Nahusha‘s eternal questions to Yudhishtira
Nahusha was king of Pratishthana. For more details on Nahusha please read the story of Nahusha in link given below.
After sage Agastya cursed Nahusha to become a python, he wandered in bhuloka as a python for thousands of years. As foretold, he was waiting for Yudhishtira, the one who would relieve him from the curse. The story of Nahusha is in Vana Parva of Mahabharata. Vana Parva is third of eighteen Parvas of Mahabharata. Vana Parva has a chronicle of 12 years of exile of Pandavas. Ajagaraparva is a sub-division of the Vana Parva of Mahabharata. During 12 years of exile, Pandavas came close to Rishi Dhaumya ashram. While Bhima had gone to the forest which was, near to Rishi’s hermitage a python suddenly attacked Bhima and tightly held him. Bhima was the most powerful man on earth who had the strength of ten thousand elephants. Yet, Bhima could not loosen pythons grip. Bhima was helpless and asked the identity of the serpent, to his surprise, the python was able to speak humanely with him. Nahusha revealed his identity and the curse which he was suffering. In the meantime, at Rishi’s ashram, Yudhisthira grew anxious as Bhima had not returned and saw evil omens. A jackal was howling in front of the hermitage. He knew Bhima was in some trouble. Yudhishtira immediately came looking for Bhima. After a long search, he saw his younger brother constricted by a python, Yudhishtira knew it was not an ordinary snake. Yudhishtira introduced himself and begged python to release Bhima. As soon as, Nahusha heard Yudhishtira name, he knew according to Agastya curse only Yudhishtira could relieve him from his curse. Nahusha told if, Yudhishtira answered his questions, he would set Bhima free to which Yudhishtira agreed. These are the questions asked by python to Yudhishtira.
Nahusha: What is a brahmana?
Yudhishtira: A Brahmana is the one who is truthful, generous, compassionate and capable of sacrifice.
Nahusha: What is the supreme knowledge?
Yudhishtira: Brahmam is the supreme knowledge.
Nahusha: Which is superior along the way to liberation? Is it sorrow or happiness? Which make the way clear?
Yudhishtira: Superior way of liberation is enlightenment. What we call sorrow and joy are not different from each other. Both are same.
Nahusha: What is the idea of being a brahmin by birth?
Yudhishtira: It is a wrong idea. All men are equal in speech, intercourse, birth and death.
Nahusha: Truth, charity, forgiveness, benevolence, benignity, kindness and the Veda, which works for the benefit of the four orders (i.e. Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra), are seen even in the Shudra. As regards the object to be known and which thou allegest is without both happiness and misery? I do not see anything that devoid both joy and pain.
Yudhishtira: Those characteristics that, are present in a Shudra, do not exist in a Brahmana, nor do those that are in a Brahmana present in a Shudra. A Shudra is not a Shudra by birth alone–nor a Brahmana is a Brahmana by birth. It is said by the wise, in whom we see the virtues is a Brahmana. People term, even those people as Shudra in whom those Brahman qualities do not exist, even though that person is a Brahmana by birth. And again, as for your claim that the object to be known does not exist, because nothing exists that is devoid of both happiness and misery, such indeed is the opinion, nothing exists that is without (them) both. Like in cold, heat does not exist, and vice versa, there cannot exist an object in which both (happiness and misery) cannot exist.
Nahusha: If thou recognizes him as a Brahmana by characteristics, then, wouldn’t the distinction of caste becomes futile as long as the conduct does not come into play?
Yudhishtira: In human society, it is difficult to ascertain one’s caste because of promiscuous intercourse among the four orders. Men belonging to all orders (promiscuously) beget offspring upon women of all the orders. And of men, speech, sexual intercourse, birth and death are common. And to this the rishis have borne testimony by using at the beginning of a sacrifice expressions such as–of what caste so ever we may be, we celebrate the sacrifice. Therefore, those that are wise have asserted that character is the chief essential requisite and not something else. The natal ceremony of a person is performed before the severance of the umbilical cord. His mother then acts as its Savitri, and his father officiates as a priest. He is considered as a Shudra as long as he is not, initiated in the Vedas. Doubts have arisen on this point. Swayambhuva Manu has declared, that the mixed castes are to be regarded as better than the (other) classes if having gone through the ceremonies of purification, the latter does not conform to the rules of good conduct. Whosoever, now conforms to the rules of pure and virtuous conduct, he have I, ere now, designated as a Brahmana.
After asking questions to Yudhishtira, Nahusha also answered some questions which Yudhishtira asked.
Yudhishtira: In this world, you are so learned in the Vedas and Vedangas, tell me, what one should do to attain salvation?
Nahusha: The man who bestows alms on proper objects, speaks kind words, tells the truth and abstains from doing injury to any creature goes to heaven.
Yudhishtira: Which is the higher of the two, truth or alms-giving? Tell me also the greater or less importance of kind behaviour and of doing injury to no creature?
Nahusha: The relative merits of these virtues, truth and alms-giving, kind speech, and abstention from injury to any creature are known (measured) by their objective gravity (utility). The truth is more praiseworthy than, some acts of charity; some of the latter again is more commendable than true speech. Similarly, lord of the earth, abstention from doing injury to any creature, is seen to be more important than good speech and vice-versa. Even so, it is, depending on the effects.
Yudhishtira: How the incorporeal being’s translation to heaven, its perception by the senses and its enjoyment of the immutable fruits of its actions (here below), can be comprehended?
Nahusha: By his acts, man can attain one of the three conditions of human existence, heavenly life and birth in the lower animal kingdom. Among these, the man who is not slothful, who injures no one and who is endowed, with charity and other virtues, goes to heaven, after leaving this world of men. By doing the very contrary, people are again born as men or as lower animals. It is particularly said in this connection, that the man who is swayed by anger, lust and who is given, to avarice and malice falls away from his human state and is born again as a lower animal, and the lower animals too, are obtained to be transformed into the human state, and the cow, the horse and other animals are observed to attain to even the divine state. The sentient being, reaping the fruits of his actions, thus transmigrates through these conditions; but the regenerate and the wise man reposes his soul in the everlasting supreme spirit. The embodied spirit, enchained by destiny and reaping the fruits of its actions, thus undergoes birth after birth, but he that has lost touch of his actions is conscious of the immutable fate of all born beings.
Yudhishtira: Tell me without confusion! How that dissociated spirit becomes cognizant of sound, touch, form, flavor, and taste. However, thou does not perceive it simultaneously by the senses?
Nahusha: The thing called Atman (spirit), betaking itself to the corporeal tenement and manifesting itself through the organs of sense, becomes duly cognizant of perceptible objects. The mind and the intellect assisting the soul in its perception of objects are called Karanas. The eternal spirit, going out of its sphere, and aided by the mind, acting through the senses, the receptacles of all perceptions, successively perceives these things (sound, form, flavour, &etc). The intellect of living creatures is the cause of all perception, and therefore, it cannot be conscious of more than one thing at a time. That spirit, betaking itself to the space between the eyebrows sends the high and low intellect to different objects. What the yogis perceive, after the action of the intelligent principle, that is manifested the movement of the soul.
Yudhishtira: Tell me the distinguishing characteristics of the mind and the intellect? The knowledge of it makes as the chief duty of persons meditating on the supreme spirit?
Nahusha: Through illusion, the soul becomes subservient to the intellect. The intellect, though known to be subservient to the soul, becomes (then) the master of the latter. The intellect is brought into play by acts of perception; the mind is self-existent. The intellect does not cause the sensation (as of pain and pleasure), but the mind does. This is the difference between the mind and the intellect.
After Yudhishtira answers all his questions. Suddenly! Nahusha declared, “Yudhishtira, I have no question for which you do not have the answer! You are the wisest man I ever met; but more importantly, you are the humblest one as well”. Nahusha released Bheema. Nahusha is relieved from his curse. Nahusha instantly regained his human form and went to heaven. Bhima then receives his strength. Yudhishtira, too, returned to his hermitage with Dhaumya and his brother Bhima. Pandavas was pleased to see the mighty Bhima out of danger and continued to live there pleasantly.