A transcendentalist is generally not interested in mundane topics such as history and politics, but when the Supreme Personality of Godhead Sri Krsna appeared in human society 5,000 years ago, the history and politics in which He took part became spiritualized. The transcendental devotees of the Lord take great pleasure in hearing such narratives. The Mahabharata, an important Vedic literature, is such a spiritualized history, and it is accepted by the disciplic succession of spiritual masters as the actual history of Bharatavarsa, the ancient land which is now called India. The Mahabharata deals chiefly with the struggles of the Pandava brothers, great warriors and pious rulers to whom Krsna was related as a cousin. Krsna’s devotees are inseparably one in interest with the Lord, and therefore their activities are also taken to be as good as those of the Lord Himself. There is a famous palace intrigue related in the Mahabharata in which Krsna sent one of his pure devotees, Vidura, a brilliant political moralist, to stop an impending war between the Kurus and the Pandavas. For the purification of all readers, we here present a short transcendental history of Krsna and His associates, as related in Mahabharata and the Srimad-Bhagavatam.
King Dhrtarastra, blind from birth, was ruling the kingdom of the world. He is described as being blind both in material and spiritual vision. Lord Krsna, the Personality of Godhead, appeared in the King’s court and pleaded for the return of some land which was the rightful property of His powerful but exiled relatives, the Pandava brothers. Every word Krsna speaks, as recorded in scriptures like Srimad-Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita is relished like nectar by those who are not so entangled in matter that they cannot appreciate the transcendental vibration. But when Krsna addressed the assembly of King Dhrtarastra and pleaded for a peaceful settlement, the message was not taken very seriously by the King and his one hundred sons, led by Duryodhana. These rulers were thinking themselves independent of the Personality of Godhead and His laws, and they were intent on their own course of destroying the Pandavas. Due to losing their kingdom in a gambling match, the Pandavas, the rightful hereditary heirs to the throne, were exiled for a term of thirteen years. When the period of exile was over, they returned to the kingdom which was rightfully theirs, but were refused even so much as the rule of a single village. In fact, Duryodhana, the leader of the sons of Dhrtarastra, said that if the Pandavas wanted even as much land as can fit under the point of a pin, they would have to fight for it.
After the rejection of Lord Krsna’s peace offering, the battle loomed like a large black cloud in the sky. At that late, ominous hour, with the armies already making preparations for battle, King Dhrtarastra invited in his elder brother Vidura for consultation. Vidura was an expert minister and politician. His instructions are well known in Vedic literature; just the phrase “instructions by Vidura” indicates policies approved by experts in political and moral principles. Therefore, Dhrtarastra expected his words to be exactly to the point.
Vidura came into the presence of King Dhrtarastra and his one hundred sons, headed by Duryodhana and Duhsasana. The hall was silent, and everyone pressed forward to hear Vidura. Vidura was known by those present to be partial to the Pandavas, who from the time of their birth had to undergo many attempts on their lives by Dhrtarastra. Actually, when the Pandavas were just babies, Dhrtarastra acted as their affectionate and protective uncle, but as soon as they began to grow into strong, competent youths, Dhrtarastra realized that these boys, and not his own, would take the throne. He then turned to unfair means in order to dispose of them. According to the Vedic system, after the retirement of the previous king, Dhrtarastra, as the eldest son, should have been heir to the throne, but he was disqualified by blindness. Therefore, the next in line was Dhrtarastra’s brother, Pandu, who duly reigned. After the early death of King Pandu, his five sons, the Pandava brothers, led by Yudhisthira, the oldest, came in rightful line. But Dhrtarastra was determined that his sons, and not the sons of Pandu, should rule. Due to this illegitimate desire, he had many times tried to kill Yudhisthira and his brothers, Arjuna, Bhima, Nakula and Sahadeva. Vidura, however, the younger brother of Dhrtarastra, took it upon himself to guard the Pandavas, just as a bird protects her eggs with her wing.
Vidura was filled with compassion by remembering the continual sufferings caused by Dhrtarastra to the Pandava brothers and their mother, Kunti. But at the same time, he was a great court philosopher and a true friend to Dhrtarastra. There was no doubt of his faithfulness to his brother; even Duryodhana knew this to be so. (Ultimately, after the last miseries of the war, it was shown that Vidura was Dhrtarastra’s only true friend in the entire royal court.) Called in on the verge of war, Vidura stood in the hall and offered his advice to the blind King. He could not help remembering, however, that this was the same royal hall wherein Yudhisthira and his brothers had lost their kingdom and their wife in a rigged gambling match. Dhrtarastra’s sons, led by Duhsasana, had at that time tried to insult the Pandavas’ wife, Draupadi, by first loosening her long hair and then trying to strip her naked in the presence of a large gathering. At that time, Krsna, the infinite Lord, had answered the helpless cries of Draupadi, his pure devotee and cousin, and had become her infinite sari. The more the brothers unraveled her sari, the more sari was supplied by Krsna, and she was never disrobed. Another time, Dhrtarastra ordered a house built, and when the building was finished, he invited his brother’s family to live there. But Vidura gave a hint in the presence of all of the members of the royal family that even a weapon not made of steel or any other material element can be the most sharp for killing. Thus he hinted that the Pandavas were being sent to the house to be killed and that they should be alert. Later he came disguised as a brahmana and directly warned the Pandavas that on a certain night the house was to be set on fire. Thus the Pandavas were able to make a timely escape through a tunnel under the earth. Vidura could remember many such plots, and in each case he had given protection to the Pandavas, while at the same time trying to restrain his brother, Dhrtarastra.
Vidura, however, was not about to be influenced by attachment to the Pandavas; he had the good of his brother at heart, and he spoke in direct words which made him famous among expert ministers in Vedic history as the giver of the keenest political and moral instruction. This is recorded in the Srimad-Bhagavatam. Vidura said, “You have asked me, brother, to come for consultation at this dangerous hour. I say that you must now return the legitimate property of Yudhisthira, who has no enemy and who has been forebearing through untold sufferings due to your offenses. He is waiting with his younger brothers, among whom is Bhima, breathing heavily like a snake—surely you are afraid of him.” Vidura offered good counsel, but at his first words, Duryodhana’s face turned with rage. But Vidura spoke on: “Lord Krsna, the Personality of Godhead, has accepted the sons of Prtha as His kinsmen, and all the kings of the world are with Lord Krsna. He is residing at home with His family members, the royal order of the Yadu dynasty, who have conquered unlimited numbers of rulers. He is their Lord.” Palatably or unpalatably, Vidura wanted to impress on his elder brother that to fight against the Pandavas would be ruinous for him because they were supported by Lord Krsna. Vidura, being saintly, could recognize that Lord Krsna was the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself, enacting His pastimes upon the earth. The Lord had conquered many powerful demons, even in His childhood, and the Pandavas themselves, prior to their exile, had won their wives by conquering all the rulers of the world. With Krsna as their intimate relative, the Pandavas had all universal power behind them. Such was Vidura’s advice.
According to the law of karma, that Dhrtarastra and Duryodhana were born in the royal family and had reached a position of wealth and power indicates that in past lives they had performed pious deeds. But because they could not hear Lord Krsna Himself when He spoke sensibly to them on important topics in a grave hour, it is to be understood that the benefits of their past piety were completely exhausted. There was no way now but downward if they refused to accept the Personality of Godhead or the words of His bona fide representative. Vidura was on a welfare mission to save them from the wrong choice. But by now, hearing Vidura, Duryodhana was angry, and he was cursing. It is said that good counsel given to a foolish person causes the fool to become angry, just as feeding milk to a snake only increases its venomous poison. But Vidura gave these final instructions in an attempt to deliver Dhrtarastra from the clutches of death:
“You are maintaining offense personified, Duryodhana, as your infallible son, but he is envious of Lord Krsna. And because you are maintaining a nondevotee of Krsna, you are devoid of all auspicious qualities. Free yourself from this inauspicious condition as soon as possible, for the good of your entire family.”
Duryodhana could stand it no longer, and he delivered a direct insult, like an arrow to the ears of the famous minister, Vidura: “Who asked him to come here, this son of a kept-mistress? He is so crooked that he spies in the interest of the enemy, against those upon whose support he has grown up. Get him out of here immediately. Take all he has, cane him and leave him with only his breath!”
The actual facts behind this slanderous attack by Duryodhana were as follows. When getting married, the kings in Vedic society would take on several other young girls along with the married princess. By intimate association with the king, these girls, called dasis, would have sons. Such sons had no royal claim, but they were raised with all the facilities of princes. Vidura was such a son of a dasi. Duryodhana not only attacked his birth, but he called him a spy because he seemed to support the cause of Yudhisthira, whom Duryodhana took to be his enemy. Duryodhana actually knew well that Vidura was a great soul and was Dhrtarastra’s well-wisher, but, caught up in political intrigue, Duryodhana had become blind to the actual situation. Therefore he slandered his uncle Vidura and threatened to drive him from the palace. Dhrtarastra had always been affectionate to his younger brother, Vidura, but he tolerated the insults by Duryodhana because he and his sons were set on wiping out the pious Pandavas once and for all.
Krsna’s Advice Rejected
Duryodhana is understood from the first verses of Bhagavad-gita to be a brilliant administrator and political leader. But the most important thing he didn’t know. Absorbed in false ego, Duryodhana thought that he was doing everything by himself. Actually, Duryodhana, like every conditioned soul in the material world, is under the direct control of God. In the Bhaktivedanta Purports to Srimad-Bhagavatam it is stated: “The external energy of the Lord, or the material nature, is fully under the control of the Supreme Lord, and the conditioned soul is fully under the grip of the external energy. Therefore, the conditioned soul is fully under the control of the law of the Lord. But, illusioned, he thinks that he is independent in his activities.”
Duryodhana refused the instructions of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krsna, and plotted his own destiny in terms of removing Vidura and warring against the Pandavas. We can understand that only the first act—rejecting the personal instructions of God—was factually performed freely, of his own volition. According to the revealed scriptural sources, our minute amount of free will can be exercised in choosing either to follow the dictation of God or to follow the dictation of His material energy, maya. There is no other choice. Once one refuses God, one must follow His material energy. Whatever one’s personal philosophy may be, one must grow old, one must be subjected to diseases and material miseries (miseries caused by the body and mind, miseries caused by other living entities, and miseries caused by natural disturbances like earthquakes, droughts, etc.), and eventually one must die. And after death, one must go wherever nature sends one. By the law of karma, action is necessarily followed by reaction, and all actions in the world take place under mixed modes of goodness, passion and ignorance. The Vedic understanding is that God is transcendental to the material laws and conditions—He is their master. He is eternal, free and unlimited in knowledge and pleasure, and when we, the infinitesmal individual souls, dovetail our own small amount of free will with His, then we can directly experience those same qualities of bliss, eternity and knowledge. By that dovetailing process, we can be freed from the misgivings of the body, mind and intelligence and can be situated on the transcendental plane. But when, instead, we come to this material world due to forgetfulness of the Supreme Person, then our plight (from which only the puredevotees of Godhead are excluded) is that we suffer a covering of our eternally pleasurable qualitative oneness with the Supreme Spirit.
We think, “I am this body,” but actuallythe real person is still spirit soul; due to contacting a material body, however, the spirit soul finds himself frustrated by an incompatible situation, like a fish on land. The example given by the spiritual masters is that the spirit can be compared to electric force. Electricity is unlimited in the tasks it can perform—it can heat, cool, drive giant machines, etc.—but once the unlimited electricity is put into one limited appliance, it can perform only a limited function. For example, the electricity in a toaster can do nothing else but make toast. The electricity has become limited or conditioned in its expression due to the vehicle in which it is confined. Similarly, thinking that we are this body, we are forced to react in terms of goodness, passion and ignorance within the material world, under the control of the inferior material energy. In material consciousness, we are no more free than a cow tied to the end of a rope: even if the rope is long, the cow is still not free.
When God or His pure devotee speaks, that is direct, superior, spiritual energy; by following His will directly, one can return to one’s original, eternal, happy state of consciousness, both immediately, in this body, as well as in the next life, after the demise of the body. The atheist or materialist who misuses his free will and derides the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna, must nevertheless come under the strict superintendence of the material energy. Thus, one may think oneself the almighty supreme enjoyer, the benefactor and proprietor of all, but despite these grand illusions, one must be limited by God’s material laws. Duryodhana is the typical materialist of the present civilization of Kali-yuga (the age of quarrel). He had just heard Vidura criticize him for being a nondevotee of Krsna, and he at once affirmed this status by insulting and threatening bodily harm to Vidura. This is the height of rascaldom, adopted here by Duryodhana; he wants to beat Vidura, whose only offense is that he is speaking the truth, that God is great and we are small. The Kali-yuga materialists in today’s godless civilization are also intent on destroying the brahminical culture and denying the advice of the bona fide spiritual teachers. “Why should I listen to God? Who is God? I am God! I shall enjoy as I like.” These are materialists’ symptomatic responses to brahminical or spiritual guidance. It will be seen in the case of Duryodhana that thinking himself to be God Almighty did not prevent him from being broken to pieces on the battlefield and ruining all his allies.
Under the illusion of material energy, he could not see the best course for his people, and therefore he led them into war. But even the present-day peacemakers who are trying to secure peace without authoritative spiritual guidance are finding no success. They are trying to establish Utopia—the kingdom of God without God—but it cannot be. As the expert politician Vidura said, a path without God is inauspicious for the state, the society the family, and the individual. We can get no profit by saying that we are God or by trying to conquer the material nature but we can gain all good fortune in this world if we can be directly led by the superior, spiritual energy of Godhead, which comes in the form of guidance from the pure devotees of the Absolute Truth. In his materialistic folly, thinking he was independent, Duryodhana was the dreamer, off in the clouds. In contrast, Vidura shrewdly offered Dhrtarastra the key to success.
But the Battle of Kuruksetra was not avoided. As for Vidura, he took the opportunity of Duryodhana’s insult as a blessing in disguise. He saw that Duryodhana was on the path of ruin. As a devotee, he also saw that the Lord’s internal energy was helping him to come back to Godhead. A devotee is always in a temperament of renunciation because the worldly attractions can never satisfy him. Vidura had never been attracted by the royal palace of his brother, and now he had the opportunity, by the grace of Duryodhana, to quit the place and devote himself completely to the transcendental loving service of the Lord. Instead of being sorry, he thanked Duryodhana from within because he had given him the chance to live alone in a holy place and thus be fully engaged in the cultivation of spiritual life. Also, he saw no more hope in defending his brother, so he left the palace without Duryodhana’s taking physical steps for hisremoval.
Srimad-Bhagavatam describes the fate of General Duryodhana on the Battlefield of Kuruksetra: “Duryodhana lost his good fortune, as well as his life, because of the intricacy of ill advice given by Karna, Duhsasana, etc. Although he was very powerful, he finally lay on the ground, his thighs broken, and his followers were with him.” It is described that Krsna is harder than a thunderbolt to the wrongdoers and softer than a rose to the devotees. Duryodhana was misled by bad associates and ill advice, contrary to the established principles of the Lord’s order, and so he became subject to punishment.
Of course, ultimately, anyone who can be so fortunate as to associate directly with the Personality of Godhead when He appears in this universe to enact His pastimes is liberated as a final result. In this way, all the soldiers and sons of Dhrtarastra who were able to see the Lord at the time of their death and could appreciate the beauty of His face and features were transferred, in their original spiritual forms, to the spiritual sky, beyond the material universes which are limited by death and pain. That is the version of the Vedic texts.
As previously stated, the banished saint Vidura turned out to be the only true friend of King Dhrtarastra, After the war, the defeated, blind Dhrtarastra. whose sons had all been killed, wanted to remain as King in the palace. As a matter of duty, King Yudhisthira, the leader of the victorious Pandavas, maintained Dhrtarastra in royal honor. Dhrtarastra, therefore, was happily passing away his numbered days in the illusion that he was the royal uncle of King Yudhisthira. At that time, Vidura returned from traveling to holy places all over the earth and especially from inquiring on transcendental topics from the great sage Maitreya. Vidura had of course been thoroughly involved in court politics, but after being thrown out of the palace by Dhrtarastra and his son Duryodhana, he had taken full advantage of existing conditions and had become fully Krsna conscious, fixed in loving service to the Supreme Lord, by taking instructions from a great devotee-sage. He was therefore received as a godly person on his return to the palace. The court personalities and his kinsmen like Yudhisthira and the Pandavas, Dhrtarastra, Kunti, Draupadi and many others with their wives and children, in a tearful post-war reunion, all rushed to hear and see him. The Bhagavatam says that when the court family saw Vidura again after the long separation, it was as if their lost consciousness was revived. They gathered around him like students sitting before a teacher. They were very eager to hear spiritual instructions from him, and they listened with rapt attention. Vidura spoke for the welfare of all, but he especially directed himself to his oldest brother, Dhrtarastra.
Vidura knew the situation of Dhrtarastra, and he addressed him as follows: “My dear King, please get out immediately. Do not delay in the least. Just see how fearfulness has overtaken you. You are very old, and there is no remedial measure for your death. My brother, please understand that death is identical with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and it is approaching for all of us. Your father, sons and well-wishers are all dead, your body is overtaken by invalidity, and here at the last stage you are living in another’s home. You have been blind from birth, and recently you have become hard of hearing. Your teeth are loosened, your liver is diseased, and you are coughing with mucus.”
Vidura’s words cut to pieces the network of illusion in which he found his brother rotting. Vidura addressed him as King because actually he was not the King. Overtaken by foolish ideas, Dhrtarastra was living for temporary comforts and was trying to make a permanent settlement for his perishable body. Vidura’s sharp but compassionate words were to wake up his brother so that, before it was too late, he could make progress for the welfare of his real self, his eternal soul.
Vidura said: “Alas! So powerful is the living being’s hope to continue life indefinitely. You are living just like a household dog and taking scraps of food from the warrior who killed your son Duryodhana!” Vidura did not avoid the naked truth of Dhrtarastra’s humiliating position. Dhrtarastra was living at the house of the Pandavas because he wanted to continue his comfortable life, even at the cost of being humiliated. Vidura pointed out to him that the whole raison d’etre of the human form of life is to get a chance to wake up to self-realization and to go back to Godhead, where life is eternal and from where, once going, no one comes back to this material world. “There is no necessity of living a degraded life,” Vidura continued, “subsisting on tile charity of those whom you tried to kill. In spite of your desires, your body will certainly dwindle and die, like an old, deteriorated garment.”
Wakened in no uncertain terms by his well-wishing brother, Dhrtarastra left the palace without saying anything, and under the guidance of Vidura, he sat on the bank of the Ganges and engaged in the beginning of yoga practice. He took regular baths, performed special sacrifices and fasted by drinking only water. This helped him to control his mind and senses and to free himself from thoughts of family affection. Due to his offenses at the feet of pure devotees, the Pandavas, Dhrtarastra was not able to become a pure devotee of the Personality of Godhead, but by the grace of Vidura, and to the astonishment of all the court, Dhrtarastra was able to cut himself off from all external sense attraction and concentrate on his pure being. The Bhagavatam describes, “He had to amalgamate his pure identity with intelligence and then, with knowledge of being qualitatively one with the supreme eternal living entity, merge into the impersonal aspect of the Supreme Being. Thus he rescued his consciousness from the clutches of the five elements and realized his qualitative identity with the eternal Supersoul who is sitting in everyone’s heart.” Practicing under the instructions of Vidura, Dhrtarastra achieved the impersonal perfection of liberation from his body, and after many such liberated births, he transcended the material sky to become engaged in the transcendental loving service of the Lord. Despite Dhrtarastra’s many offenses, the Lord’s mercy was bestowed on him by his contact with Vidura, and he was able to attain the perfectional stage. He quit his body by turning it into ashes in a self-made fire of mystic power.
Vidura was sorry that he could not turn his brother into a pure devotee in one lifetime, but he was most liberal in his benediction, and so Dhrtarastra’s time before reaching the topmost perfection was shortened. Ultimately the result depends on the will of the Supreme Lord, and in one lifetime Dhrtarastra attained liberation from the material conception of bodily consciousness. Only after achieving such a liberated state can one attain to devotional service.
The conditioned entities are suffering under the illusion that the body is the self and that the temporary world is permanent. Although they have no information of God or eternal pleasure, they can become engaged in the eternal, blissful activities of devotional service to the Supreme Lord by becoming wholly dependent on the instructions of pure devotees like Vidura. One should not only inquire but should render loving service to pure devotees and surrender to them. Only then is inquiry meaningful and fruitful. In no other way can one gain real knowledge of one’s position. That is the secret of spiritual knowledge or knowledge of God or Krsna: it is revealed from within the heart after serving a pure devotee and receiving instruction from him.