“Yudhishthira said, ‘Thou O grandsire, art endued with wisdom andknowledge of the scriptures, with conduct and behaviour, with diversekinds of excellent attributes, and also with years. Thou artdistinguished above others by intelligence and wisdom and penances. Ishall, therefore, O thou that art the foremost of all righteous men,desire to address enquiries to thee respecting Righteousness. There isnot another man, O king, in all the worlds, who is worthier of beingquestioned on such subjects. O best of kings, how may one, if he happensto be a Kshatriya or a Vaisya or a Sudra, succeed in acquiring the statusof a Brahmana? It behoveth thee to tell me the means. Is it by penancesthe most austere, or by religious acts, or by knowledge of thescriptures, that a person belonging to any of the three inferior orderssucceeds in acquiring the status of a Brahmana? Do tell me this, Ograndsire!’
“Bhishma said, ‘The status of a Brahmana, O Yudhishthira, is incapable ofacquisition by a person belonging to any of the three other orders. Thatstatus is the highest with respect to all creatures. Travelling throughinnumerable orders of existence, by undergoing repeated births, one atlast, in some birth, becomes born as a Brahmana. In this connection iscited an old history, O Yudhishthira, of a conversation between Matangaand a she-ass. Once on a time a Brahmana obtained a son who, thoughprocreated by a person belonging to a different order, had, however, therites of infancy and youth performed in pursuance of the ordinances laiddown for Brahmanas. The child was called by the name of Matanga and waspossessed of every accomplishment. His father, desiring to perform asacrifice, ordered him, O scorcher of foes, to collect the articlesrequired for the act. Having received the command of his father, he setout for the purpose, riding on a car of great speed, drawn by an ass. Itso happened that the ass yoked unto that car was of tender years. Insteadtherefore, of obeying the reins, the animal bore away the car to thevicinity of its dam, viz., the she-ass that had brought it forth.Matanga, dissatisfied with this, began to strike repeatedly the animalwith his goad on its nose. Beholding those marks of violence on herchild’s nose, the she-ass, full of affection for him, said–Do notgrieve, O child, for his treatment. A chandala it is that is drivingthee. There is no severity in a Brahmana. The Brahmana is said to be thefriend of all creatures. He is the teacher also of all creatures andtheir ruler. Can he chastise any creature so cruelly? This fellow,however, is of sinful deeds. He hath no compassion to show unto even acreature of such tender years as thou. He is simply proving the order ofhis birth by conducting himself in this way. The nature which he hathderived from his sire forbids the rise of those sentiments of pity andkindness that are natural to the Brahmana. Hearing these harsh words ofthe she-ass, Matanga quickly, came down from the car and addressing theshe-ass, said,–Tell me, O blessed dame, by what fault is my motherstained? How dost thou know that I am a Chandala? Do thou answer mewithout delay. How, indeed, dost thou know that I am a Chandala? How hasmy status as a Brahmana been lost? O thou of great wisdom, tell me allthis in detail, from beginning to end.’
“The she-ass said, Begotten thou wert, upon a Brahmana woman excited withdesire, by a Sudra following the profession of a barber. Thou art,therefore, a Chandala by birth. The status of Brahmana thou hast not atall.’
“Brahmana continued, ‘Thus addressed by the she-ass, Matanga retraced hisway homewards. Seeing him return, his father said,–I had employed theein the difficult task of gathering the requisites of my intendedsacrifice. Why hast thou come back without having accomplished thycharge? Is it the case that all is not right with thee?
“Matanga said, ‘How can he who belongs to no definite order of birth, orto an order that is very low be regarded as all right and happy? How, Ofather, can that person be happy whose mother is stained? O father, thisshe-ass, who seems to be more than a human being, tells me that I havebeen begotten upon a Brahmani woman by a Sudra. I shall, for this reason,undergo the severest penances.–Having said these words to his father,and firmly resolved upon what he had said he proceeded to the greatforest and began to undergo the austerest of penances. Setting himself tothe performance of those penances for the purpose of happily acquiringthe status of a Brahmana, Matanga began to scorch the very deities by theseverity of his asceticism. Unto him thus engaged in penances, the chiefof the celestials, viz., Indra, appeared and said,–Why, O Matanga, dostthou pass thy time in such grief, abstaining from all kinds of humanenjoyments? I shall give thee boons. Do thou name the boons thoudesirest. Do not delay, but tell me what is in thy breast. Even if thatbe unattainable, I shall yet bestow it on thee.’
“Matanga said, ‘Desirous of attaining to the status of Brahmana I havebegun to practise these penances. After having obtained it, I shall gohome. Even this is the boon solicited by me.’
“Bhishma continued, ‘Hearing these words of his, Purandara said unto him.The status of a Brahmana, O Matanga, which thou desirest to acquire isreally unattainable by thee. It is true, thou desirest to acquire it, butthen it is incapable of acquisition by persons begotten on uncleansedsouls. O thou of foolish understanding, thou art sure to meet withdestruction if thou persistest in this pursuit. Desist, therefore, fromthis vain endeavour without any delay. This object of thy desire, viz.,the status of a Brahmana, which is the foremost of everything, isincapable of being won by penances. Therefore, by coveting that foremoststatus, thou wilt incur sure destruction. One born as a Chandala cannever attain to that status which is regarded as the most sacred amongthe deities and Asuras and human beings!'”