Vidura Was Transcendental to Varnasrama-Marg




Date: March 5, 2005
Verse: Srimad Bhagavatam 1.13.9
Speaker: HG Purnacandra Prabhu


kaya vrttya vartitam vas
caradbhih ksiti-mandalam
tirthani ksetra-mukhyani
sevitaniha bhutale


While traveling on the surface of the earth, how did you maintain your livelihood? At which holy places and pilgrimage sites did you render service?


Vidura went out from the palace to detach himself from household affairs, especially political intrigues. As referred to hereinbefore, he was practically insulted by Duryodhana’s calling him a son of a sudrani, although it was not out of place to talk loosely in the case of one’s grandmother. Vidura’s mother, although a sudrani, was the grandmother of Duryodhana, and funny talks are sometimes allowed between grandmother and grandchildren. But because the remark was an actual fact, it was unpalatable talk to Vidura, and it was accepted as a direct insult. He therefore decided to quit his paternal house and prepare for the renounced order of life. This preparatory stage is called vanaprastha-asrama, or retired life for traveling and visiting the holy places on the surface of the earth. In the holy places of India, like Vrndavana, Hardwar, Jagannatha Puri, and Prayaga, there are many great devotees, and there are still free kitchen houses for persons who desire to advance spiritually. Maharaja Yudhisthira was inquisitive to learn whether Vidura maintained himself by the mercy of the free kitchen houses (chatras).

(invocatory prayers)

So in this verse Maharaja Yudhisthira is welcoming Vidura to the palace and he is wondering how did he maintain himself during his tirtha-yatra. And he also asked at what principle places of pilgrimage did you render service. So these are the two main qualities or activities of a vanaprastha. So Vidura had left home in a somewhat dramatic way. As you probably know, Duryodhana spoke some very harsh words to Vidura and those words were like sharp arrows which entered his ears and gave pain to his heart.

It mentions that he was deeply afflicted by the insulting words of Duryodhana. But at the same time even though he felt insulted he understood, because he’s a pure devotee, that this was also an arrangement of the internal energy. He saw Duryodhana’s activities as being controlled by the external energy, but he himself saw the hand of the Lord in all of that.

He considered himself contaminated having associated with Duryodhana and Dhrtarastra. So he felt that he needed to purify himself and go on tirtha-yatra, go to all the pilgrimage sites and see the various forms of the Lord. And actually Krsna Himself was present on the earth at that time and Vidura could have easily gone to see Lord Krsna directly, but he did not do so because he felt that he was not qualified to see the Lord directly because of that contamination with the Kauravas.

So he felt that “First let me go on this yatra, purify myself, and then perhaps later I can see Lord Krsna.” He took a very humble role, mood. And this is one of the qualities which is very endearing when we read about Vidura’s character. Actually Vidura is rather a lovable person and inspires respect and love from the devotees who hear about his activities. Because he’s somewhat of an underdog, if we could use that term. He’s a great person who’s taken a very low role or low position. And he was very wise, so much so that even Bhisma would take his counsel.

He was born of a sudrani, or a maidservant, the maidservant of Ambalika.
Ambika and Ambalika gave birth to Dhrtararastra and Pandu, but Ambalika was so shocked by Vyasadeva’s appearance that she couldn’t possibly get herself to have union with him again. So she arranged that the most beautiful of her maidservants was waiting for Vyasasdeva in her room. And so there it was, there’s the history, then Vidura was born from that maidservant. Of course Duryodhana knew this history, and when Vidura was giving wise counsel to Dhrtarastra, Duryodhana’s father. . . actually, right from the very beginning Vidura had counseled Dhrtarastra that “You should get rid of this son”, because when Duryodhana was born there were jackals screeching and vultures shrieking and all these inauspicious signs, the wind was howling.

And Vidura told Dhrtarastra that “These are symptoms or signs when someone is to be born who will destroy the dynasty. Therefore you should sacrifice this son for the good of the entire dynasty. One person can be sacrificed for the sake of the family, and one family can be sacrificed for the good of the village, and even one village can be sacrificed for the good of the entire nation.”

So Vidura mentioned that the first son, the first of 100 sons, or 99 sons, one of them was a lady, he advised him “Give up this one son who will cause great inauspiciousness and destruction to your dynasty”. But Dhrtarastra just shook his head back and forth and motioned that the child be given to Gandhari. Bhisma and Vidura they just accepted. He was the King, they realised that this was a great mistake, but what could they do?

So Vidura again at a later time advised Dhrtarastra that “You should get rid of this son of yours, he’s causing so much trouble”. And Duryodhana was there, present. And he became very angry, his lips started to tremble and asked “Who let him in here, this son of a dasi-putra? Throw him out of the palace and leave him only with his breath!”

So as Prabhupada explains, sometimes the grandson may joke with the grandmother, but this was not the case, because it was actually a fact.
Vidura was maintained by Dhrtarastra in great royal opulence within the royal compound. And he was respected by all being the maha-mantri, or the royal advisor. But because he was born from the maidservant, he was not entitled to take the seat or the throne, but still he lived in royal opulence. So Duryodhana insulted him in such a way that he actually felt deeply afflicted by his sharp words.

This also proves that the pure devotee does have feelings, he is sensitive.

It wasn’t that Vidura was totally callous to the sharp words of Duryodhana.

Although he was an elevated and pure devotee, he still felt insulted. But he didn’t allow that to interfere with his devotional service. His affliction did not interfere with his spiritual intelligence. He wisely decided to leave the palace before these actions were actually undertaken by Duryodhana’s guards. So he gave up his bow, left it by the door, and just went out travelling all around India, Bharata-varsa.

He went to holy places: Ayodhya, Dvaraka, and Prabhasa. When he went to Prabhasa then he heard from the local people how the Yadu dynasty had destroyed itself by this fratricidal war. That was shocking to him. Later when he met Uddhava in Vrndavana by the banks of the Yamuna, he asked Uddhava again “What is happening with the Yadu dynasty? Are they all right?” even though he knew what had happened. He was so shocked by the news that he wanted to hear it again and confirm it and try to understand it again. So he went to all of these holy places and went to many other places along the banks of the Sarasvati and ended up coming to Vrndavana and met Uddhava.

Uddhava had just seen this fratricidal war of the Yadus and was instructed by Lord Krsna to go to Badarikasrama to instruct the sages there because Lord Krsna had not had the chance to do so, and He felt that Uddhava was the only person who was qualified to instruct the great rsis and ascetics in jnana-yoga, and gradually to influence them to become devotees.

So Vidura met him and spoke with him. That is also a very touching and moving scene in the Bhagavatam. At that time Uddhava told Vidura that “Just before Krsna left the planet He spoke of you; He remembered you, Vidura.”

And after Uddhava left Vidura, those words reverberated or echoed in his mind, he heard them and he began to cry. He began to sob uncontrollably considering “How considerate and how merciful is Lord Krsna that He thought of me, the insignificant Vidura! I am nothing”, he thought, “And the Supreme Personality of Godhead thought of me before he left the world?” He began to sob loudly. This is another characteristic of Vidura that makes him very endearing to the Vaisnavas, that he was very humble.

He was serving the Pandavas in many ways. He was a very exalted person, but very humble and he was serving the Vaisnavas even before he went on his tirtha-yatra. We know that Vidura warned the Pandavas before they went to Varanavata. And then he personally went there himself to personally tell them exactly which day, the 14th day of the waning moon, that that was the day that Purocana would burn the house of lac. And so many things he did, he was always protecting the Pandavas and always serving them in one way or another. So he was very dear to the Pandavas and very dear to Lord Krsna and he himself loved Krsna so much that he became overwhelmed with love on numerous occasions.

When Duryodhana had invited the Lord for a royal banquet, the Lord had rejected his invitation and went to Vidura home for simple khichuri.
Afterwards, Vidura thought that the Lord should have some sweet, which he didn’t have, and he offered some banana. And he offered the skin — being overwhelmed with love — and he threw the banana away and offered the Lord the skin and the Lord actually ate the skin, (chuckles) feeling the bhava, feeling the prema of Vidura. Vidura was shaking and tears were coming from his eyes as he offerd this banana skin. He was completely unaware of what he was doing. So all of these pastimes in the Bhagavatam and Mahabharata bring Vidura deep within one’s heart, and we can appreciate his good qualities.

Yudhisthira is asking here “How did you maintain yourself while travelling around the world”. This is really the main characteristic of the vanaprastha. Actually the Bhagavatam describes four kinds of vanaprasthas: vaikhanasa, valakhilyas, audumbara and phenapa. They are commented by Sripada Sridhar Swami in his tika to the Bhagavatam. He describes the vaikhanasa: “akrsta paca vrttya”, he says that the vaikhanasa-vanaprastha lives in the forest and subsists simply on food which is grown wild in the forest, roots, wild fruits, and bulbs.

Each of the asramas have four orders, there are four brahmacaris, four grhasthas, and four sannyasis as you know. So there are also four vanaprasthas. And they are meant for the various types of persons, and they are arranged that gradually one becomes more and more detached from one type of vanaprastha to another. So all of the vanaprasthas live in the forest. So this one “akrsta paca” means ungrown food, or that which is not cultivated.

It’s just grown wild; you can eat anything that just grows wild in the forest. This is the basic and first step for the vanaprastha.

Prabhupada translates it in the Caitanya Caritamrta as that “he renounces or retires from active life and lives on half-boiled meals.” That was how he translated this Sridhar Swami’s tika. Then the valakhilya, he lives also on such types of food which is grown wild, but it’s mentioned that when he receives a new stock of food then he must renounce the previous stock of food: “nave pane labdhya” (?). When he gets new food then “purva ancita anna tyagah” (?) that he has to give this up. Generally the vanaprasthas are not allowed to stock food for the future, but it can be done if the place is very difficult, or if someone is disabled, or there’s some emergency, then he may stock food. So this level is also considered that this may happen.

Then there’s the audumbara which is also very intereseting. It says that when one wakes up in the morning, “prathar uttha” (?) then “prathamam disam pasyanti”, then whatever he sees in a particular direction then he can collect food only from that one direction. So now the whole forest is limited to where you look when you wake up in the morning. Only in that one direction can he wander and collect food; he has to disregard all the other directions.

And the last, or the most detached of all the vanaprasthas is phenapa, that means that he eats food which falls from the tree on its own accord, or naturally. In the tika, in the Sanskrit it’s also there, it mentions “phaladbhir jivantah” (?) he maintains himself on fruits which fall, “svayam patitaih”, they fall on their own.

So the vanaprastha is an interesting asrama because the person has actually lived as a grhastha, getting fine cooked meals usually from his wife, or servants. Actually Prabhupada describes that the strict brahmana will not accept food cooked even by his own wife, that he will only cook himself. But if one is not a brahmana, or a very strict brahmana, then he will accept those meals. When Prabhupada was born, around that time — he mentioned in LA, there were only a couple of devotees in the room — that the streets were lined with the brahmanas with their chulis, they were cooking on the side of the road, rice in a pot. Because the brahmanas would only cook their own food. He made that point that not even their wives’.

How one takes one’s meals is an important part of renunciation. Actually eating is the main source of enjoyment in the material world. Therefore to gradually become detached one has to gradually eat very simple food. This is recommended by Mahaprabhu also:

jihvara lalase yei iti-uti dhaya
sisnodara-parayana krsna nahi paya

One cannot attain the lotus feet of Lord Krsna if he is controlled by his tongue, belly, and genitals, particularly in the sense of eating food. This major principle of renunciation must be followed by all Vaisnavas.

So the vanaprastha stage is meant to gradually bring one to the point of renunciation so that he can totally give up all sense of enjoyment and dedicate himself fully to the service of the Supreme Lord. Even if one is not a devotee and he just follows the strict rules of the vanaprastha-asrama, he can go to Mahar-loka. Janaloka, Maharloka, Tapoloka, and then Brahmaloka, on the higher planets. From there one can proceed further to Brahmaloka and associate with Lord Brahma, and then at the end of Lord Brahma’s life he may also proceed to Vaikuntha because in Brahmaloka he can begin practicing Vaisnavism, bhakti-yoga, in some form or another. But if someone becomes a devotee, then he can immediately, from the vanaprastha stage, he can immediately go back to Godhead, if he is a devotee, if he is thinking of Krsna at the time of death.

The vanaprastha stage is considered quite elevated. There’s a verse in the 11th Canto, in the Uddhava-gita. The Lord is speaking to Uddhava and He says:

grhasramo jaghanato
brahmacaryam hrdo mama
vaksah-sthalad vane-vasah
sannyasah sirasi sthitah

That the grhasthas come from My thighs of My universal form. The brahmacaris are coming from My heart. There are two kinds of brahmacaris, the naisthika and the upakurvana brahmacari, who gets married at a certain point. Then someone who lives in the forest, the vanaprastha, He is from my chest, and the sannyasi comes from My head of My universal form. So there is a hierarchy within the varnasrama system, like this. One is considered better than the next.

And this is confirmed in the Nrsimha Purana which mentions that one hundred brahmacaris is equal to a grhastha; one hundred grhasthas is equal to one vanaprastha; and one hundred vanaprasthas is equal to one sannyasi; and a hundred sannyasis is equal to someone who chants Siva-mantras; and a hundred such people who chant Siva-mantras is equal to one person who knows the Atharva-veda; and a hundred such persons who know the Atharva-veda is equal to someone who chants the king of mantras, which is the mantras for Nrsimhadeva. Anyway, it’s in the Nrsimha Purana. But it’s interesting, it gives a slightly different categorisation of hierarchy describing how the grhastha is considered superior to the brahmacari and so far.

We look in the scriptures sometimes we see different analsyses of these things. But in general because the vanaprastha has already been through the brahmacari/grhastha asramas he is superior to those persons and inferior to the sannyasi, because the sannyasi has developed more detachment and renunciation. Of course when one becomes a devotee, if we go a little bit beyond the varnasrama system into the Bhagavat-marg, then we see that anyone who has devotion to the Lord is considered the best. The one who has the most devotion is the highest, no matter what asrama he’s in. But generally we follow these various rules and regulations as far as offering etiquette or respect to one another, we follow this.

So Vidura was in the vanaprastha asramam and he came back to the palace to enlighten Dhrtarastra. So we’ll hear more about that in the next few verses.

Thank you very much. Hare Krsna. Are there any questions or comments?

Question: Thank you very much for the nice class. I’m a little confused — it’s nice to hear the scriptural. . . because we see that Srila Prabhupada didn’t emphasise the restriction on eating in terms of renunciation when he exlained the vanaprastha and sannyasi. . . .

Answer: He said we don’t see this practically in ISKCON the renunciation of eating (chuckles). Yes, I guess if we go up on the GBC prasadam verandah we see very few people eating just salads and khichari. But anyway it’s a festival now so we can enjoy a little bit. (laughs) I would say that it depends on the individual. We are all ISKCON, together we make up ISKCON, so our renunciation is in our own hands. Renunciation is the wealth of the brahmanas. Someone who is actually brahminical and detached, naturally he will eat just enough to keep body and soul together. And although he may honour various kinds of prasadam, he is meditating on how the Lord has tasted those preparations. And of course the devotee shouldn’t in a self-centred way enjoy those things disconnected from the Lord. If someone is meditating on the Lord he can take so many kinds of foodstuffs. Even then one should be careful, “Sadhu-sabdhan”, (chuckles) sadhus should be careful in eating. Besides that probably it’s safer to be a little bit more critical about what we are eating individually rather than to be worried about what others are eating. That’s also wise advice. Something else?

Question: Were ksatriyas taking sannyasa?

Answer: Generally no, only brahmanas take the sannyasa order. We see that the Pandavas didn’t take sannyasa but they did go into the forest and give up their positions and royal opulences of the palace. So they took vanaprastha. The ksatriyas, the vaisyas, the sudras, they take vanaprastha, they don’t take sannyasa. If someone is a devotee, a Vaisnava, then he is considered better than a brahmana. So anyone who is a Vaisnava, it is considered that he should take sannyasa. So that we have to always look at the devotees’ standards and recommendations when we’re speaking about varnasrama. . . there’s always some difference when we’re talking about bhagavat-marg and we’re talking about varnasrama-marg, there are always some differences there. Devotees are higher than brahmanas and they should take sannyasa sooner or later.

Prabhupada took sannyasa when he was 63. Even when he was preaching in Punjab, even though he was wearing white, and he was elderly, maybe 60 or so, he told one Godbrother that this one lady was driving him to some preaching programme and she was becoming too friendly. So he told this Godbrother “Don’t go to the Punjab to preach, the ladies there are not very good.” (laughter) He didn’t like her mentality, she was being too close. So you could imagine that Prabhupada was 60 years old, already vanaprastha and the lady was becoming a little romantic with him. Prabhupada warned his Godbrother “Don’t go to the Punjab, the women there are very bad.” So Prabhupada was also vanaprastha and he was preaching that time.

I also wanted to mention an interesting point today which was connected with the verse, before we stop, that is that here this “ksetra-mukhyani”, considered to be these main holy places. In the Padma Purana it mentions seven holy cities which are principal, which give liberation: Avanti, Kasi, Kanchi, Mayapuri, which is Haridwar, the door of Hari, and Dvaraka like this. And there’s four main Dhams in the four directions: Rameswaram, Badarikasrama and there’s Puri, Jagannath Puri, and Dvaraka. Vidura went to all these places.

Of course at that time, this Mayapur was not understood. Mahaprabhu had not come before that so generally people do not know about this. . . as Mahaprabhu is the channa-avatara, so this place is also kind of channa-dham, covered Dham. . . .

But in Africa, there was some political upheaval in one country named Tanzania. When the country became communist they usurped all of the people’s belongings. So Prabhupada became very angry, “How can they do that. They are leaders, the king should be offering food, clothes, places to live and religious education–they must support and help the people and these rascals and rogues are stealing from the people!” He became very angry and at that time he spoke with the devotees there — Bhagavat Das was one of them — and Prabhupada began speaking about Mayapur, what his expectations were for Mayapur. Because he wanted to show the world what was the real ideal Vedic state and Vedic leader.

So he said that “I will purchase all of the available property in Mayapur, and then I will arrange that Mayapur will secede from India and become it’s own country. We will have the country of Mayapur.” (scattered applause) He said that “We will produce devotional items and people from the whole world we will come to see this ideal city, how the people should live. And we will produce our own devotional items and the people will come here and they will purchase these items and bring them all around the world. And we will have our own currency which will be backed by gold, not just paper, and we shall call the currency ‘Caitanyas’: one Caitanya, five Caitanyas, ten Caitanyas.”


So Prabhupada had this idea, like the Vatican. Actually when I walk past the samadhi I think of the Vatican — because I was there last summer, it looks similar — and the Vatican is a separate country from Italy, although it is there in Rome but it’s a separate country. So Prabhupada — I don’t know if he got this idea from Italy, from the Vatican — but he wanted to have a separate country, Mayapur, and to show the world, this is our showcase city, what it is to have an ideal city, an ideal country, with a Vedic king who will show people how to actually take their people and give them all of these things.

So the next night, Prabhupada had these big arenas and people were coming, thousands of Indians and African people, and the BBC came to interview him.

They asked him some questions and they mentioned about this neighbouring country, Tanzania, who had usurped all the people’s property. They woke up in the morning and the newspaper said that the government, the Congress had decided that everything belongs to the state. The people owned a house, land, business, and a farm and now it was all gone. Prabhupada was, he started to. . . “These people are thieves and rogues! They are cheating and stealing from the people. How can they do this? The ideal king is supposed to suppport everyone and give them food, clothes, accommodation, religious education. . . they should be so much responsible!”

So then the BBC reporter asked Srila Prabhupada the last question which never got on to the recording because the man’s camera ran out of tape.
Prabhupada was there and the man said “Do you know anyone in the world who is qualified to be an ideal Vedic king?” And Prabhupada put his head back and said “Yes, me!” (loud laughter)

Srila Prabhupada ki jai! Prabhupada wanted to take care of the people as a real pure leader. This is ideal. OK, we’ll stop now. Thank you. Srila Prabhupada ki jai! Sri Sri Radha Madhava ki jai! Nitai Gaura premanande!


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