This is one of the simpler stories in Mahabharata with a seemingly simple message at first, but then the slight twist at the end makes you ponder about the deep significance of detachment, almost like a stepping stone to attaining moksha (nirvana). As a side note, this is the last story from the third volume, and I am happy to have finished the third volume well within March, and I feel optimistic that I will be able to read all ten volumes by the end of the year.
There are several stories between this one and my last one that I have skipped because they are more commonly known.
The two main ones are Jayadratha abducting Draupadi and after the Pandavas free Draupadi, a brief summary of Ramayana is told to Yudhisthara because he is lamenting the grief caused to Draupadi due to him.
The second one is of Karna giving Indra his celestial armor in return for an invincible spear. The story of Karna’s birth is told here as well.
Then there are two minor ones – one of Draupadi telling Krishna’s wife how to be a good wife, and a very small strange one where the king of deers come to Yudhishthara in his dream, and begs him to move to another forest because the deer population is dwindling due to their hunting. I found it a bit out of place, and maybe this had some factual significance where the Pandavas did have to move between forests because hunting became harder.
And, now to the main story of this post.
Yudhisthara is having sleepless nights because he has caused great misery to his brothers and Draupadi by losing at dice, and he is tormented by that.
The sage Vyasa visits him, and tells him not to worry because no one can experience continuous happiness in his life, a wise man knows that fortune rises and sets, and he does not rejoice or sorrow at this. He enjoys happiness, and endures unhappiness just as a man who ploughs and waits for the rain.
Vyasa tells Yudhishthara that since he follows dharma and austerities, truthfulness, charity, non violence etc. he will soon be out of this unhappiness and reinstated in his kingdom.
Yudhisthara asks Vyasa which is superior – austerity or charity?
Vyasa says that people go through great difficulties to obtain riches, and it is difficult to part with something that has been obtained with great difficulty, therefore charity is superior to austerity.
He tells him that if riches are obtained rightly, then giving even a small amount at the right time to the right person accrues a lot of merit. He then proceeds to tell him the story of Mudgala.
Mudgala used to collect the leftover rice (vrihi) in the market, and used that drona (small measure) of rice (vrihi) to feed his wife, son and himself. In addition to this he fed guests, and gods in his house. He ate for a fortnight, and lived like a pigeon the next fortnight, collecting one drona of vrihi.
At the new moon, Indra along with other gods came to partake their share, and he fed them and all other guests without any envy. Due to his great charity and way of life, whenever he fed one guest, the share increased so that he could feed another one, and he fed a lot of brahamanas this way.
One day the sage Durvasa assumed the form of a naked, disheveled lunatic and came to Mudgala and asked him for food. Mudgala gave him all the food he had carefully collected, and Durvasa ate all of that and smeared the leftovers on his body, and left. This did not anger Mudgala who went out to collect more food, to feed himself and the others.
Durvasa did this on six full moons, and Mudgala didn’t get angry with the lunatic, but performed his dharma of feeding the lunatic without envy or complaints.
The sage Durvasa was extremely happy at this and told Mudgala that he had done an extremely difficult thing, and that he will go to heaven in his body.
At this, a celestial chariot appeared yoked to swans and and cranes, and the messenger of the chariot told Mudgala that he has come to Mudgala to take him to heaven.
Mudgala surprised the messenger by asking him to tell Mudgala about the divine happiness of heaven and of its shortcomings as well. The messenger said that only the very few who have followed dharma can attain heaven, and in heaven there is no hunger, thirst, fatigue, cold, heat or fear. Everything is fragrant, and pleasing to the touch, there is no disease, dirt, sorrow or old age.
He recounted other qualities, and then thought to himself and said that in heaven one must enjoy the fruits right up to the roots, and one can’t perform any other deeds. He said that it was a blemish because there is a fall at the end of it. The fall must be very hard to endure by people who have been enjoying this blissful place, and that must cause great agitation. Here he tells him that after the good deeds are over, the resident of the heaven must be born as a human, this is not true for all people and some people do deeds and live beyond heaven up to the abode of Brahma but for others they must fall down to be born as human, and perform deeds, and it is said that this is the world of deeds, and the next one of fruits.
When Mudgala had heard all this, he told the messenger that he must decline entry into heaven because of the taints associated with it, and Mudgala continued living on earth collecting rice, and living a life of supreme serenity. He looked on blame and praise equally, a brick, a stone and a piece of gold were the same to him, and through the yoga of meditation he attained supreme wisdom.
Vyasa told Yudhishthara to discard the fever from his mind and know that happiness follows unhappiness and unhappiness follows happiness around a man in circles like the rim of a wheel. He told him that he will be reinstated to the kingdom of his forefathers and that he should not worry about this.