"Yudhishthira said, 'Time, which is destructive of every created thing, is passing on. 3 Tell me, O grandsire, what is that good thing which should be sought.'
"Bhishma said, 'In this connection, O king, is cited the old narrative of a discourse between sire and son, O Yudhishthira! A certain Brahmana. O Partha, who was devoted to the study of the Vedas, got a very intelligent son who (for this) was called Medhavin. 4 One day, the son, well conversant with the truths of the religion of Emancipation, and acquainted also with the affairs of the world, addressed his sire devoted to the study of the Vedas.'
"The son said, 'What should a wise man do, O father, seeing that the period of human life is passing away so very quickly? O father, tell me
the course of duties that one should perform, without omitting to mention the fruits. Having listened to thee, I desire to observe those duties.'
"The sire said, 'O son, observing the Brahmacharya mode of life, one should first study the Vedas. He should then wish for children for rescuing his ancestors. Setting up his fire next, he should seek to perform the (prescribed) sacrifices according to due rites. At last, he should enter the forest for devoting himself to contemplation.'
"The son said, 'When the world is thus surrounded on all sides and is thus assailed, and when such irresistible things of fatal consequences fall upon it, how can you say these words so calmly?'
"The sire said, How is the world assailed? What is that by which it is surrounded? What, again, are those irresistible things of fatal consequences that fall upon it? Why dost thou frighten me thus?'
"The son said, 'Death is that by which the world is assailed. Decrepitude encompasses it. Those irresistible things that come and go away are the nights (that are continually lessening the period of human life). When I know that Death tarries for none (but approaches steadily towards every creature), how can I pass my time without covering myself with the garb of knowledge? 1 When each succeeding night, passing away lessens the allotted period of one's existence, the man of wisdom should regard the day to be fruitless. (When death is approaching steadily) who is there that would, like a fish in a shallow water, feel happy? Death comes to a man before his desires have been gratified. Death snatches away a person when he is engaged in plucking flowers and when his heart is otherwise set, like a tigress bearing away a ram. Do thou, this very day, accomplish that which is for thy good. Let not this Death come to thee. Death drags its victims before their acts are accomplished. The acts of tomorrow should be done today, those of the afternoon in the forenoon. Death does not wait to see whether the acts of its victim have all been accomplished or not. Who knows that Death will not come to him even today? In prime of age one should betake oneself to the practice of virtue. Life is transitory. If virtue be practised, fame here and felicity hereafter will be the consequences. Overwhelmed by ignorance, one is ready to exert oneself for sons and wives. Achieving virtuous or vicious acts, one brings them up and aggrandises them. Like a tiger bearing away a sleeping deer, Death snatches away the man addicted to the gratification of desire and engaged in the enjoyment of sons and animals. Before he has been able to pluck the flowers upon which he has set his heart, before he has been gratified by the acquisition of the objects of his desire, Death bears him away like a tiger bearing away its prey. Death overpowers a man while the latter is stilt in the midst of the happiness that accrues from the gratification of desire, and while, still thinking, 'This has been done; this is to be done; this has been half-done.' Death bears away the man, however designated according to his
profession, attached to his field, his shop, or his home, before he has obtained the fruit of his acts. Death bears away the weak, the strong, the brave, the timid, the idiotic, and the learned, before any of these obtains the fruits of his acts. When death, decrepitude, disease, and sorrow arising from diverse causes, are all residing in thy body, how is it that thou livest as if thou art perfectly hale? As soon as a creature is born, Decrepitude and Death pursue him for (effecting) his destruction. All existent things, mobile and immobile, are affected by these two. The attachment which one feels for dwelling in villages and towns (in the midst of fellowmen) is said to be the very mouth of Death. The forest, on the other hand, is regarded as the fold within which the senses may be penned. This is declared by the Srutis. 1 The attachment a person feels for dwelling in a village or town (in the midst of men) is like a cord that binds him effectually. They that are good break that cord and attain to emancipation, while they that are wicked do not succeed in breaking them. He who never injures living creatures by thought, word, or deed, is never injured by such agencies as are destructive of life and property. 2 Nothing can resist the messengers (Disease and Decrepitude) of Death when they advance except Truth which devours Untruth. In Truth is immortality. 3 For these reasons one should practise the vow of Truth; one should devote oneself to a union with Truth; one should accept Truth for one's Veda; and restraining one's senses, one should vanquish the Destroyer by Truth. Both Immortality and Death are planted in the body. One comes to Death through ignorance and loss of judgment; while Immortality is achieved through Truth. I shall, therefore, abstain from injury and seek to achieve Truth, and transgressing the sway of desire and wrath, regard pleasure and pain with an equal eye, and attaining tranquillity, avoid Death like an immortal. Upon the advent of that season when the sun will progress towards the north, I shall restraining my senses, set to the performance of the Santi-sacrifice, the Brahma-sacrifice, the Mind-sacrifice, and the Work-sacrifice. 4 How can one like me worship his Maker in animal-sacrifices involving cruelty, or sacrifices of the body, such as Pisachas only can perform and such as produce fruits that are transitory? 5 That person whose words, thoughts,
penances, renunciation, and yoga meditation, all rest on Brahma, succeeds in earning the highest good. There is no eye which is equal to (the eye of) Knowledge. There is no penance like (that involved in) Truth. There is no sorrow equal to (that involved in) attachment. There is no happiness (that which is obtainable from) renunciation. I have sprung from Brahma through Brahma. I shall devote myself to Brahma, though I am childless. I shall return to Brahma. I do not require a son for rescuing me. A Brahmana can have no wealth like to the state of being alone, the state in consequence of which he is capable of regarding everything with an equal eye, the practice of truthfulness, good behaviour, patience, abstention from injury, simplicity, and avoidance of all rites and visible sacrifices. What use hast thou, O Brahmana, of wealth or kinsmen and relatives, of wives, when thou shalt have to die? Seek thy Self which is concealed in a cave. Where are thy grandsires and where thy sire?' 1
"Bhishma continued, 'Do thou also, O monarch, conduct thyself in that way in which the sire (in this story), conducts himself, devoted to the religion of Truth, after having listened to the speech of his son.'
5:3 i.e., coursing on, without waiting for any one.
5:4 Literally, intelligent.
6:1 The true reading is Jnanena and not ajnanena. Then, in the last foot, the word is a-pihitah and not apihitah. The words with ava and api frequently drop the initial a, Hence a-pihitah means not covered.
7:1 The word used in the text is Devanam (of the gods). There can be no doubt however, that the word deva is here used for implying the senses.
7:2 i.e., wild beasts and lawless men.
7:3 Asatyajyam and Asatyadyam are both correct. The sense is the same. The first means 'having untruth for the libation (that it eats up).' The second means 'having untruth for the food (it devours)'.
7:4 Santi is tranquillity. The Santi-sacrifice is the endeavour to practise self-denial in everything; in other words, to restrain all sorts of propensities or inclinations. The Brahma-sacrifice is reflection on truths laid down in the Upanishads. The Word-sacrifice consists in the silent recitation (japa) of the Pranava or Om, the initial mantra. The Mind-sacrifice is contemplation of the Supreme Soul. The Work-sacrifice consists in baths, cleanliness, and waiting upon the preceptor.
7:5 Both readings are correct, viz., Kshetrayajna and Kshetrayajna. Kshetra is, of course, the body. If the latter reading be accepted, the meaning will be 'a sacrifice like that of a Kshatriya, i.e., battle.' Hence, all kinds of acts involving cruelty.
8:1 or, seek Brahma in thy understanding. The word Atman is often synonymous with Supreme Self.