Yaksha Prashna- An Encounter between Dharma, the father and Yudhishthira, the son

Yaksha’s questions and  Yudhishthira’s response

1. Yaksha started, 'What is it that  makes the Sun rise? Who keeps him company? Who causes him to set? And in who,  is he established?'  Yudhishthira  answered, 'Brahma makes the Sun rise: the gods keep him company: Dharma causes him  to set: and he is established in truth.'

2. Yaksha: 'By what does one  become learned? By what does he attain what is very great? How can one have a  second? And, O king, how can one acquire intelligence?' Yudhishthira: 'It is by  the (study of the) Srutis that a person becomes learned; it is by ascetic  austerities that one acquires what is very great: it is by intelligence that a person  acquires a second and it is by serving the old that one becomes wise.'  What Yudhishthira means is that a steady  intelligence serves the purposes of a helpful companion which is termed here as  a ‘second’.

3. Yaksha: 'What constitutes the  divinity of the Brahmanas? What is their practice that is like that of the  pious? What is their human attribute? And what practice of theirs is like that  of the impious?' Yudhishthira: 'The study of the Vedas constitutes their  divinity: their asceticism makes their behavior pious; their liability to death  is their human attribute and slander is their impiety.'  

4. Yaksha: 'What institutes the  divinity of the Kshatriyas? What is their practice that is like that of the  pious? What is their human attribute? And what practice of theirs is like that  of the impious?' Yudhishthira answered, 'Arrows and weapons are their divinity:  celebration of sacrifices is that act which is like that of the pious: liability  to fear is their human attribute; and refusal of protection is that act of  theirs which is like that of the impious.'

5. Yaksha: 'What is that which  constitutes the Sama of the sacrifice? What is the Yajus of the sacrifice? What  is that which is the refuge of a sacrifice? And what is that which sacrifice  cannot do without?' Yudhishthira: 'Life is the Sama of the sacrifice; the mind  is the Yajus of the sacrifice: the Rik is that which is the refuge of the  sacrifice; and it is Rik alone which sacrifice cannot do without.'

Note- The word 'sacrifice' may  mean the spiritual sacrifice for the acquisition of pure knowledge besides its  literal meaning as a ritual. In the ’objective’ sacrifice which one does as a  ritual, the Sama, the Yajus, and the Rik mantras are all necessary. In the ‘subjective’  sacrifice i.e. the acquisition of true knowledge, life and mind are as necessary  as the mantras from the Sama and the Yajur Vedas in an objective one. And as no  objective sacrifice can be done without the Riks (mantras), as it is basically dependent  on them, so the subjective sacrifices for acquiring true knowledge can never do  without the spirit of prayer and dedication which are termed as the Riks here.

6. Yaksha: 'What is of the  foremost value to those that cultivate? What is of the foremost value to those  that sow? What is of the foremost value to those that wish for prosperity in this  world? And what is of the foremost value to those that bring forth?'  Yudhishthira:'That which is of the foremost  value to those that cultivate is rain: that of the foremost value to those that  sow is seed: that of the foremost value to those that bring forth is offspring  who offer oblations to the ancestors.

7. Yaksha: 'What a person is  called who does not offer anything to these five, viz., gods, guests, servants,  ancestors, and himself and who is not considered alive though breathing?' Yudhishthira:  The one who does not look after Gods, guests, servants, ancestors and his own  self is considered as not breathing , even if he breaths.

8. Yaksha: 'What is weightier  than the earth itself? What is higher than the heavens?' What is fleeter than  the wind? And what is more numerous than grass?' Yudhishthira: 'The mother is weightier  than the earth; the father is higher than the heaven; the mind is fleeter than  the wind; and our thoughts are more numerous than grass.'

9. Yaksha: 'What is that which does  not close its eyes while asleep? What is that which does not move after birth?  What is that which is without heart? And what is that which swells with its own  impetus?' Yudhishthira: 'A fish does not close its eyes while asleep: an egg does  not move after birth: a stone is without heart: and a river swells with its own  impetus.'  

10. Yaksha:  'Who is the friend of the exile? Who is the friend  of the householder? Who is the friend of him that ails? And who is the friend  of one about to die?' Yudhishthira: 'The friend of the exile in a distant land  is his companion, the friend of the householder is the wife; the friend of him  that ails is the physician: and the friend of him about to die is charity.  

11. Yaksha: 'Who is the guest of  all creatures? What is the eternal duty? What is Amrita? And what is this  entire Universe?' Yudhishthira: Fire is the guest of all creatures; the eternal  duty is the laws of the sanatan dharma, the cow’s milk is nectar, the air which  is all pervading, is the whole world

12. Yaksha: 'What is that which travels  alone? What is that which is re-born after its birth? What is the remedy  against cold? And what is the largest field?' Yudhishthira: 'The sun travels alone;  the moon takes birth anew: fire is the remedy against cold: and the Earth is  the largest field.'

13. Yaksha: 'What is the highest  refuge of virtue? What of fame? What of heaven? And what, of happiness?'  Yudhishthira:  'Liberality is the highest  refuge of virtue: gift, of fame: truth, of heaven: and good behavior, of  happiness.'

14. Yaksha: 'What is the soul of  man? Who is that friend bestowed on man by the gods? What is man's chief support?  And what also is his chief refuge?' Yudhishthira:  'The son is a man's soul: the wife is the  friend bestowed on man by the gods; the clouds are his chief support; and charity  is his chief refuge.'

15. Yaksha: 'What is the best of  all laudable things? What is the most valuable of all his possessions? What is  the best of all gains? And what is the best of all kinds of happiness?' Yudhishthira:  ’The best of all laudable things is skill; the best of all possessions is knowledge:  the best of all gains is health: and contentment is the best of all kinds of  happiness.'

16. Yaksha: 'What is the highest  duty in the world? What is that virtue which always bears fruit? What is that  which if controlled, leads to no regret? And who are they with whom an alliance  cannot break?' Yudhishthira: 'The highest of duties is to refrain from injury:  the rites ordained in the Vedas always bear fruit: the mind, if controlled,  leads to no regret: and an alliance with the good never breaks.'

17. Yaksha: 'What is that which,  if renounced, makes one agreeable? What is that which, if renounced, leads to  no regret? What is that which, if renounced, makes one wealthy? And what is  that which if renounced, makes one happy?' YudhishthiraL 'Pride, if renounced, makes  one agreeable; anger, if renounced leads to no regret: desire, if renounced, makes  one wealthy: and avarice, if renounced, makes one happy.'

18. Yaksha: 'For what does one  give away to Brahmanas? For what to actors and dancers? For what to servants?  And for what to king?' Yudhishthira: 'It is for religious merit that one gives  away to Brahmanas: it is for fame that one gives away to actors and dancers: it  is for supporting them that one gives away to servants: and it is for obtaining  relief from fear that one gives to kings.'   

19. Yaksha: 'With what is the  world enveloped? What is that owing to which a thing cannot discover itself?  For what are friends forsaken? And for what does one fail to go to heaven?' Yudhishthira:  'The world is enveloped with darkness. Darkness does not permit a thing to show  itself. It is from greed that friends are forsaken. And it is connection with  the world for which one fails to go to heaven.'

20. Yaksha: 'For what may one be  considered as dead? For what may a kingdom be considered as dead? For what may a  Sraaddha be considered as dead? And for what, a sacrifice?' Yudhishthira:  'For want of wealth may a man be regarded as  dead. A kingdom for want of a king may be regarded as dead. A Sraaddha that is  performed with the aid of a priest who has no learning may be regarded as dead.  And a sacrifice in which there are no gifts to Brahmanas is dead.'

21. Yaksha: 'What constitutes the  way? What, has been spoken of as water? What, as food? And what, as poison?  Tell us also what is the proper time of a Sraaddha, and then drink and take  away as much as you like!' Yudhishthira: 'They that are good constitute the  way. Space has been spoken of as water. The cow is food. A request is poison.  And a Brahmana is regarded as the proper time of a Sraaddha. I do not know what  you may think of all this, O Yaksha?'

Note: Way - The word used in the  question is dik, literally, direction. It means the way. Yudhishthira answers  that the way which one is to tread along in life is that of the good.
Water: The Srutis actually speak of  space as water. These are questions to test Yudhishthira's knowledge of the  Vedic cosmogony.

Cow: The Srutis speak of the cow  as the only food, in the following sense. The cow gives milk. The milk gives  butter. The butter is used in Homa. The Homa is the cause of the clouds. The  clouds give rain. The rain makes the seed to sprout forth and produce food.
Sraaddha: What Yudhishthira means  to say is that there is no special time for a Sraaddha. It is to be performed  whenever a good and able priest may be secured.

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