Mahabharata Anusasana Parva - Translation by KM Ganguly

Mahabharata Adiparva

Section CXVII

"Yudhishthira said, 'Desiring to die or desiring to live, many persons give up their lives in the great sacrifice (of battle). Tell me, O grandsire, what is the end that these attain to. To throw away life in battle is fraught with sorrow for men. O thou of great wisdom, thou knowest that to give up life is difficult for men whether they are in prosperity, or adversity, in felicity or calamity. In my opinion, thou art possessed of omniscience. Do thou tell me the reason of this.'

"Bhishma said, 'In prosperity or adversity, in happiness or woe, living creatures, O lord of the earth, coming into this world, live according to a particular tenor. Listen to me as I explain the reason to thee. The question thou hast asked me is excellent, O Yudhishthira! In this connection, O king, I shall explain to thee the old narrative of the discourse that took place in former times between the Island-born Rishi and a crawling worm. In days of old, when that learned Brahmana, viz., the Island-born Krishna, having identified himself with Brahma, roamed over the world, he beheld, on a road over which cars used to pass, a worm moving speedily. The Rishi was conversant with the course of every creature and the language of every animal. Possessed of omniscience, he addressed the worm he saw in these words.'

"Vyasa said, 'O worm, thou seemest to be exceedingly alarmed, and to be in great haste. Tell me, whither dost thou run, and whence hast thou been afraid.'

"The worm said, 'Hearing the rattle of yonder large car I am filled with fear. O thou of great intelligence, fierce is the roar it makes. It is almost come! The sound is heard. Will it not kill me? It is for this that I am flying away. The sound, as it is heard from a near point, I catch, of the bulls I hear. They are breathing hard under the whip of the driver, as they are drawing the heavy burden. I hear also the diverse sounds made by the men who are driving the bulls. Such sounds are incapable of being heard by a creature that like us has taken his birth in the order of worms. It is for this reason that I am flying from this situation of great fright. Death is felt by all creatures to be fraught with pain. Life is an acquisition difficult to make. Hence, I fly away in fear, I do not wish to pass from a state of happiness to one of woe.'

"Bhishma continued, 'Thus addressed, the Island-born Vyasa said, 'O worm, whence can be thy happiness? Thou belongest to the inter-mediate order of being. I think, death would be fraught with happiness to thee! Sound, touch, taste, scent, and diverse kinds of excellent enjoyments are unknown to thee, O worm! I think, death will prove a benefit to thee!'

"The worm said, 'A living creature, in whatever situation he may be placed, becomes attached to it. In even this order of being I am happy, I think, O thou of great wisdom! It is for this that I wish to live. In even this condition, every object of enjoyment exists for me according to the needs of my body. Human beings and those creatures that spring from immobile objects have different enjoyments. In my former life I was a human being. O puissant one, I was a Sudra possessed of great wealth. I was not devoted to the Brahmanas. I was cruel, vile in conduct, and a usurer. I was harsh in speech. I regard cunning as wisdom. I hated all creatures. Taking advantage of pretexts in compacts made between myself and others. I was always given to taking away what belonged to others. Without feeding servants and guests arrived at my house, I used to fill, when hungry, my own stomach, under the impulse of pride, covetous of good food. Greedy I was of wealth, I never dedicated, with faith and reverence, any food to the deities and the Pitris although duty required me to dedicate food unto them. Those men that came to me, moved by fear, for seeking my protection, I sent adrift without giving them any protection. I did not extend my protection to those that came to me with prayers for dispelling their fear. I used to feel unreasonable envy at seeing other people's wealth, and corn, and spouses held dear by them, and articles of drink, and good mansions. Beholding the happiness of others, I was filled with envy and I always wished them poverty, Following that course of conduct which promised to crown my own wishes with fruition, I sought to destroy the virtue, wealth, and pleasures of other people. In that past life of mine, I committed diverse deeds largely fraught with cruelty and such other passions. Recollecting those acts I am filled with repentance and grief even as one is filled with grief at the loss of one's dear son. In consequence of these acts of mine I do not know what the fruits are of good deeds. I, however, worshipped my old mother and on one occasion worshipped a Brahmana. Endued with birth and accomplishments, that Brahmana, in course of his wanderings, came to my house once as a guest. I received him with reverent hospitality. In consequence of the merit attaching to that act, my memory has not forsaken me. I think that in consequence of that act I shall once more succeed in regaining happiness. O thou of ascetic wealth, thou knowest everything. Do thou in kindness tell me what is for my good."