just the same whether he is your friend or whether he hates you!"

Vidulā has said, that from the point of view of the warrior (kṣatriya) religion:

etāvān eva puruṣo yad amarṣī yad akṣamī |
kṣamāvān niramarṣaś ca naiva strī na punaḥ pumān ||
  (Śriman Mahābhārata U. 132.33).

I.e., "he who gets angry (on account of injustice) and who does not submit (to insult), is truly a man. He who does not get angry or annoyed is neither a woman nor a man".

It has already been stated above that in order that the world should go on, there must not be either anger or valour at all times, or forgiveness at all times. The same law applies to avarice (lobha); because, even if a man is a saṃnyāsi (ascetic) yet he wants Release (mokṣa).

Vyāsa has stated in various stories in the Mahābhārata, that the various virtues of valour, courage, kindness, probity, friendship, impartiality etc., are, in addition to their mutual oppositions, also limited by considerations of time and place. Whatever the virtue may be, it is not equally appropriate in all circumstances.

Bhartṛhari says that:

vipadi dhairyam athābhyudaye kṣamā sadasi vākpaṭutā yudhi vikramaḥ |
  (Nīti. 63).

That is: "Courage is a virtue in days of misfortune, forgiveness in days of power (that is, notwithstanding that you are in a position to punish), oratory in an assembly, and valour in warfare".

In times of peace, there are not wanting mere talkers like Uttara; but although there may be many Hambirarāos who are courageous enough to shoot arrows through the nose-rings of their wives, it is only one of them who acquits himself with credit as an archer on the battle-field! Not only are courage and the other above-mentioned virtues really appropriate in the respective circumstances mentioned, but they cannot even be properly tested except in such circumstances. There are not wanting shoals of school-friends; but, "nikaṣagrāvā tu teṣāṃ vipat", i.e. "adversity is their touchstone". Misfortune is the true test for trying them. The word 'circumstances' above includes considerations of worthiness and unworthiness, in addition to considerations of time and place. No virtue is greater than impartiality. The Bhagavadgītā itself clearly says that being: "samaḥ sarveṣu bhūteṣu", i.e., "impartial towards all created things", is a characteristic feature of a perfect being (siddha). But, what does this impartiality mean? If somebody showers charity on each and every one alike, that is to say, without considering their respective merits, shall we call him a wise man or a fool? This question has been answered in the Gītā itself in the following words: "deśe kāle ca pātre ca tad dānaṃ sāttvika viduḥ", i.e., "that charity which. is made with proper regard for the place, the time, and the worthiness (of the party) is the pure (sāttvika) charity" (Bhagavadgītā 17.20). Considerations of time are not limited to the present time. As times change, so also changes take place in the laws relating to worldly life; and therefore, if one has to consider the propriety or otherwise of anything pertaining to ancient times, one has necessarily to consider also the ideas of righteousness or unrighteousness prevailing at that time.

Manu (1.85) and Vyāsa (Śriman Mahābhārata Śān. 359.8) say:

anye kṛtayuge dharmās tretāyāṃ dvāpare 'pare |
anye kaliyuge nṛṇāṃ yugahrāsānurūpataḥ ||

I.e., "the laws relating to the Kṛta, Tretā, Dvāpara and the Kaliyuga are all different according as the yugas (eras) change".

And it is stated in the Mahābhārata itself that in ancient times, women were not restricted by marriage, and they were entirely independent and unchecked in that matter; but, when the evil effects of this kind of life manifested themselves later on, Śvetaketu laid down the limitation of marriage (Śriman Mahābhārata Ā. 122); and Śukrācārya was the first one to promulgate the prohibition against drink (Śriman Mahābhārata Ā. 76). Needless to say, there must be different standards for considering the laws pertaining to the times when these restrictions were not in vogue, than those relating to the times when they came into vogue; and in the same way, if the laws which are in force in the present age are changed in the future, then the consideration of the righteousness or unrighteousness of actions in the future will also be on a different basis. As there are considerations of time, so also are there considerations of the customs of the country, the customs of the family, as also the customs of the community; for, custom is the root of all religion. Nevertheless, there are inconsistencies even among customs.

Bhīṣma has described the differences between customs in the following words:

na hi sarvahitaḥ kaścid ācāraḥ saṃpravartate |
tenaivānyaḥ prabhavaty so 'paraṃ bādhate punaḥ ||
  (Śān. 259. 17.18).

That is: "One cannot find any custom, which is beneficial to everybody, at all times. If you take one custom, another one is better, and if you accept the second custom, it is again contrary to a third one";

And he has said that we have to discriminate between customs and customs.

If I go on solving in this way all the riddles about what should be done and what should not be done (karmākarma) and what is righteous and what unrighteous (dharmādharma), I shall have to write a second Mahābhārata myself. I have laboured on this subject so long only with the idea of impressing on the mind of my readers how the circumstances in which Arjuna found himself in the beginning of the Gītā as a result of a conflict between fraternal affection and a warrior's duties were not something out of the common; and how similar circumstances very often befall great and responsible persons in life, giving rise sometimes to a conflict between the principles of Harmlessness and Self-protection, or of Veracity and general welfare, or between the protection of one's person and one's imputation, or again between different duties arising out of different aspects of the same situation; and how, many exceptions thus arise, which are not provided for by ordinary and generally accepted moral laws; and lastly, how on such occasions, not only ordinary, but even very clever and learned persons, naturally feel the desire of finding out whether or not there is some definite formula or basis for determining what should be done and what not, or, what is one's duty and what is not one's duty. It is true that some concessions have been made in the Śāstras to meet calamities like a famine which are technically known as 'āpaddharma'. For instance, the writers of the Smṛtis say that in such calamities (āpatkāla) a Brahmin incurs no sin, if he takes food in any place; and in the Chāndogyopaniṣad, there is even a story of Uṣasticākrāyaṇa having done so. (Yājña. 3.41; Chāndogyopaniṣad 1.10). But there is a world of difference between those circumstances and the circumstance mentioned above. In the case of famine, there is a conflict between religious principles on the one hand and hunger, thirst, and other bodily needs on the other, and the bodily organs drag you in one direction and religious principles in the opposite direction. But in many of the circumstances mentioned above, the conflict is not between bodily impulses and religious principles but there is an inter-conflict between two principles laid down in the Śāstras themselves and it becomes necessary to consider minutely whether to follow this religious precept or that; and though it may be possible for person? of ordinary intelligence to arrive at a decision on a few such occasions by considering what pure-minded persons have done in the past in similar circumstances, yet on other occasions, even sages are puzzled; because, the more one thinks about a particular matter, more and more of doubts and counter-arguments come into existence, and it becomes very difficult to arrive at a definite conclusion; and if a proper decision is not arrived at, there is a risk of one's committing an unlawful thing or even a crime. Considering the matter from this point of view, it will be seen that the discrimination between the lawful and the unlawful or between the doable and the not-doable becomes an independent science by itself, which is even more difficult than the sciences of logic or grammar. In old Sanskrit treatises, the word 'nīti-śāstra'

(Ethics) used to be applied principally to regal jurisprudence (rāja-nīti) and the doable and the not-doable used to be technically called 'dharma-śāstra'. But as the word 'nīti' includes both duty and good conduct, I have in this book referred to the discussion of the questions of righteousness and unrighteousness or of what ought to be done and what ought not be done, by the name 'nīti-śāstra'. In order to show that this science, which expounds Ethics, or shows what is doable and what is not-doable, or what is righteous and what unrighteous, is indeed a very difficult science, the sentence "sūkṣmā gatir hi dharmasya", i.e. "the true nature of righteousness, that is to say, of the Ethics of worldly life, is very subtle", occurs several times in the Mahābhārata. It is extremely difficult to satisfactorily answer such questions as:–How did five Pāṇḍavas marry one Draupadi? or, Why did Bhīṣma, Droṇa and others sit quiet, as if with a dead heart, when attempts were made to denude Draupadi?, or, Whether the principle; "arthasya puruṣo dāsaḥ dāsas tv artho na kasyacit" i.e., "man is the servant of wealth (artha), wealth is the servant of nobody" (Śriman Mahābhārata Bhī. 43.35), enunciated by Bhīṣma and Droṇa, in justification of their having sided with the wicked Duryodhana in the civil war is or is not correct? or, if service is looked upon as dog-like, as is shown by the words: "sevā śvavṛttir ākhyātā", i.e., "servitude is said to be the tendency of a dog" (Manu-Smṛti 406) and is accordingly considered eschewable, then why did Bhīṣma and others not give up the service of Duryodhana, rather than becoming the slaves of wealth? Because, on such occasions different persons arrive at different inferences or decisions according to different circumstances. Not only are the principles of justice extremely subtle ("sūkṣmā gatir hi dharmasya ", Śriman Mahābhārata Anu. 10.70), but, as is stated later on in the Mahābhārata itself, there are numerous branches to those principles and the inferences which can be drawn from them are numerous ("bahuśākhā hy anantikā", Śriman Mahābhārata Vana. 208.2). Tulādhāra also, where he is discoursing on questions of morality, in the Tulādhāra-Jājali conversation, says': "sūkṣmatvān na sa vijñātuṃ śakyate bahunihnavaḥ", i.e., "as morality is subtle and complicated, one very often does not know what it is" (Śān. 261.37). The writer of the Mahābhārata was fully conversant with these subtle occasions, and he has collected together different traditionary stories in the Mahābhārata in order to explain how great men behaved in the past in those circumstances. But it was necessary to scientifically examine all these subjects and to enunciate the universal principle underlying them, in a religious work like the Mahābhārata. Vyāsa has explained this underlying principle in the Bhagavadgītā, taking his stand on the advice given in the past by Śrī Kṛṣṇa to Arjuna on the pretext of removing his doubts about his duty; and, therefore, the Gītā has become the mystic Upaniṣad and the crown jewel of the Mahābhārata, and the Mahābhārata has become an illustrated and detailed lecture on the fundamental principles of Right Action (KarmaYoga) which have been enunciated in the Gītā. I have to suggest to those who imagine that the Gītā has been subsequently interpolated into the Mahābhārata that they should pay close attention to this fact. Nay, the uniqueness and special feature of the Gītā consists in this very thing. Because, although there are numerous treatises like the

Upaniṣads etc. which deal with the pure science of Release (mokṣa) that is, with Vedānta, or like the Smṛtis which merely enunciate rules of righteous conduct such as Harmlessness etc., yet there is not to be found, at least in these days, another ancient work in the Sanskrit literature like the Gītā which, discriminates between the doable and the not-doable (kāryākārya-vyavasthiti) on the authority of the extremely recondite philosophy of the Vedānta. Devotees of the Gītā need not be told that the word 'kāryākārya-vyavasthiti' has not been coined by me, but is from the Gītā itself (Gītā. 16. 24). In the Yogavāśiṣṭha, Vaśiṣṭha has ultimately preached to Śrī Rāma, the path of Energism (Karma-Yoga) based on SelfRealisation (jñāna), as has been done in the Gītā; but such works, which have been written after the date of the Gītā, and which are only imitations of it, do not in any way detract from the uniqueness of the Gītā, to which I have referred above.


Footnotes and references:


In this place, the word "akarma" (not-doable) must be interpreted as meaning 'absence of action' or 'wrong action' according to the context. See my commentary on the verse.


Mill's Utilitarianism, Chapter II, pp. 33–34 (15th Ed. Longman's 1907).


Sidgwick's Methods of Ethics, Book IV Chap. Ill, Para. 7. P. 454, 7th Ed. and Book II Chap. V Para. 3, P. 169.


Leslie Stephen's, Science of Ethics, Cha. IX. Para 29, p, 369 2nd Ed) "And the certainty might be of such a kind as to make me think it a duty to lie".


Green's Prolegomena to Ethics, Para 315 p. 379, 5th Cheaper Edition.


Bain's Mental and Moral Science, p. 445 (Ed. 1875); Whewell's Elements of Morality, Bk. II, Ch. XIII and XIV, (4th Ed. 1864).


Out of the animals who have five toes, such as, the dog, the monkey etc. Manu and Yājñavalkya have prescribed the porcupine (which has arrow-like hair), sallaka, (this is a kind of a porcupine), the iguana, the tortoise, and the hare as edible (Manu 5. 18, Yājña. 1.177). Manu has included in the list also the 'khaḍga' that is, the rhinoceros; but commentators say that there is a doubt about that animal. If this doubtful case is omitted, only five animals remain, of which the flesh is edible, and this is what is meant by the words:–"pañca pañcanakhā bhakṣyāḥ" i.e., "it is only five five-toed animals which are edible". Still, the vyavasāyātmikā writers interprete this as meaning that, those who are allowed to eat flesh should not eat the flesh of any five-toed animals except these; and not that one must necessarily eat the flesh of these animals. This technical interpretation is known as 'pañcanakhā'. The rule "pañca pañcanakhā bhakṣyāḥ" is an illustration of this 'pañcanakhā'. Where flesh-eating is itself unlawful, the eating of the flesh of these animals is also unlawful.


Hobbes' Leviathan, Part II Chap. XXVII P. 139, (Morley's Universal Library Edition); Mill's, Utilitarianism, Chap. V. p.95 (15th Ed.).–"Thus, to save a life, it may not only be allowable, but a duty to steal etc."


The work 'Dhammapada' has been translated into English in the Sacred Books of the East Series Vol. X and the Cullavagga has also been translated into English in the Volumes XVII and XX of the same series. Mr. Yadavarao Varvikar, has also translated the Dhammapada into Marathi, and that was first published in the Kolhapur Granthamala and later on as an independent book.

The verse in Pali in the Dhammapada is as follows:

na tena thero hoti yenassa palitaṃ siro |
paripakko vayo tassa mogha-jiṇṇo ti vuccati ||

The word 'thera' is applied to Buddhist mendicants. It is a corruption from the Sanskrit word "sthavira".

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