If there’s something that I read and reread in The Hindu Epic Mahabharata, then it’s Vyadha Gita ( The Holy Butcher’s Gita / The Holy Song of the Butcher) / Hindi : व्याधगीता.
The Vyadha Gita (Meaning, Spiritual Teachings of a Butcher) is a part of the Hindu Epic Mahabharata and consists of the spiritual teachings imparted by a Vyadha (Butcher) to a Brahmin Sannyasin (Hindu Monk of the Highest Order). The sacred story occurs in the Vana Parva section of Mahabharata and is told to the Pandava Prince Yudhisthira, by the enlighened Sage Markandeya.
In the story, an arrogant Sannyasin is completely humbled by a Vyadha (Butcher), and learns about all the secrets of Spirituality & Dharma (righteousness) from the menial butcher. The Vyadha teaches the Monk that ‘no duty is ever ugly, no duty is ever impure’, and it is only the way & the spirit in which the work is done, determines its worth. Lord Krishna even mentions about this Butcher in Shrimad Bhagavata Purana as someone who attained Perfection / Emancipation / Realisation by Satsanga ( The Holy Company of Sages ).
The story has only three characters – a Brahmin Sannyasin, a housewife and a Vyadha (butcher). The story begins with a young Sannyasin going to a forest, where he meditates and practices spiritual austerities for a long time. After years of practice, one day while sitting under a tree, dry leaves fall on his head because of a fight between a crow and a crane. The angry Sannyasin had developed Yogic powers and burnt the birds with his mere look. This incident fills the Sannyasin with arrogance about his Yogic power.
Shortly thereafter he goes to a house begging for food. Here the housewife who was nursing her sick husband requests the Sannyasin to wait. To this, the Sannyasin thinks, “You wretched woman, how dare you make me wait! You do not know my power yet”, to which the housewife says that she is neither a crow nor a crane, to be burnt.
The Sannyasin is stunned and asks her how she came to know about the bird. The housewife says that she did not practice any austerities. But just by doing her duty with cheerfulness and wholeheartedness, she became illumined and thus could clearly read his thoughts. She redirects him to a Dharma-Vyadha (meaning, the holy butcher) in the town of Mithila, and says that the Dharma-Vyadha would answer all his questions on Spirituality & Dharma (Righteousness).
The Sannyasin goes to see the Vyadha and overcoming his initial hesitation, listens to his amazing spiritually enlightening teachings, which is referred to as Vyadha Gita in the Hindu Epic Mahabharata, and even puts them into practice in real life.
The utterly amazed Sannyasin asks the Vyadha as to how he could became so highly illumined by doing a filthy, ugly menial work. The Vyadha says that his past Karma ( Deeds of Previous Life) had placed him in these circumstances.
The Vyadha further advises that no duty is ever ugly, no duty is ever impure, and that it is only the way & spirit in which the work is done that determines its worth. The Vyadha advises that all work must be done with full involvement of heart, soul, mind & intellect by dedicating the work & the results of work to the God Almighty, and by sincere and detached performance of the alotted duty in one’s earthly life one can without a shade of doubt become fully illumined spiritually.
He further says that a decision on what is Dharma under difficult circumstances should be made by sticking to that course of action which leads to the highest good of beings. The Vyadha, teaches with all humility that not birth but Dharma and virtuous deeds & conduct that makes one a Brahmin ( A man of the highest social order ).
The story describes the importance of performance of Swadharma (prescribed duty or one’s duty in life or one’s own duty). According to the story, a Vyadha / Butcher, considered absolutely low by birth, but engaged in Dharma and doing his own prescribed duty and doing good to others is capable of imparting spiritual knowledge to a Brahmin, considered highest in the society by birth, but practices austerities just for his own good.
The attainment of enlightenment, by the performance of Swadharma, is also one of the central teachings of the Holy Bhagavad Gita. Swami Vivekananda, describes this sacred story of Vyadha Gita in one of his lectures on Karma Yoga and emphatically declares that it contains one of the ‘Highest Messages of the Vedanta of Hinduism‘.