The following story is a part of Shanti Parva Chapter of Mahabharata translated by U. Mahesh Prabhu
Wisdom is the highest of acquisitions as well as highest contentment in this world. It’s indeed very heaven for those who are good and virtuous. It’s through wisdom that great men acquire perpetual happiness. There can seldom be anything superior to wisdom.
Once upon a time a prosperous businessman, in the brink of prosperity, proud of his affluence, threw down, by negligently driving his cart, a son of a sage teacher devoted to penances. Prostrated on the ground, the young man – named Kashyapa – in exceeding pain, gave way to his wrath; and under the influence of despair resolved, saying, “I shall cast of my life. A poor man has no need of life in this world.” While the lad was lying in the state, silence and agitated, deprived of energy and at that point of death, a jackal of magical power approached and began addressing him thus
“All (inferior) creatures covets birth in the human race. Among men again, the status of Brahman is much desired. You, O Kashyapa, are a human being. Among humans you are an intellectual. Having obtained that which is attainable with great difficulty, it does not behove you to give up life in haste. All kinds of worldly acquisitions are fraught with pride. The declaration of the wise texts in that respect is perfectly true. You look at the picture of contentment. In forming such a resolve (which is so derogatory of your own self) about casting off your life, you act from stupidity. They are crowned with success who have hands. We animals seek hands as much as you seek riches. There is no acquisition which is more valuable than acquisition of hands.
“Behold, O man of wisdom, I cannot extract these thorns that have entered my body, or crush these insects and worms which are biting and afflicting me greatly! They who have bestowed upon them two hands with ten fingers, succeed in throwing away or crushing the worms (by scratching) which bite their limbs. They succeed in constructing shelters for themselves from rains, cold and heat. They succeed also in enjoying excellent clothes for themselves, good food comfortable beds and excellent habitations. Lying on this Earth, they who have hands make animals to carry their burdens or drag their vehicles, and by the aid of diverse means bring those animals under sway for their own purposes.
“Those living creatures who are without tongues, who are helpless, of little strength, and destitute of hands, bear all the several kinds of misery indicated above. By good luck you are not like them. By good luck, you are not a jackal, nor a worm, nor a mouse, nor a frog, nor an animal of any other miserable order. With this measure of gain; you should be contended. How happy, again, you should feel at the thought that among living creatures you are a superior person!
“These worms are biting me! For want of hands I am unable to drive them off. Behold this my miserable plight! I do not cast off life because to do so is a very cowardly act, and lest, indeed, I fall into a more miserable order of existence! This order of existence, viz. that of a jackal, to which I now belong is rather tolerable. Miserable as it is, there are many orders of existence below it that are more miserable still. By birth certain classes of creatures become happier that others who become subject to great woe. But I never see that there is any order of being which can be said to be in the possession of perfect happiness. Human beings who’ve obtained affluence, next wish for sovereignty.
“Having achieved sovereignty their next wish is for the status of gods. Having won that status, they then wish for the chiefdom of the celestials. If you become affluent, you will never succeed in becoming a king for you are a Brahmin by birth, nor in becoming a god. If by any means you become god, you will then covet for the chiefdom of gods. In no condition will you be contended.
“Contentment does not result from acquisition of desirable objects. Thirst is never quenched although there is profusion of water. The thirst for acquisition only blazes up with each fresh acquisition like fire with new faggots thrown into it. In you there is grief. But joy also dwell in you. Both happiness and misery dwell in you. Why then should you yield to grief?
“One should shut up, like birds in cage, the very springs, viz., the understanding and the senses, of all one’s desires and acts. There can be no cutting of a second head, nor of a third hand. That which does not exist can produce no fear. One that is not acquainted with the enjoyment a certain object affords, never feels a desire for that object.
“Desires arise from the actual experience of the pleasures that touch, or sight, or hearing gives. You have no idea of the taste of the wine called Varuni or of the meat of the birds called Ladwaka. There is no drink and no food more delicious than these. You have no idea, O Kasyapa, of every other superior kind of drink and food that exist among men, for you have never tasted it. Without doubt, therefore, not to taste, not to see, should be the vow of a man if he is to win happiness. Creatures that have hands, without doubt, become strong and earn wealth.
“Men are reduced by men to a state of servitude, and are repeatedly afflicted at the hands of their own species with death, imprisonment and other tortures. Although such their condition, yet even they without yielding to grief laugh and sport and indulge in merriment. Others again, though endued with might of arms, possessed of knowledge and great energy of mind, follow censurable and miserable professions. They seek to change such professions for other pursuits but then they are bound by their own acts and by the force of Destiny.
“Rise and practice virtue. It is not meet that you should throw away life! If, you listen to me and place credence on my words, you will then obtain the highest reward. Never compare yourself boastfully with another.