Mahabharata, the great Indian epic is the biggest library of stories in the whole world. There are many stories inside a story. Stories sad and happy have entertained the countless Indians over the ages.
The story of Yaksha’s questions to Yudhishthira reads like a quiz program. It is a quiz on philosophy of life and has spiritual overtone. These questions have perhaps haunted the mankind and the replies they obtained might have remained puzzling.
The Pandavas were living in the forest as a consequence of defeat in dice game. A Brahmin comes to them and requests to find away a deer which had vanished taking away his sacrificial tools. They set out, all five of them and not finding the deer which eluded them, they take rest under a tree, exhausted. Nakula, the youngest, climbs a tree and discovers a pond in the vicinity, and goes to bring water. He does not return even after a long wait.
Next goes Sahadeva in search of him and he also does not return. Then Arjunaand later Bhima also follow. When they also fail to return, Yudhishthira also follows and finds all his brothers lying dead near the pond. When he stands flabbergasted, a voice is heard. “I am a Yaksha. Lord of this pond. Your brothers are dead because they did not heed my warning. Same fate is awaiting you. You answer my questions to avoid death” — boomed the invisible being.
Yudhishthira replied. “Please ask the questions. I will try my best to reply”
Yaksha:: Who is really a helpful companion?
Yudhisthira: Steady intelligence is a very good friend and can save one from all dangers.
Yaksha: How can one acquire something very great?
Yudhisthira: Everything desirable can be attained by the performance of austerity.
Yaksha: What is amrita (nectar)?
Yudhisthira: Milk is just like nectar.
Yaksha: What is the friend bestowed upon man by the demigods?
Yudhisthira: Wife is such a friend.
Yaksha: What is the best of happiness?
Yudhisthira: True happiness comes as a result of contentment.
Yaksha: Why does one give in charity to brahmanas, artists, servants and kings?
Yudhisthira: For religious merit, prestige, maintenance and protection, respectively.
Yaksha: Why does one forsake friends?
Yudhisthira: Lust and greed drives one to forsake friends.
Yaksha: What is the only food?
Yudhisthira: The cow is the only food, for the milk that she produces is used to make ghee (clarified butter), which is used to perform sacrifices, pleased by which the demigods give rain, which causes the grains to grow. Therefore it should be understood that the cow is the root cause of all kinds of food.
Yaksha: What is the king of knowledge?
Yudhisthira: Knowledge pertaining to the Supreme Personality of Godhead is the king of all kinds of knowledge.
Yaksha: What is ignorance?
Yudhisthira: Not knowing one’s constitutional duty.
Yaksha: What is the best bath?
Yudhisthira: That which cleanses the mind of all impurities.
Yaksha: What is real charity?
Yudhisthira: Real charity is protecting one from the onslaughts of material nature.
Yaksha: Since dharma (virtue), artha (profit) and kama (desire) are opposed to each other, how can they co-exist harmoniously?
Yudhisthira: These three become congenial to one another when one has a virtuous wife.
Yaksha: Who is condemned to everlasting hell?
Yudhisthira: When one promise a brahmana charity but upon his arrival refuses to give him charity.
Yaksha: What make one a brahmana, birth, learning or behavior?
Yudhisthira: It is behavior alone that make a person a brahmana. Even if one who is expert in the four Vedas, born of brahmana parents, but whose behavior is not proper should be considered a sudra.
Yaksha: Who is pleasing?
Yudhisthira: A person who speaks in a pleasing manner.
Finally the Yaksha asked Yudhisthira four questions of great significance:
Yaksha: Who is truly happy?
Yudhisthira: One who cooks his own food (is not dependant on anyone), is not a debtor (does not spend more than he can afford), does not have to leave home to make in order to earn his livelihood (does not over endeavor for material things) is truly happy.
Yaksha:What is the most wonderful thing?
Yudhisthira: The most amazing thing is that even though every day one sees countless living entities dying, he still acts and thinks as if he will live forever.
Yaksha: What is the real path to follow in this life?
Yudhisthira: The best path is to follow in the footsteps of the pure devotees, for they are the actual Mahajanas whose hearts are the sitting places of the real truths regarding religion.
Yaksha: What is news? (that is What is real situation in the material world?)
Yudhisthira: The material world is like a frying pan. The Sun is the fire, the day and nights are the fuel. The passing seasons are the stirring ladle and time is cook. All living entities are being thus fried in this pan. This is the real news of what is happening in the material world which is a miserable place full of ignorance.
These questions and answers cover a wide gamut of instructions from being successful to pious to religious.
The invisible Lord of the pond was much pleased with Yudhishthira’s answers. He offered to bring life to only one of the Pandavas, leaving the choice to Yudhishthira.
Yudhishthira asked to restore Nakula’s life.
The astonished voice exclaimed “How is that you do not ask for revival of Bhima or Arjuna who are much nearer, dearer and useful to you”?
Yudhishthira replied, “We have two mothers– Kunti and Madri. It is but proper that one son of each should live. I respect both of my mothers”.
Yudhishthira passed the final test. Pleased by the answers of Yudhisthira, the Yaksha who was none other than Dharmaraja (the God father of Yudhisthira and the embodiment of religiosity)
The voice now assumed its real form. “I am Dharma, your god father, dear son, I took away the Brahmin’s tools in the form of a deer. Here they are”, brought all the brothers back to life.
The God Dharma blessed the Pandavas and disappeared.