"Yudhishthira said, 'Amongst all those gifts that are mentioned in the treatises other than the Vedas, which gift, O chief of Kuru's race, is the most distinguished in thy opinion? O puissant one, great is the curiosity I feel with respect to this matter. Do thou discourse to me also of that gift which follows the giver into the next world.' 1
"Bhishma said, 'An assurance unto all creatures of love and affection and abstention from every kind of injury, acts of kindness and favour done to a person in distress, gifts of articles made unto one that solicits with thirst and agreeable to the solicitor's wishes, and whatever gifts are made without the giver's ever thinking of them as gifts made by him, constitute, O chief of Bharata's race, the highest and best of gifts. Gift of gold, gift of kine, and gift of earth,--these are regarded as sin-cleansing. They rescue the giver from his evil acts. O chief of men, do thou always
make such gifts unto those that are righteous. Without doubt, gifts rescue the giver from all his sins. That person who wishes to make his gifts eternal should always give unto persons possessed of the requisite qualifications whatever articles are desired by all and whatever things are the best in his house. The man who makes gifts of agreeable things and who does to others what is agreeable to others, always succeeds in obtaining things that are agreeable to himself. Such a person certainly becomes agreeable unto all, both here and hereafter. That man, O Yudhishthira, is a cruel wretch, who, through vanity, does not, to the extent of his means, attend to the wishes of one who is poor and helpless, and who solicits assistance. 1 He is verily the foremost of men who shows favour unto even an helpless enemy fallen into distress when such enemy presents himself and prays for help. No man is equal to him (in merit) who satisfies the hunger of a person that is emaciated, possessed of learning, destitute of the means of support, and weakened by misery. One should always, O son of Kunti, dispel by every means in one's power, the distress of righteous persons observant of vows and acts, who, though destitute of sons and spouses and plunged into misery, do not yet solicit others for any kind of assistance. Those persons who do not utter blessings upon the deities and men (in expectation of gifts), who are deserving of reverence and always contented, and who subsist upon such alms as they get without solicitation of any kind, are regarded as veritable snakes of virulent poison. Do thou, O Bharata, always protect thyself from them by making gifts unto them. They are competent to make the foremost of Ritwikas. Thou art to find them out by means of thy spies and agents. 2 Thou shouldst honour those men by gifts of good houses equipped with every necessary article, with slaves and serving men, with good robes and vestments, O son of Kuru, and with all articles competent to contribute to one's pleasure and happiness. Righteous men of righteous deeds should make such gifts, impelled by the motive that it is their duty to act in that way and not from desire of reaping any rewards therefrom. Verily good men should act in this way so that the virtuous men described above might not, O Yudhishthira, feel any disinclination to accept those gifts sanctified by devotion and faith. There are persons bathed in learning and bathed in vows. Without depending upon anybody they obtain their means of subsistence. These Brahmanas of rigid vows are devoted to Vedic study and penances without proclaiming their practices to any one. Whatever gifts thus mayst make unto those persons of pure behaviour, of thorough mastery over their senses, and always contented with their own wedded spouses in the matter of desire, are sure to win for thee a merit that will accompany thee into all the worlds into which thou mayst go. One reaps the same merit by making gifts unto regenerate persons of
restrained souls which one wins by properly pouring libations unto the sacred fire morning and evening. Even this is the sacrifice spread out for thee,--a sacrifice that is sanctified by devotion and faith and that is endued with Dakshina. It is distinguished above all other sacrifices. Let that sacrifice ceaselessly flow from thee as thou givest away. 1 Performed in view of such men, O Yudhishthira, a sacrifice in which the water that is sprinkled for dedicating gifts constitutes the oblations in honour of the Pitris, and devotion and worship rendered unto such superior men, serves to free one of the debts one owes to the deities. 2 Those persons that do not yield to wrath and that never desire to take even a blade of grass belonging to others, as also they that are of agreeable speech, deserve to receive from us the most reverent worship. Such persons and others (because free from desire) never pay their regards to the giver. Nor do they strive for obtaining gifts. They should, however, be cherished by givers as they cherish their own sons. I bend my head unto them. From them also both Heaven and Hell may become one's. 3 Ritwiks and Purohitas and preceptors, when conversant with the Vedas and when behaving mildly towards disciples, become such. Without doubt, Kshatriya energy loses its force upon a Brahmana when it encounters him. Thinking that thou art a king, that thou art possessed of great power, and that thou hast affluence, do not, O Yudhishthira, enjoy thy affluence without giving anything unto the Brahmanas. Observing the duties of thy own order, do thou worship the Brahmanas with whatever wealth thou hast, O sinless one, for purposes of adornment or sustaining thy power. Let the Brahmanas live in whatever way they like. Thou shouldst always bend thy head unto them with reverence. Let them always rejoice in thee as thy children, living happily and according to their wishes. Who else than thou, O best of the Kurus, is competent to provide the means of subsistence for such Brahmanas as are endued with eternal contentment as are thy well-wishers, and as are gratified by only a little? As women have one eternal duty, in this world, viz., dependence upon and obedient service to their husbands, and as such duty constitutes their only end, even so is the service to Brahmanas Our eternal duty and end. If, at sight of cruelties and other sinful acts in Kshatriyas, the Brahmanas, O son, unhonoured by us, forsake us all, I say, of what use would life be to us, in the absence of all
contact with the Brahmanas, especially as we shall then have to drag on our existence without being able to study the Vedas to perform sacrifices, to hope for worlds of bliss hereafter, and to achieve great feats? I shall, in this connection, tell thee what the eternal usage is. In days of yore, O king, the Kshatriyas used to serve the Brahmanas. The Vaisya in a similar manner used in those days to worship the royal order, and the Sudra to worship the Vaisya. Even this is what is heard. The Brahmana was like a blazing fire. Without being able to touch him or approach his presence, the Sudra used to serve the Brahmana from a distance. It was only the Kshatriya and the Vaisya who could serve the Brahmana by touching his person or approaching his presence. The Brahmanas are endued with a mild disposition. They are truthful in behaviour. They are followers of the true religion. When angry, they are like snakes of virulent poison. Such being their nature, do thou, O Yudhishthira, serve and attend upon them with obedience and reverence. The Brahmanas are superior to even those that are higher than the high and the low. The energy and penances of even those Kshatriyas who blaze forth with energy and might, become powerless and neutralised when they come in contact with the Brahmanas. My sire himself is not dearer to me than the Brahmanas. My mother is not dearer to me than they. My grandsire, O king, is not dearer, my own self is not dearer, my life itself is not dearer, O king, to me than the Brahmanas! On earth there is nothing, O Yudhishthira, that is dearer to me than thou. But, O chief of Bharata's race, the Brahmanas are dearer to me than even thou. I tell thee truly, O son of Pandu! I swear by this truth, by which I hope to acquire all those regions of bliss that have been Santanu's. I behold those sacred regions with Brahma shining conspicuously before them. I shall repair thither, O son, and reside in them for unending days. Beholding these regions, O best of the Bharatas (with my spiritual eyes), I am filled with delight at the thought of all these acts which I have done in aid and honour of the Brahmanas, O monarch!'"