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The Five Principles - From The Maha-Bharata

( Originally Published 1939 )



FIVE princes, brothers, wandered in a forest. They were the sons of an Indian king. Now this king had two wives, Koontee and Madree, and the young men were sons to one or the other of the queens. The two sons of Madree were thus half-brothers to the three sons of Koontee.

A hard fate drove them from their homeland. For thirteen years they must not see their country. For thirteen years they must be exiles. They must hide from their foes.

A dread place was the wood where they hid. Tall trees put out their great arms and made a black shade. The thin legged deer ran to and fro in the glades. Bears stole in and out of the bushes. Snakes Iurked in nooks. Wild bees hummed. Birds of strange shape flew from tree to tree.

The five princes, two sons of Madree, three sons of Koontee, felt a deep thirst, and nowhere could they see the sweet shine of water.

Then Yudhisthira, who was more than a prince he was a king said to his half-brother Nakula:

"0 Nakula, son of Madree, climb yonder tree and look all ways, and see if water is near; look if any plants that grow in moist soil are In this jungle, for they will be a sign of water."

Then Nakula, who was the twin-brother to Sahadev, went up the tree as he was bid, and he looked this way and that, and he made a shout:

"Yes, I can see plants and leaves that live in the damp. And hark! I can hear the sharp call of the cranes.,,

Said the king:

"Make haste, Nakula. Take your arrow case with you and fill it with water at the pool or spring where the cranes are, and bring your brothers a precious draught!"

So Nakula came down with speed, and he ran with his quiver in hand to the place where he had caught sight of the green plants. A smooth, clear pool was there, and on the edge of it he beheld cranes, birds with long legs and long necks; their tails feathery, their eyes eager and watchful; and a red tuft was on each head. The cranes snapped at worms, at small snakes, at frogs, at fish, and now and then tore up a weed from the pool.

But the prince had no care for cranes. He was all but mad with thirst. Down on his knees he fell. He leaned his head to the clear pool.

"Stay!" cried a voice. "Stay, young man! Drink naught till you have done as the law of this pool bids. None may drink here till he has made answer to the questions I ask. Answer first, and then fill your quiver."

Nakula paid no heed. He drank. The next moment he fell dead among the reeds that grew at the brink of the water.

The cranes waded in the pool. Wild bees hummed. Deer trotted through the jungle. The dead prince held the quiver in his hand; and his four brothers waited.

Finding that he did not return, the king said:

"Sahadev, we will not wait longer. I know not why your brother delays. Go and fetch water for us, for we are faint, and can scarce move. Follow the track your brother went."

When Sahadev reached the water he saw the dead youth, and his heart was sore troubled; yet was his thirst so great that he had no will to stay and weep over his lost one, and he knelt to drink.

"Halt," cried a Ioud voice. "Do not take one drop of this water until you have made reply to my questions, else it will mean death!"

The prince said not a word. He bent over the pool, and then rolled upon the earth dead.

Side by side lay the brothers the twin sons of Madree the queen. And the bear of the woods crept among the bushes in search of berries, and the gleam of the tiger's eyes was bright in the jungle.

Two brothers dead; three brothers living; and dry were the mouths of the three.

Said the king: "Have you strength, Arjuna, brother of mine, to go to the pool and fetch water? Your brother and I are weak with thirst. Oh, haste, Arjuna, haste!"

When Arjuna saw his two dead brothers he put his arrow to the bow and looked about for the foe that had slain them, so that he might slay the slayer. But he saw no living man. Then the thirst came so strong upon him that he must drink; so he stooped down.

"Beware," cried a voice. "Drink not until you have answered my questions. To drink now will be your doom."

"Who are you, vile man?" shouted Arjuna; and he shot one arrow this way among the reeds, and another among the trees; and he pulled out darts from his bundle, and flung them up, and north and south, and east and west; but he saw no man.

"Ha, ha, ha," laughed the voice. "You cannot strike me, prince. Answer, if you wish to live."

Arjuna knelt and was about to drink. He also fell dead.

"Alas!" sighed the king, "they come not back. What can have happened? Perhaps they are all too faint to walk. Will you, dear Bhima, go for drink?"

Then Bhima rose slowly and crept to the pool, and he was in great sorrow when he saw the three dead youths; but he was so parched that he could not stay to mourn.

"Drink not," said the voice. "Let not water touch your lips till you have given answer to my questions; else you will breathe your last!"

And Bhima also died.

Silent was the forest, except for the murmur of bees and the sounds of bird and beast; and the king sat in pain of thirst. At last he arose, and with slow steps he wended his way to the pool.

Laud was his wail when he saw the four dead men, and he glanced all round to see who it was that smote them, but he could discover no enemy. And then he bent towards the water where grew the lilies.

"Stay!" cried the voice. "Unless you answer my questions ere you drink, death will fall upon you; such is the law of this place. I, the old crane with the red crest, rule over the pool, and I dare you to drink."

He saw the crane amid the reeds.

"Repeat your questions."

"How can a man become wise?"

"By learning the sacred texts of the hymns the blessed Vedas."

"Who is he that is not rich, though he looks well and fair?"

"The man who has much and gives naught." "What is heavier than the world and higher than the clouds."

"The love of father and mother."

"Whose eyes never close?"

"The fish's eyes."

"Which is the way to be happy?"

"To say the truth and be kind."

"How may a man be a true Brahman?"

"Not by saying texts from the holy scriptures; not by praying many prayers; but by just deeds and right life."

These and other questions did the king answer. Then said the spirit of the pool:

"Well have you spoken. Drink."

Then said the spirit of the pool again :

"Well pleased am I with your speech, and now I give you a boon. You may name which you will of these dead men, and he whom you choose shall live."

There was silence. Said the king:

"I will choose Nakula, son of Madree."

"But he is only your half-brother. Will you not choose your own brother, Bhima, or your own brother, Arjuna? Did you not love them?"

"Yea, I Ioved them," said the king. "But I wish that Nakula should come back to life."Why?"

"Because he is the son of Madree, and I am the son of Koontee. Now, after the thirteen years of wandering, we shall return to our home, and the two queens will come forth to see us. Two only of the five brethren will they see. And if Madree sees that both are the sons of Koontee, and she learns that her twin sons are dead, then will her heart faint and be like to break. Therefore, 0 spirit, Iet us be just to the mother's heart, and let one son of each mother bring gladness to their eyes."

The crane was no more seen. But as it fled away its voice was heard saying softly:

"Noble hearted prince! You have chosen Nakula before your own dearest brothers, and you wished to be just rather than snatch at what would best please your own soul. Therefore they all shall live!"

And the four brothers rose up.

BE master of thyself, if thou wilt be Servant of Duty. Such as thou shalt see Not self subduing, do no deeds of good

In youth or age, in household or in wood. But wise men know that virtue is best bliss, And all by some one way may reach to this.

It needs not men should pass through orders four To come to knowledge; doing right is more Than any learning; therefore sages say Best and most excellent is Virtue's way.

THERE is naught better than to be With noble souls in company;

There is naught better than to wend With good friends faithful to the end. This is the love whose fruit is sweet, Therefore to bide within is meet.

THE constant virtues of the good are tenderness and love

To all that lives in earth, air, sea great, small below, above;

Compassionate of heart, they keep a gentle thought for each,

Kind in their actions, mild in will, and pitiful of speech;

Who pitieth not, he hath not faith; full many an one so lives,

But when an enemy seeks help, a good man gladly gives.

IN paths of peace and virtue

Always the good remain;

And sorrow shall not stay with them, Nor long access of pain;

At meeting or at parting

Joys to their bosom strike;

For good to good is friendly,

And virtue loves her like.

The great sun goes his journey By their strong truth impelled; By their pure lives and penances, Is earth itself upheld;

Of all while. live and shall live Upon its hills and fields,

True hearts are the protectors, For virtue saves and shields.

Never are noble spirits.

Poor while their like still live; True love has gems to render, And virtue wealth to give. Never is lost or wasted

The goodness of the good; Never against a mercy,

Against a right it stood;

And seeing this, that virtue Is always friend to all,

The virtuous and true-hearted, Men their protectors call.

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