Mahabharata Characters 18 – Dhritarashtra 04 – Losing Everything Before Losing Blindiness
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
Dhritrarastra is one sense the personification of daiva; blaming destiny for one’s own irresponsibility.
Whenever Duryodhana wants to do something Dhritarastra is too weak hearted to allow it, and whenever he is doing something wrong Dhritarastra doesn’t want the consequences to come but he doesn’t stop Duryodhana from doing the wrong also. In fact Maitreya rishi once comes and warns and tries to give good advice to Duryodhana and Duryodhana just insolently beats his arms against his thighs to brag his power. Maitreya gets so angry that he says, “You fool! Because you are so arrogant you thigh will be broken and you will be killed.” Dhritarastra is alarmed. His heart almost stops beating and in horror he says, “O sage! Please forgive my son. Please don’t curse him to be destroyed like this.” Maitreya rishi says, “Only if he does what I am telling him to do, which is to give the kingdom back to the Pandava’s which he has unrightfully taken, only then will this curse will not come true. Otherwise his thigh will be the cause of his destruction.” Although Dhritarstra hears this and he knows the power of the Brahmins curse, but still he doesn’t do anything about it.
After Krishna goes back Dhritrastra is still caught in lamentation hoping for the impossible and fearing the inevitable. What is the impossible? That his sons will triumph; although they are evil and although the Pandava’s are virtuous and although the Pandava’s are powerful, still he hoped that somehow he will triumph. On the other side fearing the inevitable, knowing that it is impossible, given the virtue and the power both of which are present on the side of the Pandava’s, he is in anxiety constantly.” And then Vyasadev comes to him. Now Vyasadev has begotten him and in one sense Vyasadev is like his father although he is considered to be a member of the Kuru dynasty. Dhritarastra is a Kaurava because he comes in the Kuru dynasty. Kaurava has a generic meaning which refers to all the descendants of the Kuru dynasty and it has acquired a specific meaning referring to the sons of Dhritarastra. That specific meaning is more contextual, it is more to contrast them from the Pandavas. Because they were ruling the Kuru kingdom for a long time that’s why they are known as the Kaurava’s.
Dhritarastra is respectful to Vyasadev and Vyasadev gives him good advice. He has been getting good advice all the time but he is never acting on the good advice, and Vyasadev says, “If you want to see the battle the battle is now inevitable, I can grant you eyes.” And Dhritarastra things about it. His life has been in darkness; visually he has not been able to see but there is a much greater darkness inside, because he knows that those whom he is so attached to are going to die. He thinks, “I have never seen my
sons living. I don’t want to see their death.” He thinks and he says, “Please grant vision to Sanjaya. Through his eyes I will be able to see. Let him narrate what happens in the battlefield of Kurukshetra.”
Dhritarastra sits in his palace and Sanjaya narrates to him, and this is how the Bhagavad-gita is also spoken. What we are discussing right now is from the Udhyog Parva which is the fifth Parva, then the sixth Parva is the Bhisma Parva in which Bhisma is the commander. The war starts and the war goes on for ten days. Sanjaya narrates to Dhritarastra based on his great vision which he has got. With that vision he sees and he narrates and Dhritarastra is very eager that somehow his sons should win, and his partiality is seen right in the first verse of the Bhagavad-gita also. So, Dhritarastra is the beginner of the Bhagavad-gita. The Bhagavad-gita begins with his speech, “Dhritarastra upaca – Dharma Ksetre Kuruksetra….” He asks, “Sanjaya what happened on the war field?” He says mamakaha pandavas caiva – so he doesn’t consider the Pandavas to be his own. He thinks that his own are the Kauravas. What happened? This is a peculiar question which reflects his mentality also. He is himself stating that they have come for a fighting. Then he asks, “What happened?” It is like if everybody assembles in a hotel or where food is being served and everybody sits down for eating food; then somebody asks, “What happened?” Well, what is going to happen is that the person is going to eat. Unless one is expecting that some other event is going to happen over there one would not ask such a question. Dhritarastra is fearing that because of the auspicious vibrations present at the holy place of Kurukshetra which is a dharma ksetra, the Pandava’s may have some inordinate influence over there. He feels that the influence will be inordinate and Duryodhana may agree for peace. That is why he asks this question. And in answer to his question Sanjaya speaks and the Bhagavad-gita is also spoken at that time. Significantly, we see that hearing the Bhagavad-gita also doesn’t change Dhritarastra’s disposition.
At one level the Bhagavad-gita is a conversation between Krishna and Arjuna, and on another level it is also a conversation between Dhritarastra and Sanjaya. Sanjaya is not the speaker of the Gita but is the transmitter of the Gita, and Krishna’s message illumines Arjuna but it doesn’t illumine Dhritarastra. Why is that? Because Dhritarastra wants to hold on to his attachments.
Sanjaya speaks the message and what is the reaction of Sanjaya? In Gita (18.76 & 77) – the seven hundredth verse of the Gita is 18.78 where Sanjaya answers Dhritarastra’s question by saying that wherever there is Krishna and wherever there is Arjuna there will be victory; Yatra yogeswara Krishna… and there will definitely be victory. But while telling this he also tells before that his own personal response to what he has seen and heard. Kim akurvata he asks; there is going to be victory for the Pandava’s; that’s an
unspoken question which Dhritarastra is asking and he is telling a prophesy that there will be victory for the Pandava’s. But before that he says in the previous two verses, “As I am remembering this wonderful conversation of Kesava I am feeling thrilled again and again”, and then he says, “I am again and again delighted.” Sanjaya is remembering the message and he is also remembering the vision. The vision was specially the Viswarupa which he has seen and he is feeling thrilled. Actually if one is open minded, then the message of Krishna can illumine and thrill one. But if one is close because of one’s attachments, then nothing happens.
Dhritarastra illustrates also how attachment can blind on even to the supremely illuminating message, and then as the war goes forward and Dhritarastra hears the first day goes off very well. Bhisma is unstoppable and he devastates the Pandava force and Dhritarastra is jubilant. He says, “Nobody will be able to stop Bhisma”, and then whenever there is a reversal for his side his heart starts sinking. And when he hears that Bhisma has fallen he falls unconscious. He says, “How can the grandsire have fallen like this?” and then he hears about the fall of Drona eventually.
As he sees one by one all the warriors falling, his spirit sink lower and lower and then finally he hears about how Karna falls and then Dusasana is killed, and then Duryodhana is killed, and then all his sons are dead, and then he is utterly mortified and devastated and he is sunk in the gloom of dejection. At that time he also decides to go to the banks of the Ganges for performing the last rights and before this happens Yudhisthir requests Krishna to go and give a message to Dhritarastra and Gandhari.
Although Yudhisthir is still so virtuous he is still concerned that Gandhari especially should not curse, and therefore to pacify them he sends Krishna. Krishna goes and speaks words to Dhritarastra. He says, “Oh Dhritarastra. You should not blame the Pandava’s. It is your own sons who are responsible for their own destruction. They were given good advice but they didn’t listen to the good advice, and even you were told to restrain them but you did not restrain them. So, they have met the end which they have only created by their misdeeds. Do not blame the Pandava’s for this. Do not blame Yudhisthira for this.” Dhritarastra hears this and although he doesn’t want to admit the truth of Krishna’s words he recognizes that they are true. Then Krishna says, “I will leave.” And Krishna goes back, and meanwhile Aswathama kills the remaining Pandava warriors including the sons of the Pandava’s, and then he flees but he is punished. Here Kripa and Kritavarman who have assisted Aswathama in his ghastly acts come to Dhritarastra and they tell them what has happened, and when Dhritarastra hears how practically everybody has been wiped out, then he tells Kripacharya, “Please go back to the kingdom, Kritavarman you can go back to Dwaraka.” He goes to the banks of the Ganga and he offers the water, and there at that time because he is blind he cannot do
properly the funeral rights. He has one more son Yuyutsu. Yuyutsu is a son which Dhritarastra has begotten through a maid servant. Gandhari’s pregnancy had gone on for a very long time. At that time Dhritarastra had begotten a child through a maidservant and that was Yuyutsu. Yuyutsu did not share the evil disposition of the Kaurvas and just before the war started he acting according to his conscience went to the side of the Pandava’s and Yudhisthir welcomed him and told him, “You are the only survivor. You have to take care of you parents and you will have to take care of the last rights of the Kauravas”, and that is what exactly happened.
Yuyutsu was never as close to Dhritarastra as the Kauravas were, but he took care of Dhritarastra in whatever way he could, and then finally when the Pandava’s came forward they met Dhritarastra. Dhritarastra tried to put asides his feelings of distress and anger at the death of his sons and he tried to have good feelings. He tried to bless Yudhisthir and Arjuna, but towards Bhima he felt such anger because Bhima had killed all his sons as per the vow that he had taken.
Dhritarastra wanted to embrace all the Pandavas. The embrace was supposed to be a gesture of good will but he had ulterior motives. Krishna noticed what was going on in the mind of Dhritarastra and he told Bhima to wait. In Duryodhana’s palace he had made an effigy of Bhima which he would pound again and again in anger in the hope that one day there will be a fight in which he will pound Bhima like that. Krishna summoned that effigy by his mystic power and that effigy came right in front and it was exactly similar to Bhima. It was not exactly effigy, it was a copper statue. Dhritarastra was blinded with anger; he was trying to be cordial but when Bhima came forward to embrace all his anger just burst out. Dhritarastra embraced the statue of Bhima which Krishna arranged to have brought there with such force, that with the force of his embrace he just crushed the statue, and as the statue got crushed and crumbled to powder, Dhritarastra himself was exerted by that and he started vomiting blood and fell back. It was a blinding anger that came over him and as the anger got over, immediately he said, “Alas! What have I done?” Then Krishna told him, “O king! Do not worry. Bhima is safe.” Knowing that you would be angry I had a statue brought.” and then Sanjaya touched the shoulder of Dhritarastra and said, “O King! Please do not be angry like this.” Krishna also said the same thing. He said, “O king! Why are you blaming the Pandava’s for the deeds of your sons?” And Dhritrastra looked down and he said, “Your words are right. I was overcome by anger.”
One can say that one is overcome by anger, but what kind of character does it speak of that person when one is supposed to embrace, and at that time one has such a desire to crush a person to death.
Krishna describes that Kama and Krodha both go together. In Gita (3.37) he says, Kama esha, krodha esa; when there is attachment, and when the attachment is frustrated it leads to anger; sangat sanjyate kama kamat krodho vijayte – So, he had an attachment to Duryodhana and when that attachment was frustrated, that attachment expressed itself as rage and with that rage he tried to destroy Bhima.
At that time Gandhari tried to feel not angry but still she could not restrain her anger and she cursed Krishna, “Krishna you could have stopped the war and you could have avoided the destruction of my sons. Why did you not do it? Because you did not stop it, therefore, just as I have to see the death of all my family members you will also have to see similarly death of all your family members.”
Krishna told, “You know that I tried my best but still I accept your curse.” Actually since Gandhari had been chaste to Dhritarastra in very demanding situations; chaste not just in terms of the vows of marriage, but going beyond the call of duty she had accepted blindness, and she had been by his side throughout this time. This chastity had given her enormous power and her curse was to be feared. Of course no curse can cause fear to Krishna, but Krishna accepted that curse. Krishna said that, “Actually the Yadus are extremely powerful and nobody will be able to destroy them. Your curse is the arrangement by which their presence will be removed from the earth. I accept your curse.”
Dhritarastra here was such a person; his anger was so great that he was ready to kill his own cousins. What Duryodhana had been scheming to do Dhritarastra was very much throughout in cahoots with them. He may not be actively doing it but his heart was there; but here his heart came out. He was weak and because he was so attached to somebody who was wicked he was also given to moments of viciousness and wickedness. Still Yudhisthir was so noble that when he was enthroned as the king he said, “Officially I may be the king but with respect to the etiquette all of us will consider king Dhritarastra to be the king and he should be given all the respect.” When he ascends the throne he announced in public assembly that everybody should honor Dhritarastra, and Dhritarastra was so attached that he actually continued to live enjoying royal comforts. In fact Yudhisthir treated him with such deference and respect that this much respect his own sons had not given him, and remembering how his sons had been quite insolent and Yudhisthir was so respectful, he felt remorse at the way he had treated Yudhisthir. But his attachment to the royal comfort was such that he continued enjoying these hospitality, but he could not feel any affection for Bhima. And Bhima also although he agreed to Yudhisthir’s instruction and let Dhritaratra enjoy royal comforts, he could not tolerate the idea of somebody who had so much a part of the schemes that had caused him so much misery; to see such a person to be honored Bhima could not
Bhima would secretly do many things to displease and hurt Dhritarastra. In the hearing of Dhritarastra he would beat his arms and he would say, “These are the arms with which I crushed and destroyed all the sons of Dhritarastra.” When Dhritarastra would hear this he would feel great pain, but thinking that Yudhisthir has already been so kind to him he did not speak anything further and finally he lived on for many years like this. And as he was living for many years enjoying royal comforts although he had been the person who had been in the scheme to destroy who were the rulers now, finally Vidura came over there and when Vidura came the Pandava’s were delighted to see him. They honored him and Vidura spoke strong words of instructions. After the initial greetings got over and they were sitting in an assembly Vidura spoke to Dhritarastra and he said, “O King! What are you doing? Death may come upon you at any time and you are already blind from birth and now you are finding it difficult to speak, you memory has become weak and you are simply bringing up mucus. Your digestion has gone down. Death awaits you at any time and yet you stay in another’s house eating that which has been thrown by Bhima.” Now Vidura spoke cutting words to cut off the attachments to Dhritarastra and as he spoke strongly Dhritarastra felt his attachments falling away and he resolved that he must depart. Then he called Vidura to his chambers and then both of them discussed and they planned that they will leave secretly. Yudhisthir would still not want Dhritarastra to go and Yudhisthir would be concerned for the welfare. So, Vidura and Dhritarastra planned and one day they secretly left and they did not tell anyone.
Dhritartra had given an instruction that he wanted to be seclusion and no one should disturb him. Yudhisthir was waiting and one day it was actually the sraddha of Dritarastra’s son when certain rituals are performed. Dhritarastra would never miss this and yet this day he did come out of his seclusion. Intrigued and slightly troubled Yudhisthir went to Dhritarastra’s palace and when he went there he saw that Sanjaya was there all alone. He said, “Sanjaya what happened?” Sanjaya was almost on the verge of tears. He said, “O Dhritarastra has cheated me. Throughout my life I served him but now he has left and gone away.” Yudhisthir was even now alarmed. He said, “Where is he gone?” Narada Muni gave him instruction where Dhritarastra had gone and then Yudhisthir was pacified. This we will discuss more when we will discuss more about Yudhisthir’s reaction and his attitude. Along with Vidura Dhritarastra and Gandhari went, and actually Kunti also went with them. Important thing here is that Dhritarastra finally gave up his attachment. So, Dhritaratra had to lose everything before he lost his blindness. He had to lose all his sons. Not one of them survived. He had to lose everyone. After losing everyone still his attachments for the royal comforts was there and he was living in a very unbecoming way for a member of the royal family; to live on
the money of those who had opposed and conspired to kill.
Finally when Vidura spoke, at that time because now there was no hope for him to enjoy because all his sons had died already, finally his attachments got cut. Then he performed severe austerities and by performing severe austerities he kindled a flame from within and that flame illumined his body. That flame consumed his body and he gave up his mortal body. And Gandari also entered into that flame with him and she also departed from the world.
Although Dhritarastra had acted in evil ways at the very least he acted in a worthy way at death. He gave up his attachments and he departed in a way that was worthy of a Arya, of a person who knows the spiritual values of life and doesn’t stay attached at home but leaves home. Dhritarastra at least at the last stage of his life left home and he attained an auspicious destination because of that act of dharma that he performed. So, Dhritarastra demonstrates how attachments can be so blinding and how they can take such a heavy price, and giving up the attachments may not happen so easily even when one has good advice. If he had acted so firmly earlier all the destructions could have avoided, but he could not act because he was too attached, and he was attached to his attachments. He was not ready to give up his attachments, he was not ready to reject Duryodhana, but finally when Duryodhana had died, then there was no hope for the attachments to revive. Then when Vidura came and gave strong instructions, at last at that time he was awakened and in this way Dhritarastra attained auspiciousness.
The point here is very important to understand that actually our attachments hold us back and we have to give up our attachments. So, we all have to ask ourselves, “How much will have to lose before I lose my blindness?” All of us have our attachments which makes us blind. There are petty things of the world which we are attached to and because of that we are often ready to do wrong things and we are ready to give up the right things. We are all souls, we are all parts of Krishna and Krishna is inviting us back to the spiritual world, and we can all by practicing devotional service enthusiastically redirect our heart towards him and return back to him. But we have our attachments, “This will make me happy, that will make me happy, that will give me pleasure.” And the hopes for pleasure in this world keep us in this world and those hopes are based on illusion. That illusion is caused by attachment.
Blindness means to not see what is right in front of our eyes. In that sense all of us are blind because attachment’s to things of this world is going to lead to frustration, but we are unable to see it. Why we are unable to see it? Because we want to hope against hope that somehow our attachments will give us pleasure, but there are great saintly teachers and the scriptures which gives this message of God, and if we hear that
message, then we can also become illumined and we can decide that I have lost enough. I have been in this material existence for a long time and as long as I am attached to material things; especially those material things which keep us away from Krishna, then we will stay in the material existence.
How much will have to lose before I lose my blindness? If we ask this question to ourselves in a serious way, then we will understand that we have lost enough. We have been so many lifetimes in this material existence, and this lifetime also so many opportunities lost. We don’t have to renounce the world like Dhritarastra has renounced, but we have to renounce those things of the world which make us act adharmically, which keep us away from Krishna. When we redirect our hearts toward Krishna we can attain an auspicious destination.
And of course Dhritarastra because of his animosity towards Krishna’s devotees did not immediately attain the spiritual world, but he was elevated. If we can redirect our hearts towards Krishna we can attain the supreme destination and return back to Krishna for a life of eternal happiness. Our body is also like a rastra because we are all attached to our body, and attachment to our body will cause us to get another body and it will go on like that. Because it is not just the body, it is the principle of bodily enjoyment that causes us to take birth again and again in the cycle of birth and death. To the extent we can give up our blindness and turn towards Krishna we can also become free from our attachments. If it is earlier we don’t have to pay such a big price; we don’t have to lose so much as much Dhritarastra lost. The earlier the better and that is message that we learn from Dhritarastra. By learning what he did we learn what we should not do.
We will discuss in our next session about Vidura.