Chapter 66 — The Two Hermits Wander & Meet in Old Age

Vasishta continued:—

The two sorrowful hermits continued observing their rigorous austerities until their bodies became emaciated like two withered trees in the forest. They passed their time in the solitary forest with cool apathy in their minds. They were as helpless as a stray, separated male deer. They wandered separately far away from their home and possessions. They passed their days and nights, then months and years in this manner, until both were worn out by age, like two withered trees in a valley. Not attaining true knowledge, their austerities served only to shatter their frames and reduce their strength. Finally at last they happened to meet one another, and took to their conversation in the following manner.

Vilasa said, “O Bhasa, who is the best fruit of the tree of my life, who has his seat in the recess of my heart and is a sea of ambrosia to me, I welcome you, O my best friend in this world. Tell me my good friend, after you separated from me, how and where have you passed such long a time? Have your austerities been successful and rewarded with their fruit? Tell me whether your mind is free from anxieties and whether you are in possession of your self. Say, have you obtained the reward of your learning and after all, have you gotten your peace and quiet?”

Being addressed and asked in this way by Vilasa, whose mind was troubled with the vexations of this world, Bhasa, who had attained complete knowledge, replied to him as respectfully as a friend does to his dearest friend.

Bhasa replied:—

O good friend! You are fortunately and happily met here this day. But how can we expect to have our peace and rest as long as we have to remain in this world of strife and valley of misery? 10 How can I have my rest while turbulent passions are not subdued in my breast, until I know the knowable, and until I can get across this sea of the world? 11 How can we have our quiet while our desires and hopes and fears continue to infest our minds, and until we can weed them out like thorns and brambles with the spade of our reason? 12 Until we gain true knowledge and have even minds, and until we have a full knowledge of things, we can have no rest. 13 Without knowledge of the soul and acquisition of true knowledge, which is the greatest remedy against all diseases of the mind, it is impossible to escape from the pestilence of the world.

14 The poisonous plant of worldliness sprouts forth in our childhood. It shoots out in leaves in our youth, flowers in our old age, and never bears fruit before our death. 15 The body decays like a withered tree and our relatives flutter over it like bees. Old age overtakes us with blossoming grey hairs and produces the fruit of death. 16 We have to reap the bitter fruits of our actions of bygone times. They are laid up in store and bear fruit in their seasons. Thus years upon years glide upon us in the same monotonous rotation of business and in the sad course of thought of our minds. 17 The tall body, rising like a thief on the ground, has all its inner cells and cavities filled with the thorns of our cravings. It is the abode of the serpentine retinue of our actions, emitting the poison of continuous sorrow in our repeated reincarnations in new bodies.

18 See how our days and nights roll on in their circuit of continued misery and misfortune, misconstrued by men for transient joy and good fortune. 19 See how our lives are spent in useless pursuits after objects of our vain wishes, and how we misspend our time with trifles that are of no good to us.

20 The furious elephant of the ungoverned mind breaks loose from its chains of good sense, then joining with the elephants of wild desire, ranges at large without rest or sleep. 21 The bawling tongue screams like a vulture in the hollow of the tree of the human body, fostering itself by feeding on the gems of thought lying hidden inside.

22 The slackened limbs of the old and withered body drop down like dry tree leaves. There is nothing to prop up the drooping spirit from its decay and decline day by day. 23 The brightness of the body flies away in old age, and the mind dejected at others’ disregard becomes as pale and withered as a lotus flower fading away under frost. 24 As the channel of the body dries up in old age and the water of youth is drained out of it, so the swan of life flies far away and there is nothing to retard its flight. 25 The old, time worn tree of the aged body is overpowered by the force of the blasts of time, blowing its leaves and flowers below, then burying them in the ground.

26 The serpent of desire lying dormant in the heart is content, like a croaking frog, to hold its complaints in the mouth. The mind, like a monster, hides itself in a pool of dark despondence. 27 Our desires with their various wishes are like the multicolored flags of a temple, furling and fluttering in all directions until they are hurled down by the hurricane of old age. 28 The world is a long linked chain lying in the depth of eternity in which the rat of death is always busy gnawing the knot of life at the root.

29 The stream of life glides muddily on with the foam and froth of cares and anxieties. There are whirlpools of repeated reincarnations and waves of youthful frivolities that are as noisy as they are dangerous. 30 The stream of our actions on earth flows on interminably with the waves of our worldly duties and the various arts of life all leading to the abyss of destruction. 31 The current of our friends and relations and the concourse of people glide on constantly to the deep and boundless ocean of eternity from whose boundary nobody ever returns to life.

32 The body is a valuable instrument for the discharge of our worldly duties, but it is soon lost under the mud of this ocean of the world. Nobody knows where it is buried in its repeated births. 33 The mind is bound to the wheel of its anxieties and put to the rack for its deceptions. It turns about constantly like a piece of straw in the whirling currents of this ocean of the world. 34 The mind dances and floats over waves of endless duties of life. It does not have even a moment’s respite from its thoughts, but continues to oscillate with the action of the body, rising and falling according to the course of events. 35 The mind, like a bewildered bird, flutters between various thoughts of what it has done, what it is doing, and what it is about to do. Thus it is caught in the trap of its own fancies for evermore.

36 The thoughts that “this one is my friend” and “the other one is my foe” are our greatest enemies in this world. These tear my heart strings like the rough wind that tears tender lotus leaves and fibers. 37 The mind is overwhelmed in the whirlpool of its cares. Sometimes it is hurled down to the bottom, and at others floating and loosened from it like a living fish caught by angling hook. 38 The mistaken belief that the external body is the internal self is the cause of all our grief here. Taking others as our own is equally for our misery.

39 All mankind placed between their happiness and sorrow in life are swept away to age and death, just as the leaves of trees growing on high hills are scattered by the high winds of heaven.