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Chapter 34

Vidura Instructs Dhṛtarāṣṭra

In Hastināpura, Yudhiṣṭhira heard from his men that Arjuna was approaching the city. Hearing that all was well with his brother, he joyfully set about making preparations for his sacrifice. His priests had arranged for the sacrifice to be performed on the full moon day in the month of Magha. They selected an auspicious spot on a large, level plain outside the city, and sanctified it with Vedic rites. A golden altar was constructed, and numerous mansions were built for the visiting kings. Messengers were then dispatched to all parts of the land to invite them.

Soon numerous monarchs began to arrive, as well as thousands of ascetics. The Pāṇḍavas greeted them all warmly and offered them the finest accommodation. As the day of the sacrifice approached, Yudhiṣṭhira himself went out of the city and entered the royal pavilion. As he proceeded, he saw the sacrificial arena, resembling Indra’s heavenly capital. Triumphal arches had been built, and the ground was paved with gold bricks. Jars, jugs, ladles, seats, and other necessary paraphernalia had been arranged around the fire altars which surrounded the main altar. The main altar shone like the sun. Yudhiṣṭhira did not see anything that was not made of gold.

The guests were filled with wonder at its opulence. They were fed sumptuously by thousands of servants, and provided with anything they desired. Yudhiṣṭhira arranged that drums and cymbals should be sounded each time a hundred thousand Brahmins had been fed. The crash and clash of those instruments was heard again and again throughout the day. There were hills of food, huge tanks of ghee, and lakes filled with milk. The citizens joyfully came out to attend the sacrifice, dressed in colorful silks and adorned with burnished golden earrings. The women were decorated with jewels and ornaments, and their faces shone like radiant moons.

A few days before the sacrifice, Kṛṣṇa arrived with His son Pradyumna, and Sātyaki and Balarāma. Numerous other Yadus and Vrishnis accompanied Him and they all entered the sacrificial arena like gods descending from heaven. Yudhiṣṭhira and his brothers worshipped Kṛṣṇa and Balarāma and offered Them the best mansions for Their residence. Kṛṣṇa spoke about Arjuna, who had not yet returned from his expedition. He told the other Pāṇḍavas that He had received news about him and that he would be arriving the next day.

After the Pāṇḍavas and their guests had spent the night in their mansions outside the city, they went the following day to greet Arjuna. With Dhṛtarāṣṭra at their head, they proceeded with a large number of Brahmins and citizens. In a short while, they saw the sacrificial horse, looking as beautiful as the celestial horse Ucchaisravas, followed by Arjuna on his blazing chariot.

Yudhiṣṭhira and his brothers welcomed Arjuna with affection, praising his feat in subduing the world’s kings and bringing the horse back safely. Kṛṣṇa embraced him and went with him into his mansion, where they spent a pleasant evening together.

When the day of the sacrifice arrived, Vyāsadeva came to Yudhiṣṭhira and said, “The time for the sacrifice has come. The priests await you. O King, you should make offerings three times greater than are required by the ordinance. Give three times the required charity to the priests at the end. In this way, you will acquire the merit of three Ashvamedhas. This will certainly free you from any sin that may have accrued from the war.

Attended by Kṛṣṇa and thousands of kings, the sacrifice was duly performed according to the instructions of Vyāsadeva and Dhaumya. Everyone present considered it no less magnificent than the Rājasūya had been years before. When it was complete, and the time had come to give dakṣiṇa, Yudhiṣṭhira offered the entire earth to Vyāsadeva, saying, “O great sage, this is the proper dakṣiṇa ordained for this sacrifice. Take this earth, conquered by Arjuna, and divide it among the ṛṣis. I will enter the forest, for I cannot take the property of Brahmins.”

The crowd buzzed with excitement at Yudhiṣṭhira’s announcement. Everyone applauded him. Even the gods praised him. Vyāsadeva, pleased, replied, “The earth is now mine. O King, I now give it back to you. What need does an ascetic have for this world? How can Brahmins rule the world? Take it back and rule over it as enjoined by scripture.”

Hearing Kṛṣṇa confirming Vyāsadeva’s words, Yudhiṣṭhira replied, “Let it be so.” He then arranged for all the golden sacrificial utensils to be distributed among the Brahmins, along with heaps of gems and millions of milking cows. The frugal Brahmins accepted only enough for their survival. Large amounts of wealth were left, which Yudhiṣṭhira then distributed to the kṣatriyas, vaiśyās and śūdras. No one attending the sacrifice left without a valuable gift, and everyone went home praising Yudhiṣṭhira.

Kṛṣṇa and His followers stayed for a few days after the sacrifice, enjoying the Pāṇḍavas’ company. Then, after being worshipped by Yudhiṣṭhira, they returned to Dwārakā. Yudhiṣṭhira now felt free of sin. Having made arrangements for the world to be properly governed by pious kings, he continued to live happily with his brothers in Hastināpura.

The years passed quickly for the Pāṇḍavas after the sacrifice. Although they thought constantly of Gāndhārī’s curse, dreading the day that Kṛṣṇa would leave the world, they treated her and her old husband with the highest respect. Dhṛtarāṣṭra felt as if he was lord of the earth. Hundreds of servants waited upon him and provided him with anything he desired. All the kings who came to Hastināpura with tribute for Yudhiṣṭhira were asked to offer their respects and worship to Dhṛtarāṣṭra. The blind monarch, receiving treatment like Indra in heaven, forgot his grief and was happy. Gāndhārī was also attended and served with respect by Kuntī and Draupadī, as well as Ulūpī, Citrāṅgadā, and the other Pāṇḍava ladies.

With the exception of Bhīma, Yudhiṣṭhira and his brothers acted toward Dhṛtarāṣṭra like disciples toward their guru. Seeing their humility and obedience to his commands, Dhṛtarāṣṭra regarded the brothers like his own sons. He felt only shame when he remembered Duryodhana, who had destroyed their family and had never been so respectful toward him as were Pāṇḍu’s sons .

But Bhīma could not forget the ills the Pāṇḍavas had experienced at the Kauravas’ hands. Unable to forgive the blind king, he reluctantly offered him respect, but inwardly seethed at seeing the royal treatment accorded him by Yudhiṣṭhira. Dhṛtarāṣṭra also could not feel much love for Bhīma, who had killed his sons. He tried to offer the Pāṇḍava his blessings, but his mind was still filled with malice toward him.

Through his own servants, Bhīma arranged for many deeds that were disagreeable to Dhṛtarāṣṭra. He caused the commands of the old Kuru chief to be disobeyed and looked for opportunities to give him pain. Out of anger he would stand within Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s hearing and utter hurtful words. Slapping his arms, he would say, “With these two mace-like arms I have crushed all the blind king’s sons. Due to coming within the reach of these arms, the wicked Kauravas have all been dispatched to Death’s abode.” Or he would speak other words offensive to Dhṛtarāṣṭra.

Although hurt by Bhīma’s words, Dhṛtarāṣṭra said nothing about the situation to Yudhiṣṭhira. He felt too indebted to the Pāṇḍava king to disturb him in any way. Gāndhārī also tolerated Bhīma’s painful utterances, considering them the inevitable reactions to her and her husband’s past actions.

Thirty-five years went by with Yudhiṣṭhira ruling the world. The Pāṇḍavas thought always of Kṛṣṇa and became increasingly concerned as the day approached when Gāndhārī’s curse would take effect. Seeing Parīkṣit grown into a powerful prince, exhibiting all virtuous qualities, they began to think of retiring. They knew that although death in battle was the best way for a kṣatriya to give up the body, death in the forest while practicing asceticism was an honorable second best. Pious kings always spent their last years in the forest seeking spiritual perfection.

One day, the Pāṇḍavas heard that Vidura had returned to Hastināpura. The Kuru minister had been gone for many years on pilgrimage, practicing austerities. Although the Pāṇḍavas occasionally received word of him, they had not seen him since he had left. They often remembered their uncle with affection. When he returned, they ran toward him, overwhelmed with happiness and love. One by one the five brothers fell at his feet and clasped them.

Vidura was met by Dhṛtarāṣṭra, Kṛpa, Sañjaya, Gāndhārī, Kuntī, Draupadī, and all the other palace residents. Vidura appeared emaciated by his long practice of asceticism, but he shone with spiritual energy. He had spent much time in the company of Brahmins, hearing extensive spiritual instructions from the powerful Maitreya Ṛṣi. Desiring to see Dhṛtarāṣṭra and the Pāṇḍavas before the end of his life, he had come for a final visit to Hastināpura.

Yudhiṣṭhira and his brothers worshipped him with offerings of arghya and other auspicious items. After feeding him sumptuously, they had him seated in the royal assembly hall, where he would always sit when he had acted as Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s prime minister.

Recalling the many times that Vidura had helped them when they were young and suffering from Duryodhana’s antagonism, Yudhiṣṭhira sat at his feet and said, “My Uncle, do you remember how you always protected us, along with our mother, from calamity? Your partiality, like the wings of a bird covering her fledglings, saved us from destruction. While traveling across the earth, how did you maintain yourself? At which holy places did you render service?”

By his own developed spiritual power, Yudhiṣṭhira could understand that his uncle had achieved a high level of spiritual realization. Like himself, Vidura had always taken pleasure in hearing from ṛṣis and practicing asceticism. He had not been sorry to leave the city, but had accepted it as a providential arrangement for him to perfect his life.

Seeing that the old Kuru minister had achieved that perfection, Yudhiṣṭhira said with folded palms, “My lord, saints like your good self are holy places personified. Because you carry the Personality of Godhead within your heart, you turn every place into a place of pilgrimage.”

Yudhiṣṭhira asked Vidura what he had seen on his long pilgrimage, and Vidura gradually described everything. Having become self-realized, he was experiencing the highest transcendental happiness and was ready to give up his material body and assume his eternal spiritual identity. Out of compassion for his brother Dhṛtarāṣṭra, however, whom he could understand was still materially attached, he decided to remain for some time in the city first. Realizing that the blind king was fast approaching the end of his life while still living in spiritual ignorance, Vidura wanted to instruct him one last time in order to break his attachments to sense pleasure.

A few days later, Vidura found an opportunity to speak with Dhṛtarāṣṭra. In the presence of all the Pāṇḍavas and their wives, he addressed him with strong words. “My dear king, you should get out of here immediately. Do not delay. Just see how fear has overtaken you.”

Vidura sarcastically addressed Dhṛtarāṣṭra as king. Since arriving back in Hastināpura, he had understood the situation. He saw how Dhṛtarāṣṭra was enjoying the respect and honor Yudhiṣṭhira offered him, and considered himself king. Now, as he faced the last years of his life, he was becoming afraid. Death would take from him all his power, and where would he go? So many sins had been perpetrated under his rule. Vidura was frank. “This frightful situation cannot be remedied by any person in this material world. My lord, the Supreme Personality of Godhead in his form as eternal time has approached us. Whoever is under the influence of supreme time must surrender his dear life, what to speak of his wealth, honor, children, land and home. Your father, brother, well-wishers and sons are all dead. You have expended the major portion of your life. You are invalid and you are living in another’s home. Decrepitude is fast overpowering you, yet still you try to enjoy life, living at Bhīma’s expense.”

Vidura had seen the tension between Dhṛtarāṣṭra and Bhīma. He mentioned it to provide the necessary impetus for Dhṛtarāṣṭra to renounce his position and to practice asceticism.

Trying to invoke Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s shame and also his self-respect, Vidura continued, “Your life is little better than that of a household dog. What need is there to live such a life, subsisting as you do on the charity of those you tried to kill by arson and poisoning? You insulted their wife and usurped their kingdom and wealth. Now you are dependent on them. O Bharata leader, despite your unwillingness to die and your desire to live even at the cost of your honor, your miserly body will certainly deteriorate like an old garment. Nothing in this world is permanent.”

The Pāṇḍavas listened in silence. Vidura was as sharp as ever. Yudhiṣṭhira reflected on his profound counsel. If only Dhṛtarāṣṭra had been wise enough to take it years ago, how different things might have been. Surely now, though, Dhṛtarāṣṭra would heed his brother’s words. He had absolutely nothing left for which to live.

“That man is called undisturbed who goes to an unknown, remote place and, freed from all ties, quits his material body when it has become useless. He is certainly a first-class man who awakens and understands, either by himself or from others, the falsity and misery of the material world and thus leaves home, depending fully on the Personality of Godhead residing in his heart. Please, therefore, leave for the northern hills immediately. Soon the iron age of Kali will set in, and the atmosphere will be opposed to the practice of spiritual life.”

Vidura’s words cut into Dhṛtarāṣṭra. The old king silently digested his instructions. As always, his intelligent minister spoke the truth. What was the point of continuing his useless and broken life? Certainly no auspicious destinations were achieved by the man who attempted to enjoy his senses until the last minute of his life. As Vidura correctly pointed out, where was his shame? How had he continued to live in the Pāṇḍavas’ house after everything he had done to them? And the unforgiving Bhīma took every opportunity to remind him of that.

Dhṛtarāṣṭra felt his attachment and fear give way to detachment. He made up his mind to leave for the forest. Knowing that Yudhiṣṭhira would not easily accede to him going alone as an ascetic into the wild, he did not reply to Vidura. His departure would have to be secret. He folded his palms and bowed his head to his brother, calling for his servants to take him to his chamber.

Vidura followed his brother, leading Gāndhārī back to the chamber. He spoke alone with them and arranged a day when they would leave for the forest together. Vidura too desired to end his days while practicing asceticism. Wanting to avoid scenes of grief and difficult farewells, they decided to leave secretly on the next full moon night.

In his assembly hall, Yudhiṣṭhira thought of Vidura. It had been months since Vidura had delivered his instructions to Dhṛtarāṣṭra, and neither of them had been seen since. Dhṛtarāṣṭra had left instructions that he did not want to be disturbed, being attended only by Sañjaya and one or two other intimate servants. Yudhiṣṭhira guessed that he had wanted to be alone with Vidura and receive further instructions. Perhaps he would think of retiring to the forest. But today was the annual śraddhā ceremony in honor of his sons. He would surely wish to be present.

Yudhiṣṭhira decided to go and see him. Accompanied by his brothers, he made his way to Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s quarters in the palace gardens. The fragrance of exotic blossoms carried on the warm breeze as he walked through the manicured lawns and flower beds. Varieties of birds filled the air with delightful sounds, and beautiful maidservants sat in groups around lotus-filled ponds.

The brothers entered Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s chamber and found Sañjaya sitting alone. Seeing his despondent expression, Yudhiṣṭhira felt anxious. Yudhiṣṭhira could understand that Dhṛtarāṣṭra had left. “O Sañjaya, where is our old uncle? Where is my well-wisher, Uncle Vidura, and my mother Gāndhārī, who is afflicted still due to her sons’ demise? My uncle Dhṛtarāṣṭra was also mortified due to the death of his sons and grandsons. That great man took care of us when we were rendered fatherless as children. Undoubtedly, I am ungrateful, for I repaid him by killing his sons. Has he taken my offenses seriously and, along with his wife, finally drowned himself in the Ganges?”

That Dhṛtarāṣṭra had gone without telling him filled him with sorrow. Out of humility the Pāṇḍava king considered that it could only be due to his own offenses. With tears welling up in his eyes, he looked at Sañjaya, who covered his face with his hands and said nothing. The old charioteer was grief-stricken and unable to speak. His master had left without saying anything even to him.

Sañjaya gradually pacified his mind with his own intelligence and wiped away his tears. Looking up at Yudhiṣṭhira he said, “My dear descendent of the Kuru dynasty, I have no information about your two uncles and Gāndhārī. O King, I have been cheated by those great souls. Although I remained Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s obedient and most confidential servant, he has gone without telling me anything.”

Yudhiṣṭhira looked at Dhṛtarāṣṭra’s altar, where he had sat each night with Gāndhārī, making offerings to the deities. The sacrificial fire had gone out and the deities had been removed. Controlling his sorrow, Yudhiṣṭhira moved closer to the distraught Sañjaya and gently consoled him.

At that moment, Nārada Ṛṣi suddenly appeared before them. Yudhiṣṭhira and his brothers, along with Sañjaya, offered their obeisances at his feet. Obviously, he had come with a message. After offering him a seat, Yudhiṣṭhira said, “O godly personality, I do not know where my two uncles have gone. Nor can I find my ascetic aunt who is grief-stricken by the loss of her sons. Without doubt, you know everything, including even the Lord’s plan. Please soothe our sorrow with your profound words.”

Nārada replied, “O pious king, do not lament for anyone, for everyone is under the Supreme Lord’s control. Therefore, all living beings should worship only Him to be well-protected. As a bull, bound through its nose, is held fast, so all men are bound by God’s laws. Even as a player sets up and disperses his playthings according to his own will, so the supreme will of the Lord brings men together and disperses them. O King, in all circumstances, whether you consider the soul to be an eternal principle or not, or everything to exist in some impersonal absolute, or to be an inexplicable combination of matter and spirit, feelings of separation are due only to illusory affection and nothing more.”

Nārada looked compassionately at the Pāṇḍavas. Knowing them to be important instruments in the Lord’s arrangements, he had often come to them with his instructions. The brothers listened in respect as he reassured them with eternal truths from the Vedas. He told them to give up their anxiety for Dhṛtarāṣṭra, which was based on ignorance. They could do nothing for the blind king now. Every living being was moved by the force of God and should therefore depend on Him alone. Ultimately, no man could protect or shelter another unless it was also the Lord’s desire. Even the man who wanted to give shelter to another was himself in need of protection, being held in the jaws of inevitable death. Thus all intelligent men should worship the Lord as their only assurance of safety.

Nārada continued, “The Supreme Person, Kṛṣṇa, in the guise of all-devouring time, has now descended on earth to eliminate the atheistic demons from the world. His work is almost complete and He will soon depart. You Pāṇḍavas may wait here simply as long as the Lord remains on earth.”

Nārada then informed the Pāṇḍavas that Dhṛtarāṣṭra, accompanied by his wife and Vidura, had gone to the southern side of the Himālayas to a mountain where there were many ashrams. He had engaged in mystic yoga, bringing his mind and senses under control. Soon he would attain samadhi and leave his material body, burning it to ashes by invoking the fire element from within himself. Gāndhārī would enter the fire and follow him to his next destination. Then Vidura, seized both by delight and grief at his brother’s departure, would himself leave that place to end his own days.

Nārada stopped speaking and indicated that he was ready to leave. After being worshipped by the Pāṇḍavas, he rose into the sky and vanished. Yudhiṣṭhira thought about what he had said. It was glorious that Dhṛtarāṣṭra had accepted such an end to his life. There was no point in lamenting, nor was there any need to fear that he might have taken offense. The old king had given up material affinities. He would no longer be thinking of material relationships and the politics associated with them. As Nārada had made clear, Dhṛtarāṣṭra was meditating on his pure spiritual identity, free of mundane attachments.

As the Pāṇḍavas made their way back to their palace, they met Vyāsadeva. He told them that Kuntī had also gone with Dhṛtarāṣṭra. The brothers were moved by grief to hear the news, but it was not a surprise. For a long time their mother had withdrawn herself from the world. Since she had prayed to Kṛṣṇa that day He had left for Dwārakā, she had been spending her days in meditation and prayer. She had eaten frugally, finally coming to the point where she took her food once every thirty days. Now she was gone. Thinking again of Nārada’s instructions, and of all the wisdom they had heard from the other ṛṣis, they controlled their minds. Their mother had acted rightly. It was always the accepted custom to leave for the forest without announcement. After all, death never made announcements when it arrived.