Spirituality

Vyadha (Butcher) Gita: How a Butcher helped enlighten a Brahmin

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.

Story:

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.

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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.
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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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Desh Kapoor

The panache of a writer is proven by the creative pen he uses to transform the most mundane topic into a thrilling story. Desh - the author, critic and analyst uses the power of his pen to create thought-provoking pieces from ordinary topics of discussion. He writes on myriad interesting themes. Read the articles to know more about his views and "drishtikone".

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10 thoughts on “Vyadha (Butcher) Gita: How a Butcher helped enlighten a Brahmin”

  1. Thanks so much for the story and the link, Desh. In fact it is a very timely one for me to remind myself about FOCUS on life/study/work, which is usually my strong point. I was so glad to click through and read Swami Vivekananda’s article. Thanks so much for that link as well (was not aware this gem was waiting there to be tapped: http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/….

    Though I haven’t been leaving many comments here, rest assured that your posts continue to be of the highest quality as far as I am concerned. Anyone can write about Indian politics; it takes talent and knowledge to write about the difficult stuffs like philosophy.

    Keep up the good work and the keep such gems coming.

    Just a couple of queries…

    1. SV writes: “There is, however, only one idea of duty which has been universally accepted by all mankind, of all ages and sects and countries, and that has been summed up in a Sanskrit aphorism thus: “Do not injure any being; not injuring any being is virtue, injuring any being is sin.””

    If this is true, can one argue that killing and eating animals is a sin? I personally don’t think I (a veggie) has any right to define what is sin based on what suits me (though I do it from time to time :).

    2. Don’t you think though it is fashionable to say all jobs are equal or some similar thing, in reality, those who are in IT (say) have a much better life style (at least in modern day India) than those who are working in many other fields. If those who are in the other fields are not satisfied with their jobs (or if they have what it takes to move into IT and aspire to move) and try to shift jobs, is that something that they shouldn’t have done?

    It must be the sleep (0050 hrs here) that is making me ask stupid questions, but just thought would ask.

  2. Hey thanks, Suresh, for the kind words! Your point on philosophy related articles reminds me of an Urdu couplet which goes:

    Hamne unse kaha ki hamein tumpar pyaar aata hai;
    Unhone hans kar jawab diya.. “Aur aapko aata bhi kya hai?!”

    It is not possible to translate it in English AND have its meaning intact… if anyone can do it I will be grateful. 🙂 So, aur mujhe aata bhi kya hai?

    Regarding your questions:

    1. I have seen that you should never take any Guru literally. I think most make their mistakes and are inconsistent at times. I found, for example, that Swami Vivekananda was inconsistent in the way he approached Sex and Eating Meat. He wanted one to banish sex before one got onto spiritual path, but his answer about eating meat was that once one reached a certain level… desires like that would automatically drop off.

    Now, to me these are desires. And in my view desires fall off at their own time. So both should be approached the same way. I personally do not believe that leaving any one makes you any closer to being “purer”.

    So, take what SV says with a grain of salt and put him to the some logical test yourself…. just as Arjun did you Krishna. Don’t let any Guru off easily! 🙂

    2. Its not that you cannot change your profession or work.. but whatever you do.. do it with all you have. Whatever it may be. IN case of Vyadh it was a butcher’s job. He could have chosen to do something else. But that choice in my view was immaterial.

  3. Thanks so much for the story and the link, Desh. In fact it is a very timely one for me to remind myself about FOCUS on life/study/work, which is usually my strong point. I was so glad to click through and read Swami Vivekananda’s article. Thanks so much for that link as well (was not aware this gem was waiting there to be tapped: http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Complete_Works_of_Swami_Vivekananda).

    Though I haven’t been leaving many comments here, rest assured that your posts continue to be of the highest quality as far as I am concerned. Anyone can write about Indian politics; it takes talent and knowledge to write about the difficult stuffs like philosophy.

    Keep up the good work and the keep such gems coming.

    Just a couple of queries…

    1. SV writes: “There is, however, only one idea of duty which has been universally accepted by all mankind, of all ages and sects and countries, and that has been summed up in a Sanskrit aphorism thus: “Do not injure any being; not injuring any being is virtue, injuring any being is sin.””

    If this is true, can one argue that killing and eating animals is a sin? I personally don’t think I (a veggie) has any right to define what is sin based on what suits me (though I do it from time to time :).

    2. Don’t you think though it is fashionable to say all jobs are equal or some similar thing, in reality, those who are in IT (say) have a much better life style (at least in modern day India) than those who are working in many other fields. If those who are in the other fields are not satisfied with their jobs (or if they have what it takes to move into IT and aspire to move) and try to shift jobs, is that something that they shouldn’t have done?

    It must be the sleep (0050 hrs here) that is making me ask stupid questions, but just thought would ask.

  4. Hey thanks, Suresh, for the kind words! Your point on philosophy related articles reminds me of an Urdu couplet which goes:

    Hamne unse kaha ki hamein tumpar pyaar aata hai;
    Unhone hans kar jawab diya.. “Aur aapko aata bhi kya hai?!”

    It is not possible to translate it in English AND have its meaning intact… if anyone can do it I will be grateful. 🙂 So, aur mujhe aata bhi kya hai?

    Regarding your questions:

    1. I have seen that you should never take any Guru literally. I think most make their mistakes and are inconsistent at times. I found, for example, that Swami Vivekananda was inconsistent in the way he approached Sex and Eating Meat. He wanted one to banish sex before one got onto spiritual path, but his answer about eating meat was that once one reached a certain level… desires like that would automatically drop off.

    Now, to me these are desires. And in my view desires fall off at their own time. So both should be approached the same way. I personally do not believe that leaving any one makes you any closer to being “purer”.

    So, take what SV says with a grain of salt and put him to the some logical test yourself…. just as Arjun did you Krishna. Don’t let any Guru off easily! 🙂

    2. Its not that you cannot change your profession or work.. but whatever you do.. do it with all you have. Whatever it may be. IN case of Vyadh it was a butcher’s job. He could have chosen to do something else. But that choice in my view was immaterial.

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  6. I have read the Karmayoga of Swami Vivekananda. Reading that book what I have understood is that there are different classes of work. Some are superior and some are inferior. But those are very much relative to each other.This division is important but more important is that how much purity is being poured to do that work.Suppose a clark in a college is doing his job with ultimate devotion , on the other hand a professor in that same college is doing ultimate corruptions.Who is more respected?

    Man choose inferior and supirior jobs according to his or her ability.But performing that in a good manned needs purity.

  7. I have read the Karmayoga of Swami Vivekananda. Reading that book what I have understood is that there are different classes of work. Some are superior and some are inferior. But those are very much relative to each other.This division is important but more important is that how much purity is being poured to do that work.Suppose a clark in a college is doing his job with ultimate devotion , on the other hand a professor in that same college is doing ultimate corruptions.Who is more respected?

    Man choose inferior and supirior jobs according to his or her ability.But performing that in a good manned needs purity.

  8. I have read the Karmayoga of Swami Vivekananda. Reading that book what I have understood is that there are different classes of work. Some are superior and some are inferior. But those are very much relative to each other.This division is important but more important is that how much purity is being poured to do that work.Suppose a clark in a college is doing his job with ultimate devotion , on the other hand a professor in that same college is doing ultimate corruptions.Who is more respected?

    Man choose inferior and supirior jobs according to his or her ability.But performing that in a good manned needs purity.

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