Yudhishthira said, 'Tell me, O grand sire, in what way should the king protect his subjects so as to be able to avoid grief and so as not to offend against righteousness?'
"Bhishma said, 'I shall recite, O king, those eternal duties in brief, for if I were to mention them in detail, I would never attain to their end. Thou shouldst worship those Brahmanas that are devoted to their duties, possessed of learning, regular in worshipping the gods, observant of high vows, and endued with other accomplishments, when they come to thy abode, and employ them in officiating in thy sacrifices. With thy priest accompanying thee, thou shouldst rise up when they approach, and touch and worship their feet, and do every other act that is necessary. Doing these acts of piety and discharging other acts that are for thy own good, thou shouldst (by presents) cause those Brahmanas to utter benedictions on thee for the success of thy purposes. Endued with sincerity, and wisdom and intelligence, O Bharata, thou shouldst adopt truth and avoid lust and wrath. That foolish king who pursues Profit without driving away lust and wrath, fails to acquire virtue and ultimately sacrifices Profit as well. Never employ those that are covetous and foolish in matters connected with Pleasure and Profit. Thou shouldst always employ in all thy acts those that are free from covetousness and possessed of intelligence. Stained with lust and wrath and unskilled in the transaction of business foolish persons, if vested with authority in matters of Profit, always oppress the people by diverse contrivances productive of mischief. With a sixth part upon fair calculation, of the yield of the soil as his tribute, with fines and forfeitures levied upon offenders, with the imposts, according to the scriptures, upon merchants and traders in return for the protection granted to them, a king should fill his treasury. 1 Realising this just tribute and governing the kingdom properly the king should, with heedfulness, act in such a way that his subjects may not feel the pressure of want. Men become deeply devoted to that king who discharges the duty of protection properly, who is endued with liberality, who is steady in the observance of righteousness, who is vigilant, and who is free from Just and hate. Never
desire to fill thy treasury by acting unrighteously or from covetousness. That king who does not act in accordance with the scriptures fails to earn wealth and religious merit. That king who is mindful only of the means of acquiring wealth, never succeeds in acquiring both religious merit and wealth. The wealth again that he acquires (by such means) is seen to be lavished on unworthy objects. 1 That avaricious king who through folly oppresses his subjects by levying taxes not sanctioned by the scriptures, is said to wrong his own self. As a person desirous of milk never obtains any by cutting off the udders of a cow, similarly a kingdom afflicted by improper means, never yields any profit to the king. 2 He who treats a milch cow with tenderness always obtains milk from it. Similarly, the king who rules his kingdom by the aid of proper means, reaps much fruit from it. By protecting a kingdom properly and ruling it by the aid of judicious means, a king, O Yudhishthira, may succeed in always obtaining much wealth. The earth, well protected by the king, yields crops and gold (to the ruler and the ruled) even like a gratified mother yielding milk to her child. Imitate the example, O king, of the flowerman and not of the charcoal-maker. Becoming such and discharging, the duty of protection, thou mayst be able to enjoy the earth for ever. 3 If in attacking an enemy's kingdom thy treasury becomes exhausted, thou mayst refill it by taking wealth from all except Brahmanas. Let not thy heart be moved, even when thou art in great distress, upon seeing Brahmanas possessed of wealth. I need not speak then of what thou shouldst do when thou art in affluence. Thou shouldst give them wealth to the best of thy power and as they deserve and protect them, comforting them on all occasions. By conducting thyself in this way, thou mayst acquire such regions hereafter as are most difficult of acquisition. Adopting such virtuous behaviour, do thou protect thy subjects. Thou mayst then obtain, O delighter of the Kurus, fame that is everlasting, high, and pure. Protect thy subjects righteously, O son of Pandu, for no regret or pain will then be thine. Protection of the subject is the highest duty of the king, since compassion to all creatures and protecting them from injury has been said to be the highest merit. Persons conversant with duties regard that to be the highest merit of the king, when, engaged in protecting all creatures, the king displays compassion towards them. The sin a king incurs by neglecting for a single day to protect his subjects from fear is such that he does not attain to end of his sufferings (for it) in hell till after a thousand years. The merit a king earns by protecting his subjects righteously for a single day is such that he enjoys its reward in heaven for ten thousand years. All those regions that are acquired by persons leading duly the Garhasthya, the Brahmacharya, and the Vanaprastha modes of life, are soon acquired by a king by only protecting his subjects righteously.
[paragraph continues] Do thou, O son of Kunti, observe with great care this duty (of protection). Thou shalt then obtain the reward of righteousness and no grief and pain will be thine. Thou shalt, O son of Pandu, obtain great prosperity in heaven. Merit like this is impossible to be acquired by persons that are not kings. A person, therefore, who is a king, and no other, can succeed in earning such reward of virtue. Possessed of intelligence, thou hast obtained a kingdom. Do thou protect thy subjects righteously. Gratify Indra with offerings of Soma and the friends and well-wishers with the objects of their wishes.'"
157:1 i.e., these are the true sources of the royal revenue.
158:1 The meaning is that if a king attends only to the acquisition of wealth, he may succeed in acquiring wealth, but he will never succeed in earning religious merit.
158:2 Literally, 'never flourishes.'
158:3 The charcoal-maker uproots trees and plants, and burns them for producing his stock-in-trade. The flowerman, on the other hand, waters his trees and plants, and gathers only their produce.