The Yaksa, who confronts Yudishtra, in the Mahabharata, is clever. His questions are never direct, but tricky, said V.S. Karunakarachariar, in a discourse. There is a man, who is able to have every kind of enjoyment possible to mankind. Yet he is dead. He breathes, but is dead. Who is he, asks Yaksa. Yudishtra puts some questions to Yaksa, in order to be able to give the right answer.
He asks Yaksa if the man in question does his daily ritual worship as stipulated by the Sastras, if he welcomes guests. Does he enquire of his servants if they have had food? Does he perform those rites intended for ancestor worship? Does he worship Lord Narayana, who is the Antaryamin of everyone and everything? The answer to all the questions is a ‘No.’ In that case, says Yudishtra, such a man, is one who breathes and yet is dead. Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar says guests are hurt if we do not welcome them warmly. Apastambha says that even if a man has no food for himself, he must find a way of paying his servants.
Every man is said to have three debts. One is his debt to sages, which he repays by studying the Vedas and other sacred literature. The debt to the celestials is taken care of through the performance of yagas. The debt to one’s ancestors is taken care of when one has progeny. But Vyasa adds a fourth debt- a person’s debt to society. We are all a part of a society, and at times of distress, we are often helped by others.
We may not be able to repay them in the exact manner in which they helped. In fact, to seek to help measure for measure, may be to the detriment of the one who helped us. Rama says to Hanuman that He cannot repay His debt to Hanuman. If He were to do that, then Hanuman would have to go through the same set of problems that Rama had faced. In the same way, we may not be able repay our debt to those who helped us.
But we and they are all a part of the society at large, and we can help out someone else in distress, and thus pay our social debt. It is because Vyasa adds to what is stated in the Vedas, that the Mahabharata is called the fifth Veda.