"Yudhishthira said, 'Tell me, O grandsire, if gifts, sacrifices, penances, and dutiful services returned to preceptors, are productive of wisdom and high felicity.' 3
'Bhishma said, 'If the mind becomes affected by desire, wrath and other evil passions, it then runs towards sin. If one's acts are stained by sin, one is obliged to dwell in painful regions. Sinful men take birth in indigent circumstances and repeatedly suffer the pangs of famine, woe, fear, and death. Those that are virtuous in their acts, and possessed of faith, and that have
their senses under control, become born as affluent men and repeatedly sport in festivities and heaven and happiness. Unbelievers, with their arms manacled, are sent to regions rendered inaccessible by carnivorous beasts and elephants and full of terrors in consequence of snakes and robbers. What more need be said of them? They, on the other hand, who have reverence for gods and guests, who are liberal, who are fond of good and honest men, go, in consequence of their acts of charity, along that happy way which belongs to persons of cleansed souls. They that have no reverence for virtue are as vile among men as seedless grains among corn or the gnat among birds. That which is ordained in consequence of the acts of a past life pursues the actor even if the latter strives his best for leaving it behind. 1 It sleeps when he sleeps and does whatever else he does. 2 Like his shadow it rests when he rests, proceeds when he proceeds, and acts when he acts. Whatever acts a man does he has certainly to obtain the fruits thereof. Death is dragging all creatures who are surely destined to fall (into orders of existence they deserve) and who are surely 'liable to enjoy or suffer that which has been ordained as the consequence of their acts. The acts of a past life develop their consequences in their own proper time even as flowers and fruits, without extraneous efforts of any kind, never fail to appear when their proper time comes. After the consequences, as ordained, of the acts of a past life, have been exhausted (by enjoyment or sufferings), honour and disgrace, gain and loss, decay and growth, no longer flow or appear in respect of any one. This happens repeatedly. 3 A creature while still in the mother's womb enjoys or suffers the happiness or the misery that has been ordained for him in consequence of his own acts. In childhood or youth or old age, at whatever period of life one does an act good or bad, the consequences thereof are sure to visit him in his next life at precisely the same period. As a calf recognises and approaches its parent in the midst of even a thousand kine, even so the acts of a past life recognise and visit the doer in his new life. Washed in water a (dirty) piece of cloth becomes clean. Similarly, men burning in repentance obtain endless happiness by proper penances. 4 Those that can take up their residence in the woods and by performing austerities for a long period can wash themselves of their sins, succeed in obtaining the objects on which they set their hearts. As no one can mark the track of birds in the sky or of fishes in the water, similarly, the track of persons whose souls have been cleansed by knowledge
cannot be marked by any. 1 There is no need of any more eloquence or any more reference to sinful acts. Suffice it to say that one should, with proper judgment and as befits one best, do what is for one's good. This is the means by which wisdom and high felicity may be achieved.'"
20:1 The auspicious constellations are such as Pushya and others; the inauspicious are Mula Aslesha, Magha, etc; yajnaprasava may also mean the fruits of sacrifices.
20:2 Anwikshikim may also mean 'microscopic'.
20:3 The word dattam, generally rendered 'gifts' or 'charity,' means and includes protection of suppliants, abstention from injury as regards all creatures, and actual gifts made outside the sacrificial altar. Similarly, the maintenance of the sacred fire, penances, purity of conduct, the study of the Vedas, hospitality to guests, and offer of food to the Viswedevas, are all included in the word Ishta which is ordinarily rendered 'sacrifice.'
21:1 i.e., even if he seeks to avoid it.
21:2 i.e., becomes his inseparable associate.
21:3 What is meant is that if once the consequences of the acts of a past life are exhausted, the creature (with respect to whom such exhaustion takes place), is freed from all vicissitudes of life. Lest, however, such creatures become emancipated, the orthodox view is that a balance is always left of both merit and demerit, so that a new birth must take place and the consequences of what is thus left as a balance must begin to be enjoyed or suffered. This is not referred to here, but this is the view of all orthodox Hindus.
21:4 The first word of this verse is diversely read. The reading I adopt is samunnam meaning drenched in water. If it be samjuktam it would mean united, with filth, of course. Another reading is samswinnam, meaning 'drenched with sweat.' Nilakantha explains upavasah here as equivalent to the renunciation of all earthly possessions. Ordinarily it means 'fasts.'