Bhisma, Drona and Vidura advise Dhrtarastra to make peace with the Pandavas.
The sage Vaisampayana is telling the history of the Pandavas to their great-grandson, King Janamejaya. As the narration continues, King Dhrtarastra has just heard the advice of his son Duryodhana, who suggested defeating the Pandavas with trickery, and of Karna, who wants to fight the Pandavas. Now he asks the elders of the Kuru family for their opinions.
After Hearing The Words of Karna, the powerful Dhrtarastra thanked him. After a moment he said, "O son of a charioteer, it is fitting that you, being a great-minded man and a master of weapons, have spoken such words, full of the vigor of combat. But it is best that Bhisma, Drona, and Vidura, along with you two men, together decide the wisest plan, the one that will bring us a happy ending."
Then the famous Dhrtarastra brought all these advisers, O king, and they began to deliberate.
Bhisma said: "Under no circumstances can I condone a war with the sons of Pandu, for as much as I care about Dhrtarastra, that much I care for Pandu and his family, without a doubt. I have the same feelings for Kunti's sons as for Gandhari's, and it is my duty to protect the Pandavas as much as it is your duty, Dhrtarastra. As I am responsible for the well-being of the Pandavas, so is King Dhrtarastra, and so are you, Duryodhana, and all the other Kurus. Indeed, all the citizens should be concerned to help and care for them.
"This being the case, I find no pleasure in making war with them. Let us rather make peace with those heroes, and let us give them their land at once, for this kingdom is theirs to rule; it is the kingdom of their father and their forefathers, the greatest of the Kurus.
"Duryodhana, my son, just as you see this kingdom as the land of your forefathers, so do the Pandavas [as descendants of the same forefathers] see it as the land of their forefathers. If the austere Pandavas have not really inherited the kingdom, then how does it belong to you, or to any descendant? If you have gotten the kingdom fairly, noble Bharata, then in my opinion surely the Pandavas have gotten it before you.
"We must act with kindness and give the Pandavas half the kingdom, for that is certainly in the interest of all the people. If we do otherwise, it will not be for our good, and you will inherit utter infamy without doubt.
"You must guard your reputation, for a good reputation is surely the greatest power. It is said that when a man's reputation is ruined, his life becomes fruitless. If a man's reputation is unspoiled, Kaurava, then he actually lives. But when his reputation is ruined, O son of Gandhari, he is ruined. You must strictly abide by this religious law, for such is the custom of the Kuru family. O mighty-armed one, act in a manner worthy of your ancestors and yourself.
"From the time I heard that Kunti was lost in the fire, Duryodhana, I had not the strength to see the face of a single creature. And the world does not accuse [the arsonist] Purocana* of evildoing as much as it accuses you, O tiger of men. That the Pandavas are still living relieves you of the dark stain of sin. Indeed, to see the Pandavas again is something to be fervently wished.
* Incited by Duryodhana, Purocana had set fire to a house in which the Pandavas were living. But the Pandavas had secretly escaped unharmed.
"Now that those heroes are alive, even Indra himself, thunderbolt in hand, could not take from them their rightful share of their father's kingdom. O Kuru child, every one of them is fixed in the sacred law, for their minds think only of God's will. Now those princes have been thrown out of the kingdom in the most unlawful way, though they have the same right as any of you to rule it. If you are interested in following the religious law, if you wish to please me, and if you would act for the well-being of the world, you must give the Pandavas half of this kingdom."
Drona said: "Dhrtarastra's friends have been brought together for council, to make a practical proposal that will enhance our virtue and reputation; thus we have heard, your Majesty. And I am of the same mind as the great soul Bhisma. The Pandavas must be given their equal share of the kingdom. That is our eternal religious law.
"We must quickly send to [the Pandavas and their father-in-law] Drupada a man who knows how to speak pleasantly. The man should bring many jewels, O Bharata, and he should go at once. He should bring many gifts to lead Drupada to reciprocate our generosity. Just as you might say it, Dhrtarastra, the man should explain the tremendous benefits and prosperity that will arise by uniting the Kurus and the Pandavas. And he must explain again and again to Drupada and his son Dhrstadyumna that you and Duryodhana are most pleased with this prospect, O Bharata. After the sons of Kunti and Madri are pacified for all the past wrongs, the messenger should explain again and again the propriety and pleasure of unity.
"By your command, mighty king, the messenger must present to Draupadi many shining adornments fashioned of gold. Fitting presents should similarly be offered to all the sons of Drupada and to Kunti and the Pandavas. Thus as soon as Drupada and the Pandavas are completely conciliated, the messenger should speak and explain why they should return to Hastinapura. When those heroes agree to the proposal, a beautiful army escort, headed by Duhsasana and Vikarna, should go and escort them back to the city. Thereupon, O noble king, being regularly honored by you, and with the good wishes of the citizens, they will stand in the place of their fathers. I agree with Bhisma, O Bharata, that this is the way you and your sons must act toward the Pandavas, for in the absence of their father they are also your children."
The Power of Destiny
Karna said, "These two counselors have always worked for money and prestige in all their so-called duties. Why is it very amazing, then, that they cannot or will not give good advice? How can a man who claims to speak what is best for others convince honest people when he speaks with a dirty mind and hidden motives? This shows that when the things we value are threatened, our so-called friends can neither help nor harm us, for in both happiness or distress everything depends on destiny. Whether a man is wise or foolish, young or old, and whether he has friends to help him or not, wherever he goes he encounters all that is destined for him.
"We have heard from authorities that long ago there was a king named Ambuvica in the royal palace of the Magadha monarchs. Deprived of all his senses, the king could only breathe, and he depended on his ministers to perform all the duties of state. His counselor named Mahakarni then became the real master of the country, and thinking he had now gained control of the military, Mahakarni began to despise the king. The foolish man seized all the privileges and properties of the king, including his women and jewels. But after he had gained what he coveted, his greed only increased. Having taken everything, he now desired to formally seize the kingdom. But although he tried, he was unable to steal the kingdom even of a monarch who was deprived of all his senses and could only breathe. This we have heard from authorities. What else could his kingship be, if not a position ordained by Providence?
"If a kingdom is destined for you, then it shall be yours, O king. While the whole world watches, sovereignty will certainly stand with you. And if anything else is destined to be, even by endeavoring you shall not attain the kingdom. Thus, learned man, you must consider the honesty and dishonesty of those who advise you, and you must know whether a particular piece of advice is coming from the wicked or from those free of malice."
Drona said: "We know for what purpose you with your flawed nature have spoken these words, for you are corrupted by envy of the Pandavas and now you would persuade us to adopt your wicked envy. I speak what is absolutely most beneficial for the prosperity and well-being of the Kuru dynasty. If you think that is wicked, Karna, then you tell us what is best. I speak what is most beneficial, and if anything besides this is done, then within a short time the ancient Kuru line will be destroyed. That is my conviction."
The Wisdom of Vidura
Sri Vidura said: "King Dhrtarastra, it is without doubt the duty of your relatives to tell you what is best, but words do not long remain with those who do not want to hear them. The most noble of Kurus, Bhisma, son of Santanu, has told you what is actually good for us, but you do not accept it, O king. Similarly, Drona explained in various ways how we can achieve the greatest good, but that, too, Karna thinks unbeneficial for you.
"But I do not see anyone who is a better friend to you, O king, than these two lionlike men, Bhisma and Drona, nor is anyone wiser than they. These two men are senior in age, wisdom, and education, and they are impartial toward you, noble king, and to the sons of Pandu. They are not less than Lord Rama or King Gaya in their truthfulness and devotion to duty, O Bharata, and there is no doubt about it. From the very beginning they have never uttered a single unbenevolent word, nor have they ever been seen to do you any harm.
"How could these two tigers of men fail to recommend what is actually best for you these two who are victorious by their devotion to truth? They hold real wisdom, O king. They are the best men in this world, and they will never say anything deceitful, especially when the matter concerns you. That remains my unshakable conviction, O Kuru son. These two religious-minded men will not speak in favor of a particular side for money's sake. Rather, they are thinking of your greatest good, O Bharata.
"These two leaders of men have stated that the Pandavas cannot be overcome, and that is a fact, O tiger of men. It is a fact in your life, and may God bless you to realize it.
"How is it possible to conquer in battle the handsome Arjuna when even Indra cannot defeat that fiery Pandava? And huge Bhimasena has in his mighty arms the strength of ten thousand elephants. How is it possible, O king, for even the gods to conquer him in battle? And it is the same with the twins, who fight with the deadly precision of the sons of Death. How could anyone who wishes to live challenge them on a warfield? And the one in whom relentless drive, truth, mercy, victory, and forgiveness ever reside how can he, the senior Pandava, be conquered in battle?
"What evades their conquest when Lord Balarama has taken their side, when Lord Krsna is their personal adviser, and when Satyaki stands with them in battle? Drupada is the father of their wife; and his sons, the heroic brothers headed by Dhrstadyumna, are now their brothers-in-law. Knowing that the Pandavas cannot be overcome, and that by ancient and sacred law they have first right to their father's kingdom, you must behave with them rightly.
"Your honor has been tainted by the great infamy of Purocana's act, O king, and now you must cleanse yourself of that stain by showing your mercy to the Pandavas. Drupada is a powerful king who has an old feud to settle with us; an alliance with him would strengthen our side. Many powerful warriors of the Dasarha clan always side with Sri Krsna, and victory is always with Krsna. If a task can be accomplished with kind words, O king, who is so cursed by Providence that he would strive for the same result through war? The citizens of the town and country have already heard that the Pandavas are alive, and they intensely desire to see them. Give to the people that satisfaction, O king.
"Duryodhana, Karna, and Subala's son Sakuni are bound to irreligious acts, for they have a corrupt vision and are childish. Do not put faith in their words. You are a good man, my king, but I have told you long ago that by Duryodhana's treachery our people will perish."
Hridayananda Dasa Goswami, who holds a Ph.D. in Indology from Harvard University, is Professor of Vaisnava Theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. He frequently speaks at universities and is translating the Mahabharata and other Sanskrit works.