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Suffering - Untimely Early Death Is The Result Of Karma – Story From Mahabharata

Early untimely death like that of children or youngsters and suffering on earth is the result of Karma. In this regard a story was narrated by Bhishma to Yudhisthira in the Mahabharata. 

There was an old lady by name Goutami, who had great patience and tranquility of mind. One day she found her only son dead of snake bite.

A fowler, by name Arjunaka, bound the serpent with a string and brought it before her and said: This wretched serpent has been the cause of your son’s death and so it does not deserve to live. Tell me how this wretch should be destroyed.

Goutami: O Arjunaka, please release the serpent. It does not deserve death at your hands. By killing the serpent, the boy will not be restored to life; and who would take upon himself the sin for slaying this living creature.



The fowler – O, virtuous lady, you speak like a realized soul and not as one plunged in sorrow. Those who want to buy cheap peace of mind, assign everything to the course of Time as the cause, but practical men soon assuage their grief by revenge. Some people through delusion, desist from such revenge fearing loss of punya in the next world. O lady be practical assuage your grief by getting rid of this enemy of man.

Goutami: People like us are never afflicted by such misfortune. The death of the boy was predestined; therefore I cannot approve of the destruction of the serpent. People with wisdom do not harbor revenge or resentment, because resentment leads to pain. So, o good man do please forgive and release this serpent, out of compassion.

The fowler – Merit is acquired, I have heard, by killing an enemy. By killing this despicable creature you shall achieve great merit hereafter.

Goutami: An enemy in your hands is at your mercy. Why not be little magnanimous and forgive it and thus earn merit by releasing it.

The fowler – By killing Vritra, Indra secured the best portion of sacrificial offerings, and by destroying a sacrifice Mahadeva secured his share of offerings: so you also dispose of this serpent immediately without any misgivings in your mind.

The noble Goutami though repeatedly egged on by the fowler to the destruction of the serpent did not approve of the sinful act. The serpent bound with the cord, sighing a little and maintaining its composure then said these words:

The Serpent – O foolish fowler, you little think that I have no will of my own and am not independent. Mrityu (death) sent me on this errand. By his direction, I have bitten the child and not out of any anger or choice on my part. Therefore Mrityu is responsible for this and if there is any sin in it, it is his.

The fowler: How can that absolve you from the sin of the act. As an instrument you must share the sin. In the making of an earthen vessel the potter’s wheel, the rod and all other things are regarded as causes.  You are one of the causes and so you are guilty and deserve death.

The serpent: The potter’s wheel, rod and other things are causes no doubt; but not independent causes. All these factors working together produce the effect. So if you think that there is any sin it must be shared by the aggregate of causes.

The fowler: Anyway, you have acted as the immediate cause, and – so you deserve death.

The Serpent: But you forget that I would not have acted at all, without the instigation of another, Mrityu.

At this stage, Mrityu appeared on the scene and addressed the serpent thus:

Mrityu: Commanded by Kala (time) I, sent you on this errand, and neither you nor I am the cause of this boy’s death. Even as the clouds are tossed to and fro by the wind I am directed by Kala. All creatures, mobile and immobile, in heaven and on earth are moved by the power of Kala. The whole universe is under His sway. All sections and abstentions are said to be influenced by Him. Surya, Soma, Vishnu, water, wind, the deity of a hundred sacrifices, fire, earth, Mitra and Parjanya, rivers and oceans are all created and destroyed by Kala. Knowing this how do you blame me?

The Serpent: I do not, O Mrityu, blame you or absolve you from all blame. I only aver that I have done the act influence by you. Whether any blame attaches to Kala or not, it is not my business to consider. Even as I am interested in saving myself from blame, I am interested in you also.

Now the serpent turned to the fowler and said: You have listened to Mrityu. It is not proper that you must torment me like this.

The Fowler: Indeed, I have listened to Mrityu and I come to conclusion that both of you are the cause and deserve punishment.

Then Kala (Time) made His appearance and said.

Kala: Neither Mrityu, nor this serpent, nor I am guilty of the death of any creature. We happen to be the immediate causes of the event. O Arjunaka, the karma of this child was the root cause which pushed us on to action in this matter. There was no other cause for the child’s death: It died as a result of its own karma in the past. As for that matter, we are all subject to the influence of our respective karmas. Karma is an aid to salvation and karma also denotes virtue and vice in man. As men make from a lump of clay whatever they wish to make, even so do men attain to various results dictated by karma. Therefore, neither you, nor I, nor Mrityu, nor the serpent, nor this old wise lady is the cause of this child’s death. He himself is the cause here.

Upon this Goutami became convinced that men suffer according to their actions. She addressed the fowler thus:

Goutami: Neither Kala, nor Mrityu, nor the serpent is the cause of my child’s death. This child has met with its end as a result of its own karma. I may have also contributed to its effect. So, O fowler, please release the serpent soon.

Then Kala, Mrityu and the serpent dispersed and Goutami became consoled in mind as also the fowler.

Men suffer on earth or meet with untimely early death as a result of their own karma.




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