Mahabharata Characters 19 – Vidura 01 – A true friend, affectionate but not attached
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
Today we will discuss about Vidura. Vidura was born through a maidservant and Vyasadev. The two sisters, Ambika and Ambalika who had the responsibility of producing heir to the Kuru dynasty were asked to unite with the brother-in-law of their husband and Vyasadev when he came, the lady shuddered to unite with him, and they send this lady maidservant whose name was Shudri to unite with Vyasadev. Shudri had a very respectful attitude towards Vyasadev, she served him diligently and Vaysadev of course was a sage who was oceanic in wisdom and it was his wisdom that was manifested in Vidura in a very extraordinary way.
Vidura is recognized as an extremely wise character in the Mahabharata. In fact his wisdom in the Mahabharata is second only to Krishna’s. So, the Pandava’s take counsel from Krishna who was the foremost guide, but along with Krishna if they had trusted anyone and took guidance from anyone, they would take it from Vidura, and Vidura’s conversation with Dhritarastra which occurs repeatedly in the Mahabharat have been compiled together and they are called as the Vidura Niti, and Vidura Niti in many ways is a precursor of Chanakya Niti which has become very famous. Niti means morality. Vidura Niti is Vidura’s instructions on morality and Vidura is considered to be not just a personification of wisdom and a greatly wise person, but along with that he is also an extraordinary friend; a tireless friend who seeks the wellbeing of Dhritarastra even though Dhritarastra repeatedly rebuffs the advice that is given by Vidura.
Now many of the stories in the Mahabharata also have connections with previous life incidents. So, it is described that Vidura was Yamaraja or Dharma in his previous life. Once he gave excessive punishment to a sage and because of that he was cursed to be born in the human species and be born in a sudra family. So, he got a low birth but he retained the wisdom. Yamaraja is also a great soul. In fact in the Srimad Bhagavatam it is described that Yamaraja is one of the twelve mahajana’s. These Mahajana’s are the persons who are exemplary in their knowledge of dharma and in their dharmic conduct. One among them is Yamaraja and this Yamaraja was cursed once.
There was great rishi named Mandavya and at one time he was in his hermitage and some thief came and hid over there. When the thief was caught, at that time the soldiers who had come to catch him arrested the sage also, and the sage was also arrested of abetting the crime and he was sentenced to be hanged. Almost he was hanged and at
that time and the king got the news king and came and begged forgiveness from the sage. Now Mandavya rishi did not blame the king but he decided to go to the cause. He decided to go to Yamaraja and ask him that why was he punished like this when he had not done anything wrong. Yamaraja told him, “When you were a child you saw an ant and you pierced the ant with a sharp blade like object, and because you caused pain to the ant, therefore you had to suffer the pain of almost having you head cut off or similar cutting pain you had to suffer as a reaction. Because you did not kill the ant in your childhood you did not have to die. There was intervention and that is how you were saved.
Mandava rishi said, “Actually a child doesn’t know right from a wrong, and how can a child be punished for something which is done in the early days of one’s life in childhood when one doesn’t have discrimination; whereas a person who has come to the verge of death, a person who has been accused of abetting a crime and being treated like a criminal and sent to the sentence of death. So, it is an entirely disproportionate reaction, and because this is such a disproportionate reaction you have given me, you are not worthy of being the judge of human beings, and therefore I curse you to have to live among those whom you are supposed to judge. Go and live among them. In this way Mandava rishi cursed and that is why Yamaraja had to take a birth as Vidura. A part of the curse was to take birth in a human womb, and second was that he had to take birth in a human being which is not respectable, and that was a sudra womb.
Vidura carried on with the wisdom of Yamaraja; and Yamaraja is a post. There is person who occupies that post and Aryama is another devata who is especially the in charge of the ancestors. He officiated in his absence just as in a country’s government if there is one portfolio with one minister; say the finance minister is there and the foreign affairs minister is there. If the Foreign Affairs minister falls sick, then maybe the finance minister will take up the post for some time and officiate it in his absence. Like that Aryama officiated in his absence. This is what the Bhagavatam describes. Interestingly Vidura was born in a sudra family but he had great wisdom and Bhisma trained all these three sons: Pandu, Dhritarastra and Vidura, and when Satyavati asked about who should become the king and what are the virtues of these three, Bhisma recommended Vidura for his wisdom, Dhritarastra for his strength and Pandu for his military prowess. All three had laudable qualities and because Vidura had great wisdom but because he was not born directly in the royal lineage – his father was Vyasadev and his mother was a lady in waiting. Because of that he was not entitled to become the king though he was made the royal counselor and he acted as the Prime Minister of the kingdom for a long time, and Dhritarastra was older among the two brothers: Pandu and Dhritarastra who were in the royal lineage. So, Dhritarastra could not become the king because Vidura pointed out that a blind person could not lead. Dhritarastra knew this but nobody had broken this out. But when Vidura spoke this out because he had the courage to speak it out, then Dhritarastra consented and blessed Pandu; so, Pandu became the king. Later on Pandu retired to the forest. At that time Dhritarastra was the official ruler but for practical purpose it was Vidura who was ruling till Duyodhana came of age, and after Duryodhana came of age, then Vidura was relegated to the background position.
Yamaraja committing a mistake so that he becomes Vidura may seem a little odd. How can Yamaraja commit a mistake? We often say that in the human system there are mistakes but in God’s system there are no mistakes. We have to understand that even the devatas are not the supreme beings. Devatas can also commit mistakes. We see Indra commits mistakes; he tries to destroy the Vrajavasis and Krishna has to protect them by lifting Govardhan. So, Devatas can also commit mistakes. We human beings can commit mistakes; the devatas have more knowledge and more power and they may not commit mistakes of the kind that we do. But still they commit mistakes. To err is the characteristics of all living beings except the supreme being, and those who are intimately connected with him act with a pure motivation.
Errors can happen with anyone. From the ultimate analysis point of view Krishna arranges that nobody gets a disproportionate suffering. If A gets a disproportionate punishment because of B’s lack of judgment that may be disproportionate in that context, but there is some other karma because of which this reaction has come and that’s how the karmic balance is adjusted. So, the devatas also can commit mistakes because they are also finite and fallible living beings and they have much more knowledge than us, and that’s how they can also take up far better responsibilities than what we can take up and that is why they are devatas but they are fallible.
Vidura who is Yamaraja now is born because of the curse from Mandava rishi; he guides Dhritarastra regularly and he takes care of administration of the kingdom and when the Pandava’s come back home there is natural affection between the Pandava’s and Vidura. Now it is interesting that Yudhisthir is also the son of Dharma and Vidura is Dharma’s expansion. So, there is a natural attraction between Vidura and Yudhisthir for both reasons. Now both are virtuous, both are noble, both are very learned in scriptures and both are dharmically inclined in a very deep and dedicated way. So, naturally there is an attraction between the two; they always tried to do good for the whole dynasty. Although there was natural affection in his heart for the Pandava’s but he also sought the wellbeing of the Kauravas also and he tried to do what was good for the entire dynasty.
Vidura was reduced to powerlessness. A counselor or a minister can only give advice, and if the king does not take advice, the counselor is rendered powerless totally. That
was the misfortune of Dhritarastra. If a good advice is neglected it is the person who rejects the advice who suffers far more than the person who gives the advice. Vidura repeatedly tried to give good counsel to Dhritarastra. Dhritarastra would hear the counsel, get a little bit influenced, show sign of influence, but when Duryodhana would intervene and emotionally manipulate him, Dhritarastra would again become weak; and the wicked was able to manipulate the weak, and good turned out to be ineffectual.
For a virtuous person to see a wrong happening is extremely difficult and Vidura could have waked away any time; Vidura had many different tasks to do. Initially when the Pandava’s were told by Dhritarastra to go to Varnavat – Vidura was shrewd and he knew that a conspiracy was afoot and those spies told him what is happening. He warned Yudhisthira and he told Yudhisthira in a local dialect. When Yudhisthira was departing he told to him something in local dialect so that other people would not understand and he wanted to make sure that Yudhisthira was protected at this time. Same time he wanted to make sure that the spies of Duryodhana who are likely to be around should not detect anything wrong. So, he spoke in a local dialect, in an enigmatic way and told that this is how things have to be done.
In royal households there are often intrigues and conspiracies that happen frequently. He said, “One who knows that there are ways to kill without piercing with weapons, that person will stay protected. One who knows that the forest fire which burns all the animals in the forest, doesn’t burn the snakes that go underground; that person will be protected. One who controls his senses and acts calmly and intelligently, such a person will eventually attain prosperity.” Kunti was also there; she could not understand the message but it was Yudhisthir who understood and he told that what he means is that, “We will be under danger but not from physical weapons like swords or arrows. There is another kind of danger and that the danger of fire; and the idea is that those who go underground do not suffer. He said that we should dig a tunnel to find the way out.”
When the Pandava’s came to Varnavat there was a person who spoke the same coded message that Vidura had spoken and thereby they understood that this is Vidura’s man and that person told the Pandava’s, “I am going to dig a tunnel through the palace so that you can go out whenever you want.” and when the Pandava’s stayed there for almost one year, there was Purochan who had been appointed to Duryodhana to eventually set the palace on fire. The Pandava’s recognized the intention and they pre-empted; they themselves set it on fire and Purochan died, but when the Pandava’s left from there and came out at the other end of the tunnel, they went deep into the forest and in a boat a person was waiting and that person spoke the same coded message that the earlier the tunnel digger had spoken and this person was also Vidura’s man. So, Vidura had his hands everywhere and he made sure that the Pandava’s were protected from the virtuous, vicious and malevolent acts of Duryodhana.
Vidura loved his brother and he wanted his good; at the same time he was naïve. He kept his eyes and ears open and he recognized that he had always danger and he had to protect from the dangers, and eventually when the Pandava’s came back to Hastinpur with Draupadi after they won Draupadi’s hand in the Swambhara, it is Vidura who welcomed them. Dhritarastra also spoke in welcoming words but Dhritarastra was feeling that his son would not the king now. Again because Dhritarastra was the king and Vidura was the subordinate, Dhritarastra sent Vidura to go as the messenger to call for the gambling match. This is something which is excruciating. When one knows that something is wrong, not only one has to see it happen but has to do it and be a part of it. It is extremely difficult and when Vidura went from Hastinapur to Indraprasta and gave the message, Yudhisthir saw that Vidura’s face was frowning and his eyes were filled with great anxiety and he understood that something inauspicious is happening, And then Vidura told, “The king has invited you for a gambling match”;Yudhisthir was also dismayed and he did not want to go; and as the gambling match progressed Vidura again and again gave advice. He told stories from the scriptures quoting the great danger for a person who is greedy. He told, “Just as a person who tries to climb up a high mountain in the hope of getting some of wealth over there; maybe a person goes up a high mountain to get honey and when the person goes up and up that he cannot see his footing, and he goes to a place which is dangerous and he slips and falls and he dies. Similarly, Duryodhana is so greedy that he is simply thinking of the honey of the kingdom, but he is not thinking that he is creating such danger. He is practically taking five dangerous cobras and putting them inside his clothes. By causing enmity with the Pandava’s he is sentencing himself to destruction.” Vidura protests vehemently to stop him but at that time Karna and Duryodhana fiercely try to counter Vidura’s arguments and Dhritarastra keeps silent and things move on. And it is by Vidura’s strong speech that finally Dhritarastra stops the gambling match and gives the kingdom back. But again when Duryodhana persuades him, he has Vidura call the Pandava’s back and another gambling match is there, and again the Pandava’s are sent to the forest. So, Vidura is mortified. The second time when the Pandava’s are going to the forest – the first time they went to the forest was from Varnavata, when the house of Lac was set on fire. The Pandava’s were incognito that time. They dressed as Brahmins and lived as Brahmins for some time. At that time Kunti had also gone with them. This time when the Pandava’s were going to the forest Vidura told Yudhisthir, “Kunti has become quite old now and that she cannot endure the austerities of forest life. So, please let her stay with me.” Vidura’s words were accepted by Yudhisthir and Kunti was heartbroken to see her sons enduring such terrible suffering, and it was Vidura who consoled her at that time?
Vidura’s marriage had been arranged by Bhisma with a Yadava girl. Her name was Sulabha. Sulabha was also a great dharmic lady and she and Kunti lived together, and she consoled Kunti and they became great friends. While they were living together, for all the thirteen long years Vidura and his wife offered shelter and solace to Kunti during her lonely existence.” Her husband had died long ago and her sons had gone away from her. They had been sent away by vicious men’s conspiracy away from her. So, Vidura served the Pandava’s by serving and protecting their mother and at one time soon after the Pandava’s had got exiled, Dhritarastra got angry when Vidura gave good advice and he sent Vidura off into the forest also. He said, “I don’t care for you.” Now at that time Vidura could have very well gone away. Dhritarastra sent Sanjaya to call Vidura back. Vidura could have said, “I will not come back.” but still Vidura was tireless in his love for Dhritarastra and he wanted to do good. He knew that Dhritarastra was in his own way wise although he was sometimes acting in wicked ways. His problem was more of weakness than wickedness and he wanted to do good for Dhriarastra, and that is why he agreed to come back.
Actually it is a great fortune if someone has a friend like Vidura, and Dhritarastra had such a great friend. It was his misfortune that he never valued such a friend, and because of failing to value such a friend he had to court great disaster. If somebody is neglected and disrespected and then sent away and told, “I don’t care for you.” Such a person will not come back. Now was Vidura attached to Dhritarastra? No, not at all. Vidura would not avoid giving strong advice? Whatever was the right thing Vidura would strongly advice. Even in the presence of Duryodhana and Dhritarastra he spoke the truth.
In the assembly when Draupadi was being dishonored, at that time Vidura spoke very strongly against Duryodhana. At that time Duryodhana got very angry and he said, “Fie upon Khatwa. Who has told you to come here? What does he want? He is always acting in ways that are against our interests. And what does he know. He has no intelligence. After all he is born from a Sudra womb.” and in this way he grievously insulted Vidura. At that time Dhritarastra checked, and he could have checked Duryodhana by saying, “Don’t disrespect you uncle like this.” But Dhritarastra said, “Don’t disrespect the Prime Minister like this.” Dhritastra in one sense acknowledged the absence of an intimate relationship by not mentioning that relationship at all. Naturally Vidura saw this as a signal that if there was going to be a conflict. Dhritarastra would take the side of Duryodhana and not on his side. Still not knowing all these Vidura wanted to do his part in giving good counsel. That is why Vidura went back and he stayed with Dhritarastra, and Dhritarastra would again and again call him for advice and he would hear the advice but never implement the advice. Finally, just before the war started, at a time when the war seemed inevitable, again Dhritarastra called Vidura for advice and Vidura gave advice and Vidura told him, “Stop the war. Check Duryadhana.”
But when Vidura saw that his words were not having an effect on Dhritarastra, then he called somebody who would have more purity and potency.
There is a section in the Mahabharat called as Sanak Sujatiya. Sanak Sujatiya was a sage who had instructed Vidura earlier and with whom Vidura had an intimate relationship. He prayed to that sage and that sage by his mystical power understood Vidura’s request and he came there and he gave elaborate instructions to Dhritarasta. Dhritarastra heard those philosophical instructions but still his heart did not change. Dhritarastra was a person who liked to hear instructions but somehow the instructions would not sink into his heart. He knew that they were good. They made sense but he couldn’t act on them because he was too attached, and then finally just before the war was about to start, at that time Vidura decided to make one final effort; to forcefully do all that he could to ensure that the war was avoided, and he spoke strongly to Dhritarastra, criticizing Duryodhana for his evil and malicious ways. And at that time Duryodhana terribly insulted him. He said, “What does this sudra’s son know? Throw him out of the palace immediately. Let him go out with nothing except his own breathe.” To speak like this to a Prime Minister like that was a great insult and everybody looked at Duryodhana and Dhritarastra remained silent, and Vidura saw this silence and left, and as he was going out he had his bow with him. Although he is not known to fight, but he also had fighting skills because he was after all born as the member of the royal family, but he put the bow near the door and he left.
Drona, Bhisma and Karna were obliged to the Kuru dynasty per see. When Dhritarastra didn’t acknowledge the relationship at a critical moment and let Duryodhana grievously insult him, Vidura felt no obligation. In fact he felt relief that he would now not have to fight on behalf of the Kaurava’s against the Pandava’s. He saw in this adversity also an opportunity to avoid the war. And then we see in the Ramyana and the Mahabharata there are similar characters and there is a good or virtuous side and there is bad or vicious side, but in the vicious side also there are some good people.
In the Ramayana Ravana is evil and his brother is Bibhishan who tries to give advice and stop Ravana from his evil course, and when Ravana doesn’t listen to him, Bibhisan goes over to the side of Ram and helps Ram fight the war against Ravana. Vidura doesn’t go directly against Dhritarasrtra. Why is that? There are multiple reasons. The most important reason is that in the Mahabharat Dhritarastra is not directly the evil person. He is the evil person by consent or by silence, by his ascent?28.02 to one who is truly evil; that is Duryodhana. Duryodhana was of course so evil that he was almost irredeemable, and Vidura decided that if he fought against Dhrtarastra’s sons and played a part in killing them, then he would never be able to hear him. So, he decided to go to a pilgrimage at the time of the war, and by going to a pilgrimage he increased his own piety, spirituality and his own knowledge of morality and in this way he enriched himself spiritually and intellectually and religiously through the adversity that came upon him.
Vidura is often known as a virtuous person, but he is not just a virtuous person, he is also a greatly devoted person. That devotion is recognized even by Krishna himself directly. When Krishna had come as a Shanti Duta, at that time Duryodhana was planning to arrest Krishna but he thought of going along with Dhritarastra’s plan and offering a royal reception. Krishna refused the reception and he decided to go and stay in the palace of Vidura for the night. Now this was entirely unexpected because Vidura although he was elder, still there was Bhisma who was older to him, and Krishna chose to go to the house of Vidura, and because it is not expected, Vidura’s wife when she saw that Krishna has come, she was delighted and exited and also almost flustered that the supreme Lord had come to her house. And then when she welcomed him she wanted to offer him some food, but she was so excited that she offered him banana; she peeled the banana and in her excitement she threw the banana away and offered Krishna the peel and Krishna took the peel, and then Krishna said, “Enough. Now I will go.” And when Krishna had come to her house Vidura was not there at that time. So, Krishna departed and Vidura came rushing in. He said, “I heard that Krishna had come.” She said, “Yes.” He said, “I am so unfortunate that I was not there when Krishna came to our house.” Then he said, “Did you offer him proper hospitality? Did you feed him something?” She said, “I gave him bananas. He ate so many bananas. Just see the peels are there over there.” They looked back and they saw not the peel over there, but there were bananas over there. They looked at the banana peels and they looked at each other, and both of them were thinking of the wonderful Lord who loves his devotees so much that while accepting the offering of his devotees, he accepts their devotion and he neglects everything else. So, Krishna was not tasting the banana peels and their bitter taste; Krishna was tasting the sweetness of the devotion of Vidura and his wife. Such is the caliber of the devotion in Vidura.
Again Krishna later came back to his house and he stayed at his house overnight, and even though Vidura would do devotional activities late in the night or early in the morning, he attended to Krishna very carefully. He told, “Krishna, what is the purpose in going to the assembly? I know Duryodhana is not going to listen to you. In fact you will be insulted.” Vidura could not stand the thought that the same assembly in which Draupadi had been insulted, now Krishna would be insulted there, and he told, “Why do you want to go to a place O Krishna where you will be insulted? You know that Duryodhana is incorrigible nature. I tried my whole life trying to make Duryodhana see sense and he has never listened, he is not going to listen now also.” Vidura expressed his hearts concern. A devotee always wants the Lord to be honored and never to be dishonored. He said, “My dear Lord! Why are you going there?” Krishna told him, “I know that Duryodhana is not going to listen but I am going there because I want to show to the world that the Pandava’s did everything possible to avoid the war, and they chose war only because they were forced to; that was their last resort. That would be demonstrated by my going there.
Vidura was also there when Krishna demonstrated the Virata rupa. Vidura was also a great devotee and he enriched himself spiritually during his pilgrimage, and while he was in the pilgrimage he got the news of the war and how the Kauravas had been destroyed, and then after many years of going on in the pilgrimage he came back. When he came back to the Pandavas, at that time the Pandava’s were delighted to see him. There is much described about Vidura in the Bhagavatam as well as in the Mahabharat.
When he was in the pilgrimage Vidura met Uddhava also and he asked about Krishna to Uddhava. Vidura then goes to Maitreya rishi who has heard Krishna’s last instruction in the Uddhava Gita.
Krishna spoke the message to Uddava, and Maitreya was also there in audience hearing. Vidura wanted to know more about Krishna. So, Vidura asked Uddhava. Uddhava said, “Maitreya is a senior sage. Please go and ask him.” And Vidura receives further instruction from Maitreya rishi, and Uddhava tells Vidura, “Actually you are so dear to Krishna. And just before Krishna departed he remembered you.” This is the devotion of Vidura that even amongst great adversities he remained faithful in the principles of dharma and faithful to his devotion to the supreme Lord.
Vidura came back to the assembly of the Kuru’s and there Dhritarastra was ruling; acting almost like a king although he was blind and he never had the right to be the king, and those who had tried to kill were actually now the rulers. He was taking all the royal privileges and Vidura felt pity for him, and he spoke strong words of chastisement. At that time because Dhritarastra’s hopes of the prosperity of his sons were completely lost, at that time his words had effect and Dhritarastra became enlightened. So, Dhritarastra exemplified tireless friendship wanting to do good to others, being affectionate without being attached. Vidura was affectionate to Dhritarastra, but Dhritarastra was attached to Duryodhana.
What is the difference between affection and attachment? Affection is where we have positive emotions towards a person, but we act in way that is for the wellbeing for that person. Attachment is, when we let that person do whatever that person wants just because we don’t want to displease the person. An affectionate person will give good advice to a person whom one’s loves or an object of his affection even if that advice is unpalatable, if that is undesirable but is true. But an attached person cannot do that.
As devotees we should cultivate affection, not attachment. Whenever we are in human relationships it is natural that we have feelings for the people around us and that is desirable also. Otherwise our society will not be maintained, but our feeling should be affection. Affection and not attachment. Attachment will drag us down, but affection will lift others up.
At that time when Duryodhana was finally killed he enlightened Dhritarastra, and then he took him along with Gandhari to the forest. Dhritarastra eventually attained an auspicious end. Vidura himself was a great sage. In the Mahabharat it is described that because Vidura and Yudhisthir were related in an extraordinary way, because Vidura as I said was an expansion of Yamaraj, and Yudhisthir was actually the son of Yamaraj or Dharma.
In the forest when Yudhisthir had gone in search of Dhritarastra and others, there at one time he met Vidura. In some renditions of the Mahabharat it is described how Vidura when he departed from the world he granted his wisdom to Yudhisthir. He by his mystical process transferred his prowess. In one sense it is the same Yamaraj who is manifested here as himself and his son. He manifested his wisdom so that Yudhisthir could rule with virtue and glory, and then Vidura returned back to the heavenly destination. In that way Vidura lived a glorious life of virtue and of unflinching and genuine affectionate friendship.