Mahabharata Santi Parva - Translation by KM Ganguly

Mahabharata Adiparva

Section CXLII

"Yudhishthira said, 'If that which is so horrible and which like falsehood should never be an object of regard, be cited (as duty), then what act is there from which I should forbear? Why also should not robbers then be respected? I am stupefied! My heart is pained! All the ties that bind me to morality are loosened! I cannot tranquillise my mind and venture to act in the way suggested by you.'

"Bhishma said, 'I do not instruct thee in respect of duty, taught by what I have heard from the Vedas alone. What I have told thee is the result of wisdom and experience. This is the honey that the learned have gathered. Kings should gather wisdom from various sources. One cannot accomplish his course through the world with the aid of a morality that is one-sided. Duty must spring from the understanding; and the practices of those that are good should always be ascertained, O son of Kuru! Attend to these words of mine. Only kings that are possessed of superior intelligence can rule, expecting victory. A king should provide for the observance of morality by the aid of his understanding and guided by knowledge derived from various sources. The duties of a king can never be discharged by rules drawn from a morality that is one-sided. A weak-minded king can never display wisdom (in the discharge of his duties) in consequence of his not having drawn any wisdom from the examples before him. Righteousness sometimes takes the shape of unrighteousness. The latter also sometimes takes the shape of the former. He who does not know this, becomes confounded when confronted by an actual instance of the kind. Before the occasion comes, one should, O Bharata, comprehend the circumstances under which righteousness and its reverse become confused. Having acquired this knowledge, a wise king should, when the occasion comes, act accordingly, aided by his judgment. The acts he does at such a time are misunderstood by ordinary people. Some persons are possessed of true knowledge. Some persons have false knowledge. Truly ascertaining the nature of each kind of knowledge, a wise king derives knowledge from them that are regarded as good. They that are really breakers of morality find fault with the scriptures. They that have themselves no wealth proclaim the inconsistencies of the treatises on the acquisition of wealth. Those who seek to acquire knowledge for the object only of carrying their sustenance by it, O king, are sinful besides being enemies of morality. Wicked men, of immature understandings, can never know things truly, even as persons unconversant with scriptures are unable in all their acts to be guided by reason. With eyes directed to the faults of the scriptures, they decry the scriptures. Even if they understand the true meaning of the scriptures, they are still in the habit of proclaiming that scriptural injunctions are unsound. Such men, by decrying the knowledge of others proclaim the superiority of their own knowledge. They have words for their weapons and words for their arrows and speak as if they are real masters of their sciences. Know, O Bharata, that they are traders in learning and Rakshasas among men. By the aid of mere pretexts they cast off that morality which has been established by good and wise men. It has been heard by us that the texts of morality are not to be understood by either discussion or one's own intelligence. Indra. himself has said that this is the opinion of the sage Vrihaspati. Some are of opinion that no scriptural text has been laid down without a reason. Others again, even if they properly understand the scriptures, never act according to them. One class of wise men declare that morality is nothing else than the approved course of the world. The man of true knowledge should find out for himself the morality laid down for the good. If even a wise man speaks of morality under the influence of wrath or confusion of understanding or ignorance, his deliverances go for nothing. Discourses on morality made with the aid of an intelligence that is derived from the true letter and spirit of the scriptures, are worthy of praise and not those which are made with the help of anything else. Even the words heard from an ignorant person, if in themselves they be fraught with sense, come to be regarded as pious and wise. In days of old, Usanas said unto the Daityas this truth, which should remove all doubts, that scriptures are no scriptures if they cannot stand the test of reason. The possession or absence of knowledge that is mixed with doubts is the same thing. It behoves thee to drive off such knowledge after tearing it up by the roots. He who does not listen to these words of mine is to be regarded as one that has suffered himself to be misled. Dost thou not see that thou wert created for the accomplishment of fierce deeds? Behold me, O dear child, how, by betaking myself, to the duties of the order of my birth, I have despatched innumerable Kshatriyas to heaven! There are some that are not delighted with me for this. The goat, the horse and the Kshatriya were created by Brahman for a similar purpose (viz., for being useful to everybody). A Kshatriya, therefore, should incessantly seek the happiness of all creatures. The sin that attaches to killing a person that should not be killed is equal to that which is incurred by not killing one who deserves to be killed. Even such is the established order of things which a weak-minded king thinks of never attending to. Therefore, a king should display severity in making all his subjects observe their respective duties. If this is not done, they will prowl like wolves, devouring one another. He is a wretch among Kshatriyas in whose territories robbers go about plundering the property of other people like crows taking little fishes from water. Appointing high-born men possessed of Vedic knowledge as thy ministers, do thou govern the earth, protecting thy subjects righteously. That Kshatriya who, ignorant of the established customs and contrivances, improperly levies taxes upon his people, is regarded as a eunuch of his order. A king should be neither severe nor mild. If he rules righteously he deserves praise. A king should not cast off both the qualities; on the other hand, becoming severe (on occasions demanding severity), he should be mild when it is necessary to be so. Painful is the observance of Kshatriya duties. I bear a great love for thee. Thou art created for the accomplishment of severe acts. Therefore, do thou rule thy kingdom. Sakra possessed of great intelligence has said that in times of distress the great duty of a king is chastising the wicked and protecting the good.

"Yudhishthira said, 'Is there any such rule (in respect of kingly duties) which should, under no circumstances, be violated? I ask thee this, O foremost of virtuous persons! Tell me, O grandsire!'

"Bhishma said, 'One should always worship Brahmanas venerable for learning, devoted to penances, and rich in conduct conformable to the injunctions of the Vedas. This indeed, is a high and sacred duty. Let thy conduct towards the Brahmanas be always that which thou observest towards the gods. The Brahmanas, if enraged, can inflict diverse kinds of wrong, O king. If they be gratified, high fame will be thy share. If otherwise, great will be thy fear. If gratified, the Brahmanas become like nectar. If enraged, they become like poison.'"