Tag Archives: Vidura

An Example of Asthanga Yoga in Bhagavata Purana

Nārada Advises Yudhiṣṭhira

Meanwhile, the noble King had finished his morning prayers and rituals – paying respects to the learned and giving them food, resources and money. He returned to the palace to respect his elders but could not find his uncles and aunt.

Worried, he went to Sañjaya and asked,

“Where is our blind and old uncle? Where is my aunt, so sad over the death of her children? Where is my Uncle Vidura, who has always protected me? Have I been so insensitive to their losses that they’ve thrown themselves into the Ganges in misery?

“When our father Pāṇḍu fell and we were still little children, our uncles protected us from danger and disaster. Where have they gone?”

Sañjaya couldn’t answer right away, but he brushed away his own tears, calmed his own mind and, carefully remembering the feet of his master, began to reply.

Sañjaya said:

“Oh beloved son, I don’t know what your uncles and aunt have decided. Those great souls have left me in the dark.”

Just then godly Nārada arrived with Tumburu.[1] Everyone stood up to offer respectful greetings to the scholar.

Yudhiṣṭhira said:

“O godly one, I don’t know where my uncles and austere aunt have gone, aggrieved over the death of their children.  Your ears can guide us beyond the insurmountable limits of our own limitations.”

Then, godly Nārada, the most spiritual scholar, began to speak:

By no means should you weep, King. You are not the real King, God is. Everything is controlled by him. Everyone and all their leaders pay tribute to him, seeking sanctuary. He brings living beings together, and also takes them apart. His orders are the reigns through the nose of the bull that is humanity. Everyone pays him tribute and receives sanctuary.

Just like a playful child brings his toys together and separates them as he likes, so too are humans moved by the will of the Master.[2]

Maybe you think life is eternal, maybe you think it is temporary. In either case it is foolish to lament over affection, or anything else.[3]

You worry, thinking, “But how can those poor helpless people survive without me?” You feel this way because you are ignorant of who and what you really are. Give this up.

You are in a body created by five elements and controlled by habit, causality and fate. You are like a person bitten by a snake, who rushes to help others.

You worry that your aunt and uncles may have gone somewhere dangerous. Is anyplace safe in this world? Here the strong devour the weak. The four-legged devour the legless. Those with hands devour those without. Here, life lives at the expense of the living.

In this frightful situation, O Emperor, we must try to see the All-Attractive inside and outside of everything; the one soul of all souls. It is a bewilderment to look towards any other.

O Emperor, the All-Attractive being of beings is always among us in the form of fateful time. He deletes the existence of those who trouble the gods. He accomplishes this mission with time to spare. You will stay in this world for as long as he does.[4]

You want to know where your aunt and uncles are? They have gone to the southern Himalayas, to place where sages reside, a place called “Sevenfold” because there the Ganges splits into seven branches, creating seven islands for the seven sages.

Your Uncle Dhṛtarāṣṭra is practicing aṣṭānga-yoga there. He performs the first step by bathing and invoking the sacred fires exactly according to rites. He performs the second step by eating only water. By now he will have attained self-pacification and abandoned all desires.

He will master the third and fourth steps: postures and breathing. He will take the fifth step: withdrawing his six senses from the external world and absorbing them in Hari. Thus he will attain the sixth step: liberation of the mind from the distractions of passion, peace, and ignorance.[5]

As the seventh step he will reach unity with perfect self-knowledge. He will destroy the knower of the body by merging it into the pool of spiritual being, like the air within a pot merged into the sky.

Finally, at the eighth step when nature’s impurities are overcome and their after-effects subside, the causes of desire will cease. All acquisition is stilled, immovable, and fixed. There is no further obstacle. All deeds are completely given up.

O King, this will probably take him another five days to achieve. So in five days his body will become ash.

When his saintly wife sees her husband’s body engulfed in flames inside a hut she will also enter the flame..

But when Vidura sees this amazing sight he will leave that place, pushed by feelings of delight and grief, and again wander on pilgrimage.[6]

After saying all this, Nārada and Tumburu ascended to the heavens. By keeping Nārada’s words in his heart, Yudhiṣṭhira could let go of all worry and grief.


[1] Tumburu is considered the best Gandharva (celestial musician). He accompanies Nārada to assist his kīrtana.

[2] We have very small, localized vision. Therefore it is not always obvious to us how God’s “play,” which often appears cruel and painful, can somehow serve a loving purpose. Similarly a child does not easily understand the punishment of his loving and careful mother.

[3] If life is eternal nothing can be lost. If life is temporary nothing can be saved. In either case there should be no cause for shock.

[4] This is a very slight hint that Krishna has already departed, and thus his retinue, which includes Vidura, are now also departing from the world.

[5] Material energy has three modes of operation: rajas agitates us to endeavor, sattva makes us seek peace and calm, tamas makes us want to relent and forget. These three forces constantly pull the six senses by the ropes of habit, dragging them back into mundane activity.

[6] He is delighted that his brother was so successful, but naturally sad at the experience of losing his relationship.


Death is Howling Near

Vidura went to Dhṛtarāṣṭra and shouted:

“O King! Flee! Flee immediately! Look! Your worst fear is upon the threshold! Never has anyone escaped from it; so do not reach for a useless weapon! The doom of the all-powerful is upon you!

“It is rushing toward you to steal from your clinging grasp the thing you most adore: your very life! It will also devour all your wealth and everything else you value.

“Your father is dead. Your brother is dead. Your protectors are dead. Your sons are all dead. Your own life is spent, and you are in the grip of old age. What are you doing!? Why are you dragging out your miserable life in someone else’s home?

“What are you clinging to? You were always blind, now your hearing and memory are crippled, too. Your teeth rattle and your stomach limps. Cacophonously you cough up phlegm. Aho! How fools desperately cling to irrational hopes for life!!!

“Like a groveling dog you now eat the scraps left to you by Bhīma. Once, not long ago, you set fire to their home! You gave them poison. You tried to degrade their wife! You stole their lands and wealth! …Now look at you: living on their pity!

“Like a pitiful miser your body clings to life; yet still life dwindles against your will, like old clothing falling apart.

“If you really want what is good for you, free yourself entirely from all these bonds! Go someplace unknown and cast off your body. Such a man is called wise.

“The best human beings – by their own inspiration or being inspired by someone else – detach themselves from this world and give up possessions and life, fixing their very selves wholeheartedly upon Hari.

“Therefore go northward! Tell no one where. Even if you could live on and on, there would be nothing good to experience, for very soon the time is coming when humanity will diminish.”

Thus his younger brother, Vidura, helped the king’s mind awake to a vision of wisdom. The King steadfastly cut through the ropes of selfishness and set out on the path of liberation that his brother showed him.

When his saintly wife saw what her husband was doing she followed him towards the Himalayas. The couple accepted the rod of renunciation with pleasure, like a great warrior accepts a beating.


Transcending Death

41-42

He sacrificed his words and everything into his mind, and that into his life breath. He pressed that breath downward into death and sacrificed that into his five elements.  The five he wisely sacrificed to the triplicate, and that into the singular. All of these together as one self he sacrificed into the spiritual self, which is inexhaustible.

For a bear, the first part of hibernation is to withdraw into a cave. For a turtle, the first part of winter’s sleep is to withdraw its head and limbs into its shell. For a human, the first part of absolute renunciation is to mentally and emotionally withdraw oneself from the world step by step.

The self extends into the world step by step, and we can withdraw it along the same route in reverse. The withdrawal begins with all of the physical activities we perform with our senses. “Sacrificing these into the mind” means stopping all those activities and giving their energy to the mind. Next, we take all the contemplations, opinions, and desires of the mind and grind them all to a halt. The energy released by halting the ever-wandering mind is then placed into our life’s breath. Then we push the life’s breath downward, allowing death to begin taking claim of our body. When death claims the body, it recycles it by breaking it down into the chemical components that form it. There are five categories of components: called earth (solids), water (liquids), fire (energies), air (gasses), and ether (space).

The five elemental components are products of a “triplicate:” three types of energy that produces material phenomena. These three are sattva, rajas, and tamas. To fully relinquish ownership of our body, and go beyond an ordinary death we must consciously give the five components of our body back to the three energies that produced them. These three energies come from a singular substance, called mahat, which more or less is identical to the singularity that the majority of modern astronomers present as being the original source of everything in the universe. To transcend death we must further give the three energies back to the source from which we obtained them: the singularity.

Beyond the singularity is consciousness!

Thus the next phase of mental preparation for transcendence is to end the singularity by giving it back to the conscious self. The conscious self is not the ultimate root of being. There root of the conscious self is the All-Conscious Self. The final stage of dedication to transcendence is to give every energy that has been amalgamated into the conscious self and dedicate all of it fully to the All-Conscious Self, which is avyaye (inexhaustible) and therefore the original root of emanations.

Yudhiṣṭhira performed this mental dedication after fulfilling all his worldly responsibilities and duties and before taking any external dress or behavior of a renunciate.

43

Dressed in rags, not eating, binding his words, unbinding his hair, he began to see his spiritual form. Like an uncultured insane demon, he waited for and relied on no one and nothing. He listened to no one, as if he was deaf.

44

He went north, following the great souls who had gone before him for the same reasons. With no concept of time he went forward rapt in meditation upon the supreme spirit within his heart.

45-46

All his brothers decisively followed him, having seen that the immorality of Kali-yuga had embraced the relations of all the people of earth. They had done everything saintly and accomplished everything worldly. They knew the ultimate destination and origin of the soul. So, their minds always embraced the lotus-like feet of The Tranquil.

The chances of succeeding in premature absolute renunciation are exceedingly slim. That narrow margin is navigated only by those whose past lives are exceptional and rare. For the vast, vast majority of us, renunciation cannot be truly embraced without first fulfilling all our worldly responsibilities and thus exercise all our worldly desires in a way that simultaneously exorcises them.

The purpose of renunciation is to dedicate the soul into the all-soul, as explained previously in describing how Yudhiṣṭhira prepared himself for renunciation. The result of such dedication is that the soul is always rapt in loving embrace with the all-soul. Thus Sūta describes Yudhiṣṭhira as being rapt in such embrace in the core of his being, and here describes the contemplations of his brothers as constantly rapt in an embrace with vaikuṇṭha-caraṇāmbuja, the lotus-like feet of The Tranquil.

The Tranquil is a name for the spiritual Viṣṇu, Nārāyaṇa – who generates an atmosphere which is absolutely devoid of worry and anxiety.

47-48

That meditation of divine love liberated them into completely pure transcendental consciousness. This singular contemplation took them to the destination: Nārāyaṇa’s feet. They attained what is unattainable. Cleansed of the pollution of temporary, unreal, exploitive self-concepts, they went to the place beyond the Viraja River without changing their identities.

The world of Nārāyana is a place of absolute spiritual consciousness beyond the river “Viraja” (a flow of “passions” which contaminate consciousness towards selfishness). Yudhiṣṭhira and his brothers had already cleansed themselves of all such selfish conceptions, therefore they crossed the river without further transformations. They entered the spiritual sky with their same pure identities as Yudhiṣṭhira, etc.

49

Vidura also completely renounced his material self, in a place called Prabhāsa. His thoughts like clothes wrapped around Kṛṣṇa, he went to his own station surrounded by the Pitṛ.

Vidura was an incarnation of Yāma, the god of death. After finishing his term as Vidura he returned to his place among the exalted deceased (the Pitṛ) and resumed his responsibilities as Yāma. But as a result of his tenure as Vidura, his consciousness was now completely wrapped around Kṛṣṇa.

50

Draupadī too, fully aware that her husbands would not take care of her, gave her undivided attention to the All-Attractive son of Vasudeva, and went to him.

51

He who is interested in this tale of those who are beloved by the All-Attractive,
The departure of the children of Pāṇḍu for their ultimate destination,
Just hearing it, one gains purifying good fotune,
And gets perfected divine love for Hari.


A wretched person always remembers the injustices done by others. A saintly person always remembers their favors.

29

Thus his younger brother, Vidura, helped the king’s mind awake to a vision of wisdom. He steadfastly cut through the ropes of selfish love and set out on the path of liberation that his brother showed him.

The ropes which bind the soul to a humiliating condition are wound from fibers of sveṣu-sneha: love for oneself and one’s own. We cannot seek enlightenment and maintain selfishness at the same time.

30

Subala’s daughter saw her husband leaving. Being very saintly and dedicated to him she followed him towards the Himalayas. They accepted the rod of renunciation with pleasure, like a great warrior accepts a beating.

Subala’s daughter is more commonly named Gāndhārī. Sūta describes her as sādhvī : a saint. This is due to her serious renunciation of personal pleasures, as expressed in her self-imposed blindness. She was therefore already quite fit and ready to renounce the world for the sake of enlightenment. Sūta also describes her as pati-vratā: dedicated to her husband. So, on both counts she very happily and willingly followed him into complete renunciation. She is like a royal warrior. A warrior accepts beatings because it is part of being a warrior. Similarly we must embrace renunciation because it is part of the reality of life. We must not flee from death like cowards. We must march out and greet it head on, with dignity, when our time is due. Vidura and Gāndhārī have just displayed excellent examples of this principle. Dhṛtarāṣṭra also serves as an example, by the good fortune of his association with those exalted souls.

31

The one who makes no enemies [King Yudhiṣṭhira] finished his morning prayers and rituals. He bowed to the learned and gave them grains, cows, land and gold. Then he entered the palace to respect his elders but he could not find his uncles and Subala’s Daughter.

Vidura went to Dhṛtarāṣṭra and convinced him to renounce the world in the very solitary depths of the night. The next morning King Yudhiṣṭhira woke up and went about business as usual.

What is “business as usual” for such an exalted king? First he did morning prayer and ritual. The ritual was huta-agni: lighting a sacred fire. The prayer was maitra: a special him to Mitra, a form of the sun-god who protects promises, alliances, and pacts. Sūta addresses the King as ajāta-śatru: a person who does not create enemies. Prayer to the god of alliances and friendships is important for establishing this mentality. Completing his prayer and ritual, the King then went out to bow down before learned people and insure their well-being by giving them whatever food, money or other resources they needed. Next, he entered his palace. Upon entering the palace he would first do guru-vandana: offering respect to his teachers, guides and elders. But this morning he could not do guru-vandana, because he couldn’t find his aunt Gāndhārī and uncles, Vidura and Dhṛtarāṣṭra.

32-33

Full of anxiety, he asked Sañjaya, who was sitting nearby, “Where is our blind and old uncle? Where is my aunt, so sad over the death of her children? Where is my uncle, who has always protected me? Have I been so insensitive to him and his wife, who lost their entire family? Have my injustices so disturbed them that they’ve thrown themselves into the Ganges in misery?

34

“When our father Pāṇḍu fell and we were still little children, our uncles protected us from danger and disaster. Where have they gone?”

A wretched person always remembers the injustices done by others. A saintly person always remembers their favors.

35-36

Sūta said:

At first Sañjaya could not reply because he was too confused by lamentation and affection, distressed by his loss at not being able to find his lord. Brushing away his tears with his hands, he calmed his own mind and, carefully remembering the feet of his master, began to reply.

37

Sañjaya said:

“Oh beloved son, I don’t know what your uncles and Gāndhārī have decided. Those great souls have left me in the dark, O mighty armed.”


Facing Death with Integrity

1.13.12-13

To answer the moral King’s questions, Vidura fully described all his experiences, one after another, leaving out the destruction of the Yadu dynasty. “Disturbing, painful things find us on their own, I need not tell him.” Compassionate Vidura could not bear to see their grief.

14

With the intention of benefiting his elder brother and bringing happiness to all, he stayed with them for some time, and was well treated with all amenities like a god.

15

While Yama was cursed to spend one hundred years in the body of a śūdra, Aryamā administered his duties of appropriately punishing the sinful.

Possibly this verse was directed by Sūta towards a question from the audience of sages, “Since Vidura is the incarnation of Yama, why was there no disturbance in the process of death, as there usually is whenever Yama leaves his post?”

16

Vidura saw that Yudhiṣṭhira’s kingdom was regained, there was a grandson to carry on the dynasty, and all the brothers were taking good care of the citizens, enjoying life with paramount opulence.

17

Those who are attached to these sorts of enjoyment become intoxicated and lost in them. Unseen, time’s supremely powerful doom creeps up on them.

Vidura thought of his brother, Dhṛtarāṣṭra, in this way.

18

Recognizing this, Vidura went to Dhṛtarāṣṭra and said, “King! Get out right now! Look! What you fear most is on the threshold!

Shocked, Dhṛtarāṣṭra asks, “What is it!?! What horrible doom approaches!?”

19

“There is no escape for anyone at any time! O Powerful One, it is the doom of the all-powerful that comes to all of us.

20

“It will overtake you and steal from your clinging grasp the thing you most adore: your very life! What else!? What of your wealth and so on!?

21

“Your father, brother, protectors and sons are all dead. Your own life is spent, and you are in the grip of old age. Yet you live on in someone else’s home?

22

“From the beginning you were blind. Now your hearing and memory are crippled, too. Your teeth rattle and your stomach limps. Cacophonously you cough up phlegm.

23

“Aho! How people desperately cling to their hopes for life!!! Like a groveling dog you now eat the scraps left to you by Bhīma.

24

“You set fire to their home, gave them poison, and degraded their wife! You stole their lands and wealth! …Now you must live on their charity?

Will we sink to any humiliation to cling to the rotting, decrepit old body? Our will we proudly and bravely cast it off when it is worn out?

25

“Your body clings to life like a pitiful miser; yet still dwindles against your will, like old clothing.

26

“If you really want what is good for you, free yourself entirely from all these bonds. Go someplace unknown and cast off your body. Such a man is called wise.

27

“The best person is he who becomes detached from this world and gives up his possessions and life with his very self wholeheartedly fixed upon Hari. It doesn’t matter if it is due to his own inspiration or the inspiration given by someone else.

28

“Therefore go northward. Tell no one where. Very soon the time is coming when humanity will diminish.”

Even if the old man could live on, all he would see is the decrepitude of Kali-Yuga, which was on the verge of beginning.


What is Really a Holy Place?

1.13.1

Sūta said:

Vidura, while doing spiritual pilgrimage, learned about the soul from Maitreya and thus became extremely wise before returning to Hastināpura.

Sūta has just finished answering Śaunaka’s question about how Parīkṣit was born. Now he must answer the question about his deeds and death. To set the stage for this answer, he begins with a backstory related to Vidura.

Vidura is an uncle of the Pāṇḍava’s whose father was Vyāsa (on behalf of the King) but whose mother was a serving maid (it’s obviously a long and very interesting story). Nonetheless he was greatly respected by everyone in the family due to his humility and deep wisdom. The very name Vidura means “wise.” Vidura is not an ordinary person but a temporary incarnation of Yama, the god of death. Vidura tried passionately to stop his brother Dhṛtarāṣṭra from making the terrible Mahābhārata war happen. At a certain point, his brother got very annoyed with the constant good advice and insulted him in such a way that Vidura took the opportunity to leave the city and go on a spiritual pilgrimage.

The purpose of pilgrimage is not sightseeing. A holy place is not a location, but the worthy souls who exist at those locations. Vidura therefore sought out Maitreya, a greatly learned sage, and asked him all sorts of deep questions about the soul.

2

Vidura questioned Maitreya until he attained singular devotion for Govinda. Then he stopped.

Vidura felt that the ultimate goal of self-knowledge and self-realization is to fall singularly in divine love with the source of all bliss and pleasure, the All-Attractive Kṛṣṇa, “Govinda.” Therefore when he attained this state, there was no further need of inquiry from the sage.

3-4

His relatives – the son of Dharma with his younger brothers, Dhṛtarāṣṭra, Yuyutsu [Sātyaki], and Sūta [Sañjaya],  Śāradvataḥ [Kṛpā], Pṛthā [Kunti], Gāndhārī, Draupadī, Subhadrā, Uttarā, Kṛpī and all the Pāṇḍava wives, relatives, children and women – saw him arriving.

5

The all went out to greet him, delighted as if life had suddenly returned to their bodies. They greeted him with embraces and respects, as appropriate.

6

Emotional tears of love were shed from the distress of separation from one another. The king arranged a very respectful seat and welcoming ceremony.

7

After feeding him and relaxing, seated pleasantly on a comfortable seat, the King began to speak very gently and humbly. Everyone listened.

8

Yudhiṣṭhira said:

Do you remember how you raised us under your protective wing, saving us and our mother from so many disasters like poisons and fires?

9

Tell us about your pilgrimage. How did you do it? Where in the world did you go? What were the most worthy places you visited?

10

Devotees of the All-Attractive, like you, are themselves “holy places.” They make holy places holy because the Mace-Wielder resides within them.

This is quite an important and frequently quoted text. The only transcendental entity is the All-Attractive Godhead. Everything else is mundane (prakṛti). A person becomes transcendental when divine love brilliantly reveals the All-Attractive in their hearts. A place becomes transcendental due to the presence and influence of such persons. Thus transcendence moves like an electric current from Godhead through the lightning rod of the saintly into the earth itself: creating a holy place. Wherever a true saint resides is a sacred place. Even after a saint departs a place, the residual effect of their influence does not immediately dissipate.

11

Uncle, have you seen or heard news about our protectors and friends who always are enrapt in Kṛṣṇa? Are the Yadus and their city prospering?

This is a very heavy question, as we will see. It is the real question on the King’s mind since he cannot remove his thoughts from his beloved Kṛṣṇa.