In the Mahabharata (Vana parva 313.116), the great Yudhishthira was asked, “What is the most surprising thing in the world?” His answer:
अहन्यहनि भूतानि गच्छन्तीह यमालयम्।
शेषाः स्थावरमिच्छन्ति किमाश्चर्यमतः परम्॥
We see people die every day, but those remaining (alive) still wish to be immortal.
The questions that Yudhishthira faced
Background: The Mahabharat gives a unique philosophical Q&A session that involved the great Yudhishthira.
Of the many challenges that Yudhishthira faced, his face-off with the Yaksha was unique. He was put on a spot. On one hand, he faced the prospects of seeing his brothers’ bodies lying all around, apparently dead – and on the other hand, with time for preparation he had to answer numerous philosophical and other questions that would stun any scholar! He was forced to put his grief aside, his immense thirst aside, his physical discomfort aside and focus on the rapid-fire of questions coming from an unseen and unknown source.
Yet, he prevailed; and the answers he provided to the many questions were pragmatic, logical and philosophical. Approximately 125 questions were asked, all of which were answered succinctly. Here is a sample of the questions asked and answers given:
Q: How does one attain greatness?
A: Greatness is attained by Tapas (austerities).
Q: How does one become secure?
A: Security is attained by courage.
Q: How does one become wise?
A: By maintaining the company of wise ones.
Q: What is Godliness to Brahmans (wise persons)?
A: Godliness of the wise is exemplified by their knowledge of the Vedas
Q: What is the duty of Brahmans (wise persons)?
A: Wise persons have a duty to practise Tapas ( Austerity).
Q: What is the downfall of noble people?
A: Pride and selfishness.
Q: What is deemed sinful habit for noble people?
A: Finding fault with others.
Q: Which has more value than the entire earth?
A: A Mother is more valuable than the earth.
Q: What exceeds the height of the sky?
A: A Father exceeds the height of the sky.
Q: What is faster than wind?
A: The Mind is faster than the wind.
Q: What is more in number than grass?
A: Worries outnumber grass.
Q: Who is the best friend of a traveller?
Q: Who is a friend of a dying person?
Q: What vessel contains everything?
A: The earth
Q: Where does the best fame come from?
Q: Where is heaven?
A: Heaven exists in Truth
Q: What is the best giver of Wealth?
W: Ceaseless effort gives wealth.
Q: What is the highest happiness?
A: Contentment is the highest happiness.
Q: What is the best Dharma (righteous action)?
A: Non-violence (ahimsa)
Q: The control of what can keep sadness away?
A: Controlling the mind can keep sadness away.
Q: What stops one from attaining heaven?
A: Attachment is the deterrent for attaining heaven.
Q: What is poisonous action?
Q: What disease has no end?
Q: Who is considered to be holy?
A: One who loves all and does good for all.
Q: What is real courage?
A: Control of the senses exemplifies courage.
Q: What makes a friend forsake another friend?
A: Lust and greed.
Q: What is ignorance?
A: Not knowing your laws/norms.
Q: What is the best bath one can take?
A: The best bath is the one that cleanses the mind.
Q: What makes a person a Brahmana – birth, knowledge or behaviour?
A: Behavior makes one a Brahmana. Someone may be a literal expert in the Vedas or be born from the parents of Vedic expertise, but their behaviour may be improper and thus cannot be a brahman. One’s lifestyle and behaviour distinguish whether he is Brahman or not.
Q: What is the greatest wonder in the world?
A: Everyday people die around us; yet those who are alive think they are here forever