The power of speech is so strong that it makes or breaks one’s life. Knowing its power one has to use it appropriately so that it brings good to oneself and others. Are there any guidelines for speech? Are there any examples from shastras which demonstrates the application of those guidelines? In Bhagavad Gita Lord Sri Krsna has given guidelines of speech in terms of austerity of speech. In Srimad Bhagavatam first canto Vidura has demonstrated the application of the guidelines.
Austerity of speech
Let’s first look at what are the guidelines of speech. In Bhagavad Gita 17.15 Krsna states
satyam priya-hitam ca yat
van-mayam tapa ucyate
“Austerity of speech consists in speaking words that are truthful, pleasing, beneficial, and not agitating to others, and also in regularly reciting Vedic literature”
Just the way Sri Krsna has put it “austerity of speech” indicates that one must be careful in speech. To get into more details, one has to speak the truth and at the same time it has to be pleasing. Such truthful and pleasing words should also be beneficial to the hearers and not agitate them.
Vidura’s exemplary behaviour in two occasions
– With Pandavas
When Vidura came to visit Yudhistira Maharaj after the latter had won the war and been enthroned as the king, he was well received by all the members in the family. It was as though life had come back to them, they were all so happy. After properly receiving Vidura and perfectly showing his hospitality, Yudhistira Maharaj first recollected how Vidura used to protect them during tough times when their life was in danger. Then he enquired about Vidura’s well-being his visit to holy places. He glorified how persons like Vidura are themselves holy places personified and they purify the atmosphere wherever they go. Then he asked about the wellbeing of the Yadus knowing very well that Vidura would have visited Dvaraka during his pilgrimage. In his answer to Yudhistira Maharaj, Vidura described his personal experience during pilgrimage but purposefully did not tell the truth about the annihilation of Yadu dynasty.
Vidura was compassionate towards the Pandavas. Since he has seen the difficulties faced by the Pandavas right from the childhood till the coronation of Yudhistira Maharaj, he did not disclose the news of Yadu dynasty’s annihilation. Even though it was truth, considering the other factors mentioned by Sri Krsna, neither is it beneficial nor is it pleasing to the Pandavas. In fact it is ‘apriyam’ (unpalatable) and ‘durvisaham’ (unbearable). The news will bring unbearable pain to the Pandavas. So Vidura did not tell the truth in this instance. Further it not that Pandavas will not receive the bad news in the future, it will surely reach them. Vidura did not want to play the role of bad news messenger. As Srila Prabhupada writes in SB 1.13.13 purport ‘Distress comes upon us in its own way by laws of nature, so one should not aggravate it by propaganda’. Finally, Vidura was on a different mission, which is to tell a naked truth to a different person and to deliver him. So he did not want to get side tracked by telling this bad news and putting Pandavas in anxiety. What is the naked truth and who is he going to tell it to?
– With Dhritarastra
Vidura’s actual purpose of visiting Yudhistira Maharaj’s palace is to deliver his brother Dhritarastra from the cruel hands of death by urging him to renounce palace life and take up austere life. Vidura addresses Dhritarastra as king, which itself is sarcastic and immediately urges him to leave the palace. He creates a sense of urgency and tension right from the beginning and goes on to put further pressure with every sentence he speaks. He speaks in general about how powerful time factor is and no one is spared. He quotes the examples of others who were killed by time. Then very specifically he brings out the old age symptoms of Dhritarastra and saying how both his gross and subtle body are rapidly weakening. Then he gives a devastating punch on the ego by stating that Dhritarastra is just like a “grha-pala-vat” (household dog) eating food given by Bhima, who killed two of his sons. Vidura goes on to cut deeper on the ego by stating how Dhritarastra is leading a degraded life living on the charity of those against whom he had done a lot of atrocities. After having the cut the ego deep enough, Vidura recommends the remedy for coming out this situation. He sates how ‘dhiras’ in their old age go to an unknown place and give up their useless body. Such first class men leave home and depend fully on Paramatma. He concludes by again urging Dhritarastra to leave for North without informing the relatives.
Let us look at the reasons for Vidura speaking naked truth to Dhritarastra. Firstly, in previous instances when Vidura used to advise Dhritarastra to take actions against his son Duryodhana and stop the war, Dhritarastra gave the excuse of saying its all according to Lord’s will, what can he do. Secondly, Vidura being aware of influence of time and the approach of dreaded Kali Yuga where things are going to degrade further, wanted to strongly impress in the mind of Dhritarastra about his awkward position. Finally it’s Vidura’s compassion to Dhritarastra that he spoke to him in this way. Vidura spoke the truth compromising on the ‘priyam’ and ‘anudvega-karm’ aspects of austerity of speech, but it was beneficial to Dhritarastra. He severed the knots of family attachments, did austerity and achieved liberation. The result of Vidura’s speaking naked truth saved Dhritarastra from kala and gave him liberation. Srila Prabhupada mentions in his purport to BG 17.15 that a teacher can speak truth to his student directly.
Lessons from Vidura’s behaviour with Pandavas
• Don’t gossip about other devotees, especially about their devotees (ULF Dialogue six)
• Don’t spread bad news as it spreads anyway
• If we are on a mission, don’t get side tracked by the urge to speak things that are not going to help us accomplish the mission
By applying the first two lessons in our practise of Bhakti, we can save ourselves from so much trouble arising from the dangerous ‘prajalpa’. This ‘prajalpa’ is listed by Srila Rupa Goswami in Upadesamrita verse two, as one of the items that spoil bhakti. In his purport to this verse Srila Prabhupada mentions how when we mix with friends, we immediately start talking unnecessary things. Just as croaking toad attracts death in form of snake, if we engage in prajalpa we invite our spiritual death through Vaishnava aparad. We are severely warned to be aware of this ‘hathi matta’ and build a strong fence to protect ourselves. By following Vidura’s example of not speaking unpalatable, unbeneficial truth to Pandavas, we can strengthen our wall against Vaishnava aparadha. Taking a step further, the time that we save by not speaking prajalpa can be effectively used for discussing and relishing Krsna-katha. Finally we will attract the association of devotees by this behaviour.
By applying the third lesson, we strengthen our intelligence and get focussed in our mission. This is highly relevant in book distribution service. When the person we are trying to distribute books is starting an argument which is going to go nowhere and waste our time, we can politely end the conversation and approach another person.
Lessons from Vidura’s behaviour with Dhritarastra
• We can speak strongly to a person with whom we have relationship for long time, for saving that person from spiritual fall down; at the same time suggest positive alternatives to recover quickly
• Speak strongly when debating with atheists to cut down their arguments
Vidura tactfully the relationship he had with Dhritarastra for many years to preach to him strongly. In the same way, in our dealings with intimate devotees, if we come to know about the problems they are facing, for example, about to break one of the regulative principles, it is better to speak strongly and highlight the implications. Also we must do our best to suggest positive alternatives to help them come out of such problems.
One of the ways to please Srila Prabhupada is to defeat the atheists in debate. When debating with atheists, we can follow in the footsteps of our founder Acharya and speak strongly to cut down their arguments and establish the supremacy of God consciousness
In conclusion, we have seen how Vidura showed exemplary behaviour with Pandavas and Dhirtarastra by not speaking truth when asked for and speaking naked truth even though not asked for. We also looked at lessons we can learn from Vidura’s behaviour and how to apply them in our practise of Bhakti. This will helps us answer the questions – what to speak, what not to speak, when to speak and when not to speak.
The above article is an open book essay on Srimad Bhagavatam Canto 1.10-19, written by HG Adipurusha Das for the following question: “Vidura doesn’t reveal the ‘truth’ about Yadus to Pandavas even when he was asked for it. He reveals naked truth of life to Dhritarastra even if he was not asked for it. What do we learn from this behaviour and discuss how do we apply it in our practice of Bhakti.”