Mahabharata, the Indian epic, has received universal acclaim for its poetic finesse, wealth of wisdom, abundance of ethical and moral values that transcend time in their relevance. BhagavadGita, forming part of this epic, is not a mere religious discourse; 'not meant merely to give peace of mind...' as Swami Ranganathananda said. The question/answer mode is often the means for imparting knowledge, secular or spiritual, in scriptures/epics including the Gita.
Yaksha Prashna found in Mahabharata is a typical example.Yudhishtira demonstrates patience and forbearance in answering numerous tough questions by his spiritual father disguised as a yaksha while his brothers dismissed the Yaksha's warnings and suffered. The questions posed to Yudhistira number over a hundred (listed in the Appendix) some of which sound like aphorisms. Therefore brevity of the questions as also the answers requires interpretation. A.V. Srinivasan has explained in detail. Apart from rendering the Sanskrit text,transliteration and translation, the commentary by the author will help readers to follow the dialogue.
The queries seek responses on spiritual, ethical, moral values, etc.from Yudhistira. Oneof them is the oft quoted wisdom of the king that people fail to realize the certainty of their eath even when they are exposed to this inevitability.
'What is the right time for a shraaddha?' The answer: 'A learned Brahmin's time'. Rather than the day (tithi), the availability of a qualified purohit is decisive! Dharma is a complex concept that the author elaborates in one of the questions (page 57).
Again, the meaning of 'egoism' as 'Total ignorance' is a riddle (page 60). Atheist, says Yudhistira, 'is said to be a fool'. Swamiji, it may be recalled, defined it as one who does not believe in himself. And so perhaps, a fool! A thought provoking answer of Yudhistira is that one's mother is 'weightier than the earth'--a truth to be remembered by all.
Even in choosing boons offered by the Lord of Dharma disguised as Yaksha, Yudhistira reveals his fairness uninfluenced by emotions or attachments. The 'Epilogue' in the book gives details of the post question/answer session.
Having lived abroad Srinivasan observes that the next generation should be exposed to ancient Indian wisdom. This small book should help in this endeavor.
P.S. Sundaram for Vedanta Kesari, Chennai, Vol. 84, February 2016