The Mahabharata Home
"Yudhishthira said, 'What course of conduct should be adopted by a king shorn of friends, having many enemies, possessed of an exhausted treasury, and destitute of troops, O Bharata! What, indeed, should be his conduct when he is surrounded by wicked ministers, when his counsels are all divulged, when he does not see his way clearly before him, when he assails another kingdom, when he is engaged in grinding a hostile kingdom, and when though weak he is at war with a stronger ruler? What, indeed, should be the conduct of a king the affairs of whose kingdom are ill-regulated, and who disregards the requirements of place and time, who is unable, in consequence of his oppressions, to bring about peace and cause disunion among his foes? Should he seek the acquisition of wealth by evil means, or should he lay down his life without seeking wealth?'
"Bhishma said, 'Conversant as thou art with duties, thou hast, O bull of Bharata's race, asked me a question relating to mystery (in connection with duties). 1 Without being questioned, O Yudhishthira, I could not venture to discourse upon this duty. Morality is very subtle. One understands it, O bull of Bharata's race, by the aid of the texts of scriptures. By remembering what one has heard and by practising good acts, some one in some place may become a righteous person. By acting with intelligence the king may or may not succeed in acquiring wealth. 2 Aided by thy own intelligence do thou think what answer should be given to thy question on this head. Listen, O Bharata, to the means, fraught with great merit, by which kings may conduct themselves (during seasons of distress). For the sake of true morality, however, I would not call those means righteous. If the treasury be filled by oppression, conduct like this brings the king to the verge of destruction. Even this is the conclusion of all intelligent men who have thought upon the subject. The kind of scriptures or science which one always studies gives him the kind of knowledge which it is capable of giving. Such Knowledge verily becomes agreeable to him. Ignorance leads to barrenness of invention in respect of means. Contrivance of means, again, through the aid of knowledge, becomes the source of great felicity. Without entertaining any scruples and any malice, 3 listen to these instructions. Through the decrease of the treasury, the king's forces are decreased. The king should, therefore, fill his treasury (by any means) like to one creating water in a wilderness which is without water. Agreeably to this code of quasi-morality practised by the ancients, the king should, when the time for it comes, 4 show compassion to his people. This is eternal duty. For men
that are able and competent, 1 the duties are of one kind. In seasons of distress, however, one's duties are of a different kind. Without wealth a king may (by penances and the like) acquire religious merit. Life, however, is much more important than religious merit. (And as life cannot be supported without wealth, no such merit should be sought which stands in the way of the acquisition of wealth). A king that is weak, by acquiring only religious merit, never succeeds in obtaining just and proper means for sustenance; and since he cannot, by even his best exertions, acquire power by the aid of only religious merit, therefore the practices in seasons of distress are sometimes regarded as not inconsistent with morality. The learned, however, are of opinion that those practices lead to sinfulness. After the season of distress is over, what should the Kshatriya do? He should (at such a time) conduct himself in such a way that his merit may not be destroyed. He should also act in such a way that he may not have to succumb to his enemies. 2 Even these have been declared to be his duties. He should not sink in despondency. He should not (in times of distress) seek to rescue (from the peril of destruction) the merit of others or of himself. On the other hand, he should rescue his own self. This is the settled conclusion. 3 There is this Sruti, viz., that it is settled that Brahmanas, who are conversant with duties, should have proficiency in respect of duties. Similarly, as regards the Kshatriya, his proficiency should consist in exertion, since might of arms is his great possession. When a Kshatriya's means of support are gone, what should he not take excepting what belongs to ascetics and what is owned by Brahmanas? Even as a Brahmana in a season of distress may officiate at the sacrifice of a person for whom he should never officiate (at other and ordinary times) and eat forbidden food, so there is no doubt that a Kshatriya (in distress) may take wealth from every one except ascetics and Brahmanas. For one afflicted (by an enemy and seeking the means of escape) what can be an improper outlet? For a person immured (within a dungeon and seeking escape) what can be an improper path? When a person becomes afflicted, he escapes by even an improper outlet. For a Kshatriya that has, in consequence of the weakness of his treasury and army, become exceedingly humiliated, neither a life of mendicancy nor the profession of a Vaisya or that of a Sudra has been laid down. The profession ordained for a Kshatriya is the acquisition of wealth by battle and victory. He should never beg of a member of his own order. The person who supports himself at ordinary times by following the practices primarily laid for him, may in seasons of distress support himself by following the practices laid down in the alternative. In a season of distress, when ordinary practices cannot be followed, a Kshatriya may live by even unjust and improper means. The very Brahmanas, it is seen, do the same when
their means of living are destroyed. When the Brahmanas (at such times) conduct themselves thus, what doubt is there in respect of Kshatriyas? This is, indeed, settled. Without sinking into despondency and yielding to destruction, a Kshatriya may (by force) take what he can from persons that are rich. Know that the Kshatriya is the protector and the destroyer of the people, Therefore, a Kshatriya in distress should take (by force) what he can, with a view to (ultimately) protect the people. No person in this world, O king, can support life without injuring other creatures. The very ascetic leading a solitary life in the depths of the forest is no exception. A Kshatriya should not live, relying upon destiny, 1 especially he, O chief of the Kurus, who is desirous of ruling. The king and the kingdom should always mutually protect each other. This is an eternal duty. As the king protects, by spending all his possessions, the kingdom when it sinks into distress, even so should the kingdom protect the king when he sinks into distress. The king even at the extremity of distress, should never give up 2 his treasury, his machinery for chastising the wicked, his army, his friends and allies and other necessary institutions and the chiefs existing in his kingdom. Men conversant with duty say that one must keep one's seeds, deducting them from one's very food. This is a truth cited from the treatise of Samvara well-known for his great powers of illusion, Fie on the life of that king whose kingdom languishes. Fie on the life of that man who from want of means goes to a foreign country for a living. The king's roots are his treasury and army. His army, again, has its roots in his treasury. His army is the root of all his religious merits. His religious merits, again are the root of his subjects. The treasury can never be filled without oppressing others. How 'then can the army be kept without oppression? The king, therefore, in seasons of distress, incurs no fault by oppressing his subjects for filling the treasury. For performing sacrifices many improper acts are done. For this reason a king incurs no fault by doing improper acts (when the object is to fill his treasury in a season of distress). For the sake of wealth practices other than those which are proper are followed (in seasons of distress). If (at such times) such improper practices be not adopted, evil is certain to result. All those institutions that are kept up for working destruction and misery exist for the sake of collecting wealth. 3 Guided by such considerations, all intelligent king should settle his course (at such times). As animals and other things are necessary for sacrifices, as sacrifices are for purifying the heart, and as animals, sacrifices, and purity of the heart are all for final emancipation, even so policy and chastisement exist for the treasury, the treasury exists for the army, and policy and treasury and army all the three exist for vanquishing foes and protecting or enlarging the kingdom. I shall here cite an example illustrating the true ways of morality. A large tree is cut down for making of it a sacrificial stake. In cutting it, other trees that stand in its way have also to be cut down. These also, in falling down, kill others standing on the spot.
[paragraph continues] Even so they that stand in the way of making a well-filled treasury must have to be slain. I do not see how else success can be had. By wealth, both the worlds, viz., this and the other, can be had, as also Truth and religious merit. A person without wealth is more dead than alive. Wealth for the performance of sacrifices should be acquired by every means. The demerit that attaches to an act done in a season of distress is not equal to that which attaches to the same act if done at other times, O Bharata! The acquisition of wealth and its abandonment cannot both be possibly seen in the same person, O king! I do not see a rich man in the forest. With respect to every wealth that is seen in this world, every one contends with every one else, saying, 'This shall be mine,' 'This shall be mine!' This is nothing, O scorcher of foes, that is so meritorious for a king as the possession of a kingdom. It is sinful for a king to oppress his subjects with heavy impositions at ordinary times. In a season, however, of distress, it is quite different. Some acquire wealth by gifts and sacrifices; some who have a liking for penances acquire wealth by penances; some acquire it by the aid of their intelligence and cleverness. A person without wealth is said to be weak, while he that has wealth become powerful. A man of wealth may acquire everything. A king that has well-filled treasury succeeds in accomplishing everything. By his treasury a king may earn religious merit, gratify his desire for pleasure, obtain the next world, and this also. The treasury, however, should be filled by the aid of righteousness and never by unrighteous practices, such, that is, as pass for righteous in times of distress.
280:1 i.e., this is not a subject upon which one can or should discourse before miscellaneous audiences.
280:2 i.e., by ingenious contrivances a king may succeed in filling his treasury, or his best ingenuity and calculations may fail.
280:3 i.e., with a pure heart.
280:4 i.e., when the season of distress is over.
281:1 i.e., under ordinary situations of circumstances.
281:2 i.e., he should perform expiations and do good to them whom he has injured, so that these may not remain discontented with him.
281:3 He should not seek to rescue the merit of other or of himself, i.e., he should not, at such times, refrain from any act that may injure his own merit or that of others; in other words, he may disregard all considerations about the religious merits of others and of himself His Sole concern at such a time should be to save himself, that is, his life.
282:1 Sankhalikhitam, i.e., that which is written on the forehead by the Ordainer.
282:2 Literally, "cause to be removed."
282:3 The army and the criminal courts.
Next: Section CXXXI