Kim Aashcharyam? (What is the most amazing thing?)

By Anil Kala

 

There is a celebrated episode in Mahabharata known as ‘Yaksh Prasn’ (Yaksh’s Queries) which culminates in this question:

 

Kim aashcharyam? (What is the most amazing thing?)

 

Yudhishthir answers that despite knowing the inevitability of death our incessant desire for immortality is the most amazing thing.

 

The answer seemed very impressive to me until one day I thought this is really silly. I realized that things said in a dramatic manner often escape critical scrutiny. For example, that our desire to live at every cost is the most natural thing and the crux of our existence; without it life will not last another day. Didn’t Buddha say, ‘Being born is cause of all our miseries’?  Therefore if there is no compelling desire to live why would anyone want to live? What seemed amazing though was the conduct of Yaksh Himself. This entity claiming to be a God, cursed to spend time as a Yaksh until he found answers to some questions, goes about killing people merely because they are too thirsty or do not know the answers to His questions!

 

Then what is the most amazing thing?

 

My own answer takes into consideration two key features of human nature: deal-making and self-preservation and if you make a projection on these, you get the most amazing thing—the idea of God!

 

It appears to me that once humans began making use of tools they became quite capable of dealing with their primary adversaries, i.e., higher order carnivores. But what really vexed them were the sudden and inexplicable natural occurrences such as floods and lightening, etc., that killed them. The deduction must have been quite simple: the ‘force’ wants life for consumption like the carnivores. So they made deals with the force. The Hindu ritual of Yagn appears to me a good example to explain this. The central object of a Yagn is sacrifice.

 

Initially the tribal chief or his counselor arrived at this simple conclusion that this ‘force’ wants life to consume so they make a deal and offer life on their own. If it didn’t work the counselor told the chief that the ‘force’ might not have seen the sacrifice so they lit fire and made noise to make the ‘force’ aware of the sacrifice. Sometimes it worked and that confirmed their belief in the exchange.  When it didn’t work the exchange was considered insufficient so the sacrifice was raised from lower order animal to higher order and eventually to human sacrifice.

 

It is paradoxical that the more we evolve and the more analytical and argumentative we become, the idea of God gets entrenched deeper into our psyche despite any shred of evidence, direct or oblique, to suggest interference from heaven in any way in our existence.

 

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6 Responses to “Kim Aashcharyam? (What is the most amazing thing?)”

  1. Aakar Says:

    Original.
    We are led to think of the fire sacrifice as based on consumption; that something material is sought. In exchange for it something is sacrificed, as votive or even actually. You say that it could be located in the fear of something to be avoided, death or disease. I don’t see why what you hold may not be equally true.
    How do you think the faith turned transactive later (as it is now) for material things?

  2. Sohail Kizilbash Says:

    If I remember correctly, Yudhistera did not say “that despite knowing the inevitability of death our incessant desire for immortality is the most amazing thing”. He said something like this that inspite of seeing so many deaths one does not think that this will ever happen to him. This to me is different and makes sense. However, I don’t know Sanskrit and I read the English translation many years ago. So I may be wrong.

  3. Anil Kala Says:

    Aakar

    I don’t know. But it might have begun ‘transactive’ as you say since the place where it originated was a desert, not many carnivores to draw a parallel. It could also be possible that in course of time error rates were found to be too high to explain its utility but priest were unlikely to let go a profitable ritual easily so they came up with revised objective. I am simply speculating.

  4. Anil Kala Says:

    Sohail,

    There are different versions available and last I read it probably was some twenty years back. What you read makes a lot more sense though and a google search also matches version you read

    http://www.celextel.org/stotrasother/yakshaprasna.html

    see Q 119

    But the idea of god still seems bigger surprise to me than any other.

  5. saumitra dwivedi Says:

    Well, Frankly speaking even the desire to live is one of the most natural as well as one of the most amazing things as well. Don’t we all know that we have to die one day even then we keep a desire to live. What u have written was not actually what yudshitir said..instead he said that inspite of seeing so many deaths human desire to live (generally forever) is what is most amazing. Moreover, the yaksh question was subjective to yudishtir’s choice. One more thing is that it was not neccesarily said in a dramatic manner rather when it was adapted to serials and movies it was dramatized. So don’t guess yudishtir words spoken as in the serials.
    As per me too the idea of god, the time limit and boundary limit of both god and universe are bigger suprises which hopefully can never be answered.

    • Anil Kala Says:

      I think more than desire to live it is our fear of dying that keeps us alive. Death is not only irreversible but also drift into unknown. We generally like status quo no matter how bad the situation is but we are coping with it.

      Time limit and boundary limit of universe are not understood because of our inability to visualize them in any other form than linear. Both time and space are warped by gravity. Think of it this way….. If you can see far enough in empty space, what you will see is the back of your head. Just as there is no end in a loop, similarly there is no boundary of universe.

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