The Mahabharata Home
"Bhishma said, 'Drawing the bow-string, destruction of foes, agriculture,
trade, tending cattle, and serving others for wealth, these are improper for a Brahmana. An intelligent Brahmana, leading a domestic mode of life, should duly perform the six Vedic acts. The retirement of a Brahmana into the woods, after having duly discharged all the duties of the domestic mode of life, is applauded. A Brahmana should avoid service of the king, wealth obtained by agriculture, sustenance derived from trade, all kinds of crooked behaviour, companionship with any but his wedded wives, and usury. That wretched Brahmana who falls away from his duties and whose behaviour becomes wicked, becomes, O king, a Sudra. The Brahmana who weds a Sudra woman, who becomes vile in conduct or a dancer or a village servant or does other improper acts, becomes a Sudra. Whether he recites the Vedas or not, O king, if he does such improper acts, he becomes equal to a Sudra and on occasions of feeding he should be assigned a place amongst Sudras. Such Brahmanas become equal to Sudras, O king, and should be discarded on occasions of worshipping the Gods. 1 Whatever presents of food dedicated to the gods and the Pitris are made unto Brahmanas that have transgressed all restraints or become impure in behaviour or addicted to wicked pursuits and cruel acts or fallen away from their legitimate duties, confer no merit (on the giver). For this reason, O king, self-restraint and purity and simplicity have been laid down as the duties of a Brahmana. Besides these, O monarch, all the four modes, of life were laid down by Brahman For him. He that is self-restrained, has drunk the Soma in sacrifices, is of good behaviour, has compassion for all creatures and patience to bear everything, has no desire of bettering his position by acquisition of wealth, is frank and simple, mild, free from cruelty, and forgiving, is truly a Brahmana and not he that is sinful in acts. Men desirous of acquiring virtue, seek the assistance, O king, of Sudras and Vaisyas and Kshatriyas. If, therefore, the members of these (three) orders do not adopt peaceful duties (so as to be able to assist others in the acquisition of virtue), Vishnu, O son of Pandu, never extends his grace to them. If Vishnu be not pleased, the happiness of all men in heaven, the merit arising from the duties laid down for the four orders, the declarations of the Vedas, all kinds of sacrifices, and all other religious acts of men, and all the duties in respect of the several modes of life, become lost.
"'Listen now, O son of Pandu, to those duties that should be observed in the four modes of life. These should be known by the Kshatriya who desires the members of the three (other) orders (in his kingdom) to strictly adhere to the respective duties of those modes. For a Sudra who is desirous of hearing (Such scriptures as are not forbidden in his case), 2 who has accomplished his duties, who has begotten a son, between whom and the superior orders there is not Much difference in consequence of the purity of his conduct, all the modes of life have been laid down excepting the observance of universal peacefulness and self-restraint (which are not necessary for
him). For a Sudra practising all these duties as also for a Vaisya, O king, and a Kshatriya, the Bhikshu mode of life has been laid down. Having discharged the duties of his order, and having also served the kin, a Vaisya of venerable years, with the king's permission, may betake himself to another mode of life. Having studied the Vedas duly and the treatises on the duties of kings, O sinless one, having begotten children and performed other acts of a like nature, having quaffed the Soma and ruled over and protected all his subjects righteously, O foremost of speakers, having performed the Rajasuya, the horse sacrifice, and other great sacrifices, having invited learned Brahmanas for reciting the scriptures and made presents unto them according to their desires, having obtained victories small or great in battle, having placed on his throne the son of his loins or some Kshatriya of good birth for the protection of subjects, having worshipped the Pitris by performing with due rites the sacrifices laid down for honouring them, having attentively worshipped the gods by performing sacrifices and the Rishis by studying the Vedas, the Kshatriya, who in old age desires another mode of life, may, O king, adopt it by leaving that one which immediately precedes it, and by that means he is sure to obtain (ascetic) success. A Kshatriya, for leading the life of a Rishi, O king, may adopt the Bhikshu mode of life; but he should never do so for the sake of enjoying the pleasures of the world. Having left the domestic mode of life, he may adopt the life of mendicancy by begging, what would barely support his life. A life of mendicancy is not obligatory upon the three orders (viz. Kshatriyas, Vaisyas. and Sudras), O giver of profuse presents! Inasmuch, however, as they can adopt it if they choose, this mode of life, therefore, is open to the four orders. Amongst men, the highest duties are those which are practised by Kshatriyas. The whole world is subject to the might of their arms. All the duties, principal and subordinate, of the three other orders, are dependent (for their observance) upon the duties of the Kshatriya. The Vedas have declared this. Know that as the footprints of all other animals are engulfed in those of the elephant, even so all the duties of the other orders, under every circumstance, are engulfed, in those of the Kshatriya. Men conversant with the scriptures say that the duties of the other three orders afford small relief or protection, and produce small rewards. The learned have said that the duties of the Kshatriya afford great relief and produce great rewards. All duties have kingly duties for their foremost. All the orders are protected by them. Every kind of renunciation occurs in kingly duties, O monarch, and renunciation has been said to be in eternal virtue and the foremost of all. 1 If the science of chastisement disappears, the Vedas will disappear. All those scriptures also that inculcate the duties of men become lost. Indeed, if these ancient duties belonging to the Kshatriyas be abandoned, all the duties in respect of all the modes of life, become lost. All kinds of renunciation are seen in
kingly duties: all kinds or initiation occur in them; all kinds of learning are connected with them; and all kinds of worldly behaviour enter into them. As animals, if slaughtered by the vulgar, become the means of destroying the virtue and the religious acts of the slaughterers, even so all other duties, if deprived of the protection given by kingly duties, become liable to attack and destruction, and men, full of anxiety, disregard the practices laid down for them.'"
136:1 i.e., Their services as priests should not be taken.
136:2 Although I adopt Nilakantha's explanation of Susrushu here, yet I think that word may be taken here, as elsewhere, to have been used in the sense of one doing (menial) service.
137:1 The king is entitled to a sixth of the merits acquired by his subjects. The total merit, therefore, of the king, arising from renunciation, is very great. Besides, the merit of every kind of renunciation belongs to him in that way.
Next: Section LXIV