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"Yudhishthira said, 'When practices fraught with high morality and beneficial to the world, (viz., those that appertain to righteous rule) disappear, when all the means and resources for the support of life fall into the hands of robbers, when, indeed, such a calamitous time sets in, by what means should a Brahmana, O grandsire, who from affection is unable to desert his sons and grandsons, subsist?'
"Bhishma said, 'When such a time sets in, the Brahmana should live by the aid of knowledge. Everything in this world is for them that are good. Nothing here is for them that are wicked. He who making himself an instrument of acquisition, takes wealth from the wicked and gives it unto them that are good, is said to be conversant with the morality of adversity. Desirous of maintaining his rule, the king, O monarch, without driving his subjects to indignation and rebellion, may take what is not freely given by the owner, saying, 'This is mine!' That wise man who, cleansed by the possession of knowledge and might and of righteous conduct at other times, acts censurably in such season, does not really deserve to be censured. They who always support themselves by putting forth their might never like any other method of living. They that are endued with might, O Yudhishthira, always live by the aid of prowess. The ordinary scriptures, that exist (for seasons of distress)
without exceptions of any kind, should be practised by a king (at such times). A king, however, that is endued with intelligence, while following those scriptures, would do something more. 1 At such times, however, the king should not oppress, Ritwijas, and Purohitas and preceptors and Brahmanas, all of whom are honoured and held in high esteem. By oppressing them, even at such times, he incurs reproach and sin. This that I tell thee is regarded as an authority in the world. Indeed, this is the eternal eye (by which practices in seasons of distress are to be viewed). One should be guided by his authority. By this is to be judged whether a king is to be called good or wicked. It is seen that many persons residing in villages and towns, actuated by jealousy and wrath, accuse one another. The king should never, at their words, honour or punish anybody. Slander should never be spoken. If spoken, it should never be heard. When slanderous converse goes on, one should close one's ears or leave the place outright. Slanderous converse is the characteristic of wicked men. It is an indication of depravity. They, on the other hand, O king, who speak of the virtues of others in assemblies of the good, are good men. As a pair of sweet-tempered bulls governable and well-broken and used to bear burthens, put their necks to the yoke and drag the cart willingly, even so should the king bear his burthens (in seasons of distress). Others say that a king (at such times) should conduct himself in such a way that he may succeed in gaining a large number of allies. Some regard ancient usage as the highest indication of righteousness. Others, viz., they that are in favour of the conduct pursued by Sankha, towards Likhita, do not hold this opinion. They do not advance such an opinion through either malice or covetousness 2. Examples are seen of even great Rishis who have laid down that even preceptors, if addicted to evil practices, should be punished. But approvable authority there is none for such a proposition. The gods may be left to punish such men when they happen to be vile and guilty of wicked practices. The king who fills his treasury by having recourse to fraudulent devices, certainly falls away from righteousness. The code of morality which is honoured in every respect by those that are good and in affluent circumstances, and which is approved by every honest heart,
should be followed. He is said to be conversant with duty who knows duty as depending on all the four foundations. It is difficult to find out the reasons on which duties stand even as it is difficult to find out the legs of the snake. 1 As a hunter of beasts discovers the track of a shaft-struck deer by observing spots of blood on the ground, even so should one seek to discover the reasons of duties. This should a man tread with humility along the path trod by the good. Such, indeed, was the conduct of the great royal sages of old, O Yudhishthira!'"
285:1 The commentator explains it in the following way. The ordinary texts, without exceptions of any kind, laid down for seasons of distress, permit a king to fill his treasury by levying heavy contributions on both his own subjects and those of hostile kingdoms. An ordinary king, at such a time, acts in this way. A king, however, that is endued with intelligence, while levying such contributions, takes care to levy them upon those that are wicked and punishable among his own subjects and among the subjects of other kingdoms, and refrains from molesting the good. Compare the conduct of Warren Hastings in exacting a heavy tribute, when his own treasury was empty, from Cheyt Singh, whose unfriendliness for the British power was a matter of notoriety.
285:2 The sense seems to be that there are persons who hold that priests and Brahmanas should never be punished or taxed. This is the eternal usage, and, therefore, this is morality. Others who approve of the conduct of Sankha towards his brother Likhita on the occasion of the latter's appropriating a few fruits belonging to the former, are of a different opinion. The latter class of persons Bhishma says, are as sincere as the former in their opinion. They cannot be blamed for holding that even priests and Brahmanas may be punished when offending.
286:1 Duty depending on all the four foundations, i.e., as laid down in the Vedas; as laid down in the Smritis; as sanctioned by ancient usages and customs; and as approved by the heart or one's own conscience.
Next: Section CXXXIII