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Chapter 109

Mahabharata English - SANTI PARVA

“Yudhishthira said, ‘How, O Bharata, should a person act who desires toadhere to virtue? O bull of Bharata’s race, possessed as thou art oflearning, tell me this, questioned by me. Truth and falsehood exist,covering all the worlds. Which of these two, O king, should a personadopt that is firm in virtue? What again is truth? What is falsehood?What, again, is eternal virtue? On what occasions should a person tellthe truth, and on what occasions should he tell an untruth?’

“Bhishma said, ‘To tell the truth is consistent with righteousness. Thereis nothing higher than truth. I shall now, O Bharata, say unto thee thatwhich is not generally known to men. There where falsehood would assumethe aspect of truth, truth should not be said. There, again, where truthwould assume the aspect of falsehood, even falsehood should be said. Thatignorant person incurs sin who says truth which is dissociated fromrighteousness. That person is said to be conversant with duties who candistinguish truth from falsehood.[334] Even a person that isdisrespectable, that is of uncleansed soul, and that is very cruel, maysucceed in earning great merit as the hunter Valaka by slaying the blindbeast (that threatened to destroy all creatures).[335] How extraordinaryit is that a person of foolish understanding, though desirous ofacquiring merit (by austere penances) still committed a sinful act![336]An owl again, on the banks of the Ganges, (by doing an unrighteous deed)obtained great merit.[337] The question thou hast asked me is a difficultone, since it is difficult to say what righteousness is. It is not easyto indicate it. No one in discoursing upon righteousness, can indicate itaccurately. Righteousness was declared (by Brahman) for the advancementand growth of all creatures. Therefore, that which leads to advancementand growth is righteousness. Righteousness was declared for restrainingcreatures from injuring one another. Therefore, that is Righteousnesswhich prevents injury to creatures. Righteousness (Dharma) is so calledbecause it upholds all creatures. In fact, all creatures are upheld byrighteousness. Therefore, that is righteousness which is capable ofupholding all creatures. Some say that righteousness consists in what hasbeen inculcated in the Srutis. Others do not agree to this. I would notcensure them that say so. Everything, again, has not been laid down inthe Srutis.[338] Sometimes men (robbers), desirous of obtaining thewealth of some one, make enquiries (for facilitating the act of plunder).One should never answer such enquiries. That is a settled duty. If bymaintaining silence, one succeeds in escaping, one should remain silent.If, on the other hand, one’s silence at a time when one must speak rousessuspicion, it would be better on such an occasion to say what is untruethan what is true. This is a settled conclusion. If one can escape fromsinful men by even a (false) oath, one may take it without incurring sin.One should not, even if one be able, giveaway his wealth to sinful men.Wealth given to sinful men afflicts even the giver. If a creditor desiresto make his debtor pay off the loan by rendering bodily service, thewitnesses would all be liars, if, summoned by the creditor forestablishing the truth of the contract, they did not say what should besaid. When life is at risk, or on occasion of marriage, one may say anuntruth. One that seeks for virtue, does not commit a sin by saying anuntruth, if that untruth be said to save the wealth and prosperity ofothers or for the religious purposes. Having promised to pay, one becomesbound to fulfil his promise. Upon failure, let the self-appropriator beforcibly enslaved. If a person without fulfilling a righteous engagementacts with impropriety, he should certainly be afflicted with the rod ofchastisement for having adopted such behaviour.[339] A deceitful person,falling away from all duties and abandoning those of his own order,always wishes to betake himself to the practices of Asuras for supportinglife. Such a sinful wretch living by deceit should be slain by everymeans. Such sinful men think that there is nothing in this world higherthan wealth. Such men should never be tolerated. No one should eat withthem. They should be regarded to have fallen down in consequence of theirsins. Indeed, fallen away from the condition of humanity and shut outfrom the grace of the gods, they are even like evil genii. Withoutsacrifices and without penances as they are, forbear from theircompanionship. If their wealth be lost, they commit even suicide which isexceedingly pitiable. Among those sinful men there is no one to whom thoucanst say, ‘This is thy duty. Let thy heart turn to it.’ Their settledconvictions are that there is nothing in this world that is equal towealth. The person that would slay such a creature would incur no sin. Hewho kills him kills one that has been already killed by his own acts. Ifslain, it is the dead that is slain. He who vows to destroy those personsof lost senses should keep his vows.[340] Such sinners are, like the crowand the vulture, dependent on deceit for their living. After thedissolution of their (human) bodies, they take rebirth as crows andvultures. One should, in any matter, behave towards another as that otherbehaves in that matter. He who practises deceit should be resisted withdeceit while one that is honest should be treated with honesty.'”

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