A long time ago, there lived a virtuous Indian prince named Yudhisthira (Yoo-dis-teer).
He was the eldest of five brothers, and together, they were known as the Pandavas.
One day, while they were living in exile in the forest, the prince discovered that his brothers had been killed by a mysterious guardian spirit, or yaksha, who had appeared in the form of a crane.
They’d collapsed on the banks of the yaksha’s lake after disregarding his warning about drinking its water without permission.
Yudhisthira was devastated.
Unbeknownst to him, though, this yaksha was actually Dharma, the demigod of virtue (and also Yudhisthira’s real father!) in disguise.
Kind of like Star Wars. But not.
Anyway, when Yudhisthira went to the water to refresh himself, the yaksha challenged him to first answer a series of riddles or face the same consequence as his brothers.
Yudhisthira replied, “Ask me, and I will answer as best as I can.”
What followed was a dialogue which became known as the Yaksa Prashna (Riddles Posed by the Crane) and can be found in the Vana Parva of the Mahabharata.
The questions and answers are like sutras –beautiful, subtle and deep with layers of significance– and they lay the groundwork for the lessons that follow in the chapter containing the Bhagavad-gita.
As we listen to parts of their conversation here, think deeply about Yudhisthira’s answers. Then, imagine yourself in his position.
What would your answers be?
Who is really a helpful companion?
Steady intelligence is a very good friend and can save one from all dangers.
How can one acquire something very great?
Everything desirable can be attained by the performance of austerity.
What is the best of all possessions?
Knowledge is one’s most valuable asset.
How can one achieve happiness?
True happiness comes as a result of contentment.
Why does one forsake friends?
Lust and greed drives one to forsake friends.
What is the king of knowledge?
Knowledge pertaining to the Supreme Personality of Godhead is
the king of all kinds of knowledge.
What is ignorance?
Not knowing one’s constitutional duty.
What is the best bath?
That which cleanses the mind of all impurities.
What is real charity?
Real charity is protecting another from the onslaughts of material nature.
Who is pleasing?
A person who speaks in a pleasing manner.
Finally the yaksha asked the prince four questions of particular significance:
Who is truly happy?
One who cooks his own food (is not dependant on anyone), is not a debtor (does not spend more than he can afford) and does not have to leave home in order to earn his livelihood (does not over-endeavor for material things) is truly happy.
What is the most amazing thing?
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 not.
What is the real path to follow in this life?
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 truth.
What is news?
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 the cook. All living entities are being thus fried in this pan.
This is the real news of what is happening in the material world.
Pleased by the answers of Yudhisthira, the yaksha revealed his identity as Dharma –and brought Yudhisthira’s brothers back to life.
Thanks to Haroon Mustafa who let me use his beautiful image of the lake at Katas. For details on this ancient site, check out his flickr stream here.
And if you’re freaked out about being cooked in a pan, please don’t be. A lot of really good things are cooked in a pan… Be tasty! :)