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Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Shanti Parva on the Three Virtues - Maha Bharatha Series 65

Shanti Parva on the Three Virtues:  Book 12, Section 123

Dharma (virtue), artha (wealth) and kama (pleasure) are the three foundations of Hindu codes of conduct – in that order. Bhishma elaborates on them in this section.

When people pursue wealth by virtuous means and with good heart, all virtue, wealth and pleasure are in harmony. Time, cause and action have also to be appropriate. Wealth depends on virtue and pleasure is the fruit of wealth. All of them depend on one’s will (samkalpa), in relation to objects and objects are for satisfying one’s desire.

Virtue is for the protection of the body, and therefore wealth should be used for acquisition of virtue. Pleasure can satisfy only the senses. Seeking virtue and wealth for rewards such as heaven (which is a remote goal) is not as useful as seeking them for the sake of knowledge of one’s self, here and now.

Just because one acts based on virtue and with good heart, result is not assured. Virtue does not always lead to wealth. Wealth can and has produced evil. The weakness of virtue is when it is based on desire. The weakness of wealth is in hoarding it.

If one pursues pleasure abandoning virtue and wealth, one loses his intellect. Loss of intellect leads to reckless action leading to loss of virtue and wealth and leads one to sinful conduct.

Yudhishtra asks: “Since a king needs wealth (kingdom) to protect his subjects, what are the means for acquiring that wealth? What is morality? When is it acceptable to use unfair means to acquire wealth?”

Bhishma replies: “Morality is subtle; it is difficult to discern. You can learn from the scriptures, by listening to the wise ones; and by think on your own”. Morality and righteousness do not always go together. What you get out of books of knowledge is limited. That will give you an idea of the means. But, the means should be tested by morality.

But, duties (morality) change depending on one’s condition. What you should do (what morality is) when you are able and competent is different from what you can and should do when you are in distress. Under stress, brahmins can eat forbidden things and kshatriya kings can obtain wealth by unfair means. However, they should repent and propitiate for those sins later.

Bhishma goes on to say: “Treasury can never be filled without oppressing someone”. “No one can support life without injuring creatures” and “Many improper things are done when performing sacrifices”.

I find these comments so realistic, honest and open-minded. Not rigid.


Ramesh said...

Fully echo your sentiments. I find this one one of the deepest, most profound and thought provoking of the posts in this series. Very honest and openminded as you have observed - even tackling the dilemma where one has to abandon some virtue in order to pursue wealth.

This post is full of deep insights

- morality and righteousness do not always go together
- weakness of wealth is in hoarding it
- morality changes depending on one's condition.

I find the concept of morality not being an absolute, a fascinating concept. Take a Syrian refugee fleeing from war. To feed her child, she may break a law, which to those of us sitting in a safe country might seem wrong. But if we put ourselves in the shoes of that mother, we may do exactly the same transgression.

Much to think over.

Balu said...

The concept of morality in context is the essence of Dharma, as defined by the rishis. But it can work without disrupting the safety and functioning of the society only when every citizen has developed an "internal policeman" and reflects deeply as explained in several anecdotes throughout Maha Bharatha. Spiritual maturity is required to practice true dharma. Otherwise every one can do what is convenient, find an explanation (not reason) for his or her bad action and one can always go on a pilgrimage or perform some charity to get rid of the papam or sin.

Please also see an earlier post on Dharma for the 21st century.