"Yudhishthira said, 'Which act, O grandsire, is the foremost of all those that have been laid down for a king? What is that act by doing which a king succeeds in enjoying both this world and the next?'
"Bhishma said, 'Even this viz., the worship of the Brahmanas, is the foremost of all those act, O Bharata, which have been laid down for a king duly installed on the throne, if, indeed, he is desirous of obtaining great happiness. Even this is what the foremost of all kings should do. Know this well, O chief of Bharata's race. The king should always worship with reverence all righteous Brahmanas possessed of Vedic lore. 1 The king should, with bows and comforting speeches and gifts of all articles of enjoyment, worship all Brahmanas possessed of great learning who may dwell in his city or provinces. This is the foremost of all acts laid down for the king. Indeed, the king should always keep his eyes fixed on this. He should protect and cherish these, even as he protects his own self or his own children. The king should worship with greater reverence those amongst the Brahmanas that may be worthy of it (for their superior sanctity and learning). When such men are freed from all anxiety, the whole kingdom blazes forth in beauty. Such individuals are worthy of adoration. Unto such the king should bow his head. Verily, they should be honoured, even as one honours one's sires and grandsires. Upon them depends the course of conduct followed by men, even as the existence of all creatures depends upon Vasava. Of prowess incapable of being baffled and endued with great energy, such men, if enraged, are capable of consuming the entire kingdom to ashes by only fiat of their will, or by acts of incantation, or by other means (derived from the power of penance). I do not see anything that can destroy them. Their power seems to be uncontrolled, being capable of reaching to the farthest end of the universe. When angry, their glances fall upon men and things like a blazing flame of fire upon a forest. The most courageous men are struck with fear at their men. Their virtues and powers are extraordinary and immeasurable. Some amongst them are like wells and pits with mouths covered by grass and creepers, while others resemble the firmament cleared of clouds and darkness. Some amongst them are of fierce dispositions (like Durvasas and others of that stamp). Some are as mild and soft in disposition as cotton (like Gautama and others). Some amongst them are very cunning (like Agastya who devoured the Asura Vatapi, and Rishis of that class). Some amongst them are devoted to the practice of penances. Some amongst them are employed in agricultural pursuits (like the preceptor of Uddalaka). Some amongst them are engaged in the keep of kine (as Upamanyu while attending his preceptor). Some
amongst them live upon eleemosynary alms. Some amongst them are even thieves (like Valmiki in his early years and Viswamitra during a famine). Some amongst them are fond of fomenting quarrels and disputes (like Narada). Some, again, amongst them are actors and dancers (like Bharata). Some amongst them are competent to achieve all feats, ordinary and extraordinary (like Agastya drinking up the entire ocean, as if it were a palmful of water). The Brahmanas, O chief of Bharata's race are of diverse aspects and behaviour. One should always utter the praises of the Brahmanas who are conversant with all duties, who are righteous of behaviour, who are devoted to diverse kinds of act, and who are seen to derive their sustenance from diverse kinds of occupations. 1 The Brahmanas, O ruler of men, who are highly blessed, are elder in respect of their origin than the Pitris, the deities, human beings (belonging to the three other orders), the Snakes and the Rakshasas. These regenerate persons are incapable of being vanquished by the deities or the Pitris, or the Gandharvas or the Rakshasas, or the Asuras or the Pisachas. The Brahmanas are competent to make him a deity that is not a deity They can, again, divest one that is a deity of his status as such. He becomes a king whom they wish to make a king. He, on the other hand, goes to the wall whom they do not love or like. I tell thee truly, O king, that those foolish persons, without doubt, meet with destruction who calumniate the Brahmanas and utter their dispraise. Skilled in praise and dispraise, and themselves the origin or cause of other people's fame and ignominy the Brahmanas, O king, always become angry with those that seek to injure others. That man whom the Brahmanas praise succeeds in growing in prosperity. That man who is censured and is cast off by the Brahmanas soon meets with discomfiture. It is in consequence of the absence of Brahmanas from among them that the Sakas, the Yavanas, the Kamvojas and other Kshatriya tribes have become fallen and degraded into the status of Sudras. The Dravidas, the Kalingas, the Pulandas, the Usinaras, the Kolisarpas, the Mahishakas and other Kshatriyas, have, in consequence of the absence of Brahmanas from among their midst, become degraded into Sudras. Defeat at their hands is preferable to victory over them, O foremost of victorious persons. One slaying all other living creatures in the world does not incur a sin so heinous as that of slaying a single Brahmana. The great Rishis have said that Brahmanicide is a heinous sin. One should never utter the dispraise or calumny of the Brahmanas. Where the dispraise of Brahmanas is uttered, one should sit with face hanging down or leave that spot (for avoiding both the utterer and his words). That man has not as yet been born in this world or will not take birth here, who has been or will be able to pass his life in happiness after quarrelling with the Brahmanas.
[paragraph continues] One cannot seize the wind with one's hands. One cannot touch the moon with one's hand. One cannot support the Earth on one's arms. After the same manner, O king, one is not able to vanquish the Brahmanas in this world.'"
156:1 Some texts read vriddhan for Ishtan. If the former reading be adopted, the meaning would be that kings should worship all aged Brahmanas possessed of Vedic lore.
157:1 Though really conversant with all duties, and of righteous behaviour, the Brahmanas, nevertheless, for concealing their real natures or for protecting the world, are seen to be employed in diverse kinds of occupations.