The Vyadha Gita (meaning, teachings of a butcher) is a part of the epic Mahabharata and consists of the teachings imparted by a vyadha (Butcher) to a brahmin sannyasin (monk). It occurs in the Vana Parva section of Mahabharata and is told to Yudhishthira, a Pandava by sage Markandeya. In the story, an arrogant sannyasin is humbled by a Vyadha, and learns about dharma (righteousness). The vyadha teaches that "no duty is ugly, no duty is impure" and it is only the way in which the work is done, determines its worth. Scholar Satya P. Agarwal considers Vyadha Gita to be one of the popular narrations in the Mahabharata. Lord Krishna even mentions him in the Shrimad Bhagavata Purana as someone who attained perfection by satsang.
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. 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 amazed and asks her how she came to know about the bird. The housewife says that she did not practice any austerities and by doing her duty with cheerfulness and wholeheartedness, she became illumined and thus could read his thoughts. She redirects him to a dharma-vyadha (meaning, the righteous butcher) in the town of Mithila and says that the dharma-vyadha would answer all his questions on dharma. The sannyasin goes to see the vyadha and overcoming his initial hesitation, listens to his teachings, which is referred to as Vyadha Gita—and even puts them into practice.
The surprised sannyasin asks the vyadha as to how he could became illumined by doing a "filthy, ugly work". The vyadha says that he is working as per the principles of karma, which placed him in a circumstance into which he is born.
The vyadha advises that all work must be done by "dedicating to God" and by sincere and unattached performance of the allotted duty one can become illumined. The vyadha advises the sannyasin that ahimsa (non-violence) and satya (truth) are two main pillars of dharma through which the highest good of all can be achieved. He says that a decision on what is true under difficult circumstances should be made by sticking to that course of action which leads to the highest good of beings. The vyadha, teaches that not birth but dharma and virtuous conduct makes one a Brahmin.
The story describes the importance of performance of swadharma (prescribed duty or duty in life). According to the story, a Vyadha, considered low by birth, but engaged in dharma and doing good to others is capable of teaching a Brahmin, considered higher by birth, but practices austerities for his own good. The attainment of freedom, by the performance of swadharma, is also one of the central teachings of the Bhagavad Gita. Philosopher Swami Vivekananda, describes the Vyadha Gita in one of his lectures in Karma Yoga and says that it contains one of the "highest flights of the Vedanta".
- Agarwal 2002, p.49
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