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Chapter 260

Mahabharata English - SANTI PARVA

“Yudhishthira said, ‘Thou sayest that righteousness or duty depends upondelicate considerations, that is indicated by the conduct of those thatare called good, that it is fraught with restraints (from numerous acts),and that its indications are also contained in the Vedas. It seems to me,however, that I have a certain inward light in consequence of which I candiscriminate between right and wrong by inferences.[1127] Numerousquestions that I had intended to ask thee have all been answered by thee.There is one question, however, that I shall presently ask. It is notprompted, O king, by desire of empty disputation. All these embodiedcreatures, it seems, take birth, exist, and leave their bodies, of theirown nature. Duty and its reverse, therefore, cannot be ascertained, OBharata, by study of the scriptures alone.[1128] The duties of a personwho is well off are of one kind. Those of a person who has fallen intodistress are of another kind. How can duty respecting seasons of distressbe ascertained by reading the scriptures alone?[1129] The acts of thegood, thou hast said, constitute righteousness (or duty). The good,however, are to be ascertained by their acts. The definition, therefore,has for its foundation, a begging of the question, with the result thatwhat is meant by conduct of the good remains unsettled. It is seen thatsome ordinary person commits unrighteousness while apparently achievingrighteousness. Some extraordinary persons again may be seen who achieverighteousness by committing acts that are apparently unrighteous.[1130]Then, again, the proof (of what I say) has been furnished by even thosethat are well conversant with the scriptures themselves, for it has beenheard by us that the ordinances of the Vedas disappear gradually in everysuccessive age. The duties in the Krita age are of one kind. Those in theTreta are of another kind, and those in the Dwapara are again different.The duties in the Kali age, again, are entirely of another kind. Itseems, therefore, that duties have been laid down for the respective agesaccording to the powers of human beings in the respective ages. When,therefore, all the declarations in the Vedas do not apply equally to allthe ages, the saying that the declarations of the Vedas are true is onlya popular form of speech indulged in for popular satisfaction. From theSrutis have originated the Smritis whose scope again is very wide. If theVedas be authority for everything, then authority would attach to theSmritis also for the latter are based on the former. When, however, theSrutis and the Smritis contradict each other, how can either beauthoritative? Then again, it is seen that when some wicked persons ofgreat might cause certain portions of certain courses of righteous actsto be stopped, these are destroyed for ever.[1131] Whether we know it orknow it not, whether we are able to ascertain it or not to ascertain it,the course of duty is finer than the edge of a razor and grosser thaneven a mountain. Righteousness (in the form of sacrifices and otherreligious acts) at first appears in the form of the romantic edifices ofvapour seen in the distant sky. When, however, it is examined by thelearned, it disappears and becomes invisible.[1132] Like the small pondsat which the cattle drink or the shallow aqueducts along cultivatedfields that dry up very soon, the eternal practices inculcated in theSmritis, falling into discontinuance, at last disappear totally (in theKali age). Amongst men that are not good some are seen to becomehypocrites (in respect of the acquisition of righteousness) by sufferingthemselves to be urged by desire. Some become so, urged by the wishes ofothers. Others, numbering many, tread in the same path, influenced bydiverse other motives of a similar character.[1133] It cannot be deniedthat such acts (though accomplished by persons under the influence ofevil passions) are righteous. Fools, again, say that righteousness is anempty sound among those called good. They ridicule such persons andregard them as men destitute of reason. Many great men, again, turningback (from the duties of their own order) betake themselves to the dutiesof the kingly order. No such conduct, therefore, is to be seen (asobserved by any man), which is fraught with universal benevolence.[1134]By a certain course of conduct one becomes really meritorious. That verycourse of conduct obstructs another in the acquisition of merit. Another,by practising at his pleasure that conduct, it is seen, remainsunchanged.[1135] Thus that conduct by which one becomes meritoriousimpedes another in the acquisition of merit. One may thus see that allcourses of conduct are seen to lose singleness of purpose and character.It seems, therefore, that only that which the learned of ancient timescalled righteousness is righteousness to this day: and through thatcourse of conduct (which the learned so settled) the distinctions andlimitations (that govern the world) have become eternal.'”[1136]

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