Rig-Veda on Gambling
The Path, July, 1893
The following excellent remarks are probably the oldest in the world upon the vice of gambling. They are found in Rig Veda, x, 34. It is admitted that these Vedic hymns are anterior to the time of Homer and Hesiod. The Hindus claim an antiquity for them which carries us back thousands upon thousands of years prior to the oldest date allowed by European Orientalists. Those who have a theosophical acquaintance with the Vedas will incline to the estimate of the Hindus, inasmuch as European opinion is constantly altering on the subject, and besides has not had quite a century of experience in which to form itself. Muir says these hymns were composed certainly 1000 years before our era, but that is too ridiculously low an estimate and will have ere long to be revised upon further proofs and discoveries. The present hymn is given as showing what was then thought of gambling.
The tumbling airborne products1 of the great Vibhidaka tree delight me as they continue to roll upon the diceboard. The exciting dice seem to me like a draught of the soma-plant growing on Mount Miyavat. My wife never quarrelled with me nor despised me; she was kind to me and to my friends. But I for the sake of the partial dice have spurned my devoted spouse. My mother-in-law detests me, my wife rejects me. In my need I find no comforter.
I cannot discover what is the enjoyment of the gambler any more than I can perceive what is the happiness of a worn-out hack horse. Others pay court to the wife of the man whose wealth is coveted by the impetuous dice. His father, mother, brothers cry out: “We know nothing of him; take him away bound!”
When I resolve not to be tormented by them because I am abandoned by my friends who withdraw from me, yet as soon as the brown dice, when they are thrown, make a rattling sound I hasten to their rendezvous like a woman to her paramour. The gamester comes to the assembly glowing in body, asking himself “Shall I win?” The dice inflame his desire by making over his winnings to his opponent. Hooking, piercing, deceitful, vexatious, delighting to torment, the dice dispense transient gifts and again ruin the winner; they appear to the gambler covered with honey. Their troop of fifty-three disports itself, itself disposing men’s destinies like the God Savatri whose ordinances never fail. They bow not before the wrath of the fiercest. The king himself makes obeisance to them. They roll downward, they bound upward. Having no hands they overcome him who has. These celestial coals when thrown on the dice-board scorch the heart though cold themselves.
The destitute wife of the gamester is distressed, and so too is the mother of a son who goes she knows not whither. In debt and seeking after money the gambler approaches with trepidation the houses of other people at night. It vexes the gamester to see his own wife and then to observe the wives and happy homes of others. In the morning he yokes the brown horses—the dice; by the time when the fire goes out he has sunk into a degraded wretch. He who is the general of your board, the first king of your troop, to him I stretch forth my ten fingers to the east in reverence. I do not reject wealth, but I declare that which is right when I say:
Never play with dice; practice husbandry; rejoice in thy prosperity, esteeming it sufficient. Be satisfied with thy cattle and thy wife, the god advises.
O dice, be friendly to us and no more bewitch us powerfully with your influence. Let your wrath and hostility abate: let others than we be subject to the fetters of the brown ones, the dice.
1. The seeds of the tree used for dice.