OM! HAVING BOWED down unto Narayana, and Nara the foremost of malebeings, and unto the goddess Saraswati, must the word Jaya be uttered.
“Yudhishthira said, ‘O grandsire, tranquillity of mind has been said tobe subtile and of diverse forms. I have heard all thy discourses, butstill tranquillity of mind has not been mine. In this matter, variousmeans of quieting the mind have been related (by thee), O sire, but howcan peace of mind be secured from only a knowledge of the different kindsof tranquillity, when I myself have been the instrument of bringing aboutall this? Beholding thy body covered with arrows and festering with badsores, I fail to find, O hero, any peace of mind, at the thought of theevils I have wrought. Beholding thy body, O most valiant of men, bathedin blood, like a hill overrun with water from its springs, I amlanguishing with grief even as the lotus in the rainy season. What can bemore painful than this, that thou, O grandsire, hast been brought to thisplight on my account by my people fighting against their foes on thebattle-field? Other princes also, with their sons and kinsmen, having metwith destruction on my account. Alas, what can be more painful than this.Tell us, O prince, what destiny awaits us and the sons of Dhritarashtra,who, driven by fate and anger, have done this abhorrent act. O lord ofmen, I think the son of Dhritarashtra is fortunate in that he doth notbehold thee in this state. But I, who am the cause of thy death as wellas of that of our friends, am denied all peace of mind by beholding theeon the bare earth in this sorry condition. The wicked Duryodhana, themost infamous of his race, has, with all his troops and his brothers,perished in battle, in the observance of Kshatriya duties. Thatwicked-souled wight does not see thee lying on the ground. Verily, forthis reason, I would deem death to be preferable to life. O hero thatnever swervest from virtue, had I with my brothers met with destructionere this at the hands of our enemies on the battle-field, I would nothave found thee in this pitiful plight, thus pierced with arrows. Surely,O prince, the Maker had created is to become perpetrators of evil deeds.O king, if thou wishest to do me good, do thou then instruct me in such away that I may be cleansed of this sin in even another world.’
“Bhishma replied, ‘Why, O fortunate one, dost thou consider thy soul,which is dependent (on God and Destiny and Time) to be the cause of thyactions? The manifestation of its inaction is subtle and imperceptible tothe senses. In this connection is cited the ancient story of theconversation between Mrityu and Gautami with Kala and the Fowler and theserpent. There was, O son of Kunti, an old lady of the name of Gautami,who was possessed of great patience and tranquillity of mind. One day shefound her son dead in consequence of having been bitten by a serpent. Anangry fowler, by name Arjunaka, bound the serpent with a string andbrought it before Gautami. He then said to her,–This wretched serpenthas been the cause of thy son’s death, O blessed lady. Tell me quicklyhow this wretch is to be destroyed. Shall I throw it into the fire orshall I hack it into pieces? This infamous destroyer of a child does notdeserve to live longer.’
“Gautami replied, ‘Do thou, O Arjunaka of little understanding, releasethis serpent. It doth not deserve death at thy hands. Who is so foolishas to disregard the inevitable lot that awaits him and burdening himselfwith such folly sink into sin? Those that have made themselves light bythe practice of virtuous deeds, manage to cross the sea of the world evenas a ship crosses the ocean. But those that have made themselves heavywith sin sink into the bottom, even as an arrow thrown into the water. Bykilling the serpent, this my boy will not be restored to life, and byletting it live, no harm will be caused to thee. Who would go to theinterminable regions of Death by slaying this living creature?’
“The fowler said, ‘I know, O lady that knowest the difference betweenright and wrong, that the great are afflicted at the afflictions of allcreatures. But these words which thou hast spoken are fraught withinstruction for only a self-contained person (and not for one plunged insorrow). Therefore, I must kill this serpent. Those who value peace ofmind, assign everything to the course of Time as the cause, but practicalmen soon assuage their grief (by revenge). People through constantdelusion, fear loss of beatitude (in the next world for acts like these).therefore, O lady, assuage thy grief by having this serpent destroyed (byme).
“Gautami replied, ‘People like us are never afflicted by (suchmisfortune). Good men have their souls always intent on virtue. The deathof the boy was predestined: therefore, I am unable to approve of thedestruction of this serpent. Brahmanas do not harbour resentment, becauseresentment leads to pain. Do thou, O good man, forgive and release thisserpent out of compassion.’
“The fowler replied, ‘Let us earn great and inexhaustible merit hereafterby killing (this creature), even as a man acquires great merit, andconfers it on his victim sacrificed as well, by sacrifice upon the altar.Merit is acquired by killing an enemy: by killing this despicablecreature, thou shalt acquire great and true merit hereafter.’
“Gautami replied, ‘What good is there in tormenting and killing an enemy,and what good is won by not releasing an enemy in our power? Therefore, Othou of benign countenance, why should we not forgive this serpent andtry to earn merit by releasing it?’
“The fowler replied, ‘A great number (of creatures) ought to be protectedfrom (the wickedness of) this one, instead of this single creature beingprotected (in preference to many). Virtuous men abandon the vicious (totheir doom): do thou, therefore, kill this wicked creature.’
“Gautami replied, ‘By killing this serpent, O fowler, my son will not berestored to life, nor do I see that any other end will be attained by itsdeath: therefore, do thou, O fowler, release this living creature of aserpent.
“The fowler said, ‘By killing Vritra, Indra secured the best portion (ofsacrificial offerings), and by destroying a sacrifice Mahadeva securedhis share of sacrificial offerings: do thou, therefore, destroy thisserpent immediately without any misgivings in thy mind!’
“Bhishma continued, ‘The high-souled Gautami, although repeatedly incitedby the fowler for the destruction of the serpent did not bend her mind tothat sinful act. The serpent, painfully bound with the cord: sighing alittle and maintaining its composure with great difficulty, then utteredthese words slowly, in a human voice.’
“The serpent said, ‘O foolish Arjunaka, what fault is there of mine? Ihave no will of my own, and am not independent. Mrityu sent me on thiserrand. By his direction have I bitten this child, and not out of anyanger or choice on my part. Therefore, if there be any sin in this, Ofowler, the sin is his.’
“The fowler said, ‘If thou hast done this evil, led thereto by another,the sin is thine also as thou art an instrument in the act. As in themaking of an earthen vessel the potter’s wheel and rod and other thingsare all regarded as causes, so art thou, O serpent, (cause in theproduction of this effect). He that is guilty deserves death at my hands.Thou, O serpent, art guilty. Indeed, thou confessest thyself so in thismatter!’
“The serpent said, ‘As all these, viz., the potter’s wheel, rod, andother things, are not independent causes, even so I am not an independentcause. Therefore, this is no fault of mine, as thou shouldst grant.Shouldst thou think otherwise, then these are to be considered as causesworking in unison with one another. For thus working with one other, adoubt arises regarding their relation as cause and effect. Such being thecase, it is no fault of mine, nor do I deserve death on this account, noram I guilty of any sin. Or, if thou thinkest that there is sin (in evensuch causation), the sin lies in the aggregate of causes.’
“The fowler said, ‘If thou art neither the prime cause nor the agent inthis matter, thou art still the cause of the death (of his child).Therefore, thou dost deserve death in my opinion. If, O serpent, thouthinkest that when an evil act is done, the doer is not implicatedtherein, then there can be no cause in this matter; but having done this,verily thou deservest death. What more dost thou think?’
“The serpent said, ‘Whether any cause exists or not, no effect isproduced without an (intermediate) act. Therefore, causation being of nomoment in either case, my agency only as the cause (in this matter) oughtto be considered in its proper bearings. If, O fowler, thou thinkest meto be the cause in truth, then the guilt of this act of killing a livingbeing rests on the shoulders of another who incited me to this end.'
“The fowler said, ‘Not deserving of life, O foolish one, why dost thoubandy so many words, O wretch of a serpent? Thou deservest death at myhands. Thou hast done an atrocious act by killing this infant.’
“The serpent said, ‘O fowler, as the officiating priests at a sacrificedo not acquire the merit of the act by offering oblations of clarifiedbutter to the fire, even so should I be regarded with respect as to theresult in this connection.’
“Bhishma continued, ‘The serpent directed by Mrityu having said this,Mrityu himself appeared there and addressing the serpent spoke thus.
“Mrityu said, ‘Guided. by Kala, I, O serpent, sent thee on this errand,and neither art thou nor am I the cause of this child’s death. Even asthe clouds are tossed hither and thither by the wind, I am like theclouds, O serpent, influenced by Kala. All attitudes appertaining toSattwa or Rajas, or Tamas, are provoked by Kala, and operate in allcreatures. All creatures, mobile and immobile, in heaven, or earth, areinfluenced by Kala. The whole universe, O serpent, is imbued with thissame influence of Kala. All acts in this world and all abstentions, asalso all their modifications, are said to be influenced by Kala, Surya,Soma, Vishnu, Water, Wind, the deity of a hundred sacrificer, Fire, Sky,Earth, Mitra and Parjanya, Aditi, and the Vasus, Rivers and Oceans, allexistent and non-existent objects, are created and destroyed by Kala.Knowing this, why dost thou, O serpent, consider me to be guilty? If anyfault attaches to me in this, thou also wouldst be to blame.’
“The serpent said, ‘I do not, O Mrityu, blame thee, nor do I absolve theefrom all blame. I only aver that I am directed and influenced (in myactions) by thee. If any blame attaches to Kala, or, if it be notdesirable to attach any blame to him, it is not for me to scan the fault.We have no right to do so. As it is incumbent on me to absolve myselffrom this blame, so it is my duty to see that no blame attaches toMrityu.’
“Bhishma continued, ‘Then the serpent, addressing Arjunaka, said–Thouhast listened to what Mrityu has said. Therefore, it is not proper forthee to torment me, who am guiltless, by tying me with this cord.’
“The fowler said, ‘I have listened to thee, O serpent, as well as to thewords of Mrityu, but these, O serpent, do not absolve thee from allblame. Mrityu and thyself are the causes of the child’s death. I considerboth of you to be the cause and I do not call that to be the cause whichis not truly so. Accursed be the wicked and vengeful Mrityu that causesaffliction to the good. Thee too I shall kill that art sinful andengaged, in sinful acts!’
“Mrityu said, ‘We both are not free agents, but are dependent on Kala,and ordained to do our appointed work. Thou shouldst not find fault withus if thou dost consider this matter thoroughly.’
“The fowler said, ‘If ye both, O serpent and Mrityu, be dependent onKala, I am curious to know how pleasure (arising from doing good) andanger (arising from doing evil) are caused.’
“Mrityu said, ‘Whatever is done is done under the influence of Kala. Ihave said it before, O fowler, that Kala is the cause of all and that forthis reason we both, acting under the inspiration of Kala, do ourappointed work and therefore, O fowler, we two do not deserve censurefrom thee in any way!’
“Bhishma continued, ‘Then Kala arrived at that scene of disputation onthis point of morality, and spoke thus to the serpent and Mrityu and thefowler Arjunaka assembled together.’
“Kala said, ‘Neither Mrityu, nor this serpent, nor I, O fowler, am guiltyof the death of any creature. We are merely the immediate exciting causesof the event. O Arjunaka, the Karma of this child formed the excitingcause of our action in this matter. There was no other cause by whichthis child came by its death. It was killed as a result of its own Karma.It has met with death as the result of its Karma in the past. Its Karmahas been the cause of its destruction. We all are subject to theinfluence of our respective Karma. Karma is an aid to salvation even assons are, and Karma also is an indicator of virtue and vice in man. Weurge one another even as acts urge one another. As men make from a lumpof clay whatever they wish to make, even so do men attain to variousresults determined by Karma. As light and shadow are related to eachother, so are men related to Karma through their own actions. Therefore,neither art thou, nor am I, nor Mrityu, nor the serpent, nor this oldBrahmana lady, is the cause of this child’s death. He himself is thecause here. Upon Kala, O king, expounding the matter in this way,Gautami, convinced in her mind that men suffer according to theiractions, spoke thus to Arjunaka.’
“Gautami said, ‘Neither Kala, nor Mrityu, nor the serpent, is the causein this matter. This child has met with death as the result of its ownKarma. I too so acted (in the past) that my son has died (as itsconsequence). Let now Kala and Mrityu retire from this place, and do thoutoo, O Arjunaka, release this serpent.’
“Bhishma continued, ‘Then Kala and Mrityu and the serpent went back totheir respective destinations, and Gautami became consoled in mind asalso the fowler. Having heard all this, O king, do thou forego all grief,and attain to peace of mind. Men attain to heaven or hell as the resultof their own Karma. This evil has neither been of thy own creation, norof Duryodhana’s. Know this that these lords of Earth have all been slain(in this war) as a result of acts of Kalas.'”
Vaisampayana said, “Having heard all this, the powerful and virtuousYudhishthira became consoled in mind, and again enquired as follows.”