Enlightenment by the Grace of the Saintly Vidura
The first Canto of Shrimad Bhagavatam is one of my favorites. Why? Perhaps it is because it was the Canto which Prabhupada brought to America and the first book that was available for us to study. Or it could be the attractive, spiritually uplifting, historical stories used to teach the philosophy, or maybe because Prabhupada put everything he could into it, thinking he might not live to finish the whole scripture. Indeed he didn’t finish. Although he finished only a few chapters of the 10th Canto, he did give us the Krishna book in 1970 which is a summary of that Canto. Any of the various narrations contained throughout the Bhagavatam can help us be freed from bodily illusion and take up the spiritual path. It all depends on our receptivity coming from our inner spiritual necessity. Hearing Vidura's potent words while considering their meaning for you and contemplating the questions that arise will help you go deeper into transcendence.
An important principle Shrila Prabhupada demonstrated personally by “not finishing” the Bhagavatam he also taught about the previous acharyas (exemplary teachers) in general. They often leave their work apparently unfinished—in other words by their mercy they leave something for us to do. Of course there is always service to do for our guru. Yet, when he leaves our vision through death of the body, we have to serve in his physical absence by the strength of our convictions and realizations. In fact, all the acharyas of all time are our friends and well-wishers who offer us their instructions and blessings.
In the part of the Bhagavatam we are discussing [first Canto 13th Chapter entitled “Dhritarashtra Quits Home], Vidura represents the ideal holy person or “sadhu”, while Dhritarashtra was and represents an overly attached materialistic person. Although he had faith in God and the Vedic culture, he was blinded by his worldly ambitions for his sons. The time period is after the Kurukshetra war, when all of Dhritarashtra’s sons and allies have been killed, as well as his hopes that his son Duryodhana would be king. The whole battle was due—at least externally—to Dhritarashtra’s overly attached affection for his envious, selfish, and excessively materialist son. Dhritarashtra is particularly tragic because not only did he know better than to follow his unrighteous path, he had constant good guidance that he ignored. And then in his old age he was being maintained by those persons—the Pandavas—whom he tried to kill and take their rightful kingdom.
There are four parts to this chapter. The first is the return of Mahatma Vidura from his pilgrimage, then his instructions to Dhritarashtra, then Dhritarashtra’s awakening and leaving the palace for his spiritual practice, and finally the appearance of Shri Narada Muni to pacify King Yudhish-thir who took responsibility for the departure of Dhritarashtra and his ascetic saintly wife Gandhari. I will be dealing with the second section, although the welcoming of Vidura as a saintly person by King Yudhish-thir is very instructive, as are Narada's instruction.
I often write in my blogs about the importance of what might be called “soft”, accommodating or indirect preaching, yet the scriptures are full of hard, direct preaching about the naked form of the world and material attachment. Although there is a time and place for everything, “hard” preaching is not to be used in all circumstances. It is tempting in the beginning to use it since so much of what we read and hear is "hard", and we may be very inspired by it as well. However, if we speak this “naked truth” indiscriminately we may push away people who may require a more gradual approach. Our expertise as presenters of the philosophy of Shri Chaitanya will be shown in how we are able to customize our presentation to the level of interest of our audience. Admittedly, not every devotee would agree with this, but this broad outreach is what inspires me, and what I have found most effective. If we study Prabhupada's life he employed both 'soft" and "hard" presentations depending on the time, place and circumstances.
Let us now turn out attention to the instructions by Shri Vidura which were meant to help the blind so-called king, Dhritarashtra, give up his attachment for comfort, and dedicate the little remaining time of his life for spiritual perfection. They are also meant to teach all of us who are fortunate enough to read them about the great urgency of spiritual understanding. In the second half of life, people who follow Vedic culture arrange their time so they can be increasingly focused on dedicating the remainder of their years for spiritual cultivation.
“Insurmountable, eternal time imperceptibly overcomes those who are too much attached to family affairs and are always engrossed in their thought. Mahatma Vidura knew all this, and therefore he addressed Dhrtarashtra, saying: My dear King, please get out of here immediately. Do not delay. Just see how fear has overtaken you.”[SB 1.13.17-18]
“This frightful situation cannot be remedied by any person in this material world. My lord, it is the Supreme Personality of Godhead as eternal time [kala] that has approached us all. Whoever is under the influence of supreme kala [eternal time] must surrender his most dear life, and what to speak of other things, such as wealth, honor, children, land and home.” [SB 1.13.19-20]
“Your father, brother, well-wishers and sons are all dead and passed away. You yourself have expended the major portion of your life, your body is now overtaken by invalidity, and you are living in the home of another. You have been blind from your very birth, and recently you have become hard of hearing. Your memory is shortened, and your intelligence is disturbed. Your teeth are loose, your liver is defective, and you are coughing up mucus.” [SB 1.13.21-22]
“Alas, how powerful are the hopes of a living being to continue his life. Verily, you are living just like a household dog and are eating remnants of food given by Bhima. There is no need to live a degraded life and subsist on the charity of those whom you tried to kill by arson and poisoning. You also insulted one of their wives and usurped their kingdom and wealth.” [SB 1.13.23-24]
“Despite your unwillingness to die and your desire to live even at the cost of honor and prestige, your miserly body will certainly dwindle and deteriorate like an old garment. He is called undisturbed who goes to an unknown, remote place and, freed from all obligations, quits his material body when it has become useless.” [SB 1.13.25-26]
“He is certainly a first-class man who awakens and understands, either by himself or from others, the falsity and misery of this material world and thus leaves home and depends fully on the Personality of Godhead residing within his heart. Please, therefore, leave for the North immediately, without letting your relatives know, for soon that time will approach which will diminish the good qualities of men.” [SB 1.13. 27-28]
“Thus Maharaja Dhrtarashtra, the scion of the family of Ajamidha, firmly convinced by introspective knowledge [prajna], broke at once the strong network of familial affection by his resolute determination. Thus he immediately left home to set out on the path of liberation, as directed by his younger brother Vidura. The gentle and chaste Gandhari, who was the daughter of King Subala of Kandahar [or Gandhara], followed her husband, seeing that he was going to the Himalaya Mountains, which are the delight of those who have accepted the staff of the renounced order like fighters who have accepted a good lashing from the enemy.” [SB 1.13.30-31]
We can take note that although Vidura certainly was a realized devotee who spoke with spiritual potency, he also had a very old and intimate relationship with Dhrtarashtra. Although Dhrtarashtra had for years ignored the wise counsel of his brother Vidura, he had always respected him as wise—though his attachment for his son prevented him from appreciating it at the time. In addition, he now realized that Shri Vidura’s previous instructions had been the right course for him to take and were given for his benefit. All these realizations now created a “teachable moment” which enabled him to really hear Vidura and act on his advice.
Our speaking or writing will have potency to the extent that we are convinced about Krishna consciousness or our spiritual practices and goals, and have realized it in our practical life. In addition as we mature spiritually we will be able to have empathy for our audience that they can feel. Our ability to recognize their degree of spiritual and material necessity will increase, and we will know how to best present the philosophy in a way that they can better appreciate. Of course not everyone is ready for spiritual life, yet some people who aren’t may at least be favorable to Krishna consciousness by our broadminded, non-fanatical attitude and our deep conviction and spirituality.
Vidura’s advice to Dhrtarashtra to leave home are not to be applied by everyone in the same way, though we can all be educated about the negative power of material attachment, and the importance and urgency for spiritual realization as the real success of our life. For most of us the point is not whether to leave home or not, but what is favorable for our life considering our unique situation. Those of us at a young age with family or aspirations for such need to go through married life. At the same time we need to cultivate spiritual knowledge and engage in sadhana (spiritual practices) in order to remember Krishna and understand the temporary miserable nature of material life. We have to develop a taste for spiritual life in order to remain involved in it.
Sometimes it is said in popular culture that “the way out is through.” Most people need to go through married life. To be a renunciate—like a life long brahmacari or sannyasi—needs to be a “calling”, and not done to avoid work or from being a responsible person in society. We have to always think long term, because many things can be done temporarily especially in youth—military service, Peace Corps, education, or renunciation. Mature guidance can help us with introspection to better understand our self and what we can "digest" spiritually—ideally with those of the caliber of Vidura, though at least from spiritually advanced devotees who can understand us and compassionately, reasonably give us good counsel.