What is the great about the path of Dharma?
The whole episode of Yaksha Prashnam is the conversation between Dharma Devata and Dharma Putra. Right from the first scene when Yudhishthira arrived, there was a voice, which then transformed into a talking stork and then the stork took the form of a devil and on the last day the devil took its original form of Dharma Devata, the God of Death; the Lord of Dharma. All through the seven days of questions and answers between Dharma Putra and Dharma Devata, Yudhishthira was certain that the earlier forms that Dharma Devata had taken, were not the original forms of the Dharma Devata. What was the need for Dharma Devata to have taken so many forms? How did Yudhishthira conclude on day one, that the forms were all spurious and fake? Through this Yaksha Prashnam story, the Scripture is trying to communicate that since Yudhishthira always walked on the path of Dharma, Truth can never be hidden. No lie can outclass the worshipper of Truth. Even if a Devata who is all-powerful, who is capable of hiding the truth in almost all circumstances, shall stand exposed, even in front of an ordinary soul who is simply walking on the path of Dharma, without any ulterior motive. This is the power of Dharma. It is always possible that when a Devata comes, even the common man may portray himself as a good man with good qualities. In front of poor or ordinary people, there is no necessity for a person to exhibit his goodness or Dharma, he can change himself according to people and situations. However a man of Dharma does not distinguish between a common man, a bird, a lowly creature or a man of high position. He walks on the path of Dharma always, at all times, irrespective of people and circumstance.
Dharma Devata waits for the perfect candidate
The introduction of King Yudhishthira to the stork bird, is thus an example set for the common man of Kaliyuga. When we respect and give precedence to the representative of the Lord, his devotees, only then shall we be eligible to walk on Dharma. This is a pre-condition to be on the path of Dharma. Now the question arises why Dharma Devata took the shape of a stork that usually waits for the right fish standing on only one foot? It is to reflect the position of the Dharma Devata who is eager to know, who among the five brothers is the most appropriate to answer his questions. It represents the position of focus and concentration on the part of Dharma Devata, his position is also like a stork waiting for the right candidate. The event of the Yaksha Prashnam is very suitable to bring interested beings onto the path of Sadhana.
When do Brahmanas attain position of Devatas?
This was one of the questions that the Yaksha raised to Yudhishthira. The context and intention of the question has to be rightly understood. The intention of the question is not to know when a Brahmana will ascend to the heavens. It is to know the conditions that will elevate the Brahmana to the purely Sattvik platform, unsullied by the modes of Nature belonging to the Rajas and Tamas platforms. To this Yudhishthira replies that a Brahmana shall elevate himself to the Sattvik platform only after he studies the teachings of the Vedas, that is, only if he does Swadhyay (स्वाध्याय). Swadhyay means to study and assimilate the teachings of the Vedic scriptures. This answer is only applicable to the Brahmanas who have been born as Brahmins and whose forefathers have been following the Dharma principles pertaining to what the Vedas have delineated for them. In the Taittiriya Upanishad says “Swadhyay pravachanadi yogam” (स्वाध्याय प्रवचनादि योगम) that is a Brahmana has to study and understand the Vedic teachings from the mouth of a teacher who has grasped the import of the Vedic teachings.
The Three Rishis of the Upanishads
There is a story in the scriptures about three Rishis. One sage is named Rathitar (राथितर). Second one is called Paurushishthi (पौरुशिष्ठी) Maudgalya (मौदगल्य). Each sage had his own opinion about what is Dharma and what is not and had their own arguments to support it. Sage Rathitar had this view that Truth was above all. Other than Truth there is no principle. This was his argument. Sage Paurushishthi believed that tapas (तपस austerities) was the topmost principle enunciated by the Vedas and hence it is all-important. Maudgalya was of the view that unless one did Swadhyay, there was no possibility of Satya (Truth) and Tapas (Austerity) to emerge. Hence Swadhyay is the topmost principle of all.
What is the importance of taking up Vedic studies for a Brahmana?
The word Brahmana comes from the root Brahman. A Brahmana can know about Brahman only if one absorbs the Vedic teachings. Without Brahma Jnana there can be no Brahmana. It is said in the Vedas that the time period between 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM is most suitable for Swadhyay. There are various time-periods within the day dedicated to various processes. The time-periods are Abhigamanam (अभिगमनम), Upadanam (उपादानम), Ijyar (इज़्यार), Swadhyay (स्वाध्याय) and Yogam (योगम). These are called Pancha Kala Parayana (पंच काल पारायण). There are different Anushtanam (अनुष्ठान Vedic processes) done during these five periods. In Abhigamanam one has to think of God and prepare oneself to direct oneself to the service of God. In Upadanam, one needs to make preparations using suitable materials for worship. In Ijyar, one actually worships the Lord with materials, praises and verses that glorify Him. In Swadhyay, the Brahmana has to study the Vedic Scriptures for oneself and encourage others to take up Vedic studies. In Yogam, one needs to keep oneself one-pointed on the Lord and then with that consciousness go to bed. It is to be understood that, for a Brahmana, the Vedic teachings are the real wealth. Is it possible to survive without wealth? The Vedas proclaim that if the Brahmana has to see the end of problems, then he has to take up some form of study of the Shastra (Vedic teachings). The small and large problems that arise in the life of a common man is because he has lost touch with Vedic life. Even a little revival of the Vedic lifestyle shall fix most of his life-related problems. This is the guarantee of the Vedas.
What is Dharma for Brahmanas?
This was one of the questions that the Yaksha raised to Yudhishthira. The context of the question is related to the previous question. In the previous question, it was about knowledge, the path of knowing. This question is related to the path of Action. To this Yudhishthira replied “It is Tapas, Austerities alone”. Through Swadhyay one makes room for knowledge. Unless one contemplates and remembers these teachings through deliberation, that knowledge shall not sink into one’s consciousness. In the Bhagavad Gita Lord Krishna says one type of Tapas is attained through Dravya Yajna (द्रव्य यज्ञा), creating an altar where a sacrificial fire is lit and offering suitable materials to it, by incantation of Vedic mantras. The next one is Tapo Yajna (तपो-यज्ञा) which means performing austerities such as fasting and observing Vrata (व्रत) on certain days, eating only certain types of food as recommended by the Shastra as per the Vrata. Then there is Yoga Yajna (योग-यज्ञा) which means undertaking pilgrimages, visiting places of spiritual importance from time to time. Lord Krishna says in connection with Swadhyay that there are two Yajna namely Swadhyay Yajna (स्वाध्याय यज्ञा) and Jnana Yajna (ज्ञान यज्ञा). In Swadhyay Yajna one studies Vedic Scriptures and in Jnana Yajna one contemplates or deliberates on the teachings of the Vedic injunctions. When one recites mantras or the names of the Lord, the Vedic teachings promise that one who pronounces the Vedic mantras only, even without realizing its meaning, one is assured a place in the heavens. Understanding the meaning of the mantras is itself covered in Jnana Yajna. The beauty of recitation and highest grace lies in knowing the meaning of the Vedic mantras and then reciting them.