Excerpts of discussions between two sages in Mahabharata. While reading, please consider the fact that this was written 3000 years ago and how relevant it is even today!
What are the sorrows of human beings?
There are many instances of misery that are seen among men in this world! Life with persons that are disagreeable, separation from those that are agreeable and beloved, companionship with the wicked, these are the evils which human beings have to bear. The death of sons and wives, of kinsmen and friends, and the pain of dependence on others, are some of the greatest of evils. There is no more pitiable sight in the world than that of poor men being insulted by others. The acquisitions of family dignity by those that do not have it, the loss of family dignity by those that have it, are noticeable by all. How they who have no family dignity but have prosperity try to get what they want with their wealth. What can be more pitiable than the calamities and reverses sustained by the gods! Good families suffer due to the actions of ill-born and the poor are insulted by the rich. What can be more pitiable than these? Innumerable examples of such contradictory dispensations are seen in the world. The foolish and the ignorant are cheerful and happy while the learned and the wise suffer misery!
What the joys of good people?
Earned by his own efforts, without having to depend upon any one, he who eats even fruits and vegetables in his own house is entitled to respect. He who eats in another’s house the food given to him in contempt, even if that food be rich and sweet is despicable. If after treating guests and servants and offering food to the forefathers a good person eats what remains, there can be nothing happier than that.
Man of Virtue
Men’s minds are at first bent on the acquisition of knowledge. That acquired, they indulge in their passions and desires, and for that end, they labour and set about tasks of great magnitude. Once success achieved they indulge in much-desired pleasures of beauty, flavour, etc. That is followed by fondness, envy, avarice and then extinction of all spiritual light. And when men are thus influenced by avarice, and overcome by envy and fondness, their intellect ceases to be guided by righteousness and they practice the very mockery of virtue. Practicing virtue with hypocrisy, they are content to acquire wealth by dishonourable means. With the wealth thus acquired they are filled with a desire to commit sins. And when their friends and men of wisdom remonstrate with them, they are ready with specious answers, which are neither sound nor convincing. They commit sin in thought, in word, as also in action. From their being addicted to evil ways, they are guilty of a threefold sin. They being addicted to wicked ways, all their good qualities die out, and these men of wicked deeds cultivate the friendship of men of similar character, and consequently they suffer misery in this world as well as in the next.
Practicing self-discipline is important for peaceful life and attaining spiritual wisdom. And this self-discipline can only be acquired by subduing the senses as heaven and hell are both dependent on our senses. When subdued, they lead to heaven; when indulged in, they lead to perdition. Our senses are at the root cause of our spiritual advancement as also at the root of our spiritual degradation. By indulging in them, a person undoubtedly contracts vices, and by subduing these, he attains salvation. The self-restrained person, who acquires mastery over the six senses inherent in our nature, is never tainted with sin, and consequently evil has no power over him. Man’s physical self has been compared to a chariot, his soul to a charioteer and his senses to horses. A dexterous man drives about without confusion, like a quiet charioteer with well-disciplined horses. That man is an excellent driver who knows how to patiently wield the reins of those wild horses – the six senses inherent in our nature. When our senses become ungovernable like horses on the high road, we must patiently rein them in; for with patience, we are sure to get the better of them. When a man’s mind is overpowered by any one of these senses running wild, he loses his reason, and becomes like a ship tossed by storms upon the high ocean.
Avarice and anger must be subdued by all means, failing which people can get into untold miseries in life. A man must preserve his righteousness from being overcome by the evil consequences of anger, his virtues from the effects of pride, his learning from the effects of vanity, and his own spirit from illusion. Leniency is the best of virtues, and forbearance is the best of powers, the knowledge of our spiritual nature is the best of all knowledge, and truthfulness is the best of all obligations. The telling of truth is good, and the knowledge of truth may also be good, but God realisation is the highest truth. Self-abnegation, peace of mind, renunciation of hope, and equanimity,–these are the ways by which spiritual enlightenment can always be secured; and the knowledge of self (one’s own spiritual nature) is the best of all knowledge.