"Sauti said, 'After Vaisampayana had explained to king Janamejaya in this way the glory of Narayana, he began to discourse on another topic by reciting the question of Yudhishthira and the answer that Bhishma gave in
the presence of all the. Pandavas and the Rishis as also of Krishna himself. Indeed, Vaisampayana began by saying what follows. 1
"Yudhishthira said, 'Thou hast, O grandsire discoursed to us on the duties appertaining to the religion of Emancipation. It behoveth thee now to tell us what the foremost duties are of persons belonging to the several modes of life!' 2
"Bhishma said, 'The duties ordained in respect of every mode of life are capable, if well performed, of leading to heaven and the high fruit of Truth. Duties which are as so many doors, to great sacrifices and gifts and none of the practices inculcated by them are futile in respect of consequence. One who adopts particular duties with steady and firm faith, praises these duties adopted by him to the exclusion of the rest, O chief of Bharata's race. This particular topic, however, on which thou wishest me to discourse was in days of yore the subject of conversation between the celestial Rishi Narada and the chief of the deities, viz., Indra. The great Rishi Narada, O king, revered by all the world is a siddha i.e., his sadhana has met fulfilment. He wanders through all the worlds unobstructed by anything, like the all-pervading wind itself. Once upon a time he repaired to the abode of Indra. Duly honoured by the chief of the deities, he sat close to his host. Beholding him seated at his ease and free from fatigue, the lord of Sachi addressed him, saying,--O great Rishi, is there any thing wonderful that has been beheld by thee, O sinless one? O regenerate Rishi, crowned with ascetic success, thou rovest, moved by curiosity, through the universe of mobile and immobile objects, witnessing all things. O celestial Rishi, there is nothing in the universe that is unknown to thee. Do thou tell me, therefore, of any wonderful incident which thou may t have seen or heard of or felt. Thus questioned, Narada, that foremost of speakers, O king, then commented to recite unto the chief of the celestials the extensive history that follows. Listen now to me as I recite that story which Narada told before Indra. I shall narrate it in the same manner in which the celestial Rishi had narrated it, and for the same purpose that he had in view!'"
203:1 This portion does not occur in all the texts. I have thought fit to add it for explaining the connection. Most texts begin abruptly by saying--Yudhishthira said, etc. etc.
203:2 The object of the question is to ascertain which is the foremost of all the modes of life. Although Renunciation has been described to be the best of all modes, still the duties of that mode are exceedingly difficult of practice. Hence, Yudhishthira wishes to know if the duties of any other mode can be regarded as superior.