"Yudhishthira said, 'Which amongst these three is superior, viz., knowledge, penances, and gifts? I ask thee, O foremost of righteous persons! Do tell me this, O grandsire!'
"Bhishma said, 'In this connection is cited the old narrative of the conversation between Maitreya and the Island-born Krishna. Once on a time, the Island-born Krishna, O king, while wandering over the world in disguise, proceeded to Baranasi and waited upon Maitreya who belonged by birth to a race of Munis 1. Seeing Vyasa arrive, that foremost of Rishis, viz., Maitreya, gave him a seat and after worshipping him with due rites, fed him with excellent food. Having eaten that good food which was very wholesome and which produced every kind of gratification, the high-souled Krishna became exceedingly delighted and as he sat there, he even laughed aloud. Seeing Krishna laugh, Maitreya addressed him, saying, 'Tell me, O righteous-souled one, what the reason is of thy laughter! Thou art an ascetic, endued with capacity to control thy emotions. Great joy, it seems, has come over thee! Saluting thee, and worshipping thee with bent head, I ask thee this, viz., what the puissance is of my penances and what the high blessedness is that is thine! The acts I do are different from those which thou doest. Thou art already emancipated though still owning life-breaths. I, however, am not yet freed. For all that I think that there is not much difference between thee and me. I am again, distinguished by birth.' 2
"Vyasa said, 'This wonder that has filled me hath arisen from an ordinance that looks like a hyperbole, and from its paradoxical statement
for the comprehension of the people. The declaration of the Vedas seems to be untrue. But why should the Vedas say an untruth? It has been said that there are three tracks which constitute the best vows of a man One should never injure; one should always tell the truth; and one should make gifts. The Rishis of old announced this, following the declarations of the Vedas. These injunctions were heard in days of old,--they should certainly be followed by us even in our times. Even a small gift, made under the circumstances laid down, produces great fruits 2. Unto a thirsty man thou hast given a little water with a sincere heart. Thyself thirsty and hungry, thou hast, by giving me such food, conquered many high regions of felicity, O puissant one, as, one does by many sacrifices. I am exceedingly delighted with thy very sacred gift, as also with thy penances. Thy puissance is that of Righteousness: Thy appearance is that of Righteousness. The fragrance of Righteousness is about thee. I think that all thy acts are performed agreeably to the ordinance, O son, superior to ablutions in sacred waters superior to the accomplishment of all Vedic vows, is gift. Indeed, O Brahmana, gift is more auspicious than all sacred acts. If it be not more meritorious than all sacred acts, there can be no question about its superiority. All those rites laid down in the Vedas which thou applaudest do not come up to gift, for gift without doubt, is as I hold, fraught with very superior merit. The track that has been made by those men who make gifts is the track that is trodden by the wise. They who make gifts are regarded as givers of even the life-breaths. The duties that constitute Righteousness are established in them. As the Vedas when well-studied, as the restraining of the senses, as a life of universal Renunciation, even so is gift which is fraught with very superior merit. Thou, O son, wilt rise from joy to greater joy in consequence of thy having betaken thyself to the duty of making gifts The man of intelligence (who practises this duty) certainly rises from joy to greater joy. We have without doubt, met with many direct instances of this. Men endued with prosperity succeed in acquiring wealth, making gifts, performing sacrifices, and earning happiness as the result thereof. It is always observed, O thou of great wisdom, to happen naturally that happiness is followed by misery and misery is followed by happiness. 1 Men of wisdom nave said that human beings in this world have three kinds of conduct. Some are righteous, some are sinful: and some are neither righteous nor sinful.
[paragraph continues] The conduct of the person who is devoted to Brahma is not regarded either way. His sins are never regarded as sins. So also the man who is devoted to the duties laid down for him is regarded as neither righteous nor sinful (for the observance of those duties). Those men that are devoted to sacrifices, gifts, and penances, are regarded as righteous. These, however, that injure other creatures and are unfriendly to them, are regarded as sinful. There are some men who appropriate what belongs to others. These certainly fall into Hell and meet with misery. All other acts that men do are indifferent, being regarded as neither righteous nor sinful. Do thou sport and grow and rejoice and make gifts and perform sacrifices. Neither men of knowledge nor those endued with penances will then be able to get the better of thee!'"