The glories of the Pandavas extended much further than just their unmatched military skills; they excelled in every aspect of life. No less, was their impressive ability to intelligently deal with uncomfortable and unpredictable circumstances. They repeatedly faced many perplexing situations such as the Kuru’s frequent attempts to take their lives via poison or fire, to forfeiting everything they owned to an altered gambling match. Moreover, despite his distinguished masculinity, Arjuna was even forced to cope with Urvashi’s curse of losing his manhood. Likewise, the chaste Draupadi had to withstand being kidnapped by Jayadratha and Kichaka’s attempted molestation.
One such peculiar test for Yudhisthira was to answer the abstruse questions of Yaksha (Yama in disguise). Furthermore, at that time, Yudhisthira was in a deplorable state as he was thirsty, exhausted, had just lost his brothers to death and was deeply concerned for his wife, Draupadi, who was all alone. Many would have lacked the positivity or poise to continue living, what to speak of replying to Yaksha’s abstract inquiries. Yet, Yudhisthira brilliantly replied to Yaksha, with grace and finesse. Below are a few examples of the questions and answers from their famous discussion.
Yaksha asked, “Who is a friend while travelling? Who is a friend at home? or of the diseased? and of the person about to die?”
To this, Yudhisthira replied with profound practicality, “The travelling companion during a given journey is a friend. And one’s wife is the best-friend in the home, as is the doctor a friend of the diseased. Lastly, charity is the friend of the dying.”
Yaksha, then asked another flurry of questions, “Who is the guest of all beings? What is eternal dharma? What is amrita (nectar)? And what constitutes this world?”
To these, Yudhisthira Maharaj skillfully replied, “Agni is the guest of everyone. That which reveals the path to perfection is eternal dharma. The cow’s milk from soma Agni is earthly nectar. And air, pervades the entire world.” Albeit short, Yudhisthira’s quick replies are profound. For instance, the entire world would stand still without fire. Furthermore, the cow’s milk is essential for civilizational identity as a lack of milk leads to subhuman habits of consumption and shameless behaviour. Additionally, understanding our Svadharma as liberation, is Sanatana Dharma. Hence, Sanatana Dharma forbids inaction, yet simultaneously encourages one to abandon the egotistical attitude of being the doer. Lastly, the Vedic scriptures sometimes compare God to air, whose presence is everywhere.
Thereafter, Yaksha asked five additional questions, “Who is learned? Who is foolish? Who is an atheist? What is desire? And what is known as envy?”
Once again, Yudhisthira astutely responded, “One who is cognizant of Dharma is learned. A fool is an atheist, as an atheist is a fool. Desires are the cause of life functions. And mental distress is called envy.”
Remarkably, Yudhisthira did not parrot stereotypical answers – as would many students today. He was dynamically responding based on real life experiences, and so he was able to impress Yaksha. Thereafter, Yaksha revived the other four Pandavas and blessed them with lifelong victory.
Accordingly, learning to respond to such examinations in life, is real life; other types of questions and answers are simply meant for mere grades in school.