“Yudhishthira said, ‘Which amongst these three is superior, viz.,knowledge, penances, and gifts? I ask thee, O foremost of righteouspersons! Do tell me this, O grandsire!’
“Bhishma said, ‘In this connection is cited the old narrative of theconversation between Maitreya and the Island-born Krishna. Once on atime, the Island-born Krishna, O king, while wandering over the world indisguise, proceeded to Baranasi and waited upon Maitreya who belonged bybirth to a race of Munis. Seeing Vyasa arrive, that foremost ofRishis, viz., Maitreya, gave him a seat and after worshipping him withdue rites, fed him with excellent food. Having eaten that good food whichwas very wholesome and which produced every kind of gratification, thehigh-souled Krishna became exceedingly delighted and as he sat there, heeven laughed aloud. Seeing Krishna laugh, Maitreya addressed him, saying,’Tell me, O righteous-souled one, what the reason is of thy laughter!Thou art an ascetic, endued with capacity to control thy emotions. Greatjoy, it seems, has come over thee! Saluting thee, and worshipping theewith bent head, I ask thee this, viz., what the puissance is of mypenances and what the high blessedness is that is thine! The acts I doare different from those which thou doest. Thou art already emancipatedthough still owning life-breaths. I, however, am not yet freed. For allthat I think that there is not much difference between thee and me. I amagain, distinguished by birth.'
“Vyasa said, ‘This wonder that has filled me hath arisen from anordinance that looks like a hyperbole, and from its paradoxical statementfor the comprehension of the people. The declaration of the Vedas seemsto be untrue. But why should the Vedas say an untruth? It has been saidthat there are three tracks which constitute the best vows of a man Oneshould never injure; one should always tell the truth; and one shouldmake gifts. The Rishis of old announced this, following the declarationsof the Vedas. These injunctions were heard in days of old,–they shouldcertainly be followed by us even in our times. Even a small gift, madeunder the circumstances laid down, produces great fruits. Unto athirsty man thou hast given a little water with a sincere heart. Thyselfthirsty and hungry, thou hast, by giving me such food, conquered manyhigh regions of felicity, O puissant one, as, one does by manysacrifices. I am exceedingly delighted with thy very sacred gift, as alsowith thy penances. Thy puissance is that of Righteousness: Thy appearanceis that of Righteousness. The fragrance of Righteousness is about thee. Ithink that all thy acts are performed agreeably to the ordinance, O son,superior to ablutions in sacred waters superior to the accomplishment ofall Vedic vows, is gift. Indeed, O Brahmana, gift is more auspicious thanall sacred acts. If it be not more meritorious than all sacred acts,there can be no question about its superiority. All those rites laid downin the Vedas which thou applaudest do not come up to gift, for giftwithout doubt, is as I hold, fraught with very superior merit. The trackthat has been made by those men who make gifts is the track that istrodden by the wise. They who make gifts are regarded as givers of eventhe life-breaths. The duties that constitute Righteousness areestablished in them. As the Vedas when well-studied, as the restrainingof the senses, as a life of universal Renunciation, even so is gift whichis fraught with very superior merit. Thou, O son, wilt rise from joy togreater joy in consequence of thy having betaken thyself to the duty ofmaking gifts The man of intelligence (who practises this duty) certainlyrises from joy to greater joy. We have without doubt, met with manydirect instances of this. Men endued with prosperity succeed in acquiringwealth, making gifts, performing sacrifices, and earning happiness as theresult thereof. It is always observed, O thou of great wisdom, to happennaturally that happiness is followed by misery and misery is followed byhappiness. Men of wisdom nave said that human beings in this worldhave three kinds of conduct. Some are righteous, some are sinful: andsome are neither righteous nor sinful. The conduct of the person who isdevoted to Brahma is not regarded either way. His sins are never regardedas sins. So also the man who is devoted to the duties laid down for himis regarded as neither righteous nor sinful (for the observance of thoseduties). Those men that are devoted to sacrifices, gifts, and penances,are regarded as righteous. These, however, that injure other creaturesand are unfriendly to them, are regarded as sinful. There are some menwho appropriate what belongs to others. These certainly fall into Helland meet with misery. All other acts that men do are indifferent, beingregarded as neither righteous nor sinful. Do thou sport and grow andrejoice and make gifts and perform sacrifices. Neither men of knowledgenor those endued with penances will then be able to get the better ofthee!'”