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According to this verse in Mahabharta, there is an eternal hell

"Yudhishthira answered,--'He that summoneth a poor Brahmana promising to make him a gift and then tells him that he hath nothing to give, goes to everlasting hell. ... Mahaabhaarata, Udyoga Parva, Adhyaaya 314, Shlokas 105-107

but is there any verse that states one cannot be in heaven and hell forever and must be reborn into this world? Please give scriptural references from Mahabharata most of which are outside of the Bhagavad Gita section.

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  • जातस्य हि ध्रुवो मृत्युर्ध्रुवं जन्म मृतस्य च। Bhagavad Gita 2.27.1. For those who are born, death is certain. For those who die, (re)birth is certain.
    – estimator
    Commented Feb 13 at 12:34
  • This is a metaphor that is being taken literally.
    – user29449
    Commented Feb 13 at 14:15
  • Why are you separating Bhagavad Gītā from Mahābhārata, when it's clearly a part. Firstly, this is not from adhyāya 314 of Udyoga Parva. Perhaps, you are not well-versed with roman numbering. This is from Vana Parva, and the very link you gave in your question, has chapter numbered as CCCXI i.e. 311. In the Gītā Press version, this is adhyāya 313 from Vana Parva. Now, coming to the term akṣayanaraka, there is no naraka which is nitya, nor is any narakagati so. This is simply supposed to mean an extremely long period of duration of narakagati which may stretch to mahāyuga, kalpa, etc.
    – Bingming
    Commented Feb 13 at 15:18
  • @Bingming I guess the only justification is the Bhagavad Gita is the largest section with Ishvara's word in the rest of the Mahabharta.
    – Haridasa
    Commented Feb 13 at 15:21
  • That is no justification, it's still a part of Mahābhārata only, and Kṛṣṇa is himself a character within it. See, I have no interest in your Abrahamic agenda. This terminology is employed quite often, and it is never used in the sense you are interpreting it. Even in Bhagavad Gītā 1.44, it's said "narake'niyataṁ". Śaṅkārananda's commentary Gītātatparyabodhinī on the śloka adds - manuṣyāṇāṁ narake rauravādāvaniyataṁ yugamanvantarādyavadhirāhitya archive.org/details/…
    – Bingming
    Commented Feb 13 at 15:31

2 Answers 2

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The given ślokas aren't from Udyoga Parva (314.105-107). In the link given by OP, it's from adhyāya 311 of Vana Parva. In the Gītā Press version, it's adhyāya no. 313, śloka 103 onwards in Vana Parva. I would be using the numbering of Gītā press.

Firstly, there is no point in separating Bhagavad Gītā from Mahābhārata, when the former is clearly a part of the latter. Secondly, there is no 'hell' in Indic framework.
Thirdly, there is neither nityanaraka nor nityavāsa in naraka.

The ślokas which the OP referred to, from Mahābhārata, are as follows-

yakṣa uvāca — akṣayo narakaḥ kena prāpyate bharatarṣabha / etanme mṛcchataḥ praśnanaṁ tacchīghraṁ vaktumarhasi // yudhiṣṭhira uvāca — brāhmaṇaṁ svayamāhūya yācamānamakiñcanam / paścānnāstīti yo brūyāt so'kṣayaṁ narakaṁ vrajet // vedeṣu dharmaśāstreṣu mithyā yo vai dvijātiṣu / deveṣu pitṛdharmeṣu sokṣayaṁ narakaṁ vrajet // vidyamāne dhane lobhād dānabhogavivarjitaḥ / paścānnāstīti yo brūyāt so'kṣyaṁ narakaṁ vrajet //
~ Vana Parva (313.103-106)

Here the term 'akṣayanaraka' used by Yakṣa and Yudhiṣṭhira in their saṁvād, is misinterpreted by the OP as being a ref. to 'eternal hell'. Perhaps unbeknownst to him, this is a really common style employed in śāstras. The duration of narakagati is clearly not nitya, then why is 'akṣaya' used? This simply indicates the seriousness of the pāpas being committed which bestow this phala of narakagati upon pāpī. It also acts as a deterrence, so that people avoid committing such serious pāpas (lest they suffer their phala). Secondly, nitya or akṣaya can also be used to mean an extremely long term which may stretch to mahāyuga, manvantara, kalpa, etc. In Bhagavad Gītā (1.44), the term "narake'niyataṁ" is used. In his commentary Gītātātparyabodhinī (aka Śaṅkarānandī) on Bhagavad Gītā(1.44), Śaṅkarānanda comments - manuṣyāṇāṁ narake rauravādāvaniyataṁ yugamanvantarādyavadhirāhitya. Here, he takes the same standpoint by considering narake'aniyataṁ to not refer to an nityanaraka (or nityavāsa in naraka) but to an extremely long duration (of yuga, manvantara, etc.) in naraka such as raurava.

In his commentary Bhāratabhāvadīpa, Nīlakaṇṭha comments on Vana Parva (313.103) as — akṣayo naraka nityasaṁsāritvaṁ. Here, Nīlakaṇṭha takes an interpretation slightly different from what has been offered above, he takes akṣayanarakavāsa as referring to nityasaṁsāritva (being a nityasaṁsārin), a sthiti in which jīva stays bound for an extremely long (or eternal time) in saṁsāra, not able to attain mukti (such a state is described in Bhagavad Gītā 16.16-20). Since, Nīlakaṇṭha's commentary aligns primarily with Advaita, the term 'nitya' is most likely not used to mean eternal (acc. to me), as there is nothing nitya apart from Brahman in Advaita. But even such a jīva, who is subjected to pāpayonis and terrible narakas such as raurava for a really long duration, still has the mārga of mukti open for it, in the Advaitic framework.

Note: I am not taking a Dvaitin interpretation here, which does uphold that there are jīvas, who are nityasaṁsārins & tamoyogyas. Jīvatraividhya is not accepted in Advaita. So, a Dvaitin might interpret the ślokas from Vanaparva (113.103-106), in a diff. manner. However, Madhvācārya's Tātparyanirṇaya doesn't speak about the Yakṣapraśna prasaṅga in detail, covering the event briefly, without discussing most of the Qs asked by Yama & answered by Yudhiṣṭhira.

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As the other answer points out, the sanskrit slokas referred by the OP are -

yakṣa uvāca — akṣayo narakaḥ kena prāpyate bharatarṣabha / etanme mṛcchataḥ praśnanaṁ tacchīghraṁ vaktumarhasi // yudhiṣṭhira uvāca — brāhmaṇaṁ svayamāhūya yācamānamakiñcanam / paścānnāstīti yo brūyāt so'kṣayaṁ narakaṁ vrajet // vedeṣu dharmaśāstreṣu mithyā yo vai dvijātiṣu / deveṣu pitṛdharmeṣu sokṣayaṁ narakaṁ vrajet // vidyamāne dhane lobhād dānabhogavivarjitaḥ / paścānnāstīti yo brūyāt so'kṣyaṁ narakaṁ vrajet //

Interestingly, these slokas are not found in the BORI critical edition of the Mahabharata.

Instead, these slokas are mentioned in the BORI Mahabharata supplementary passages starting from 03_032=0032.

Thus, these slokas are most likely interpolations, not present in original Mahabharata.

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  • Well, these ślokas clearly appear in Nīlakaṇṭha's commentary (as I have pointed in my answer) and he commented on them too, so traditionally they are not considered interpolations. What you are giving forth, is purely an Indological standpoint, which even goes on to say that Gaṇeśa-Vyāsa prasaṅga is an interpolation, against paramparā.
    – Bingming
    Commented Feb 13 at 21:14
  • Interesting. Are there multiple MBH Manuscripts? I wasn't aware of this BORI ones.
    – user29449
    Commented Feb 14 at 5:03
  • @User29449 BORI edition of Mahabharata was prepared after perusing several manuscripts, from all parts of India. For the Adi-parva, for instance (and for general information), please check this - archive.org/details/…
    – estimator
    Commented Feb 14 at 7:21
  • @Bingming For a brief explanation of BORI methodology (unless you are already aware of it), please check the link in my previous comment above.
    – estimator
    Commented Feb 14 at 7:25
  • Thanks, I am familiar with their methodology already though. Their methodology is not traditional, nor does it hold much value in tradition.
    – Bingming
    Commented Feb 14 at 12:51

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