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Saturday, May 27, 2017

Odds and Ends from Book 5 - Maha Bharata Series 32

              Vidura neeti and Sanatsujateeyam are parts of Book 5 and I have covered them already elsewhere. A few other points follow.  Vidura says that self-restraint is great virtue. Self-restraint in turn leads to several other virtues and therefore, it is recommended for all modes of life. Forgiveness, firmness of mind, abstention from injury, an equal regard for all things, truthfulness of speech, simplicity, control over the senses, patience, gentleness of speech, modesty, steadiness, liberality, mildness, contentment, and faith follow self-restraint. Self-control also gets rid of avarice, pride, wrath, sleep, boastfulness, self-esteem, malice, and sorrow. Purity and absence of crookedness and fraud, are the distinctive marks of a man of self-restraint. Such a person has no fear of other creatures and no creature is afraid of him. He is a universal friend and devoted to peace, he rejoices in this world.

While reading Book 5, I also realized that every time someone leaves town, he (or they) is followed by the hosts for a short distance before the final “good-bye” is said. We read this in Ramayana when Rama leaves for his 14 year life in the forests. I remember reading such an episode in Kalidasa  when he describes Shakuntala leaving with her son to Dushyanta’s country.

In Book 5, Section 81/82, we are told about all the lavish preparations Dhritrashtra makes for Krishna’s arrival as an envoy of the Pandavas to make peace. Vidura tells Dhritrashtra that he is wasting his time. Vidura points out that they are insincere gestures made to show off his wealth and to impress his guest. Instead what Dhritrashtra has to do is to listen to Krishna and control his son, Duryodana.

There are several teachings by Krishna and Vidura during the unfolding of events before the war at Kurukshetra. Kurukshetra is still there in India on our way to Chandigarh from Delhi. All indications are that this big town is located in a vast area mentioned in Mahabharta, occupying several  square miles.

Krishna tells Vidura that he will not give up virtue (dharma) for the sake of desire, due to anger, for the sake of argument or personal gains or out of temptation. Vidura tells Krishna that talking to the Kauravas is a waste of time – “it is like singing to a deaf person”. Krishna then tells Vidura: “ I am aware of the intentions of Duryodhana and his followers. But, even when one knows that one’s efforts may end in failure, one should do what is right to the best of one’s abilities. I wish to bring peace between the brothers. If I fail, the world will know that we tried our best to avoid war and people will not blame the Pandavas”.

There are stories after stories as part of the advice given by the elders to Duryodhana not to go to war. The story of Garuda is to teach that pride is not worthy of a good king. The story of Gavala is to teach that being obstinate can lead one into trouble.

In Book 5, Section 124, in the midst of a rambling story about Yayati and how his pride got him thrown out of the celestial sphere, there is a story of Yayati’s grandsons through his daughter. They saved him from the hell of put to which elders without male heirs go to. In other words, the sons of daughters are also important in some of the ancestral ceremonies.

Later, when advising Duryodhana, Krishna tells him that virtuous people are always associated with dharma, artha and kama – virtue, profit (wealth) and desired objects. Those of middling character go for dharma and artha. Lowest class go after desired objects (artha) only and let go of virtue. Wealth and desire should not be dissociated from virtue.

In Section 129, Gandhari is advising Durydhana. Two interesting points: She says that before one can get control of a kingdom and of one’s friends, one has to develop self-control and follow the dictates of virtue. The other is to point out that Bhishma, Drona and others on whose prowess Duryodhana depends, may fight on his side out of loyalty but their full energy will not be there. She says: “ Bhishma and others will not be able to glance an angry look at the Pandavas”.  Psychologically this is an important point. Sometimes, anger is the driving energy for success.


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sanjaya on Peace Mission - Maha Bharata Series 31


         Now, we start with Book 5.   In this episode (Sections 26-29) Sanjaya, who is the trusted charioteer of Dhridrashtra , is sent as envoy to the Pandavas to seek peace. After listening to Sanjaya’s initial comments, Yudhishtra says; “Between war and peace, why would anyone want to seek war? Wars lead only to misery and death.  If one just wants to be happy by satisfying his desires, there will be no end. It will be like pouring ghee into fire. I look for happiness based on righteousness (dharma)”.  He asks Sanjaya why the king is looking for peace now, when he has all this prosperity, an army of his own and that of his friends and the support of Bhishma, Drona and others? Is it because he is not able to go against his own attachment to his son and his inability to stop him (Duryodhana) from doing unrighteous things?

Sanjaya then requests Yudhishtra to desist from going to war since that will lead to destruction of so many on both sides and that of the entire race. “Will it not be better for you to live in fame somewhere else than get sovereignty by waging war? Having lived such a noble life of virtues why do you wish to commit the sin of killing your own people and teachers?” Also, “you had ample opportunities to regain your kingdom earlier. You let them go. Why are you now particular about getting your share?”

Yudhishtra responds by saying: “I agree. But, what reason does one use to decide when an act is virtuous and when it is not? During a crisis, a virtuous act looks vice and vice versa. One should ideally follow one’s varna dharma (duties of the Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and sudra). But during stressful times it may seem otherwise. If one loses all his property and is unable to perform his duties according to his varna dharma, what is one supposed to do? I am a Kshatriya and I wish to get what is rightfully mine. I will not seek it by wrong means. I would rather rule the land which comes from my father without any battle than take someone else’s property through violence. I think I am on the right path. Let us ask Krishna (Lord Krishna) since he is interested in both parties”.

When Lord Krishna is presented with this question, He answers: “I am interested in both the parties. I wish for the issue to be settled in peace. I also know the facts. Yudhishtra has acted with great restraint in spite of having been cheated and mistreated. The worst offence was what all of the elders did to Draupadi in public. No one came to her rescue – not even the great Bhishma. The only on to speak up was Vidura. Action is superior to non-action. It is by virtue of work that the sun shines, fire burns, Goddess Earth supports. It is human action that sustains the Gods. (Basic idea of the Vedic religion that there is mutual support between the humans and the Gods, devas). It is perfectly reasonable for one to act according to his dharma. It is proper for a king to fight. If Yudhishtra can attain what is due without fight he will choose it. (Krishna then restates the duties of each of the four varnas). Duryodhana and his brothers and friends have behaved unreasonably all along. (Krishna even calls them fools). Dhridrashtra has gone along with them because he is blinded by his love for his sons”.

Krishna then compares Duryodhana to a big tree of evil passions with Karna for its trunk, Sakuni for the branches and Dussasana for the flowering blossoms and fruits. He also compares Yudhishtra to a tree of righteousness with Bhima for its trunk, Arjuna for the branches and the Madri brothers its fruits. Most important, Krishna says that He (Krishna) is the root of this dharma tree.
Later he says that Kauravas and Pandavas are like a forest and a tiger. They need each other. Outside of a forest, the tiger will get killed. If there is no tiger, men will cut down the trees of the forest. It is the mutuality Krishna points out.

Finally, Krishna says that he has to try personally to avert this war and decides to go to Hastinapura.

Yudhishtra sends Sanjaya back with kindly words and respects to everyone in the Hastinapura household. It is amazing how Yudhishtra remembers to mention every one, literally every one including maids, servants and the handicapped! He then says: “I am prepared to forgive all the hardships imposed on us; humiliations heaped upon Draupadi and us; I am prepared to even settle for as little as five villages because we do not want to see our clans slain. Duryodhana, either give back my Indraprastha or fight with me”.

The final words of Yudhishtra are memorable: “Sanjaya, I am equally capable of war and peace. I am prepared to acquire wealth as well as to earn virtue. I am fit enough for severity and for softness”.

One other point, not relevant here, is the description of gods (devas) as defined in the epics of India. The so-called Gods are defined by their absence of desires, absence of covetousness, absence of enmity and indifference to worldly affairs and desires. (Book 5, Section 61). The physical differences between humans and the gods (devas) is given in another episode. When Damayanti enters the hall where her suitors have assembled, Nala (human) is sitting in the midst of all the devas in human form. How is she to recognizes Nala.  She does so, we are told, because Damayanti knew that devas never blink, their feet do not touch the ground and their flowers do not wither. She garlands the real Nala.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Draupadi and Satyabhama - Maha Bharata series 30


Draupadi and Satyabhama are alone, talking. Satyabhama asks Draupadi how she is able to keep the five brothers so obedient to her wishes and how is it that they never get angry at her. She asks: “Do you keep them under control because of your youthful appearance, recitation of a particular formula, use of collyrium or some other medicine or practice of vows or the use of homa?”.

Draupadi answers by saying that they are methods used by wicked women. How can I know about them? She says: “I keep aside my vanity, desire and anger and serve the brothers and their wives. I control my jealousy and serve them with complete devotion. I never set my eyes on any other men and I do not eat or sleep till my husbands are fed and have gone to bed. I keep the house in order and serve food at proper times. I keep away from gossip and idleness. I do not laugh inappropriately and do not linger at the door unnecessarily. I give alms and take care of our ancestors according to the instruction by the venerable Kunti Devi. I do not act against my husband’s words and never speak ill of my mother-in-law.  Those are my charms and not those of wicked women”.

This is the last dialogue from Book 3. The next in the series will start from Book 5.


Saturday, May 6, 2017

A unique Father and Son encounter – Maha Bharata Series 29



Book 3, section 310 starts with an episode during the period of Pandava’s exile. The brothers are thirsty and Yudhishtra asks Nakula to find and fetch water. Nakula finds a lake near which many cranes live and proceeds to take a drink. Just then a voice appears from the sky. It is that of a yaksha in the form of a crane. The mystic crane says: “This lake belongs to me. Before you drink water answer my question. Then you can drink this water and take away as much as you want”. Nakula is too thirsty and ignores the voice. As soon as he takes a sip, he falls down dead.

Yudhishtra gets concerned, since Nakula does not return in a reasonable time and sends Sahadeva in search of Nakula and the lake. He finds the lake and also his brother lying dead near the lake. He is now upset about the brother’s death. He is also thirsty. Therefore, he goes to drink. The voice comes and gives the same warning. Sahadeva also disobeys and drinks the water. He is also dead soon after he drinks.

The same sequence of events lead to the death of Arjuna and Bhima. Finally, Yudhishtra arrives at the scene and finds all of his brothers dead.  He is lamenting and wonders how such a tragedy can strike his brothers. He wonders how all the good things they have done could have gone without any benefit. He wonders how such heroes as Arjuna and Bhima could die so easily without any signs of struggle. He suspects that they are not really dead, and that some superior power is working.

Yudhishtra asks the “hidden force” about his identity and his whereabouts. The yaksha says that he is in the form of an invisible crane and that he is responsible for what happened to the four brothers. He shows himself in a huge frame and  warns that Yudhishtra will also reach the state of his brothers, if he tries to drink water from this lake  without answering his (yaksha’s) questions. Yudhishtra says with humility that he will try to answer within  the limits of his intelligence. Then begins the conversation which is a remarkable one.

Yaksha (hereafter indicated by Y): What makes the sun rise? What keeps him company? What causes him to set? What is his base of support?

Yudhishtra (hereafter indicated by D for Dharma): Brahman causes the sun to rise. The gods keep him company. Dharma causes him to set. Truth is his abode.

Y: How does one acquire learning and knowledge? How does one attain greatness?

D: By studying the srutis, one becomes learned. It is by penance (tapas) that one acquires greatness. One becomes wise by living with and serving the old. (The word tapas probably means ardor or intense effort and not standing on one leg for 12 years etc. Old probably stands for the experienced wise)

Y: What are the attributes of a Brahmana? What acts are pious and which ones are impious? What makes the Brahmans special?

D: The study of the Vedas gives them their divinity status. Their pious act is their penance. Slandering is their downfall.

Y: What are the attributes of a kshatriya? What acts are pious and which ones are impious? What makes the kshatriyas special?

D: Ksahtriyas get their divinity from their weapons. Their pious act is the sacrifices they conduct (yagnas) Their human attribute is fear. They become impious when  they refuse to protect (their subjects or one who comes for protection?)

Y: What is the Sama and the Yajus of the sacrifice? What is the refuge of the sacrifice? What is it that the sacrifice cannot do without?

D: Life is the Sama and mind is the Yajus of the sacrifice. Rk is the refuge and without Rk there cannot be any sacrifice.

Y: What is the foremost for a cultivator and for one who sows? What is the foremost for those who wish for prosperity of the world?

D: Rain is the foremost for the cultivator and the seeds for the one who sows. Off-springs are the foremost for those who wish prosperity of the world.

Y: What is more significant than this earth? What is higher than the heavens? What is faster than the wind? What is more numerous than grass?

D: Mother is more significant than earth. The father is higher than the heavens. The mind is faster than the wind. Our thoughts are more numerous than grass.

Y: What is it than does not close its eye when it sleeps? What is it that does not move after its birth? What is it which is without heart? What is it which moves on its own force?

D: A fish; the egg: a stone and river.

Y: Who is the friend for an exile? Who is the friend of a householder? Who is the friend of a sick person? Who is the friend of one who is about to die?

D: A companion is the friend in a foreign land. The wife is the householder’s friend. A sick man has his physician as a friend and for a dying person Charity is the best friend.

Y: What is the highest refuge of virtue? What is the highest refuge of fame? And that of heaven and of happiness?

D. Liberal thoughts are the highest refuge of virtue. Gift or charity (dana) is the refuge of fame. Truth is the refuge for heaven and good behavior is the refuge for happiness.

Y: What is the soul of man? Who is friend bestowed on man by the gods? What is man’s chief support? What is man’s refuge?

D: The son is the man’s soul and the wife is the friend bestowed on men by the gods. The cloud (I guess they mean rain and harvest) is the chief support and charity is his chief refuge.

To the next set of questions, Dharma says that the best of all laudable things is skill and the best of all possessions is one’s knowledge. The best of gains is good health and contentment is the best kind of happiness.

Dharma (Yudhishtra) also says that the highest duty is ahimsa (non-injury) and if we do not want to regret, the best way is to control the mind. Pride, if renounced makes one agreeable. Anger when controlled leads to absence of regrets. By renouncing desires one becomes wealthy and by renouncing greed one becomes happy.

Y: With what is the world enveloped? What is that owing to which a thing cannot discover itself? Why does one forsake friends? Why is it that one cannot attain heaven?

D: Darkness envelops the world. It is darkness which makes thing invisible. One forsakes friends due to greed and avarice. Too much attachment to the world prevents one from going to heaven.

Y: What is the sign of asceticism? What is true restraint? What is forgiveness? What is shame?

D: Asceticism is practicing one’s own tradition. Restraint of the mind is true restraint. Forgiving an enemy is true forgiveness. Shame is in performing unworthy acts.

Y: What is knowledge? What is tranquility? What is mercy? What is simplicity?

D: Knowledge of the divine is true knowledge. True tranquility is that of the heart. Mercy is wishing happiness for all. Simplicity is in the equanimity of the heart.

Y: What is man’s invincible enemy? What is man’s incurable disease? Who is considered honest and who dishonest?

D: Anger is the invincible enemy and covetousness is man’s incurable disease. An honest one wishes well for all creatures. One without mercy is a dishonest person.

Y: What is ignorance? What is pride? What is idleness? What is grief?

D: Not knowing one’s duty is ignorance. Pride is taking oneself seriously. Not performing one’s duty is idleness. Ignorance leads to grief.

Y: What is pride? What is hypocrisy? What is the grace of gods and what is wickedness?

D: Ignorance leads to pride. Setting up religious standards is hypocrisy. The grace of the gods is the fruit of our gifts and speaking ill of others is wickedness.

When asked what makes for a Brahmana, Dharma says: “One does not become a Brahmana by birth, learning or study. It is behavior which determines who a Brahmana is. (Dharma says the same thing in another conversation with Nahusha). He also adds that teachers and students who study scriptures and yet addicted to wicked habits should be considered illiterate.

To the last set of questions (on happiness, wonder, the path and the news), Dharma answers:

 “A man who lives in his own house, not in debt, and able to cook his own meals with meager provisions is a happy man”.

“It is a wonder that people consider themselves to be immortal even when they see people and creatures die every day all around them”.

“Discussions and arguments do not lead to certain conclusions on what the right path is. Srutis say different things and do not agree with each other. Rishis have their teachings but there is not one rishi who is acceptable to everyone. Teachings of religions are difficult to fathom (they are in caves). Therefore, the best path to follow is that of wise elders”.

“The bad news is that this world full of ignorance is like a pan. The sun is the fire and days and nights are the fuel. The months make for the firewood. Time is the cook who is cooking all creatures on the pan”.

The Yaksha is satisfied and asks Yudhishtra to choose one of his four brothers to be brought back to life. Yudhishtra asks the Yaksha to revive Nakula. The Yaksha is surprised and wants to know why Yudhishtra did not choose Arjuna or Bhima. Yudhishtra says: “I have two mothers – Kunti and Madri. Kunti has me. I want Madri also to have one living son”. The Yaksha is pleased and revives all four brothers.

Finally, the yaksha shows himself to Yudhishtra to be none other than Lord Dharma, Yudhistra’s real father.