Maha Bharatam supports the theory :
LIFE-SPAN IS PRE-DETERMINED
As an item of direct knowledge, I have been emphasizing for some years that the human life-span is unalterably imprinted when a person was formed as embryo itself; and this can neither be extended nor shortened by any means known to science or yoga. I have also been saying that a man’s next birth is only his son or daughter. Evidence for these findings is found in clues and hints in abundant measure in the ancient books of our land when you proceed to look for them. In this connection I am reminded of an incident in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s life: He and his Master Thoreau were walking in a wooded area when the former asked, “Where to find a Red-Indian’s arrow, Sir?” and the Sage answered, “When you look for it”. And sure enough, just in front of his feet Emerson saw an old arrow embedded in the earth! Two other statements of Thoreau are, “Only that day dawns, to which we are awake” and “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone”.
Coming back to the theme, in the luxuriant Epic Maha Bharatam, there is an interesting story related by Sage Bhishmar to Yudhistrar, the first of the Pandavas. A careful study of this story will show how the Sages of our land had identified the purpose of life on this Earth and how the evolutionary pressure of Nature works to realise its own grand objective viz. Perfection of human Consciousness leading to Liberation.
In a hillside village lived Gautami, a kind-hearted and helpful woman whose only son, a little boy, was bitten to death by a snake. The entire village wept over her loss. An expert hunter there, Arjunagan by name, vowed vengeance on the snake and set out to capture it following its crawl-signs. He located the reptile in the hollow of a tree in the forest. Lassoing it with a string he brought it squirming to the village and told Gautami: “This is the snake that killed your child. I am going to mete out condign punishment to it; shall I burn it alive or chop it to pieces with my hunting knife?”
Gautami told him: “Let the snake go its way, O Arjunaga. It is my lot to lose my son. Fortunate people live in happiness in the world like rafts floating on water. On the other hand, those who have accumulated sins go down and get drowned in sorrow like weapons thrown in the lake. What is the loss to you if the snake were to remain alive? Will the killing of the snake bring my dead son back to life? And will no-one in the world die thereafter?
The hunter said: “Good-hearted people in the world are simple and their teachings would be to the good. Those devoted to peace would spare even their mortal foe. But not those who believe in the philosophy of action. When opportunity presents itself, they would grab it to punish the wicked and thereby derive satisfaction. It is settled that I am going to kill this snake. All I am asking you is by what method shall I put it to death”.
Gautami said: “It is dharma that is the heart-beat of sadhus who would not wish evil even to those that have harmed them. Am I master of this snake that I should decide its destiny? Overcome your anger and spare the reptile”.
The hunter said: “By killing this venomous creature, many in the world would be safeguarded from being bitten by it. That is dharma as I see it. Immediate gain is far superior to the projected outcome of pujas. I am determined to do away with this snake. Do not oppose me. Don’t you know that Indra attained to exalted status by killing his enemy Vriddasura. You should also follow his example”.
Hearing Gautami and the hunter conversing in this manner, the snake, held captive at the end of the string, mustered sufficient courage to intervene and say, “O Arjunaga, I am wholly free of any guilt. I had no dispute with Gautami’s son nor was he natural food for me. What I did was on the dictates of Yama, the Lord of Death. If at all any-one is to be put in the dock, it should be Yama and not me”.
Arjunagan countered: “Even if what you did was at the behest of Yama, you cannot escape responsibility for the heinous deed. In order to make a pot out of clay, a wheel and a stick act as aids and so too was your action. I adjudge you a sinner and you have to pay the price”.
The snake argued in desperation: “In the analogy cited by you, the wheel and the stick are inanimate objects and do not operate on their intrinsic energy. The question now arises, ‘Who is the actual doer?’ In this case I state that the responsibility for the action has to be distributed to more than one”.
Arjunagan replied: “If you are not the cause you would not have bitten the child. That evidence is sufficient for me to adjudge you guilty”.
The snake said: “Even if I was performer of the deed, I acted only as an agent. Where is justice if I am alone to be picked out and punished”.
The hunter: “You have done a cruel act and I will put you to death. Do not waste time by defending the indefensible”.
The snake: “I will give you another example. In yagas the ‘ritviks’ who perform the homams do not derive the benefit of the ritual which is reserved only for the karta. Likewise, I submit, the consequence of the deed should not be visited on me”.
At this juncture, a dark swarthy form appeared on the scene. It was Yama who said, ‘O snake, neither I nor you are responsible for the death of Gautami’s child. When the wind blows in clouds from different directions, are not the clouds under the sole control of the wind? I function under the ordainment of Time. Everything in the Universe is subject to Time only. Moon, Sun, stars, deeds and results, physical forms, the five elements and rivers and oceans are continually destroyed and regenerated by Time. Knowing all this, O snake, why do you classify me guilty. If I am culpable you are equally so”.
The snake explained: “O Yama, I did not say you were guilty. I only maintain you are my motivator. It is not for us to put the blame on Time for we are not the controlling authorities of Time. Just as it is necessary for me to be absolved of the charge brought against me by this hunter, it becomes equally your responsibility to establish your innocence”.
Turning to the hunter the snake pleaded: “Did you hear what Yama said, O Arjunaga? I am guiltless. Do not torture me. Free me from this noose”.
Arjunagan said: “I listened to what Yama said and also your explanations. In my view both you and Yama are responsible for the boy’s death and both of you deserve to be condemned. Evil-doers should not be allowed to remain at large”.
Yama said hurriedly: “Neither myself nor the snake have freedom. We are all subject to Time. I request you to consider my argument dispassionately”.
Arjunagan: “If you and the snake are not responsible for the deed, why should I feel angry with you both?”
Yama: “I can only repeat that it is Time that is the author and architect of all activities in the Universe. We are not to be blamed in any manner whatsoever”.
The Time spirit itself appeared on the scene. Time said to the hunter, “O Arjunaga, neither I nor Yama nor the snake should be held the primary cause of the boy’s death here. It is only the karmas held in stock by the child that impelled and activated the three of us to perform our respective roles in the scheme of Nature. Man, having been vouchsafed the sixth sense, automatically becomes responsible for his actions and the effects flowing from them as immutably as night following day. We are at all times under the suzerainty of karmas. Such is the ordainment of Nature. Do not you realise now that Gautami’s child brought about its own violent end? None of us — Time, Yama or the snake — is to be held to blame’.
Gautami who had been listening to all this discussion understood clearly that the operating factor for all activities in the Universe was only karmas. Enlightened thus, she now spoke: “I am now convinced that neither the snake nor Yama nor Time is to be held responsible for my son’s death. It was brought about by the child’s own store of karmas in which my share was considerable as he came out of my own soul and his very birth was occasioned by my bequeathing that share to him. Let Yama and Time depart, O Arjunaga; and also release the snake from your hold”.
Both Gautami’s grief and Arjunaga’s anger had abated through their newly-acquired wisdom. The hunter released the snake which crawled back to its lair. Yama and Time returned to their worlds and Arjunagan went home.