Mahabharata Characters 17 – Dhritarashtra 03 – Blaming destiny for irresponsibility
This talk is a part of the “Fascinating Mahabharata Characters” series. To know more about this course, please visit: bhakticourses.com
Transcribed by : Sadananda Das
Dhritarashtra is the representation of how weakness combined with wickedness can lead to disaster for oneself and for the world.
Dhritarashtra is a weak character. Sometimes he goes towards virtue and sometimes he goes towards vice. There are moments when he acts wickedly when especially he is eagerly asking, “Has Draupdai has been won?” that is a very mean action, and towards the end also we see when he acts wickedly, but he is weak in general. Sometimes he moves towards virtue also. Although he is forced to act virtuously Duryodhana is wicked. Wicked use the weak for their own nefarious ends and the weak are unable to resist them.
When Dhritrastra became a part of the conspiracy hatch by Duryodhana to exile the Pandava’s, Duryodhana was jubilant, “Now I have got the kingdom and I will rule the kingdom.” And he was quite arrogantly filled with his own ideas of his power and Karna’s power and he thought that he will be able to combat the Pandava’s even if they become angry, and even if there has to be a fight after the exile gets over. But Dhritarastra was gripped with anxiety and on one side there was the remorse at the way that he had treated Pandu’s sons, at the way their wife had been wronged in his presence and also on the other hand there was also the great fear, “What will happen to my sons?” From both point of view his dealings with the sons of Pandu who were his nephews and the future of his sons was filled with misery and that is actually the predicament of those who are weak and attached. They just don’t get any pleasure. Although they think that they are getting the object of their attachment but actually they get no pleasure.
As he was sitting in his palace thinking that the Pandava’s had been exiled, Duryodhana was celebrating. But Dhritarastra was mournful and he called Vidura and he said, “O Vidura my body is burning. Please give me some counsel how can there be auspiciousness for the Kaurava’s?” Vidura was exhausted. He had cried himself hoarse trying to make Dhritarastra see sense. He said, “Now there can be no auspiciousness. Now that the dice of Sakuni has cast. That is going to come back as the arrows and the mace blows of Arjuna and Bhima. The Kuru dynasty is destroyed.” Dhritarastra did not wanted to hear such words. He wanted to be consoled.
Vidura’s heart was compassionate. He told his brother, “Still there is one way. If you abandon Duryodhana and have him imprisoned or exiled or sent him away completely and welcome back the Pandava’s and give them what is theirs, then there is still some
hope. Otherwise your dynasty is going to be destroyed and all Kauravas and the whole Kuru dynasty will be meeting destruction.” As Vidura continued forcefully hoping that somehow Dhritarastra will see sense to give his counsel, he felt his temper rising and he said, “O Katwa (another name of Vidura is Katwa) your words find no favor with me today. You are always partial to the Pandava’s. I had asked you for counsel but you are instead disturbing me further. What you are saying is not favorable to me. Instead of being impartially disposed towards both Pandu’s sons and my son’s you are biased against my sons and partial to them. Therefore I have no need for you. You may go wherever you like.” Saying this he dismissed Vidura.
Vidura had been already heartbroken at the way the Pandu’s had been treated. So, he decided to leave and go to the forest. He got on the chariot and went to the forest following the trail which the Pandava’s had marked asking people and soon he reached in the forest. He reached there and the next morning Dhritarastra woke up and was lamenting, “What have I done. My brother was always my well-wisher. Why have I sent him away like this? What a fool I am.” And he was besieged himself with grief. Here his conscience was awakened a little bit and he told Sanjaya, “Please go and call Vidura. Please tell him that I regret the words that I have spoken and please ask him to come back. He is so dear to me, I cannot live without him. Please call him back. I am burning in lamentation the way I have dealt with him.” Sanjaya went all the way back to the forest and he conveyed the message to Vidura and Vidura came back again. Dhritarasta apologized to him and he said, “Actually I was overcome by emotions at that time. That is why spoke this way. You are always my well-wisher. Please stay with me.” Here Dhritarastra oscillates. He wants somebody who will give him good advice but he has that much good sense to know that somebody is giving me good advice. I should not send that person away. But he does not have enough good sense to recognize that good advice is not just to be heard, good advice is always to be followed. He continues on the path of staying attached to Duryodhana. And then as the forest exile happens and twelve years pass by different sages would go to the forest and meet the Pandava’s, and then come to the Kauravas in the Palace. They report about the great activities of the Pandava’s over there.
Arjuna in this very body went to heaven and there he sat on the throne of Indra as if he is his equal. Indra’s son Arjuna sat next to Indra as per his behest. When Dhritarastra hears this his heart shudders and thinks, “What is the prowess of these people?” and then he hears how Bhima killed so many terrible demons and his heart shudders again and again, and throughout there is agony constantly not being able to tolerate the impending disaster that is coming and yet not having enough power to do what it takes to stay off the disaster.
As the years are passing by he sees that Duryodhana is delighting in ruling, but Duryodhana wants to further inflict greater misery on the Pandava’s and he decides to go to the forest and flaunt the wealth and prosperity that he has got, but Dhritarastra is reluctant. He says, “Don’t go to the forest. You have already angered them and if there is an encounter who knows what will happen?” Duryodhana as usual manipulates and goes to the forest and again Dhritaratra is weak. That pastime of how Duryodhana gets humiliated by being defeated by the Gandharva’s we will discuss later when we talk about those characters. Here, even after knowing what is right, again and again Dhritarastra is not able to do the right. Whenever Duryodhana makes any request, almost never can he stop Duryodhana from doing that. Duryodhna is just manipulating and he lets himself get manipulated, and then finally the twelve years are over and the Pandavas are going to agyata Vasa and they are found. They are living in Virat’s kingdom where Arjuna’s son Abhimanyu gets married to Uttara, the daughter of the Matsya king, Virat; and then a message is sent and Drupada’s Brahmins come there and gives the message to Dhritrastra. He says, “Yudhisthir has as per their terms of the gamble finished their period of exile and now they await your orders. They consider you to be just like their father and they wait upon you to do what is right.” In the meanwhile Duryodhana is infuriated and he doesn’t want to give the kingdom. Dhritarastra again cannot say no to Duryodhana. Vidura tries to give him good advice but Dhritarastra doesn’t listen, and then Duyodhana grievously insult Vidura and Vidura leaves. At this point Dhritarastra adopts a very underhanded strategy. He says, “I will send Sanjaya as my messenger and Sanjaya will reply.” Sanjaya the son of Gavalgana; Sanjaya goes with the message and the Pandava’s receive him very honorably and when he is told to tell the message he delivers the message as Dhritarastra has given and he says, “O Pandava’s all of you are known as embodiment of virtues. Yudhisthira is kind, gentle, humble, tolerant, forgiving and he is the wellwisher of all. I hope that he who is such a well-wisher of everyone will not become the cause of destruction for the whole Kuru dynasty. All of you Pandavas are so virtuous that you will be ready to give up your lives if somebody asks you for that. I cannot imagine how you will take up the lives of you relatives. Therefore I beg you that let there be peace among the Pandava’s and the Kaurava’s.” What is he doing by this? He is saying that you just stay without a kingdom and let there be peace. At that time Yudhisthir, Krishna and all of Pandava’s assembled and they all smiled. The message was clear but Sanjaya makes it further clear. He says, “If at all for gaining a kingdom you decide to fight a war what will you gain. Even if you win still you will have to kill all your relatives, and after the death of your relatives and you being the cause of the death, your life will be worse than death. What will you gain by such a victory? I cannot think those who are so virtuous will become the cause of such great violence and destruction. Therefore I fall at the feet of the great Krishna and the valiant Drupada and I beg them, let there be peace among the Pandava’s and the
Kaurava’s. Let all be well and let there be no war and destruction” and Sanjaya ended the message over here.
Yudhisthira spoke very gently and he said, “O Sanjaya, what makes you think that it is I who desire a war. One desire war only when it is unavoidable. It is greed and anger which impels people to violence and those who are having uncontrolled senses act for the pleasure of the senses and act greedily and lustily. I only want to do my duty and for the sake of duty I need a kingdom. I am not doing a war to expand my territory. I am only asking for that which I need to serve the Brahmins and do the duty as a kstriya.” Thus Yudhisthir gives a fitting reply and Sanjaya departs.
Basically Dhritarastra’s implication was that ultimately when people get engaged in this world they become grihastha’s and eventually they have to renounce and take Vanaprastha’s. So, he is saying, “O Pandava’s you are already Vanaprasthas. You are already renounced. Why do have to get entangled in worldly affairs?” The Pandava reply that actually they have to do their duty and there is a time for everything. The Pandava’s are married and they have children and they have responsibilities to the members of the royal family. They have responsibilities to the society which they cannot neglect.
When Sanjaya is departing after getting Yudhisthir’s reply, Krishna says, “O Sanjaya, tell Dhritarastra that I will myself come and try to gain peace.” Dhritaratra when he hears Sanjaya repeating Yudhisthira’s message recognizes the error of his ways. It was a last ditch effort. It was a gamble which he knew was not going to work, but still he was so attached that he could not say no to Duryodhana, and at the same time he also wanted also to gratify his own hopes of having peace. It is like wanting the cake and eating it as well. He wanted that his son be protected and they have the kingdom and for that he wanted the Pandava’s to be sacrificed, and not just sacrifice, it was to renounce. There is one thing which is sacrifice, which is giving up what is ones for a higher cause, but giving up what is one’s for a lower cause is not a sacrifice. That is stupidity.
When Ravana had abducted Sita, if Ram had said at that time, “Ok, I will sacrifice Sita for the sake of peace.” that is not sacrifice. That is cowardice. So, what is one’s property and what is needed for one to do his duty and what has been unrighteously taken away, fighting for that is not greed, it is doing one’s duty. Dhritarastra was in this way being manipulative and Yudhisthir saw through it, and when he got the message that Krishna is going to come – Dhritarastra has been told by various sages that Krishna is God; Krishna is the supreme being, and he knows about Krishna’s prowess also from the various demons that Krishna has killed and the amazing deeds that Krishna has done, and he wants Krishna to be on his side. So, he tells the assembly that when Krishna
comes we will have a grand reception for him; a reception worthy of not just a king but the emperor of the world. And with such a reception – and we will give lots of gifts and that way we will win him over, and in that way we will try to get peace on our terms.
Vidura said in response to this, “O king, this plan will not work because your intentions are unscrupulous and Kesava sees the intentions of the heart. You want to give gifts to Krishna but you don’t want to give him what he has come for, and that is the rightful kingdom of the Pandava’s. Your plan will not work O King.” Duryodhana also turns to Dhritarastra and he says, “O father, this plan of yours will not work. Krishna is too intelligent to see through such efforts to bribe him. I have another plan. I will arrest Krishna and he will be unprepared as he will come as a peace messenger, and if we can arrest him and he is out of the battlefield, then the odds will shift dramatically towards our side.” When the assembly heard this there was a gasp or horror and Bhisma is so angry that he says, “How dare you consider such a thing? It is completely against the codes of morality.” Dhritarastra is shocked, “What are you speaking O son?” Bhisma walks away in a huff of anger unable to contemplate the thought of such an act being done to Krishna like this; of even such an insult being done to Krishna. Dhritrastra chastises Duryodhana but Duryodhana just neglects the chastisement because he knows that his father will nothing.
There are few occasion when Dhritarastra speaks strongly to Duryodhana also but it is like a dog that barks but does not bite. Because of his attachments Dhritarastra cannot do anything which will be against Duryodhana’s schemes. Then when Krishna comes and he speaks to Dhritarastra he uses sam,dam, bheda very systematically. First he speaks to Dhritarastra and he appeals to him for peace and Dhritarastra says, “O Krishna, the words that you are speaking are perfect but I am not the master of the kingdom. It is Duryodhana who has to agree. Please speak to him.” Here he is clearly admitting – In politics that sometimes one person is there in the chair but some other person is actually in power, that person has the remote control and this person is just moving like a puppet. Here Dhritarastra when has to take a serious decision and doesn’t have the courage to take the decision, then he openly admits also that he is not the master. Please try to persuade Duryodhana; and Duryodhana pays no attention at all to Krishna. When he tries to arrest Krishna, Krishna shows his Virat Rupa and then when he sees the Virat Rupa there is a whole uproar in the assembly, and then Dhritrastra ask Sanjaya, “What is happening? What is the sound? What is the storm? What is happening over here?” Sanjaya says, “Krishna is showing his Virata Rupa.” And then Dhritarastra calls out to Krishna, “O Kesava, you are always doing the good of all the worlds. Please let me see this magnificent form of yours.” And Krishna says, “So be it.” And he gives him the eyes.
Krishna wants Dhritarastra to use his willpower to say no to Duryodhana for once and for all, to say no to his nefarious schemes, and to give him impetus to use his willpower properly Krishna wants Dhritarastra to see the consequences of what will happen. Seeing the huge form of the Virata Rupa and understanding the prowess that Duryodhana was going against, that will persuade Dhritarastra. Will it? It should have, but it doesn’t.
Duryodhana dismisses Krishna Viswarupa as some mystical power; Dhritaratra knows better but still he doesn’t know better. He knows at the intellectual level that Krishna is God and he sees the huge Virat Rupa practically spanning everywhere. He is so shocked. His heart chills seeing the power that Duryodhana is going against and he knows that there is no hope for him, but still his attachment is so strong that he thinks, “Maybe somehow. If Krishna is really as powerful as that how would the Pandava’s have met such misfortune, how would they have been sent to the forest?” Therefore he thinks that maybe there is some hope for him. He gets the eyes to see the Viswarupa, he sees the Viswarupa, he contemplates on it, but again his attachments covers over. What should have been a steady illumination which shows the right way becomes just a flash of lightning which stays for some time and again there is darkness; the darkness caused by his attachment, and that is how he continues.
Then Krishna withdraws his Viswarupa and he walks away, and the next morning when Krishna is about to depart Dhritarastra goes there and he says, “O Kesava you should not blame me because you have seen that Duryodhana doesn’t listen to me. I don’t want war but what can I do.” Krishna looks at the Kuru elders: Bhisma and others and he says, “See O Kuru elders, you see that the emperor of the world is saying that he has no power. Now war is inevitable.” Here what we see is that Dhritarastra wants the enjoyment that comes from power but doesn’t want the responsibility. When there is responsibilities one has to take hard decisions at times; decisions that will displease some people. But that is what is required, that’s what is called for by duty and one has to do it. If one refuses to do it then one is culpable.
Earlier when Vidura warns Dhritarastra about the impending destruction that will result if Duryodhana is allowed to go in his evil way; at that Dhritrastra protests and he says, “If it is the will of destiny that our dynasty will be destroyed, then who am I am a tiny mortal to stop the force of almighty destiny?” When Dhritarastra tries to invoke destiny to justify his inactivity and irresponsibility Vidura cuts through the illusions and he says, “It is the consequences of our action that are determined by our destiny, not the actions themselves. It is our responsibility to choose the right actions.” It is a very important point, “It is the consequences of our actions that are determined by destiny, not our actions themselves.” A student can’t say that whatever is destined will happen. So, why should I study?” No. It is the duty of the student to study, and the student has the responsibility and the capacity to study. Sometimes after studying also the results may not come and that we understand is the result of destiny.
There are these two schools of thoughts: Karmavad and Daivavad. Karmavad means that everything is in my hands. “If I do the right karma then I will get the result, I will become the next wealthiest person in the world, I will become the next president of America, I will become Bill Gates or whatever, everything is in my hands.” That is Karmavad and Daivavad is: “Nothing is in my hands; everything is destined.” That is called fatalism. The fatalistic idea is that everything is destined. Now the reality is that if you consider a pendulum Karmavad is one extreme of the pendulum, Daivavad is another extreme, the steady state is actually Karma and Daiva combined together. The Puranas give the example of farming. When a farmer ploughs the land that is the karma. If the farmer is expected to do the duty of krishi he ploughs the land and sows the seed; the farmer does karma. And then Daiva – the roles of destiny is that the rains come; rains have to come at the proper time in proper quantity and when Karma and Daiva come together then there is phala; there is the crops which grow. Now even if the destiny is there and the rains come, if the karma has not been done, if the land has not been ploughed and the seeds have not been sown, then no phala will come. So, we cannot blame destiny for not doing our karma, our activity. So, our karma is our dharma. Now karma can mean many things. Karma can be bad karma also, but Karma refers to our prescribed duties. That is our dharma, we have to do it and Dhritarastra had a duty as a king to make the right decisions; he cannot blame Daiva for that. And sometimes even when we do our duty properly still the results do not come we have to understand that the work is not going in vein. In the farmer analogy the work goes in vein in one sense, but in real life the system of karma arranged by the Lord no good action goes in vein, no action is fruitless. Whatever karma we do, even if it doesn’t give result right now it is contributing to our future daiva. So, it is creating a destiny. In that sense we are the makers of our destiny. Of course some of our destiny is made in the past and some of the destiny is made now. In that sense we may not be able to change some things in our destiny. Farmers cannot change the way the rains come. Similarly, we may not be able to change certain things in our life. If we are born in a particular family we can’t change that. If we have a particular complexion, we have a particular psychophysical nature, we may not be able to change that, but still destiny may give us our face, but we can give ourselves a smile. Even a face that is not very attractive looks very attractive when there is a smile, and even a face that is attractive doesn’t look attractive when there is a frown.
Destiny determines certain things but certain things are in our hands. Dhritarastra is in one sense the personification of Daiva- everything is destined, what can I do? And this
is irresponsibility. This is fatalisms and this is what is wrong in his attitude. This wrong attitude causes the destruction of the Kuru dynasty in the long run.
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