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Fifth Discourse
Present Position,
Brightest Prospect
One day, when Yudhiṣṭhir Mahārāj was in the jungle with his brothers and wife, Yamarāj wanted to examine Yudhiṣṭhir’s strength of virtue. Taking the form of a white bird, Yamarāj stayed at a kunda, a fresh-water pond. The Pāṇḍava brothers were thirsty so one by one they went to that pond to collect drinking water. First of all, Bhīmasen arrived there. When he arrived there the bird told him, “First you answer my questions then you may take the water, otherwise you will die.” But Bhīmasen did not care for the bird, he drank the water and died. Then Arjuna went, followed by Nakula, then Sahadeva, and each met the same fate.
Lastly Yudhiṣṭhir Mahārāj went there and Yamarāj, in the form of the white bird, told him, “If you take water without answering my questions you will die like your brothers.” Seeing his brothers dead before him Yudhiṣṭhir Mahārāj considered that this was no ordinary bird and that it was telling the truth.
He therefore agreed, “Yes, I shall answer your questions before drinking the water. But my brothers are all very strong and they are great warriors, why are they dead?”
“It is by my power this has happened,” replied the bird, who then proceeded to ask many questions, four of which are particularly famous.
kāca vārttā kimāścaryyaṁ kaḥ panthaḥ kaḥ sukhī
“What is the news? What is the wonder? What is the path? and who is happy?”
Yudhiṣṭhir Mahārāj considered: ‘This bird is not an ordinary bird, and therefore these questions are not ordinary questions.” In reply to, “What is the news?” he could have replied, “Yes, I am well...,” instead he said,
māsarttudarvvi parighaṭnena
sūryyāgṇinā rātridivendhanena
asmin mahāmoha maye kaṭāhe
bhūtāni kālaḥ pacatīti vārttā
“The months and seasons are like two ladles with which food is turned while being cooked; the sun is like the fire-wood for cooking with; mahāmoha, illusion, is like the cooking pot; the jīvas, souls, are like fish; and kāla, time, is frying them. The jīvas are being fried in the pot of illusion with the help of the sun, days, nights, months and seasons—the necessities for frying. The frying is being done by kāla, which here also means Yamarāj. It is he who is frying us in this way in the mundane world. This is the news!”
To the question, “What is the miracle, the wonder?” Yudhiṣṭhir Mahārāj answered,
ahanya-hani bhūtāni gacchanti yamamandiram
śeṣāsthiratva-micchanti kimāścaryyamataḥ param
“Always all mankind as well as all jīvas in this world are passing away. Everyone’s father passes away, their mother also, and even their juniors sometimes pass away first—but all are thinking that they will not themselves pass away. They are making houses for themselves, accumulating money, food, etc. They feel that they shall stay for such a long time, but it is only like a passing show. Everything, whether old or young, is passing away right before their eyes. It is gacchatīti jagat—it is passing away day by day, but all feel they shall stay for a long time, maybe not for ever, but anyhow for 80 or 90 years. No one else has time, but they have time. That is the miracle. What wonder can be greater than this? I think this to be the greatest miracle.”
Answering the third question, “What is the path, and how to go?” Yudhiṣṭhir Mahārāj answered,
vedā vibhinnā munayo vibhinnā
nāsau ṛṣiryasya mataṁ na bhinnam
dharmmasya tattvaṁ nīhitaṁ guhāyāṁ
mahā jano yena gatah saḥ panthā
“We see there to be many kinds of Vedas and many kinds of ṛṣis, so it is difficult to understand who we should follow. Each ṛṣi’s opinion is different, and also different sections of the Vedas give different explanations and direction. So who are we to follow?”