[Advaita-l] Thanks [Was some questions on dharma]

Annapureddy Siddhartha Reddy annapureddy at gmail.com
Sun Oct 22 03:30:08 CDT 2006

Wish you all a very happy dIpAvaLi.

praNAm.h shrI Vidyasankar,
       A few more questions please. Thanks a bunch for your patience.

When in an extremely difficult situation, how does one know what is dharma
> or not?

As shrI Jayanarayanan pointed out, shrI kR^iShNa defines dharma as that
which maintains. Going by this definition, sacrificing duryOdhana for the
sake of saving the 18 akShauhinis assembled seems the "correct" choice
(though probably, the sin of breaking a vow while being in a royal position
would have destroyed their kula at a later time).

In any case, the point is that one might not be able to say if bhIShma did
or did not know the dharma (i.e., whether he joined the kauravas out of
malevolence or ignorance or some other reason), but one should be able to
say if his act was right or wrong. Please see below for my analysis.

Honoring one's word even when pushed to an extreme is itself dharma.
> mahAbhArata depicts many situations where things are not black or white,
> but fall in one of infinite shades of grey in between. For example, was it
> dharma for yudhishThira to wager his brothers and draupadI in the game of
> dice? Were they his personal property to be essentially bought and sold?
> draupadI's challenge, asking how her liberty was something to be betted
> upon, could not be answered by all the wise men gathered in the court,
> including bhIshma and vidura. They had to remain mute.

Regarding yudhiShThira, the act (in those times) was supposed to be in
accordance with dharma. And in any case, he did not treat himself and his
brothers separately. If he pawned his brothers, he also pawned off himself.
And none of the pAnDavas, inspite of duryOdhana's urging, said that
yudhiShThira was wrong in that action.

As regards draupadi, her question was whether yudhiShThira could pawn her
after losing himself, because he himself being a slave, how could he have
authority over her? And while bhIShma declares that he is incapable of
judging the case, vidura opines that yudhiShThira has no right over her

And another point to consider is that while bhIShma remained mute in this
case, he did not do so at the time of the war like shrI balarAma or vidura
who did not participate in the war. It was a conscious decision made by
bhIShma to fight the war for the kauravas (rather than abstain from the

In any case, just to see the pros and the cons of bhIShma's decision (please
do point out any additional factors that we might need to consider):
-- He was in debt to the royal family being in their employment. He, thus,
discharged his duty.
-- He stuck to his vow.

-- He was favouring the "adhArmic" side (unlike vibhIShaNa who deserted
rAvaNa, though it should be noted that while vibhIShaNa was insulted and had
no choice but to leave, bhIShma was highly respected by duryOdhana).
-- He was opposed to shrI kR^iShNa's wishes (as pointed in my earlier mail).
And shrI kR^iShNa is usually seen as the golden standard in matters of
-- He tells yudhiShThira (when yudhiShThira comes to pay homage just before
the war begins) that he was a slave of wealth, and was talking like a
eunuch. Thus, he seems to betray a feeling of guilt.

Also, on a slightly different note, a bunch of us friends are discussing
these episodes from the mahAbhArata, and madhvAchArya in his mahAbhArata
tAtparya nirNaya mentions all the above acts to be wrong, i.e.,
yudhiShThira's pawning of his wife, brothers, and himself, as also bhIShma
and drONa supporting the kauravas. While this is a "standard" position of
dvaita vEdAnta, I was wondering if there was such a "standard" position of
advaita vEdAnta on the episodes in the itihAsas. Another example is from the
rAmAyaNa where parashurAma mentions that shiva was defeated by viShNu, and
shiva in anger, gave his bow to dEvarata (the ancestor of janaka).



In the epic, Krishna stands above the norms governing human beings. vyAsa
> does that quite on purpose, to emphasize that Krishna is Vishnu. As for
> human beings, the epic points out in numerous places, explicitly and
> implicitly, that dharma is not only specific to the person and the
> situation, it is also very subtle. Often, it is not obvious what the
> correct
> course of dharma is, which is one strong reason one has to adopt
> ISvarArpaNa
> - buddhi, the attitude of dedicating all one's actions to God.
> With Deepavali wishes,
> Vidyasankar

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