Bhima Gita: The Jnana of Vrikodara

This is continuation of the series of posts highlighting the ten guNas that bhimasena displays in the mahabharata. The ten gunas have been explained by Sri Madhwacharya in his mahabharata tatparya nirnaya as follows

भक्तिर्ज्ञानं सवैराग्यं प्रज्ञा मेधा धृतिः स्थिथिः |

योगः प्राणो बलं चैव वृकोदरो इति स्मृतः || २-१४१ ||

Vrikodara is the personification of bhakti, jnana, vairagya, prajna, medha, dhruti, sthithi, yoga, prana and bala — devotion, knowledge, detachment, grasping power, retention, courage, steadfastness, endeavour, activity and strength respectively.

Let us look at a very interesting episode in the mahabharata that highlights the immense jnana that bhimasena possessed. While the terrible strength and prowess of bhimasena is well known, the superlative amount of knowledge that he had, and that which he taught others, is often not realized. Sri Madhwa has rightly highlighted this, most important, aspect of bhima’s character repeatedly in his tatparya nirnaya.

In the dvaita tradition of sri madhwacharya, this particular episode is popularly known as the ‘bhima gita’.

Yudhishthira’s resort to lower dharma

This incident takes place in the early part of vana parva. The pandavas, after entering the forests and bhimasena killing the powerful kirmeera in ‘kamyaka-vana’, enter the ‘dvaita vana’ and start residing there. Krishna also pays them a visit there and comforts them. In this way, 13 months pass by. Draupadi and bhimasena notice that the elder pandava, yudhisthira, was becoming increasingly comfortable with the lifestyle of the forests. He used to spend all his time with the sages and munis who had accompanied them. His mind was increasingly moving towards vairagya.

One day, draupadi and bhima decided that it was time to advise the elder pandava and get him out of his comfort zone. Draupadi takes the initial lead and engages her husband in a lengthy discussion. She takes several examples from the story of previous kings who had lived in the bharata varsha on how parakrama, or valour, is the most important quality for a kshatriya. She uses harsh words to provoke yudhisthira to give up his comfortable stay in the forest. However, in spite of her excellent advise, yudhishthira keeps defending his position, mostly by use of strong words taking advantage of the fact that the other person happens to be his wife who wouldn’t question him beyond a point.

At this stage, bhimasena enters the scene and confronts the first born with an extraordinary sermon on the four purusharthas and on one’s important duties in life.

Bhima Gita

Bhima begins his advise by questioning what is the use of forsaking dharma, artha and kama and living in the forest.

राज्यसत्पदवीं धर्म्यां व्रज सत्पुरुषोचिताम् |

धर्मकामार्थहीनानां किं नो वस्तुं तपोवने || vana-kairata-30-2 ||

Attain that excellent position that is fit for noble men and that which is in accordance with dharma. What is the benefit of deserting dharma, kama and artha and living in the forest?

Bhima argues that their kingdom was snatched by duryodhana not by valour or dharma but by deceit. It was like a fox snatching away a lion’s kill and like a dog stealing the havis belonging to a yajna. Therefore, there was no compulsion to stay in adherence to the atrocious conditions imposed.

Allegiance to the greater dharma

Bhima then reminds his brother of an important distinction in dharma — that of forsaking a lower dharma to achieve a higher one! As a kshatriya, ruling people and protecting people is the highest dharma. Hence the lower dharma of sticking to the promise (of vanavasa) ought to be forsaken to adhere to the more important dharma.

धर्मलेशप्रतिच्छन्नः प्रभवं धर्मकामयोः |

अर्थमुत्सृज्य किं राजन् दुःखेन परितप्यसे || 30–5 ||

O King! Why have you forsaken the greater dharmas for the sake of the lower ones? Why are you suffering with sorrow, having given up that artha which is responsible for dharma and kama?

Bhima says that due to the wrong decision of vanavasa, the pandavas have ended up causing grief to their loved ones and have brought joy to their enemies, both of which are not allowed. He questions the basis on which yudhisthira is resorting to vairagya, when the dharma of ruling his subjects so dearly beckons.

Bhima says the fact that kauravas consider them as weaklings (due to their acceptance of the vanavasa) is equivalent to death, as they are kshatriyas. He says death on the battlefield doesn’t bring sorrow whereas the current life, which is equivalent to death, is completely sorrowful.

Death in war most preferable.

In a sermon strikingly similar to sri krishna’s bhagavadgita vachana where he says “hato va prapsyase swargam….” (much later, of course, during the bhishma parva), bhima instructs yudhisthira how they should either die on the battlefield or kill their enemies and obtain their kingdom — either of which would bring shreyas.

तत्र चेद् युध्यमानानामजिह्ममनिवर्तिनाम् |

सर्वशो हि वधः श्रेयान् प्रेत्य लोकान् लभेमहि || 30–17 ||

O bharata! If we get killed in battle, without having withdrawn or without any conceit, then surely such a death will bring shreyas (to us). We will die and obtain an excellent world!

अथवा वयमेवैतान् निहत्य भरतर्षभ |

आददीमहि गां सर्वां तथापि श्रेय एव नः || 30–18 ||

On the other hand, we may kill them and obtain the entire kingdom. That too is full of shreyas for us.

Definition of what is not dharma!

Bhima then teaches his brother why staying in the forest is a violation of dharma. The key requirement of any activity to qualify as dharma is that the said karma must not bring harm to the noble!

कर्शितार्थो हि यो धर्मो विप्राणामात्मनस्तथा |

व्यसनं नाम तद्राजन् न स धर्मः कुवर्त्म तत् || 30–21 ||

O king! That which causes distress to the brahmanas and us (noble) is not dharma. It is verily an addiction. It is the wrong path.

Bhima says any one following dharma which ends up causing immense harm to a greater dharma, and even artha, is not a pandita. Such a person does not know the shastras well.

Balance between the first three purusharthas

Bhima then explains how, for a kshatriya and in general a gruhastha, it is very important to obtain a balance between dharma, artha and kama.

One who utilizes his wealth only for accumulating more wealth does not know the greater truth. One who does not indulge in dharma and kama in order to preserve his artha is a sinner like one who has killed a brahmana. Such a person must be condemned. One who is forever engaged in kama and neglects dharma and artha will be destroyed by his friends and dharma will forever desert him.

Bhima impresses upon the fact that it is very much possible to serve the interests of dharma through wealth (land, kingdom). Hence it is vitally important for a kshatriya to have wealth.

सर्वथा धर्ममूलोsर्थो धर्मश्चार्थपरिग्रहः |

इतरेतरयोर्नीतौ विद्धि मेघोदधी यथा || 30–29 ||

Artha resorts to dharma in all ways. Dharma also is possible to be obtained through artha. Dharma and artha are intertwined with each other just like the ocean and clouds are.

Bhima then goes on to explain how desire, without a basis in dharma, is wrong and leads to no greater good. Kama is the end-result in itself. It does not give birth to any other fruit (that is dharmic in nature). That which causes pleasure to the five sense organs and to the manas is kama. If it is channeled towards doing things that bring punya, then such a kama aids a person. Otherwise it does not.

Bhima then advises yudhisthira to obtain a balance between all three.

एवमेव पृथग् दृष्ट्वा धर्मार्थो काममेव च |

न धर्मपर एव स्यान्न चार्थपरमो नरः |

न कामपरमो वा स्यात् सर्वान् सेवेत सर्वदा || 30–38 ||

In this way, a man should analyse dharma, artha and kama separately and should not go after dharma alone. Nor should he work towards only artha or kama. One should always consume (work towards) all the three.

Importance of artha for a kshatriya

Bhima elucidates how the possession of wealth and kingdom is extremely vital for a kshatriya — if he is to perform the task of dharmachrana. Since moksha is the ultimate goal for all jeevas, the tasks that facilitate the obtaining of such a moksha has to be performed.

दानं यज्ञाः सतां पूजा वेदधारणमार्जवम् |

एष धर्मः परो राजन् सफलः प्रेत्य चेह च || 30–45 ||

O king! the greatest dharmas are dana, yajna, worship of the noble, bearing the vedas and honesty. These bring great merits here and in the upper worlds as well.

एष नार्थविहीनेन शक्यो राजन् निषेवितुम् |

अखिलाः पुरुषव्याघ्र गुणाः सीदन्ति निर्धने || 30–46 ||

O king! A man who does not have wealth cannot perform these dharmas. O tiger amongst men! (therefore) all the qualities of a wealth-less man perishes.

Importance of swadharma

After this, bhima talks about the importance of swadharma for each person. This section is, again, strikingly similar to the advise given by sri krishna in the gita.

Bhima reminds yudhisthira that begging, which is allowed for brahmanas, is prohibited for a king like him. Hence there is no other way but valour for him to obtain wealth (kingdom). Bhima says that the only character to which he can resort to is बलमौरसं — strength and valour!

He exhorts yudhisthira to perform his dharma and destroy his enemies. He promises the help of arjuna and himself in this noble task.

स्वधर्मं प्रतिपद्यस्व जहि शत्रून् समागतान् |

धार्तराष्ट्रवनं पार्थ मया पार्थेन नाशय || 30–51 ||

O Partha! Indulge in your (own) dharma. Destroy the enemies who have gathered. With my help and that of Arjuna, annihilate the entire clan of dhritharashtra.

He tells yudhisthira that the task of destroying enemies and ruling his land is a sanatana dharma imposed by the creator on him!

एष ते विहितो राजन् धात्रा धर्मः सनातनः…..

He says for obtaining immense wealth, some investment of existing wealth must be done. Similarly, to obtain greater glory and dharma, some dharma must be expended. Such a stance is acceptable to shastra.

एवमेव मनुष्येन्द्र धर्मं त्यक्त्वाsल्पकं नरः |

बृहन्तं धर्ममाप्नोति बुधानामेष निश्चयः || 30–65 ||

O king! Just like sowing a seed, a man can give up a smaller dharma in order to earn greater amount of dharma. This is the conclusion of the knowledgeable.

Bhima reminds his brother that the task of ruling the lands, which have been passed on to an individual by his ancestors, has been identified as a tapas in shastra. Therefore, giving up such a responsibility is equivalent to tapobhanga.

The lesser sins one accumulates while acquiring kingdom can be remedied by giving lots of dana and performing great yajnas. Therefore, one must not hesitate to get back his own kingdom for fear of sin.

He asks yudhisthira to go and snatch the entire wealth of duryodhana, just like how indra went with the maruts and how narayana went with the devatas and destroyed the asuras!

Three weapons of yudhisthira

Bhima then encourages yudhisthira by reminding him how he is protected by three people — arjuna, bhima and bhagavan krishna! He says there is none who can bear the pain of the arrows released from the gandiva. There is no human nor is there any horse or elephant which can sustain the attack of bhima himself. Finally there is no chance of a loss when krishna is alongside.

संजयैः सह कौन्तेयैर्वृष्णीनामृषभेण च |

कथंस्विद् युधि कौन्तेय राज्यं न प्राप्नुयामहे || 30–85 ||

O kaunteya! If we go along with the srunjayas, kaunteyas and the lord of the vrishnis sri krishna, how can we not obtain the kingdom in the war?

The firm commitment of yudhishthira

Sri madhwa, in his tatparya nirnaya, reveals that the real purpose of bhima advising thus was to ensure that yudhisthira remains firm on obtaining the land back after 13 years. However, if he is allowed to think so, then there was a chance that yudhisthira would back out at that moment. Hence bhimasena asks yudhisthira to immediately engage in war by giving up the vanavasa.

Bhima gives a strong justification for such a move still being acceptable. He explains how shastra considers even a month as a year! Since they had already spent 13 months in the forest, it was equivalent to spending 13 years and therefore they could now rightfully engage in war!

अस्माभिरुषिताः सम्यग् वने मासास्त्रयोदश |

परिमाणेन तान् पश्य तावतः परिवत्सरान् || 32–31 ||

We have spent 13 months in the forest. Convert the months into years and consider (13 years as having been completed)

अस्तु मासः प्रतिनिधिर्यथा प्राहुर्मनीषिणः |

पूतीकामिव सोमस्य तथैव क्रियतामिति || 32-32 ||

Scholars say months are representative of years, just like how pootika (amruta-valli) is representative of somalata. Let it be so. You too act accordingly.

Yudhisthira, at this stage, agrees to everything that bhima says but asks for the duration of vanavasa to be completed. He expresses his inability to respond to the dharma vachanas rendered by bhima!

At that moment, bhagavan sri veda vyasa appears and comforts yudhisthira. He says that at the end of the vanavasa, war is must and therefore arjuna must appease indra and rudra and obtain various astras so that bhishma and drona can be countered in archery.

Thus, yudhisthira is convinced of the inevitability of war after 13 years. The purpose of bhima’s excellent upadesha to yudhisthira is achieved. And all of us in turn were blessed with bhima gita!

sri krishnarpanamastu

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