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Chapter 43

Anxiety for the Blind King

Dhṛtarāṣṭra sat alone in his chambers. Sañjaya had been gone for days and was due back at any time. The king wondered how the Pāṇḍavas would receive his message. Surely the gentle Yudhiṣṭhira would not opt for war. How could he condone killing his beloved elders? But he would certainly act on Kṛṣṇa’s advice. Kṛṣṇa was an unknown element. Dhṛtarāṣṭra could not fathom His motivations or intentions. Sometimes He seemed impartial--or at least He said He was--yet He always appeared to favor the Pāṇḍavas. Then again He had given His army to Duryodhana and had promised not to fight. It was difficult to understand.

As Dhṛtarāṣṭra sat thinking, a messenger entered his room to inform him that Sañjaya had returned. The king asked that Sañjaya be shown in at once.

Sañjaya entered the chamber with clasped hands and stood before Dhṛtarāṣṭra. “O lord of the earth, I am Sañjaya, returned from seeing the Pāṇḍavas. Yudhiṣṭhira sends his greetings and asks after your health, and that of your sons and grandsons.”

“Blessings to you, Sañjaya. Welcome back. Tell me how Yudhiṣṭhira, who creates no enemies, is faring. Are he and his brothers well?”

“All is well with the Pāṇḍavas. Yudhiṣṭhira desires to have what was formerly his. In his opinion, virtue is superior to acquiring wealth, and it is the essence of happiness and joy. That godly man, motivated only by virtue, wishes to again protect the people in accord with the eternal duties the creator has assigned to him. Surely men are puppets led by God’s will. Otherwise, how could the Pāṇḍavas have suffered so much? I think that as long as a powerful man does not have an opportunity to rectify things, his antagonists will prosper. Your acts have been indescribably sinful, O King, and you will soon receive their results. Yudhiṣṭhira, having cast away sin as a snake sloughs its skin, is now resplendent amid other heroes.”

Sañjaya’s long and intimate relationship with Dhṛtarāṣṭra allowed him to be frank. The king winced as his secretary continued. “Reflect carefully on your course, O King, because your motives are suicidal. You have acted dishonorably toward the Pāṇḍavas, and you have achieved neither virtue nor wealth. Vicious and cruel, your deeds have earned you only shame and censure among men. We can understand such actions from low-class men with poor education, but you are born in the line of Bharata and have been advised by many wise ministers. You too are wise and know the difference between right and wrong. Why, then, do you act to bring about the destruction of your race?”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra pressed a forefinger and thumb into his eyes. He felt unbearably hot, although he was being fanned on both sides by young maidens with chamara whisks. He unbuttoned his tunic and called for a cup of cool water. Sañjaya did not relent. He could not bear to see his master bring about his own ruin. The time for diplomacy was past. Disaster was imminent. If there was any hope of averting it, the king needed to keep hearing the truth--and do something soon.

“Surely the Pāṇḍavas are aided by divine forces. Otherwise, how could Arjuna have gone to the heavens in his mortal body? God alone awards men the results of their deeds. Our exertions are useless if we fail to recognize this truth. Striving only for our own gratification, we will gain nothing but misery. O King, I blame you for the present situation. You have acted without regard for God’s laws. If you do not reverse your decisions, you will be responsible for the annihilation of innumerable men. Arjuna will destroy the Kurus as fire destroys a heap of dry grass. Influenced by your headstrong son, you think your success is sure. Thus you did not prevent the dice game. Now look at the result of such madness. O King, because you are weak you will not be able to retain sovereignty over this broad realm, any more than a fool can retain wealth suddenly gained.”

It was late and Sañjaya was tired from his long journey. He asked Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s permission to take rest and said he would return in the morning to deliver Yudhiṣṭhira’s message to the assembly. The king dismissed his servant with kind words. He knew that Sañjaya had only his interests at heart, no matter how cutting his words.

After Sañjaya left, Dhṛtarāṣṭra sat alone, his mind wracked by painful thoughts. Everything depended upon him. It would surely be just to return Indraprastha to Yudhiṣṭhira, but Duryodhana would never agree. Would he be able to check him? It had been almost twenty years since Dhṛtarāṣṭra had assumed the throne. Now he was lord of the earth--that is, he and Duryodhana, his empowered representative. To give Yudhiṣṭhira his kingdom would end all that. The self-effulgent Pāṇḍavas would soon reestablish their supremacy over their cousins. He and Duryodhana would be eclipsed. The king felt his limbs tremble. Having had such power, it would be worse than death to have it taken away.

Although it was late, Dhṛtarāṣṭra felt that he needed to hear from Vidura. No one could offer him impartial, thoughtful advice like Vidura. The king asked that Vidura be summoned and within a short time he entered the chamber. “O you of great wisdom, I am Vidura, here at your command. Order me. What can I do for you? I am your servant.”

The king welcomed him warmly and had him sit at his side. He spoke in somber tones. “O Vidura, I have just spoken with Sañjaya. He strongly criticized me. He has not yet told me what Yudhiṣṭhira said and now I am anxious. My body is burning and I cannot sleep. Tell me how to cure my condition.”

Vidura, who had been called from his prayer and meditation, replied, “Sleeplessness overpowers one who has been attacked by a stronger man, the weak, those who have failed to attain their goal, those who have been robbed, those consumed by desire, and thieves. I hope that you do not fall into any of these categories, O King, nor that you are greedy for another’s wealth.”

Vidura knew well the king’s dilemma. He had discussed it with him on countless occasions, always offering him the same advice. Dhṛtarāṣṭra had always ignored it. Vidura had repeatedly warned him of the eventual outcome of his acts, an outcome which was now imminent. Dhṛtarāṣṭra was obviously realizing that fact.

The king turned his head toward Vidura. “Speak wisdom to me, dear brother. Speak those words which are at once morally uplifting and also calculated to secure my welfare.”

Vidura’s affection for his brother never waned, despite his brother’s foolishness. He patiently advised him for his good, praying that one day the blind king would come to his senses. Perhaps now, with the approach of calamity, he would become more thoughtful. Vidura said, “Yudhiṣṭhira is a king graced with all the auspicious marks. He is fit to rule the world. You should have kept him near you, but you exiled him. For this blindness you are condemned, O King, although you know what is virtue. Because he is inoffensive, kind, forgiving and a lover of truth, Yudhiṣṭhira remembers your supremacy and patiently bears the hardships you have inflicted upon him. Having bestowed lordship of the world on Duryodhana, who bears enmity toward Yudhiṣṭhira, how can you now expect peace and prosperity?”

Vidura had himself received many instructions from ṛṣis and sages, and he sought their association whenever it was available. Recalling the saints’ words of wisdom, he became more gentle with Dhṛtarāṣṭra as he continued to instruct him. The king listened attentively.

“He is said to be a wise man who cannot be deviated from his duties by anger, exultation, pride, lust or ignorance, and who remains fixed on the highest goals of life. Attachment to the saintly, renouncing the association of blameworthy men, and maintaining faith and reverence toward elders are also signs of the wise. A wise man acts in accordance with religion, pursuing a course that benefits him in both this life and the next rather than one that offers only immediate pleasure. Wise men do not lament for what is lost, nor do they hanker for the unattainable. They rejoice in virtuous deeds and they shun sin. The wise understand this world to be temporary and miserable. They recognize God’s supremacy and their own position as His servants. All their acts are aimed at pleasing the Lord and achieving His eternal abode.

“On the other hand, a fool is proud, even though ignorant, vain and poor. Fools try to achieve prosperity through sin, and hanker after others’ property. Resorting to deceit and violence, a fool thinks nothing of hurting others to achieve his nefarious ends. A fool forsakes that which should be obtained and desires that which should not be desired. He is faithless, makes no offerings to the ancestors, and worships only himself. Arrogant, angry and harsh of speech, he lacks discrimination and befriends those who should be foes while hating those worthy of friendship. Failing in his endeavors, he blames others and punishes the innocent. Such men are ultimately destroyed to their roots.”

Vidura instructed Dhṛtarāṣṭra well into the night. He tried his best to turn the old king’s mind toward virtue and truth. He had nothing new to say to Dhṛtarāṣṭra. The Kuru monarch had often heard such teachings. He agreed with everything, and even enjoyed hearing it. As Vidura spoke the king recognized his own foolishness and sinfulness, and he freely admitted them. He prompted Vidura to speak more and more, asking question after question. The night ended with Vidura pointing out the certain results that would ensue if the king did not act fairly toward the Pāṇḍavas.

But Dhṛtarāṣṭra knew he could not find the strength to act upon Vidura’s wisdom. He knew that even though he wanted to act properly, he would not have the will to cross Duryodhana. He knew that when he sat among the kings in the assembly the next morning, he would be unable to accede to Yudhiṣṭhira’s request.

Vidura understood the king’s position. He knew his words were having little effect and decided that Dhṛtarāṣṭra needed to hear from someone more spiritually potent. After having spoken to the king for several hours he said finally, “I am a śūdra, O King. I cannot instruct you further. But I know of someone who can. The saintly Ṛṣi Sanat-Sujata has instructed me in the eternal Vedic truths on many occasions. I will invoke him and he will appear to speak to you. That sage has lived a life of perpetual celibacy. His words are powerful and pure. With your permission, I will call him.”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra assented and Vidura sat in meditation, fixing his mind on Sanat-Sujata. The Ṛṣi divined Vidura’s thoughts by his own power and he came there at once. His body shone with a brilliant luster, and he carried a waterpot and a staff in his hands. Vidura received him with due rites and offered him an elevated seat near the king.

When the sage was sitting at his ease, Vidura said, “O lord, the king has doubts I cannot clear. If it is your desire, please instruct him in the ancient truths as you have realized them. Only you can free him from duality and help him become fixed on the path of virtue.”

The Ṛṣi, who was clad in a black deerskin and had matted locks of hair, nodded. Seeing his willingness to speak, Vidura told the king to place his questions before him. Dhṛtarāṣṭra said, “O Sanat-Sujata, please guide me. Pray tell me how I can attain to the highest end of my life. Death comes to all beings, but I hear that you know the secret of defeating death. How should I act so that I might not be forever subjected to birth and death in this world?”

Sanat-Sujata replied, “You have asked how death may be avoided and eternal life attained. Listen, O King, and I shall instruct you to the best of my knowledge. It is said that actual death is ignorance. Where there is no ignorance, there is no death. He who is ruled by lust, anger and greed is ruled by Yamarāja and will see that great god again and again. Falling into all kinds of hells he suffers unbearable miseries. Then he rises again and takes birth among animals and men in this world, once more beginning the cycle. One who controls his senses, however, and does not act on their dictates is saved from this suffering. To such a man who checks his mind and senses, death is a straw tiger. Therefore, you should avoid all sensual desires and cultivate knowledge of the eternal soul, which exists separately from the senses and is different from the body.”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra asked, “What regions do those who control their senses attain? How should such a man act in this world? O sage, I am not satiated by hearing you speak only once.”

Sanat-Sujata sat cross-legged on the golden seat, his two hands held in front of him with forefinger and thumb joined together as he spoke. “O King, one should perform sacrifice and penance aimed at pleasing the Supreme Person. If you do this, you will attain the supreme, eternal regions from which you will not return. Step by step, one should progress along the path of knowledge, never thinking oneself to be the material body and always acting to attain spiritual progress.”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra flinched as the sage continued. The aged monarch already knew these teachings. He knew the sage spoke the truth. Dhṛtarāṣṭra knew that his own actions had been far from submissive to those instructions. Worse than that, however, he knew he was unlikely to change. No doubt he would have to perform much asceticism and penance to atone for his sins. Maybe then he would finally be able to apply the saint’s instructions. It seemed that for now, Destiny was moving him to act in ways contrary to good advice. Feeling helpless in the face of his own weakness, Dhṛtarāṣṭra went on questioning the Ṛṣi.

Sanat-Sujata could also see the king’s inner feelings, but he continued to address him for his ultimate welfare. It was up to Dhṛtarāṣṭra to choose his own course of action. The sage knew that all he could do was make clear the consequences of the various courses available to the king.

Dhṛtarāṣṭra listened as Sanat-Sujata described how the Supersoul pervades the universe and resides in the hearts of all living beings.

The king asked, “How can one come to know that Supersoul?”

“The Supreme, who is known as Brahman, can only be known by one who has attained the same spiritual nature as Him. That nature is attained by the practice of serving the spiritual master, studying the Vedas, observing celibacy, practicing asceticism, and abstaining from violence toward others. Gradually one will become free of the material nature’s influence and become situated in his original spiritual nature. Then by meditation, one can know the Supreme.”

Dhṛtarāṣṭra was intrigued. “What form does the immortal and omnipresent Supersoul have in this world? Is he white, red, black, or some other color? What are his attributes?”

“He may appear as any color, but He is not like anything within your present experience. He is the form of the universe, but simultaneously appears in the heart in a form the size of your thumb. Everything rests in Him and is absorbed back into Him at the time of dissolution. He is without duality and yet from Him springs the infinite varieties of creation. His arms and legs are everywhere yet He is still. He sees everything and He possesses all knowledge. No one is unknown to the Supreme Being.”

Returning to the king’s question about how to know the Supersoul, the sage further described what behavior elevates one to the spiritual platform. He went on to explain about the nature of Brahman and the state one experiences when he attains that nature. Sanat-Sujata spoke until the rising sun filled the king’s chamber. Seeing that it was daybreak, the Ṛṣi concluded his discourse and stood up to leave. Vidura touched his feet and both he and the king thanked him for his instructions. Sanat-Sujata then vanished, leaving the two men to prepare themselves for the assembly.