This chapter, and the following few sections go into a little bit of a philosophical discussion and deviate away from the extraordinary stories that were told before this.
Some of these discussions are surprising because of how different the text is from the common perception about the concept. For instance, this is the first time I’ve heard that deeds not birth determines what caste you are and that there is a whole section to it shows how important that concept was at the time.
Other things are laugh out loud funny; for instance in describing Kaliyuga it is said that “When the destruction of the yuga is near, women use their mouths as their vaginas.”
The recurring theme however is that dharma is subtle, and not only is following dharma difficult, it is also difficult to know what your true dharma is.
Now, to the content of this chapter.
Nahusha was the son of Ayu and Bhima’s ancestor, he was fifth in line in the lunar dynasty which starts from the moon. He was cursed by sage Agastya and hence became an ajagara (python).
However Agastya had mercy on him and gave him the boon that whomever was in his grip would lose his strength. He also gave him the boon that when someone answers all his questions correctly, he will get his previous form.
Nahusha coils around Bhima and is ready to devour him. Bhima is lamenting what his brothers and mother will do without his protection, and at the same time telling Nahusha that he shouldn’t be remorseful because he is about to eat his descendant as this is driven by destiny, and that is much more powerful than the will of beings.
At this time Yudhishthara appears there, and they have a conversation between themselves where each asks the other some questions.
The crux of this conversation is that karma, and not birth decides which varna or class a person should belong to. Yudhishthara says all men are born equal, and it is their conduct that determines whether they are a shudra or a brahmin, in short conduct is much more important than birth and lineage.
But there are other questions as well, and Yudhishthara asks Nahusha what are the supreme deeds that one does to go to heaven?
Nahusha tells him that the deeds of charity, truthfulness and non violence, are the supreme deeds, and Yudhishthara asks him which of these deeds are ranked higher than the others?
To this Nahusha replies that it depends on the effect of the action, and no single action is better than the other. Further he tells him that there can be three outcomes of a life — attaining heaven, rebirth as human, or rebirth as an inferior species.
He tells Yudhishthara that doing good deeds leads you to heaven whereas getting addicted to desire and anger, being overcome by violence and avarice leads you to rebirth as an inferior species. Further, he tells him that even inferior species can be reborn as human or attain divine status.
There is also a discussion on the difference between mind, intelligence and soul, but it is a difficult passage, and I wasn’t able to understand most of it.