Friday, October 9, 2020

Vidura Niti - 10 - Forgiveness, conduct, and the end

common refrain of Dhritarashtra was to bemoan the vicissitudes of fate, the meaningless of karma, and the supremacy of destiny. It was perhaps his way of not taking responsibility for his actions. In some ways, he was the antithesis of Krishna, who was the ultimate karmayogi. The seventh chapter of Vidura Niti begins in a similar vein. Dhritarashtra says, "Man is not the master of his destiny. He is like a wooden puppet dangling from a string. The creator has made him subject to destiny." While Dhritarashtra seemed to be coming round to accepting Vidura's views, the love for his sons was irreconcilable, in his opinion, with doing what was right for the Pandavas.

धृतराष्ट्र उवाच
सर्वं त्वमायतीयुक्तं भाषसे प्राज्ञसंमतम्
न चोत्सहे सुतं त्यक्तुं यतो धर्मस्ततो जयः [5.39.7]
'Dhritarashtra said, "All that you have said has been approved of by the wise and is for my welfare. But I cannot abandon my son. Where there is dharma, there is victory."

He says much the same thing towards the end of Vidura Niti - "My inclination has always been to turn towards the Pandavas. But whenever I meet Duryodhana, it turns in a contrary direction. No mortal one is capable of transgressing destiny. I think that destiny is the one who acts and human endeavour is futile."

Vidura has a solution for this dilemma also. He suggests to the king that he "Give them a few villages so that they can sustain themselves. ... Your sons will be protected through this deed." This is also the message that Krishna delivers to the king at Hastinapur (Bhagvata Yana parva). Duryodhana had committed an evil act earlier, and it was incumbent on the king to rectify it now. Vidura advised the king that quarrels with relatives were ill-advised. He said:
ज्ञातयस्तारयन्तीह ज्ञातयो मज्जयन्ति च
सुवृत्तास्तारयन्तीह दुर्वृत्ता मज्जयन्ति च [5.39.23]
"In this world, relatives rescue and relatives make one sink. Those who follow good conduct, rescue. Those who follow evil conduct, make one sink."

Vidura's words on humility and good conduct are well worth reproducing:
अवृत्तिं विनयो हन्ति हन्त्यनर्थं पराक्रमः
हन्ति नित्यं क्षमा क्रोधमाचारो हन्त्यलक्षणम् [5.39.32]
"Humility destroys bad conduct. Valour destroys adverse circumstances. Forgiveness always destroys anger. Good conduct destroys evil omens."

After the Pandavas were exiled, Yudhishthira had told Draupadi the greatness of forgiveness, that "Forgiveness is dharma. Forgiveness is sacrifices. Forgiveness is the Vedas. Forgiveness is the sacred texts," and so on. The shlokas start off as: क्षमा धर्मः क्षमा यज्ञः क्षमा वेदाः क्षमा श्रुतम् [3.3.36a]. Here Vidura adds exquisite nuance to the concept of forgiveness: 

क्षमेदशक्तः सर्वस्य शक्तिमान्धर्मकारणात् [5.39.46a]
"A weak person must forgive everything. A strong person must do that for the sake of dharma."

Of course, the situation was different when Yudhishthira spoke the words, uttered more out of compulsion and a recognition of the predicament facing the Pandavas at the time, so it is important to place those words, and any other from the Mahabharata, in their appropriate context to gain a true appreciation of their import.

This chapter ends with more advice from Vidura on what one should sorrow over, what causes aging, what is the cause of diminishing, and more.
  • अक्रोधेन जयेत्क्रोधमसाधुं साधुना जयेत्
  • जयेत्कदर्यं दानेन जयेत्सत्येन चानृतम् [5.39.58]
  • "Anger should be conquered with lack of anger.
  • Wickedness should be conquered with goodness.
  • Miserliness should be conquered with generosity.
  • Falsehood should be conquered with truth."

  • अविद्यः पुरुषः शोच्यः शोच्यं मिथुनमप्रजम्
  • निराहाराः प्रजाः शोच्याः शोच्यं राष्ट्रमराजकम् [5.39.62]
  • "One should sorrow over a man who is without learning. 
  • One should sorrow over a couple that has no offspring. 
  • One should sorrow over subjects who are hungry. 
  • One should sorrow over a kingdom that has no king."

  • अध्वा जरा देहवतां पर्वतानां जलं जरा
  • असंभोगो जरा स्त्रीणां वाक्शल्यं मनसो जरा [5.39.63]
  • "Those who have bodies age through travels. 
  • Mountains age through rain. 
  • The lack of intercourse ages women. 
  • Harsh words age the mind."

  • अनाम्नायमला वेदा ब्राह्मणस्याव्रतं मलम्
  • कौतूहलमला साध्वी विप्रवासमलाः स्त्रियः [5.39.64]
  • "The Vedas are tarnished if they are not recounted. 
  • Brahmanas are tarnished from lack of vows. 
  • Curiosity tarnishes chaste women. 
  • Banishment from home tarnishes women. 

  • सुवर्णस्य मलं रूप्यं रूप्यस्यापि मलं त्रपु
  • ज्ञेयं त्रपुमलं सीसं सीसस्यापि मलं मलम् [5.39.65]
  • Silver tarnishes gold. 
  • Tin tarnishes silver. 
  • Lead tarnishes tin. 
  • Dust tarnishes lead."

  • न स्वप्नेन जयेन्निद्रां न कामेन स्त्रियं जयेत्
  • नेन्धनेन जयेदग्निं न पानेन सुरां जयेत् [5.39.66]
  • "Do not vanquish sleep with more sleep. 
  • Do not vanquish women through desire. 
  • Do not conquer a fire by kindling it. 
  • Do not conquer thirst through liquor."

In closing, Vidura exhorts Dhritarashtra to give up desire, for "Those who have thousands live. Those who have hundreds also live." (सहस्रिणोऽपि जीवन्ति जीवन्ति शतिनस्तथा - 5.39.68a)

Vidura continues in the next chapter, telling the king that "Hope destroys steadfastness. Death destroys prosperity. Anger destroys riches. Miserliness destroys fame. Failure to tend destroys animals. O king! Even one single angry brahmana destroys a kingdom."
(आशा धृतिं हन्ति समृद्धिमन्तकः; क्रोधः श्रियं हन्ति यशः कदर्यता
अपालनं हन्ति पशूंश्च राज;न्नेकः क्रुद्धो ब्राह्मणो हन्ति राष्ट्रम् - 5.40.7)

Vidura says that the objective of his advising the king was for him to be content and to give up the transient. The body was transient, and only a person's deeds followed him, just as relatives and well-wishers returned after casting a dead person's body into the fire, it was the dead person's deeds that followed him. 

Here, Vidura invokes vivid imagery to present a picture of the soul, deeds, and more, and which is worth reproducing in full: 
आत्मा नदी भारत पुण्यतीर्था; सत्योदका धृतिकूला दमोर्मिः
तस्यां स्नातः पूयते पुण्यकर्मा; पुण्यो ह्यात्मा नित्यमम्भोऽम्भ एव [5.40.19]
The soul is a river. Purity represents its tirthas. Truthfulness is its water. Steadfastness constitutes the banks. Self-control represents the waves. Bathing in these, a performer of pure deeds purifies himself. The soul becomes pure and is like water in the eternal waters. 


कामक्रोधग्राहवतीं पञ्चेन्द्रियजलां नदीम्
कृत्वा धृतिमयीं नावं जन्मदुर्गाणि संतर [5.40.20]
There is a river in which the five senses are the water and desire and anger are the crocodiles. Make a boat out of steadfastness and cross the difficult eddies of repeated birth.

Dhritarashtra began the seventh chapter with a lament about the primacy of destiny. He ends the eighth chapter with another lament - "I think that destiny is the one who acts and human endeavour is futile.

In the last chapter of Vidura Niti, Dhritarashtra asks Vidura whether there was anything he had not yet spoken about. Vidura answered that the sage Sanatsujata was the one who could speak with the king. The sage manifested himself and Vidura requested the sage to clarify the king's doubts.

This ends Prajagara Parva, which contains Vidura Niti.

Note: Translated excerpts from Bibek Debroy’s unabridged, ten-volume, English translation of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute’s Critical Edition of the Mahabharata, published by Penguin from 2010 to 2015. The translations here are from volume 4. The Sanskrit verses are John Smith’s revision of Prof. Muneo Tokunaga’s version of the text, and available online at

This was first published in Indic Today on Sep 18, 2020.

© 2020, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Vidura Niti - 9 - Long arms, trust, and fools

Remember what Vidura said towards the end of the previous chapter, that someone who incites his enemy "cannot presume to be secure, only because he is a long distance away"

Vidura adds to that in this chapter, the sixth, of Vidura Niti. Running away after striking an intelligent person is of no use because "An intelligent person has long arms and when injured, will cause hurt in return." Essentially, shoot and scoot isn't going to cut it with a smart adversary.
अपकृत्वा बुद्धिमतो दूरस्थोऽस्मीति नाश्वसेत्
दीर्घौ बुद्धिमतो बाहू याभ्यां हिंसति हिंसितः [5.38.8]