"Yudhishthira said, 'If a man be a house-holder or a Brahmacharin, a forest-recluse or a mendicant, and if he desires to achieve success, what deity should he adore? How can he certainly acquire heaven and attain that which is of the highest benefit (viz., Emancipation)? According to what ordinances should he perform the homa in honour of the gods and the Pitris? What is the region to which one goes when one becomes emancipated? What is the essence of Emancipation? What should one do so that one, having attained to heaven, would not have to fall down thence? Who is the deity of the deities? And who is the Pitri of the Pitris? Who is he that is superior to him, who is the deity of the deities and the Pitri of the Pitris? Tell me all this, O Grandsire!'
"Bhishma said, O thou that art well acquainted with the art of questioning, this question that thou hast asked me, O sinless one, is one that touches a deep mystery. One cannot answer it with the aid of the science of argumentation, even if one were to strive for a hundred years. Without the grace of Narayana, O king, or an accession of high knowledge, this question of thine is incapable of being answered. Connected though this topic be with a deep mystery, I shall yet, O slayer of foes, expound it to thee! In this connection is cited the old history of the discourse between Narada and the Rishi Narayana. I heard it from my sire that in the Krita age, O monarch, during the epoch of the Self-born Manu, the eternal Narayana, the Soul of the universe, took birth as the son of Dharma in a quadruple form, viz., as Nara, Narayana, Hari, and the Self-create Krishna. Amongst them all, Narayana and Nara underwent the severest austerities by repairing to the Himalayan retreat known by the name of Vadari, by riding on their golden ears. Each of those cars was furnished with eight wheels, and made up of the five primal elements, and looked exceedingly beautiful. Those original regents of the world who had taken birth as the sons of Dharma, became exceedingly emaciated in person in consequence of the austerities they had undergone. Indeed, for those austerities and for their energy, the very deities were unable to look at them. Only that deity with whom they were propitiated could behold them. Without doubt, with his heart devoted to them, and impelled by a longing desire to be-hold them, Narada dropped down on Gandhamadana from a summit of the high mountains of Meru and wandered over all the world. Possessed of great speed, he at last repaired to that spot whereon was situated the retreat of Vadari. Impelled by curiosity he entered that retreat at the hour of Nara's and Narayana's, performing their daily rites. He said unto himself.--This is truly the retreat of that Being in whom are established all the worlds including the deities, the Asuras, the Gandharvas, the Kinnaras, and the great snakes! There was only one form of this great Being before. That form took birth in four shapes for the expansion of the race of Dharma which have been reared by that deity. How wonderful it is that Dharma has thus been honoured by these four great deities viz., Nara, Narayana, and Hari and Krishna! In this spot Krishna and Hari dwelt formerly. The other two, however, viz., Nara and Narayana, are now dwelling here engaged in penances for the object of enhancing their merit. These two are the highest refuge of the universe. What can be the nature of the daily rites these two perform? They are the sires of all creatures, and the illustrious deities of all beings. Endued with high intelligence, what is that deity whom these two worship?
Who are those Pitris whom these two Pitris of all beings adore?--Thinking of this in his mind, and filled with devotion towards Narayana, Narada suddenly appeared before those two gods. After those two deities had finished their adoration to their deities and the Rishis, they looked at the celestial Rishi arrived at their retreat. The latter was honoured with those eternal rites that are ordained in the scriptures. Beholding that extraordinary conduct of the two original deities in themselves worshipping other deities and Pitris, the illustrious Rishi Narada took his seat there, well pleased with the honours he had received. With a cheerful soul he cast his eyes then on Narayana, and bowing unto Mahadeva he said these words.
"Narada said, In the Vedas and the Puranas, in the Angas and the subsidiary Angas thou art sung with reverence, thou art unborn and eternal. Thou art the Creator. Thou art the mother of the universe. Thou art the embodiment of Immortality and thou art the foremost of all things. The Past and the Future, indeed, the entire universe has been established on thee! The four modes of life, O lord, having the domestic for their first, ceaselessly sacrifice to thee that art of diverse forms. Thou art the father and the mother and the eternal preceptor of the universe. We know not who is that deity or that Pitri unto whom thou art sacrificing to-day!
"The holy one said, This topic is one about which nothing should be said. It is an ancient mystery. Thy devotion to me is very great. Hence, O regenerate one, I shall discourse to thee on it agreeably to the truth. That which is minute, which is inconceivable, unmanifest, immobile, durable, destitute of all connection with the senses and the objects of the senses, that which is dissociated from the (five) elements--that is called the in-dwelling Soul of all existent creatures. That is known by the name of Kshetrajna. Transcending the three attributes of Sattwa, Rajas, and Tamas, that is regarded as Purusha in the scriptures. From Him hath followed the unmanifest, O foremost of regenerate ones, possessed of the three attributes of Sattwa, Rajas, and Tamas. Though really unmanifest, she is called indestructible Prakriti and dwell in all manifest forms. Know that She is the source whence we two have sprung. That all-pervading Soul, which is made up of all existent and non-existent things, is adored by us. Even He is what we worship in all those rites that we perform in honour of the deities and the Pitris. There is no higher deity or Pitri than He. O regenerate one, He should be known as our Soul. It is him that we worship. This course of duties followed by men has, O regenerate one, been promulgated by Him. It is His ordinance that we should duly perform all the rites laid down in respect of the deities and the Pitris. Brahman, Sthanu, Manu, Daksha, Bhrigu, Dharma, Yama, Marichi, Angiras, Atri, Pulastya, Pulaha, Kratu, Vasishtha, Parameshthi, Vivaswat, Shoma, he that has been called Karddama, Krodha, Avak, and Krita,--these one and twenty persons, called Prajapatis, were first born. All of them obeyed the eternal law of the Supreme God Observing all the rites, in detail, that were ordained in honour of the deities and the Pitris, all those foremost of regenerate persons acquired all those objects which they sought. The incorporeal denizens of Heaven itself bow to that Supreme deity and through His grace they attain to those fruits and that end which He ordains for them. This is the settled conclusion of the scriptures that these persons freed from these seven and ten attributes, (viz., the five senses of knowledge, the five senses of action, the five vital breaths, and mind and understanding), who have cast off all acts, and are divested of the five and ten elements which constitute the gross body, are said to be Emancipate. That which the Emancipate attain to as their ultimate end is called by the name of Kshetrajna. He is regarded (in the scriptures) as both possessed of and free from all the attributes. He can be apprehended by Knowledge alone. We two have sprung from Him. Knowing him in that way, we adore that eternal Soul of all things. The Vedas and all the modes of life, though characterised by divergences of opinion, all worship Him with devotion. It is He who, speedily moved to grace, confers on them high ends fraught with felicity. Those persons in this world who, filled with His spirit, become fully and conclusively devoted to Him, attain to ends that are much higher, for they succeed in entering Him and becoming merged in his Self. I have now, O Narada, discoursed to thee on what is high mystery moved by the love I bear to thee for thy devotion to me. Indeed, in consequence of that devotion which thou professest towards me, thou hast succeeded in listening to this my discourse!"