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Friday, September 28, 2018

Bhishma's discourse on Right Conduct - Maha Bharatha series 93


Yudhishtra asks Bhishma: “Between direct perception and  the scriptures, which is a better authority to arrive at conclusions?” Bhishma admits that it is difficult to answer. Logicians imagine themselves to possess all that is knowable and insist on direct perception as the better method. They assert that nothing, however true, is existent which is not perceivable. But, Bhishma thinks otherwise. One that is open-minded and deeply involved in answering the question will find the answer. “When one reaches the end of reason, one comes upon that vast source of effulgence which illuminates the Universe. That, that Brahman, is not defined or comprehended by words. Therefore, Inference and reason cannot lead you to the ultimate knowledge which is beyond words and logic”.

Then, Yudhshtra asks: “Which among the following four is most authoritative: direct perception, inference from observation, agamas and scriptures and practices of the wise and the good”? Having answered the question about perception and inference, Bhishma says that wicked people will always try to undermine righteousness and sometimes righteousness acts as a mask for unrighteous. But, “seek those of mental purity and good behavior and follow them in addition to what you learn from the scriptures”.

Yudhishtra says: “If you say that Vedas, perception and mental purity together constitute what is to be regarded as authority, there must be some differences between them. Righteousness is probably of three different kinds”. Bhishma says that it is not so. But, it appears so because of three different points of view. He says in effect: “Do not get stuck with these arguments and wrangling. Just follow me like a blind man. The eternal righteousness include non-injury, truth-telling, gift-giving and forgiveness.” In a later section, Bhishma says that righteousness leads to purity of soul and shields against unrighteousness.

In describing the righteous conduct of good men, Bhishma includes the following. Good men eat only after feeding the deities, the ancestors, guests, relatives and other living creatures. A guest should never go away without having been fed. Thy do not ease in public roads or in paddy fields. They do not talk while eating. They give way to (yield to) elders, ladies, those carrying weight, those who are important officials and the king. He talks care of his relatives, guests and those who come under his protection. He is polite to the visitors. He eats only twice a day. In between, he does not eat (and this is also called fasting, although fasting for several days and even up to one month are mentioned elsewhere). Brahmacharya is defined as not having congress except at specified time. One is not said to incur sin by eating meat as long as it was sanctified with the use of mantras from the Yajur veda(!).

One should offer dakshina (some remuneration) to a preceptor. One’s preceptor should be received with respect and seated when he arrives. One should not let an elder go on errands or scold them. When an elder is standing, one should not be sitting. One should start and end a day listening to the wise counsels of the elders.

One should not stare at a naked man or woman. Sex should be in private. Eating also should be in private. The right hand should be used to hold the scriptures and for eating. One should keep one’s senses, mind and speech under control.

When someone sneezes, others who are present should say “bless”. One should pray for the sick and bless them (for recovery?).

An eminent person should not be addressed in familiar, second person singular terms (such as common YOU, in Sanskrit it is twam; term to show respect is bhavan for masculine and bhavathi for feminine). (There is an episode in Maha Bharatha in which Arjuna gets angry at Yudhistra and  is ready to kill him so he can keep his vow. Krishna asks Arjuna not to kill but to insult Yudhishtra with harsh and familiar terms because it is equivalent to killing an elder) When you do this to a learned person also, it is as good as killing him! But you can use second person singular term to address an equal, an inferior or a disciple.

If a sin is committed, it is best to admit it in the presence of good men and make propitiations.

One should be righteous for the sake of being good and noble; not for showing off or for specific gains. Those who do so make a trade out of righteousness and do not accrue the virtue associated with it.

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