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Saturday, April 7, 2018

Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha - Maha Bharatha Series 70

Which is important - Virtue, Wealth or Desire?  (Book 12  Section 167)

In between their daily visits to Bhishma, who is on a bed of arrows waiting for an auspicious time to die, Yudhishtra and the rest go to their abode in the evenings and continue their discussions. One day Yudhishtra asks everyone to discuss the relative importance of virtue (dharma), wealth (artha) and desire (kama). 

Vidura is first and says that virtue is the foremost. The entire world depends on virtue for its existence. It is upon virtue that wealth and desire rest. (He probably means that wealth and desire should rest on Virtue). The wise amongst us live our lives that way.  He also adds that one should treat others as one would like to be treated by others. This last point is common to all religious traditions, although practiced rarely.

Arjuna says that the world is full of action. Whether it is agriculture or trade or art, it is for profit (wealth). Without wealth we cannot satisfy our desires and we cannot perform acts of virtue. Virtue and desire are the two arms of wealth. “Everyone depends on people with wealth. But, wealth should be used wisely and to help others”.

Now, it is Nakula’s and Sahadeva’s turn. Their position is nuanced. They agree that wealth is more important. But it should be acquired by proper means and used for good purpose. Virtue should be connected with wealth and wealth should be connected with virtue. A person without wealth cannot gratify his desire. There can be no wealth in one without virtue. Practice virtue first; acquire wealth next and then satisfy one’s desire.

Bhima had a different idea. He felt that desire is the most important factor. Although moralists will look down upon this view, human psychology and human physiology shows that emotions are the prime factors in most of our actions. Reasoning comes later to justify the decision. A recent book on The Enigma of Reason elaborates this point of view.

Bhima says: “All three are equal; but it is desire that compels us to action. One without desire never wishes for anything, not for virtue or wealth. It is desire that drives even the rishis to action. You can never find a person on this planet without desire. There was none in the past; there will be none in the future. Desire is better than virtue and wealth; but all three should be attended to equally”.

Finally, Yudhishtra speaks. He says that desire and wealth lead only to repeated cycles of pleasure and pain. However, one who is free of desires and attachments, who is beyond all these three and is always in equanimity is the liberated one. Therefore, moksha (liberation) is the most important.

In this section, there is a comment about moksha (liberation or emancipation) and nirvana (extinction). Therefore, some scholars believe that this is the influence of Buddhism on Maha Bharatha. This point also supports the suggestion that Maha Bharatha was written after Buddha's time - at least parts of it. 

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