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Saturday, January 27, 2018

Shanti Parva - Book 12 - Maha Bharatha Series 60

           Section 65 reiterates the interdependency between the four varnas and that between the people and the gods. The gods depend on the sacrifices performed by the people for them to stay in “heaven” and the people have to perform their duties as assigned by their varnas as one of their sacrifices. In turn, the gods give rain and prosperity to people on earth.
People cannot stay within their varna duties (kula dharma) if the society is in chaos. A strong king is needed to maintain law and order. That is why the king is a representative of the gods. King’s duties are the most important ones since that allows people to perform their duties and thus keep the gods in their secure place. Both the King and the people need the Brahmans to help perform the sacrifices.  I do understand the logic and can also see how people followed these ideas. What is surprising is that this logic is still defended.

Section 66 addresses the ashrama dharma (stage of life). One interesting observation is that Bhishma says that a good king should control his emotions so that he can act on the basis of reason (understanding).

Section 68 states that a king is not just a human, but god in the form of a human. It is therefore, god in the form of human who administers justice. It goes on to say that without someone to wield the rod and maintain law and order, there will be chaos and there can be no society. No one’s life will be safe; the strong will eat the weak just as a large fish swallows a small fish. No one’s property will be safe. No one can practice their trade or duties. A king makes it possible for everyone follow their duties. Therefore, if a group of people do not have a king, they should choose one. By giving him a special place and special ornaments etc, and make sure everyone can recognize him as the king.

The king needs a learned Brahmana to help please the gods. Brahmana needs to help the other varnas to do their duties and also perform sacrifices to please the gods whose representative the king is. All of this makes logic sense, given the time these puranas were written.  In section 74, it goes even further to state that the Brahmana and the Kshatriya have a common origin in Brahma. Each one separately is not as powerful as together. It also says that the power of the mantras of the Brahmana and of the weapons of the kshatriya together are needed to protect the people.
“The preservation and the growth of a kingdom needs a king. The preservation and the growth of a king requires a Brahmana” states Maha Bharata (Book 12 Section 74).

Other advice includes the idea that a good king should not go to war to acquire territory; but acquire it by conciliation, gift or creating discord. (sama, dana and beda). He should be prepared for war but should be ready for peace. The tax rates mentioned include 1/6th to 1/10th of the value.

When a student asks why sinful people get away with their acts, the answer is that they get away with it in this life – since earth bears the honest and wicked equally, the sun shines on the honest and wicked equally, the wind blows on the honest and wicked equally and the water washes the honest and wicked equally – but they will suffer in the “other” world. So, here is an answer that satisfies most people.

After section 73, several sections are devoted to listing the "do's and don'ts" for people of the four varnas. This whole section is praised by several people as the essence of varna dharma since they are attributed to Bhishma at his death-bed.
We do not know whether these were in the original writings. To me, it is all distraction since I am of the opinion that the one big mistake our ancestors made was to perpetuate this varna (and therefore, the caste system) dharma based on birth. They perpetuated the error by placing it in the midst of the puranas. May be, they did not.  It is difficult for me to believe that the noble souls who saw the divine in every sentient being and even in stone thought that some individuals are less than others, just because of birth. May be, someone inserted this section later?

Friday, January 19, 2018

Shanti Parva - Book 12 - Maha Bharata Series 59

Bhishma’s teachings from his bed of arrows starts from Section 55 of Book 12. Since there are books in several languages on these discourses, I plan to cover only certain sections. I am sure you will seek out books which cover the entire teachings of Bhishma in detail, if you are interested.

             Section 56 to 69 deal with the duties of a king (Raja dharma). Here are some points that caught my attention.

Raja dharma is necessary to control one’s subjects – it is like the reins for a horse and iron hook (called ankusam, in Tamil) to control an elephant.

Both destiny and human efforts are needed for success. Effort is more important.

                A king should not be too friendly with his servants. If he does so, the servants will behave without respect and this will include belching and spitting in front of the king himself. Belching and spitting in public are bad and disrespectful habits.

                Bhishma quotes a poem from Ramacharitra as follows: “One should first chose a king in whose territory he wants to live; then choose a wife and then amass wealth. Because, without a just ruler, who will protect your wife and your wealth”?

                A king cannot rule his kingdom and protect his subjects if he is completely candor all the time. He has to use both candor and crookedness to be a good ruler. 

Kings are reincarnation of gods on earth. They are god’s representatives and should use the rod to keep people honest (?obedient).

Kshatriyas are there to protect everyone, but specially Brahmanas, because they are special. Together Kashtriyas and Brahmanas appease the gods with oblations and help keep the gods in the heaven. The gods in turn send rains for the people.

This above narrative is repeated over and over and particularly so in sections 71 and 72.

These passages which repeatedly emphasize the relationship between the Kshatriyas and the Brahmans make some scholars believe that this part of book 12 was not part of Maha Bharata but inserted by someone with a vested interest.

Bhishma describes a book called Dandaniti (Rule of Law) attributed to the Self-Generated (Brahma?). Brahma is said to have established the “do’s and don’ts” for a king and passed it on to Siva, then to Indra and to Brhaspati until it reached Pritha through Vishnu.

The origin of the words, Raja, Kshatriya and Prithvi are based on Prithu as the first king of this earth. Raja is one who gratifies (rajas) everyone. Kshatriya is one who heels the wounds (kshat) of everyone. Prithvi is the land of the king Pritha.

Bhishma also mentions dharma, artha and kama (virtue, wealth and desire) as one unit with moksha (liberation) as the opposite of these three. The three qualities of satwa, rajas and tamas (goodness, passion and ignorance) also form a triplet and moksha (liberation) is the opposite of these three. Moksha is the practice of the virtues and goodness just for its sake, not expecting any reward or bliss.

Yudhishtra asks Bhishma about the four varnas and four ashramas and Bhishma’s answers are in Section 60. His discourse establishes the long-standing traditions of the four varnsa, wrongly interpreted as castes by the westerners. It also places the Brahmanas high up in the pecking order. Some interesting points from my point of view are: 

1.       Before detailing the duties for each of the varnas, Bhishma lists nine duties applicable to  people of all varnas. They are: truth, control of anger, forgiveness, justice, children only through marriage, pure conduct, avoiding quarrels, simplicity and taking care of dependents.

2.       It is clear where the sudra varna was placed. It says that sudras are to serve their master at all times, even if the master has no wealth. In fact, sudra is expected to support his master, if he becomes poor. Sudra has no right to property; if he gets any, it belongs to the master.

3.       “Brahmanas are the gods of the very gods”.

4.       The four ashramas unlike what we traditionally hear about are: brahmacharya (bachelor), garhapatya (householder), bhaikshya (living on alms) and vanaprasta (life in forest). It is interesting to note that one can go from brahmacharya to bhaikshya or to garhapatya. From garhapatya one goes to vanaprasta.