Shruti Vs Smriti
Bhishma gave lots of advice to King Yudhistra on governance from his deathbed. Whilst most part of Bhishma Neeti covers relevant and interesting leadership lessons; I notice some questionable guidelines as well included. Bhishma explained in detail the principles of varnashrama dharma (rules on caste system) as part of his advice. There could be a big debate on the sanctity of varnashrma dharma. Is there a need for Bhishma to refer Manu Smriti in his leadership advice? Interestingly, Manu Smriti includes dharmic principles for kings and they were relevant at the time of Mahabharath. Smrutis are dharma applicable for that period and need not be sacrosanct all the time whereas shrutis (vedas and Upanishads) are sacrosanct. It is wiser to ignore the portions that are not relevant in the current context and take only those that are relevant and useful. Criticizing relevance and intent without understanding the context is not a positive attitude.
Yet another Niti – Vidura Neeti
There are 2 other governance principles in Mahabharatha, Vidura Neeti and Kanika Neeti. Both are leadership advice to king Dhridharashtra told by Vidura and Kanika respectively. Before taking up Vidura Neeti, let me quickly introduce Vidura to the readers.
Vidura (Vidura means wise) was a half-brother to Dhritarashtra and Pandu. He was the son of a maidservant who served the queens of Hastinapura — Ambika and Ambālika. Dhritarashtra, Pandu and Vidura were born to Ambika, Ambalika and the maidservant respectively through Sage Vyas.
Along with his half-brothers he was educated by Bhishma, whom they all called father. As he had no royal blood, Vidura was never considered for ruling the kingdom. He neither nurtured that ambition. He served his two brothers as a faithful minister, After Krishna, Vidura was the most trusted advisor to the Pandavas and had warned them repeatedly about Duryodhana’s plots. He was known for speaking the truth and for his expansive knowledge and sharp intelligence.
Comparison of Bhishma Neeti & Vidura Neeti
Only similarity between both the neetis is that both are advice from the wise men to the kings of their time on kingship and both are included in Mahabharath. There are many differences though:
- Bhishma Neeti is much longer than Vidura Neeti. Vidura Nīti is found in the prajāgara parva – a upaparva of Udyoga Parva. Vidura Neeti is little more than 500 verses whereas there are about 4700 verses in Bhishma Neeti.
- Main objective of Bhishma was to stress on the importance of leadership to Yudhistra who was not interested to rule whereas the objective of Vidura was to advice and correct Dhridharashtra. Whilst Yudhistra was not interested to rule, Dhridharashtra was worried about losing the kingdom.
- Bhishma Neeti was a dialogue between Bhishma and Yudhistra and compiled as questions and answers. Vidura Neeti was more a monologue.
- Yudhistra was a keen listener whereas Dhridharashtra could not take Vidura’s advice seriously as many of the points were not palatable to him. Thus, Bhishma achieved his objective whereas Vidura could not.
The context of Vidura Neeti
The setting for the discourse by Vidura was the palace of Dhritarasthra, whose sons – the Kauravas were about to engage in a fratricidal war with their cousins the Pandavas for the kingdom. Dhritarashtra’s charioteer Sanjaya rebuked the king with a message from the Pandavas entreating reconciliation. Dhritarashtra was confused and wanted to seek Vidura’s advice. He sent an orderly to bring Vidura and Vidura appeared before the king.
Dhritarashtra sought the advice of Vidura to his travails ie sleeplessness, confusion & fear about his sons losing the kingdom to the pandavas.
Like Sanjaya, Vidura was also well aware of Dhritarashtra’s weakness ie his blind love to his children. Vidura was known for ‘calling a spade a spade’ and thus his advice was focused on positive and negative aspects of leadership.
Who is a wise man?
First set of learnings from Vidura Neeti is on ‘intelligence’.
yasya kṛtyaṁ na jānanti mantraṁ vā mantritaṁ pare |
kṛtam evāsya jānanti sa vai paṇḍita ucyate || 20 ||
One whose projects and proposed recommendations remain concealed from competitors, and whose projects become known only after they have been accomplished, is considered to be a pandit.
This is same what was covered in Valmiki Ramayan (Ayodhya Kandam, Sarga 100)
yasya saṁsāriṇī prajñā dharmārthāv anuvartate |
kāmād arthaṁ vṛṇīte yaḥ sa vai paṇḍita ucyate || 21 ||
One who daily reflects upon both virtue (dharma) and success (artha), and who prefers success over mere pleasure (kāma), is considered a pandit.
yathā śakti cikīrṣanti yathā śakti ca kurvate |
na kiñcid avamanyante paṇḍitā bharatarṣabha || 22 ||
They that are strongly motivated, and act according to the best of their ability, and disregard nothing as insignificant, are called pandits, O King.
Motivation, giving the best and attention to detail lead to ‘intelligence’.
kṣipraṁ vijānāti ciraṁ śṛṇoti vijñāya cārthaṁ bhajate na kāmāt |
nāsampṛṣṭo vyupa yuṅkte parārthe tat prajñānaṁ prathamaṁ paṇḍitasya || 23 ||
One who understands quickly, listens patiently, pursues one’s objectives with planning and not from selfish desires and who doesn’t waste breath discussing the affairs of others without being asked, is said to possess the foremost mark of wisdom.
More wisdom in the next episode…..
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