There are many stories and sermons on what the correct Karma of a Karma-Yogi is, as narrated by Gita. Generally, since the religions around the world have been mired in moralistic nonsense, people have created moralistic overlays on Gita’s message. Divinity and Purity have been assigned to Karmas or deeds and Sri Krishna’s message has been reduced to some moralistic definition.
There is one story in Mahabharat, the Indian Epic, which I had read about in a lecture by Swami Vivekananda – which, I believe, BEST discusses Krishna’s Karma Yoga! Today, I again chanced upon that story. Now, Hindus are most known for vegetarian lifestyle. Which most Hindus (and even other spiritual sects) believe is religious duty and non-vegetarianism is a sin. Well, Swami Vivekananda was a non-vegetarian. (Disclaimer: I am a vegetarian since birth). Let us see what our scriptures say about this practice?
This story is also called Vyadha Gita. It consists of teachings imparted by a Vyadh (Butcher) to a Sanyasi (monk) and occurs in the Vana Parva section of Mahabharat. This story was narrated by Rishi Markandeya to the eldest Pandava – Yudhishter.
The central precept of the story is:
No duty is ugly, no duty is impure it is only the way in which the work is done, that determines its worth.
A brahmin sanyasi is meditating when a bird’s droppings from the tree falls on him and he is disturbed. He looks at the bird and it falls on the ground.. dead. This adds a lot of ego and arrogance in the Sanyasi because he has realized his innate “powers”. He goes to the village looking for alms and comes to a house where he asks for food. The housewife inside is tending to her sick husband and asks the Sanyasi to wait.
This angers the Sanyasi immediately and he thinks “You wretched woman, how dare you make me wait! You do not know my power yet”. Suddenly the housewife calls out from inside the house: “Boy, don’t be thinking too much of yourself. Here is neither crow nor crane.” The Sanyasi is shocked! How did this lady know of the bird?
The lady replies that she did not practice any austerities and by doing her duty with “cheerfulness and wholeheartedness”, she became illumined, so she could read his mind.
She then tells him about a dharma-vyadha (the righteous butcher) in the town of Mithila and says that this dharma-vyadha would answer all his questions on dharma.
But the Monk is shocked and thinks “Why should I go to that town and to a Vyadha?” But from what he had just seen in that lady, he gives it a try and goes to Mithila. When he reaches Mithila he found the market and there saw, at a distance, a big fat Vyadha cutting meat with big knives, talking and bargaining with different people.
The Brahmin Sanyasi is then taught by the Vyadh (Butcher). His main teachings are:
- No duty is ugly, no duty is impure and it is only the way in which the work is done that determines its worth.
- All work must be done by “dedicating to God”
- By sincere and unattached performance of the alloted duty one can become illumined
- Ahimsa (non-violence) and satya (truth) are two main pillars of dharma through which the highest good of all can be achieved (mind you Vyadh is talking of “Ahimsa” – so, the dharmic Ahimsa is not the Gandhian Ahimsa!)
- A decision on what is true under difficult circumstances should be made by sticking to that course of action which leads to the highest good of beings
- Finally, Not birth but dharma and virtuous conduct makes one a Brahmin.
This story forms the basis of Swami Vivekananda’s lecture on “What is Duty” – which you must read.
As Swami Vivekananda said – this story represents the “highest flights of the Vedanta” – and the lessons in this story are some of the most brilliant and profound. It is very unfortunate that existence of such a beautiful story has never been a topic of most lectures and discussions in popular Hinduism. If it had been, then caste system would have been long gone!
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