Mahabharata - Yudhishthira and Krishna - Indra & Vishnu on One Chariot

To the Yaksha he said the same  thing. When the Yaksha asked Yudhishthira, ‘What is the path – kah panthah?’ he  replied – ‘Argument leads to no certain conclusion, the Srutis are different  from one another; there is not even one Rishi whose opinion can be accepted by  all; the truth about Dharma and duty is hid in caves: therefore, that alone is  the path along which the great have trod – mahaajano jeno gatah sa panthah.’

After the war, he has a discourse  with Bhisma on Dharma. He explains why he has settled on  ‘ziSTair.aacaritam.dharmam’ as true Dharma.

It  appears from his conversation with Bhisma, he is in search of a universal  Dharma. It seems he is confused at the variegated form of Dharma and its  application, at the relativity of Dharma that apparently defeats possibility of  universality -‘Duty and its reverse, therefore, cannot be ascertained, O  Bharata, by study of the scriptures alone……what is meant by conduct of the good  remains unsettled…. No such conduct, therefore, is to be seen (as observed by  any man), which is fraught with universal benevolence.’

The  contradictions in Scriptural authorities confuse him; the subjection of Dharma  to the conditional bound of Time-Space-‘paatraveda’ confuses him –
  ‘…the  ordinances of the Vedas disappear gradually in every successive age. ….all the  declarations in the Vedas do not apply equally to all the ages, the saying that  the declarations of the Vedas are true is only a popular form of speech  indulged in for popular satisfaction. … When, however, the Srutis and the  Smritis contradict each other, how can either be authoritative? (CE-12.252.7-9)’

If  ‘present’ experience leaves him confused, the only option left to him is to  hold on to a strong pole, which would be his ‘secure’ base. Like Sri  Ramakrishna’s sea-bird perching on the mast of a ship surrounded on all sides  by sea with land nowhere in sight, he would fly over the sea only to return safely  to the mast of the ship- ‘It seems, therefore, that only that which the learned  of ancient times called righteousness is righteousness to this day: and through  that course of conduct (which the learned so settled) the distinctions and  limitations (that govern the world) have become eternal. (CE-12.252.20)'

Thus Yudhishthira is a follower of  conduct of great men.

In Gita, Krishna  says –
  yadyadaacharati  shreshhThastattadevetaro janaH .
  sa yatpramaaNaM kurute  lokastadanuvartate -
  ‘Because, whatever noble persons do,  others follow. Whatever standard they set up, the world follows.             (Gita-3.21)’

What ‘shreshhTha’ does, is followed  by ‘itaro janaH’, in other words, we may tentatively translate it as ‘what  extra-ordinary minds do’, ‘ordinary mentality follows.’

Yudhishthira’s Dharma being  Manava-Dharma, the Dharma of humbleness, he wants to follow, not lead; he is  content being ‘itaro janaH’, and shows no aspiration to be ‘shreshhTha’!

The problem that an ordinary mind  faces in comprehending Krishna’s Dharma is  that, the boundary between ‘shreshhTha’ and ‘itaro janaH’ is never clear, nor  the distinction absolute. And what we see in today’s world, ‘itaro janaH’ often  assumes the garb of ‘shreshhTha’ with immunity! To use a phrase of Mr. T. S.  Eliot - the ‘overwhelming question’ is how to discriminate?

The problem with Yudhishthira’s  Dharma is, similarly, that the identification of ‘mahaajano’ can never be  absolute or universal, and is always relative. In both cases thus, one’s  individual judgment and conscience (‘Viveka-Buddhi’ in Sri Ramakrishna’s  words), i.e. Yudhishthira’s ‘yathaa.prajnam’ becomes all important.

Apparently, Krishna’s ‘Svadharma’ is  more liberal, having faith in one’s own self, and not dependant on what others  - even Yudhishthira’s great men (mahaajana) -   say. It is the responsibility of the Self to liberate the Self. In Gita  he says –
  ‘uddharedaatmanaatmaanaM  naatmaanamavasaadayet.h.
  aatmaiva hyaatmano bandhuraatmaiva  ripuraatmanaH -
  One must elevate, not degrade,  oneself by one's own "mind". The mind alone is one's friend as well  as one's enemy.             (Gita-6.05)

It is comparable to what Buddha says  later in Dhammapada –
  ‘attaa hi attano naatho ko naatho  paro siyaa
  attanaa hi sudantena naathaM labhati  dullabhaM –
  One is one's own guardian. What  other guardian could one have? With oneself well disciplined one obtains a rare  guardian indeed. (160)’

Is Yudhishthira’s Dharma based  entirely on imitation? Is it just a theory he follows?
        Vashishtha Dharmashashtra defines ‘ziSTa’ as –
  ‘te ziSTaas^braahmaNaas^jJeyaas^zruti.pratyakSa.hetavas-
  Those Brâhmanas……who are able to  adduce proofs perceptible by the senses from the revealed texts, must be known  to be Sishtas. (Va.6.43 )'

So, Yudhishthira follows those, who  could translate their Dharma into ‘pratyakSa.hetavas’. But how could he really  differentiate a true ‘ziSTa’ from a sham one?

When Yaksha asked, 'By what doth one  become learned? - kena.svit.zrotriyo.bhavati’ Yudhishthira answered, 'It is by  the (study of the) Srutis that a person becometh learned -  zrutena.zrotriyo.bhavati’; and when Yaksha asks, 'What constituteth the  divinity of the Brahmanas?- kim.braahmaNaanaam.devatvam’ Yudhishthira answered,  ' svaadhyaaya;eSaam.devatvam’.

Now, Nilkantha notes ‘svaadhyaaya’  as study of the Vedas’. Most translators translate the sloka as ‘The study of  the Vedas’ constitutes their divinity.’

Are ‘svaadhyaaya’ and ‘study of the  Vedas’ the same thing?
  Sva means “self” and adhyaya means  “investigation, inquiry, or education.” ‘The study of sacred texts’ can only be  a part of that self-enquiry.

Yudhishthira makes distinction  between ‘learned’ and ‘Brahmana’. One studying Shruti can be ‘learned’ not a  ‘Brahmana’. Again, all Brahmanas cannot be ‘devataa’, for that self-enquiry is  necessary.

The Taittriya Upanishad (Chapter 1; Sikshaavalli Section 9), the meaning of ‘svaadhyaaya’ becomes clear, when with the refrain – ‘svaadhyaayapravachane cha’ is applied with wider and as diverse contexts as ‘Rta’, ‘Satya’, ‘Tapah’ and ‘prajaa’ (begetting children), ‘prajanashcha’ (procreation) and ‘Prajaatishcha’(raising grandchildren). The Rishis have an integrated vision that one can learn from everything and every activity of life.

Kautilya defines ‘vidyaan’ as an ‘aatmavattaa’ - ‘For from hearing (sutra) ensues knowledge; from knowledge steady application (yoga) is possible; and from application self-possession (atmavatta) is possible. This is what is meant by efficiency of learning (vidhyasamarthyam)-

-  zrutaadd hi prajJaa^upajaayate prajJaayaa yogo yogaad aatmavattaa^iti  vidyaanaaM saamarthyam (Arthashashtra-1.5.16)’

Yudhishthira  admits, ‘Dharma depends upon delicate considerations, that is indicated by the  conduct of those that are called good, that it is fraught with restraints (from  numerous acts), and that its indications are also contained in the Vedas.’  He  thinks, – ‘It seems to me, however,  that I have a certain inward light in consequence of which I can discriminate  between right and wrong by inferences (CE-12.252.1)’

The  importance Yudhishthira ascribes to ‘anumaanatah’ brings Yudhishthira’s Dharma  close to Krishna’s.

Yudhishthira is yet to learn that such absolute statement about oneself is the nourishment to life’s ironic drama, only aids the irony of life flourish!

It is clear, Yudhishthira has been  searching with his ‘svaadhyaaya’; he is ever on the path –  ‘maargayiSyaami.kevalam’ like Mudgala - all his life the meaning of Dharma.

The only ‘danger’ of Yudhishthira’s  Dharma is that, unknowingly it creates a ‘mindset’ or ‘preconceived notion’;  unawares, ‘tamah’ might creep in and look like ‘sattva’. Yudhishthira’s wrath  on seeing Duryodhana in Svarga is the exposition of that mindset.

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