Vyasa’s Wise Trio: Bhishma, Vidura and Krishna

The path of religion is paved by negating logic and reason; the path of Dharma is with logic, reason as well as wisdom.

Exclusive to Vedic Management Centre by U Mahesh Prabhu

“With respect to Dharma, Artha and Kama, what is here may be elsewhere; but that which isn’t here is nowhere else.” Thus, begins Krishna Dwaipayana Vyasa a.k.a. Vyasa in his renowned epic – Mahabharata. Because Dharma is misinterpreted as religion, Artha is confused as money and Kama is understood simply as lust – the very claim may seem unrealistic. But, is it?

When we are born, no matter where, we are instilled with desires of some kind or the other. To attain that which we seek, we do things that often result in a detrimental situation, leading to certain pain and/or suffering. We realize that we aren’t all that powerful and discover our limitations every day. We realize that we lack time, energy, resources, and knowledge. We, then, seek the most convenient path to attain that which we desire. While many go astray, few find a way to ascertain the worthiness of their desires besides a sane way to achieve those which are worthy of pursuit. Such people are referred to, in the Vedic text, as Dharmic. Dharma, then, is a path of understanding and a way of approaching things in a way that is neither detrimental nor destructive. Therefore, Dharma has nothing to do with religion from the perspective of the Vedas.

Dharma, then, is a path of understanding and a way of approaching things in a way that is neither detrimental nor destructive. Therefore, Dharma has nothing to do with religion from the perspective of the Vedas.

Artha is often confused with money. Artha stands for wealth. Wealth encompasses far more than money or currency. It includes everything that can help you acquire material things, including money. It provides for your needs. Wealth, unlike in modern terms, for Vedic people also means knowledge. “There’s no greater wealth than knowledge,” declare Vedic seers across various texts, from the Vedas to the Upanishads. Even if you are given a fortune by inheritance, without the right knowledge, it’s certain to diminish without a sign. Wealth, when you have it, gives you a sense of material security.

“There’s no greater wealth than knowledge,” declare Vedic seers across various texts, from the Vedas to the Upanishads. Even if you are given a fortune by inheritance, without the right knowledge, it’s certain to diminish without a sign. Wealth, when you have it, gives you a sense of material security.

Kama, when mentioned along with Dharma and Artha, suggests desires. There’s a reason why it’s recalled lust. Everyone has desires – it’s a natural phenomenon. But before you desire, it’s important you know if something is worthy of being desired. Dharma, therefore, is the first step. Dharma Shastras teach us the dynamics of that which is truly good and bad while also revealing, when good becomes bad and when bad could be used for good. To see the greater picture, see the greater good. It’s the conscience-keeper of not just people, but also society and civilizations. It’s a moral code; every civilization has a moral code whose intent is to check greed in people, to ensure that peace and harmony are maintained. Moral codes may vary, but their intent is ultimately the same. Once what you desire is passed by a moral code, you’d need to assess if you have the resources it. This is done by Artha – wealth. Artha Shastras as well as Artha Sutras provide you with ways to achieve, retain as well as grow wealth in a way that order is maintained within and without.

Without Dharma, Artha brings only pain and suffering. Without Kama (desire) Dharma and Artha have no relevance. Dharma, Artha and Kama, therefore, are called Purushartha – the essence of one’s being. Purusha, in this context, denotes an individual whereas Artha implies meaning. Purushartha can, therefore, also be understood as that which brings meaning or sense of purpose to our individual existence.

Without Dharma, Artha brings only pain and suffering. Without Kama (desire) Dharma and Artha have no relevance. Dharma, Artha and Kama, therefore, are called Purushartha – the essence of one’s being. Purusha, in this context, denotes an individual whereas Artha implies meaning. Purushartha can, therefore, also be understood as that which brings meaning or sense of purpose to our individual existence.

No two beings can have a similar life. Even twins have differences. Therefore, it’s impossible to assess the secrets of rightful living on our own or even by looking at everyone – comparison is hardly a competent teacher. Shastras were written for this purpose. However, when read without substantial experience, narration and case study, Shastras can be boring. It’s not easy to ascertain their worth, which is why people often question their practicality.

Vyasa’s Mahabharata is also called Panchama Veda or fifth Veda because it not only narrates a tale, but also presents the essence of various Dharma Shastras’ teachings. It even speaks of conventional beliefs of wisdom in people and compares it to the Dharma Shastras and makes a case for the latter.

Bhagavad Gita, as we know it, wasn’t called so by Vyasa. In the original Mahabharata, it features as a conversation between Krishna and Arjuna. Arjuna is unwilling to fight against his own relatives; he suffers an emotional breakdown. Arjuna was present while a war was waged against his cousins, who were aided by those whom he loved, including his own Guru – Dronacharya and the person who cared for him more than his own father – Bhishma. For those who’ve never read the Mahabharata, Krishna could very well appear to be a sadist and war monger. But then it adds perspective to note here that Krishna’s own army was fighting against his side and Krishna himself took the role of charioteer to his mentee, friend and cousin Arjuna. Unless Krishna is understood, the Bhagavad Gita can hardly make sense. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna seeks war. But in the Mahabharata he was the one who tried everything within his purview to stop it.

Bhagavad Gita, as we know it, wasn’t called so by Vyasa. In the original Mahabharata, it features as a conversation between Krishna and Arjuna. Arjuna is unwilling to fight against his own relatives; he suffers an emotional breakdown. Arjuna was present while a war was waged against his cousins, who were aided by those whom he loved, including his own Guru – Dronacharya and the person who cared for him more than his own father – Bhishma. For those who’ve never read the Mahabharata, Krishna could very well appear to be a sadist and war monger. But then it adds perspective to note here that Krishna’s own army was fighting against his side and Krishna himself took the role of charioteer to his mentee, friend and cousin Arjuna. Unless Krishna is understood, the Bhagavad Gita can hardly make sense. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna seeks war. But in the Mahabharata he was the one who tried everything within his purview to stop it.

The Mahabharata is complex, but so is life. No matter how much we try to simplify, we end up complicating it. We lose our focus, sleep, and peace of mind. Life is reduced to chaos. While the Bhagavad Gita was an extremely practical conversation between the knower (Krishna) and the one who desired to know (Arjuna), this is not the only part in which substantial intellectual conversation took place. These are observed in at least two other parts.

A day before the commencement of war, Dhritarashtra was unable to sleep. The very idea of losing any of his 100 sons created deep unrest in his mind. Not knowing what to do, he called his half-brother and former minister, ­Vidura, for a wise counsel. He wanted to listen to words of wisdom in anticipation of peace. A day before Krishna’s discourse to Arjuna on waging war, Vidura tried his best to persuade Dhritarashtra to call it off. As the king of the strongest side in war, in principle, only he could call it off. Alas, that was not to be. Although his words were in vain, the conversation that took place between Vidura and Dhritarashtra continues to be well preserved in the original text of the Mahabharata. It’s often referred to as Vidura Neeti. Vidura was also the son of the author of the Mahabharata Vyasa. He was the most deserving to be king, but was not of royal lineage. He was content being the most respected counsellor to his half-brothers, Pandu and Dhritarashtra. He was a politician and diplomat par excellence.

Another significant person in the Mahabharata is Bhishma. Born as Devavrata, he was the practically the last of the Kurus. When his father, Shantanu, desired a young fisherwoman girl, Matsyagandha a.k.a. Satyavati, he approached her father to seek her hand for his own father. The fisherman agreed to the marriage on condition that his daughter’s sons would be the ones to succeed the king. It meant that Bhishma would have to relinquish his right to the throne. Bhishma agreed. “What if your sons grow up and challenge my sons,” asked Satyavati’s father. “If that’d be your concern, then I take oath never to marry or to father any children. I’ll promise to stay committed to the safety, prosperity and welfare of all those who assume the throne of Hastinapur!” It was the most daunting promise to make and keep, just to ensure that his old father married his desired wife! Bhishma stood by his words and stayed obedient to his king.

Born as Devavrata, he was the practically the last of the Kurus. When his father, Shantanu, desired a young fisherwoman girl, Matsyagandha a.k.a. Satyavati, he approached her father to seek her hand for his own father. The fisherman agreed to the marriage on condition that his daughter’s sons would be the ones to succeed the king. It meant that Bhishma would have to relinquish his right to the throne. Bhishma agreed. “What if your sons grow up and challenge my sons,” asked Satyavati’s father. “If that’d be your concern, then I take oath never to marry or to father any children. I’ll promise to stay committed to the safety, prosperity and welfare of all those who assume the throne of Hastinapur!” It was the most daunting promise to make and keep, just to ensure that his old father married his desired wife! Bhishma stood by his words and stayed obedient to his king.

In a battle, when Bhishma was injured and was waiting for his death to deliver him unto nirvana, Krishna advised Yudhishthira to seek Bhishma’s wise counsel and learn as much as possible from him. As the most powerful, learned yet obedient servant of the throne, Bhishma had dutifully served over six kings. While most of them were incompetent, it was his loyalty and astute military genius that had made the throne of Hastinapur a formidable one. Yudhishthira agreed to meet the man who, until his injury, was the commander of the forces that were bent on destroying him. When Yudhishthira approached Bhishma, there were no signs of animosity between them. There was only a sense of love and compassion. The discourse here was mostly about life, management, politics, and diplomacy. This discussion is recorded in the Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata and is often referred as Bhishma Neeti by scholars. Even today, Bhishma’s wisdom holds significant importance. Only those who’ve read it and understood it will agree.

Bhishma, Vidura and Krishna were three brilliant personalities owing to their character, efforts, endurance, knowledge and unsurpassed wisdom. They had the same principles, only their methods and perspectives differed. What they said, made Dharma, Artha and Kama relevant. Unlike the authors of today, Vyasa never suggested anyone was good or bad. He presented all the characters as they are. According to the Mahabharata, Vyasa was writing about his own sons and grandsons as well. But it is hard to find a sense of partiality in the whole work.

Yet, some characters of the Mahabharata, particularly Krishna, were later turned into gods by story tellers and writers, adding their own figments of imagination. When people turn characters into gods, the latter become worthy of worship, but are not emulated. By making Krishna a god, it made following his footsteps impossible. After all, can we play god – let alone follow his path? As a result, that portion of the MahabharataBhagavad Gita – became a subject of worship, a text to be read in an analytical and rational way. This made it a great, but purposeless work.

Unlike the authors of today, Vyasa never suggested anyone was good or bad. He presented all the characters as they are. According to the Mahabharata, Vyasa was writing about his own sons and grandsons as well. But it is hard to find a sense of partiality in the whole work. Yet, some characters of the Mahabharata, particularly Krishna, were later turned into gods by story tellers and writers, adding their own figments of imagination. When people turn characters into gods, the latter become worthy of worship, but are not emulated. By making Krishna a god, it made following his footsteps impossible. After all, can we play god – let alone follow his path? As a result, that portion of the MahabharataBhagavad Gita – became a subject of worship, a text to be read in an analytical and rational way. This made it a great, but purposeless work.

It’s not important to know if Mahabharata ever took place. As Vyasa mentions, “It’s not characteristic of the wise to brood over the past or future. It’s one’s ability to learn from all and sundry, besides inculcating such good characteristics that make a person truly wise.”  Every tale of the Mahabharata is filled with refreshing anecdotes of wisdom. It is this wisdom, particularly told by Vidura to Dhritarashtra, Krishna to Arjuna and Bhishma to Yudhishthira that we need to learn, understand and realize with our rationale and logic. The path of religion is paved by negating logic and reason; the path of Dharma is with logic, reason as well as wisdom.

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