(Last Updated on : 02/11/2010)
Teachings in Mahabharata
are found in the numerous and extensive didactic sections of the Mahabharata. Such sections, both short and long are scattered in almost all the books of the Mahabharata, and they deal with three main things. These are- Niti, i.e. worldly wisdom, especially for kings, therefore also inclusive of politics, Dharma
, i.e. systematic law as well as general morality, and Moksha
, i.e. "liberation," as the final aim of all philosophy. These things are, however, not always presented in the form of pleasing narratives and beautiful sayings. There can also be found long sections containing discussions, especially upon philosophy in Book XII and upon law in Book XIII.
The speeches of Bhisma upon law, morality and philosophy fill Books XII and XIII. Bhisma, pierced by countless arrows, lies on the battle-field, but, as he can determine the hour of his death for himself, decides to die half a year later. The intervening period is used by the mortally wounded hero, who is at the same time a lawyer, a theologian, and a Yogin, to lecture Yudhisthir
upon philosophy, morality and law. Book XII begins with Yudhisthir being in despair because so many brave warriors and near relatives have been massacred. He bursts out into self-accusations, and resolves, in his despair, to withdraw from the world and end his life as a forest hermit. The brothers try to dissuade him from it, and this gives rise to long detailed discussions whether renunciation and retirement from the world, or whether the fulfilment of the duties of a householder and king are right. The wise Vyasa also is present, and declares that a king should first fulfil all his duties, and retire into the forest only in the evening of his life. However, he refers Yudhisthir to Bhisma, who will instruct him fully in all the duties of a king. So Yudhisthir, after he has been consecrated as king actually goes with a great many attendants to Bhisma, who is still lying on the battle-field, in order to question him first upon the duties of a king, and further upon other matters.
The first half of Book XII (Shanti Parva
), consisting of the two sections "Instruction in a king's duties" and "Instruction in the law in cases of distress and danger," deals above all with the dignity and duties of a king, teachings of politics (Niti) being occasionally inserted, and further also with the duties of the four castes and the four stages of life (Ashramas) generally, with duties towards parents and teachers, the right conduct in distress and danger, self-restraint, asceticism and love of truth, the relationship between the three aims of life, and so on.
The second half of the book, containing the section of the "Instruction in the duties which lead to liberation," is principally of philosophical content. However, there can be seen here long and often confusing discussions upon cosmogony, psychology, the principles of ethics or the doctrine of liberation, many of the most beautiful legends, parables, dialogues and moral aphorisms. Thus though the Book XII contains a number of complicated compilations, it however contains many a priceless gem of poetry and wisdom. This book is of inestimable value, too, as a source for Indian philosophy.
Book XIII (Anushasana Parva) is essentially like a manual of law, embarking on a discourse of legal issues and its various aspects. In fact, there are large portions in this book which contain nothing but quotations from, or exact parallels to, well known law-books, e.g. that of Manu. The only distinction between Book XIII of the Mahabharata and the law-books (Dharmasastras) is that in the former the dry presentation is frequently interrupted by the narration of legends. It is beyond doubt that Book XIII was made a component of the Mahabharata at a much later date, even later that Book XII. This is because nowhere else in the whole of the Mahabharata are the claims of the Brahmins to supremacy over all other strata of society such an arrogant and exaggerated manner as in Book XIII.
A large part of the book deals with the Danadharma, i.e. the laws and precepts upon generosity. However, even here, the supremacy of the Brahmins is established as generosity is always to be understood only in the sense of the giving of presents to the Brahmins.
Besides in these two books, and apart from smaller passages not exceeding one or two cantos, large didactic sections are also found in Books III, V, VI, XI and XIV. In Book III (28-33) is found a long conversation between Draupadi
, Yudhisthir and Bhima
upon ethical questions, in which Draupadi quotes a dialogue between Bali
and a "Niti of Brhaspati."
In the same book is to be found (205-216) the dissertations of Markandeya
upon the virtues of women, upon tolerance towards living beings (Ahimsa
, 206-208), upon the power of destiny, renunciation of the world and liberation, upon doctrines of the Samkhya Philosophy
(210) and of the Vedanta (211), upon the duties towards parents (214) and others. Book V contains long lectures of Vidura
upon morality and worldly wisdom (33-40) and the philosophical doctrines of the eternally young Sanatkumara (41-46). In Book VI (25-42) is contained the famous Bhagavad Gita
, to which the Anuglia in Book XIV (16-51) forms a kind of continuation or supplement. The consolatory speeches of Vidura in Book XI (2-7) again move in the province of ethics.
Thus discussed are the teachings contained in the Mahabharata.