In our shaastras, a lot of wisdom is conveyed through questions answers like conversations. In a more formal setting it was called shaastrath or vaad-vivaad. You see this theme in the Upanishads, Puranas, right upto the time of Adi-Shankara, when he established the Vedantic philosophy having undertaken shaastrath with various Pundits of his time.
In Mahabhaarat too, many such conversations occur. One of which is Yaksha Prashna (in vana parva). Once, while roaming around the forest in their 13 years of vanvaas, the Pandavas and Draupadi get thirsty. Nakul goes to fetch some water, but doesn’t return, so Sahdev goes to look for him, then Arjun and Bhim follow too, but none return. Finally, Yudhisthir ventures to look for his brothers. On reaching a lake, Yudhisthir finds his four brothers lying dead/unconscious. He hears a voice who claims to be the master of the lake (Yaksha). The Yaksha narrates how the brother refused to answer his questions and proceeded to drink the water inspite of being warned and reiterates his wish to Yudhisthir “You may very well drink the water and also get one of your brothers back if you answer my questions to my satisfaction”. Yudhisthir agrees and a series of questions and answers ensue. This entire conversation is worth a read. But one exchange that boggles me everytime I across it, is the following. I think I may be finally getting around to make some sense of it (or may be not)
किमाश्चर्यम् (kim Ashcharyam) – What is that which is most wonderful (/most surprising)?
अहन्यहनि भूतानि गच्छन्ति यमालयम् | शेषा: स्थावरमिच्छन्ति किमाश्चर्यमत: परम् ||
Day after day countless creatures go the abode of Yama (die), yet those that remain behind desire immortality. What can be more wonderful/surprising than this?
I used to wonder if we take ourselves too seriously? But then, I also wonder that if we didn’t, would we create the wonderful things that we have created? Countless creatures come and countless creatures go. But of those, some still live on – through their words, their works, their deeds, their institutions. Immortality in that context is not so much a far-fetched dream after all. This striving for permanence is then indeed one of the most wonderful instincts of man. It helps create legacies.
On the other hand, there are those with intense attachment to life, attachment that leads to the fear of death, that leads to mind numbing race of indulgence and accumulation by hook or crook. This attachment is indeed surprising, because do what one may Death is a given and entertains no exceptions!
What I find interesting here are the 2 meanings of “Ascharya”. Depending on what you take, the context changes and so does inference.
Our ancestors were indeed men of few cryptic words. So I am sure, some of you may have a completely different take on this. Am all ears!
Then there is one other question where Yaksha asks Yudhisthir about whether God exists and if yes in what form? I find this one more amusing than interesting. Funny isn’t it that inspite of all our “advancement” and all our “modernity”, our basic questions remain exactly the same to this day. When it comes to basics, it seems like our ancestors might be right again – नायमात्मा वचनेन लभ्यो न मेधया, न बहुना श्रुतेन | यमेवैष वृणुते तेन लभ्यस्तस्यैष आत्मा विवृणुते तनूं स्वाम्। (Mundaka 3.2.3) . This self (or these answers, if you may) cannot be realised through scriptural study or attending lectures , or even intellectualising. It comes to those, who it deems suitable! This journey is for each his/her own. No wonder then that the questions still persist and answer still elude 🙂
ॐ शान्तिः ||