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Saturday, September 30, 2017

Karna and Shalya - Maha Bharatha Series 46

Karna requests Shalya to be his charioteer. Shalya refuses initially, but agrees later to play that role if he has the freedom to say whatever he wants about Karna. Duryodhana agrees. From then on Shalya keeps teasing Karna, probably to get him angry and thus more prepared to fight. Shalya keeps remindiing that Karna is no match for Arjuna.

In the following sections we see the duties of the four varnas clearly defined by Karna. Karna also talks about the in-groups who are virtuous and the out-groups such as the mlecchas, vahlikas etc. He says that the Panchalas observe Vedas, the Kauravas practice Truth, the Matsyas practice sacrifices and the easterners and the southerners are “fallen” groups.

 He softens his stand later and says that there are good and bad people in every part of the earth. He says that we all know other’s faults, but not our own.

Karna calls Agni as the god of the east, Yama as the god of the south, Varna as the god of the west and Soma as the god of the north. He also remembers two boons and curses he has to deal with. One was about his Brahmastra. This is a powerful weapon which he got from Parashurama by pretending to be a Brahmin. Later, one day when Parashurama was sleeping with his head on Karna’s lap, a worm started biting into Karna.  Karna bore the pain and did not move. When the teacher woke up, he noticed blood in Karna’s lap. Karna told him what happened. Since only a kshatriya could have tolerated the pain so well, Parashurama realized that Karna was kshatriya but did not disclose in order to get the Brahmastra. He was upset and cursed Karna that the weapon will fail him at a crucial moment.

Karna had acquired another weapon from Indra and was proud of it. However, he accidentally killed a calf of a cow intended for a sacrifice. The Brahmana who owned the cow cursed Karna that at a crucial moment in a battle, Karna’s car will get stuck and sink into the earth. Karna recounts these two episodes to Shalya and indicated that these two curses are the only concerns in his mind even as gets ready to be the Commander of the Kaurava army.

In a later episode Karna captures Yudhistra but lets him free to keep his promise to Kunti. He had told Kunti that his fight was with Arjuna and not with the other four and he also told Kunti that she will always have five sons (the idea being that either Karna will kill Arjuna or get killed in his battle with Arjuna)

One other interesting side-story in Book 8 is that of a proud crow and a swan. A crow happens to frequent the grounds of a rich family. He gets all the scrap from the plates of the children. Eventually he gets the attention of the family and he feels on top of the world. He gets arrogant and important. One day a bunch of swans land on a nearby lake. The crow makes fun of their flight and food. He shows them all his maneuvers and how he can climb up, swish down, make circles and dive etc. He wonders what the swan can do. The swan says that he admires all those special kinds of flights but they will not help the crow do what she can do. The crow challenges the swan with false pride. They both start flying across a vast tract of water. The swan flies with one steady motion. The crow is not able to cope with that long flight and tries to land. Of course, he cannot and is in danger of getting drowned. The swan advices the crow not to boast about his skills, takes him on his back and comes back to the shore. The moral is self-evident. 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Karna Parva - Maha Bharatha Series 45

We are into Book 8. After the death of Aswatthaman, Karna is made the Commander of the Kuru army. When Duryodhana and his leaders lament the loss of Drona and his son, Karna says: “Wise neither get dejected nor rejoice at what destiny brings, because it is not possible to overcome destiny”. The role of destiny is repeatedly emphasized in Mahabharatha. No wonder this philosophy has infiltrated the Indian psyche deeply.

The art of story-telling is at its best, when Vyasa gives us a summary of the chapter within the first few pages and then gives the details. In summary,  Karna took over the command of the Kauravas, fought valiantly for 2 days and was killed by Arjuna. Then, come the details of the battle through the words of Janamejaya, Dhrithrashtra and Sanjaya.

First come the names of everyone who was killed till that day in the battle. The names of individuals include Bhishma, Drona, Aswatthaman, Karna, Jayadratha, Bhurisravas, Vinda, Anuvinda, Bhagadatta, Sudhakshina, Srutayu, Vahlika, Paurava, Shalva and many more. It is interesting to note that the sons were killed before the fathers – eg., Aswatthaman, the sons of Karna and, of course, all of the Kauravas. I wish I understand the meaning.

The tribes involved in the war of Kurukshetra are also listed. They are: Srinjayas, Panchalas, Kiratas, Abhishahas, Kalingas, Sinis, Dravidas, Malavas and many more.

On the side of the Pandavas those killed were Abhimanyu, Gatothkachan, Virata, Drupada, Chitrasena, Purujit and Kuntibhoja. Tribes mentioned on this side include Chedis, Kaikeyas, Magadas, Pancalas and some maritime and seacoast tribes.  Other names mentioned in Section 12 include Pandyas, Cholas, Keralas, Andhras and Kanchis. Many of these troops are said to have been led by Satyaki.

In section 10, of Book 8, Sanjaya is describing what happened after Drona was killed. Sanjaya reports the following words spoken by Aswatthaman during the deliberation. He says: “For success one should have passion/enthusiasm, the time has to be ripe, one should have the skills and the goals (policy) should be clear. However, the results depend on another factor, namely Destiny”.

Later, before he takes up a direct conflict with Arjuna, Karna tells Duryodhana that for many untold reasons he did not go on combat directly with Arjuna. He then recounts all his strengths and says that Arjuna is no match for him in skills and equipment. There is some arrogance in his statements. However, he says that the one thing Arjuna has but Karna does not have is the presence of Vasudeva (Krishna) on Arjuna’s side.

Then, Karna says that the only charioteer as capable as Krishna and one as knowledgeable about horses as Krishna is Shalya. Therefore, he asks for Shalya to handle his chariot that day. This is interesting because, the chariot and the charioteer are used as metaphors for mind and its control in Katha Upanishad and in Bhagvad Gita.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Drona Parva (Part 2) - Maha Bharata Series 44

My apologies for breaking the flow of the Maha Bharata stories. I promise to complete these stories and conversations (I have another 60 blog-posts to publish in this series) before I post thoughts on other topics. 
In the next episode (Section 201, Book 7), Vyasa meets Arjuna. He asks Vyasa; “Sir, when I was in the battle I saw someone of blazing color looking like fire walking always ahead of me. Although I was sending arrows against my foes and the enemies thought that my arrows were killing them, I saw that the Force in front of me was actually causing that destruction. Following His path, I only killed those who had been already destroyed by Him. Who was that Person, armed with a spear, resembling a blazing sun?”  Vyasa indicates that the Force in front of Arjuna was RUDRA! (If you wish to know more about Rudra as depicted in the Vedas, you may wish to read Satapata Brahmana, a monumental task)

Vyasa then describes Rudra in several slokas. This portion is called Sata Rudriyam by Vyasa himself. Since Sata Rudriyam is considered to be part of Krishna Yajur Veda and since Vedas precede Maha Bharata, is it possible that the prayer portion was incorporated into the epic in order to make it available to everyone, even those who were not “allowed” in those days to read Vedas?

It is clear how Rudra, and therefore Shiva is associated with the dissolution aspect of the triple functions of the One Supreme. It is also clear that the import of the discourse is that there is ONLY ONE Supreme and this Universe in a manifestation of that Universe. We are only actors. We think we do everything. In fact, He is the doer; and we are only His instruments (just as Arjuna is discharging arrows and killing his foes and thinks he killed. But, those who appear to be killed by Arjuna have already been killed by the Supreme, since “their time has come”).

This seems to be the idea behind these episodes to me. 

Saturday, September 9, 2017

View from within or without

As usual, I insert a few blogs on other topics in between the blogs on Maha Bharatha series. This current one summarizes some thoughts which came on during one of my walking meditations. Their sources are both external and internal. They appear to be important in my personal journey, and therefore I want to share them with you. Thanks for "listening". 

No system can be understood completely from within, because of our restricted perspective. The perspective we have of our earth is different from the perspectives of our ancestors who did not see pictures of the earth from space.

Any system created by human mind cannot be understood either from inside because the process of creating systems and categories excludes something.

No system can be understood from without because that knowledge will not know what it is like to be within the system. We will never know fully what the “bat” feels inside of itself, as discussed by Prof. Nagel in his famous essay. (What is it like to be a bat? Thomas Nagel. The Philosophical Review LXXXIII, 4 (October 1974): 435-50.)

That is the Paradox.

In addition, we have the problem of recursive nature of thinking. The subject (I) is inherent in any object in the external world about which the subject is thinking. We have the additional problem of our thinking having been warped by the collective consciousness of the humanity in general and our special circumstances, in particular.

That is the limit of our brain as it is structured.

The mysteries of “Who am I?” and “What is this Universe?” will be there forever, to be explored. Each one of us will have to find our way, with caution and humility.

We are not to demand final answers and explanations for cause and effect. There is no use creating words to represent thoughts and act as if the words our mind created have reality outside of our thoughts. They may or may not. Just accept the Universe as is - impermanent, intertwined with built-in chaos, disorder and unpredictability (and therefore “unfair”). That is the “rhythm” (or rta, in Sanskrit) of this universe.

Let us admire it. Be kind and compassionate to ourselves and to all living creatures. They are also in the same boat as we are. Let us enjoy the Universe as is and the journey of self-inquiry.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Drona Parva (Part 1) - Maha Bharatha Series 43

It is very difficult to choose one section of Maha Bharatha as the best section. One such great section is Dronavada Parva in Book 7. Bhagvat Gita is excluded from this choice. It is a class by itself.

In this section, we learn that a Kimpurusha is half-man and half-steed. Yaksha is a superhuman being who lives in accessible mountains and halls. There are descriptions of several kinds of arrows and spears and maces used in battles in those days. One of them is a special small bow and arrow used when the combatants are very close to each other. There are descriptions of how Arjuna and Drona moved their chariots around each other, keeping the opponent always on the right and Dhrishtadhyumnan fought with Drona hiding under the chassis of the car.  There are descriptions of what a “fair” battle is – and what kinds of moves and instruments should not be used. For example, spears with hooks which cannot be extracted and double spears are not allowed. Nor is an arrow which does not come straight but takes a wiggly path, since it does not give a fair chance for escape to the person being attacked. There is also a description of an encounter between Duryodhana and Satyaki, who were bosom friends when they were children. They exchange kind words and smiles, recount their young days and then start their battle saying that they have to follow the rules of the battle and fight fair. Even in war, they were highly civilized. Compare those high values with cowards now who kill innocent people with unfair means!

Then there is the section where Krishna, yes, Lord Krishna whom we all worship, asks Pandavas to kill Drona by stealth. The only one who objects, is Arjuna. Krishna asks that Bhima kill an elephant named Aswatthaman and declare loudly that Aswatthaman has been killed.  Arjuna does not like it. Krishna says that it is acceptable to tell a lie under four circumstances: for the sake of saving a life; during conversation with women; for the sake of a marriage and to save a king. He even convinces Dharma to go along with that lie. Thinking that his son has been killed, Drona asks Dharma point-blank whether that is true. Dharma says “Aswattaman is killed” loudly and then “But that was an elephant” softly!!  Drona gives up and gets nominally killed by Dhrishtadumna as it was “destined” to happen.

When Aswattaman is expressing grief at the death of his father, he says that one does sinful acts under the influence of desire, anger, folly, hate and levity. He is, of course, furious not only because his father was killed, but Dhrushtadhyuman held the severed head by the hair and treated it with disrespect.  Aswatthaman starts an unbelievable battle in which he devastates the Pandava army single-handedly. He then uses the Narayana weapon against which no human being can fight. It also happens that when Aswatthaman received this weapon from Shiva he was told that it will work only once. (In Indian mythologies, every boon comes always with an exception or an escape clause!) In spite of knowing that fact, Aswatthaman wields that weapon at this time in the battle. Lord Krishna knew this, of course. So, he advises everyone to get off their vehicles or mounts and stand on earth because Narayana weapon does not touch those who stand on Mother Earth. Now, Krishna has accomplished two things – the Narayana weapon could not do what it was capable of. Then, since it has been used once, it became powerless and Aswatthaman could not use it again.

Later, Arjuna speaks harshly to Aswatthaman who was his dear friend at one time. Arjuna showed his anger because he was stung by Dharma’s words of disappointment with Arjuna for not being able to kill Aswatthaman. Aswatthaman sends arrows after arrows which do not touch Arjuna and Krishna.  He gets frustrated, drops all his weapons and stops the battle. Arjuna then sees Vyasa (who shows up conveniently at opportune times to share his information, knowledge and wisdom) and asks him why he is not winning.  (These sections are in Book 7, Sections 201-202) 

Vyasa answers by saying that Narayana, the most original creator of everything was born in this world as the son of Dharma for some unknown reason. He then performed tapas (austerities, ardor) and was able to see (visualize) the Master, the Origin and the Guardian of the Universe, The Lord of all the gods, the Supreme Deity. In describing this Originator (who is also Narayana, as seen above), the text (written by Vyasa) calls that Supreme as Rudra, who is smaller than the smallest and larger than the largest. (We can see how the names of Vishnu and Shiva are interchangeable, and how the “fights” between the followers of Shiva and Vishnu are so silly). Rudra is also called Hara, Shambu, Nilakanta, Kabhardhin, and Pinakapani. There is no question that these names refer to Shiva.

As a result of this austerity, Narayana (in his human form) obtained a vision of that Adorable One. At the sight of that Original Being, the First Cause having the universe for his form, Narayana worshipped him with words.  Narayana says: “Form, the pancha bhutas and the five senses which perceive them and the objects of perception are all your manifestation. So are Time and the Vedas and all the animate and inanimate objects”.  “Two birds sitting on the branches of a tree (One is Iswara, Brahman unattached and the other is Jiva, attached to worldly things) are YOU. The aswattha tree on which they are sitting with the Vedas as its branches, the seven guardians viz., five senses, mans and intellect and the 10 indriyas (5 organs of perception and 5 of action) are YOU. And, YOU are the past, present and the future”.

The Supreme Lord (in this episode IT is referred to as Rudra) is pleased and bestows on Narayana (Who is also the same Originator) His blessings that in this world Narayana will be invincible. “That Narayana born in this world is none other than Vasudeva, Krishna” says Vyasa to Aswatthaman. Vyasa goes on to say that out of that asceticism of Narayana was born a muni (a sage) by the name of Hara. “That Hara is Arjuna” says Vyasa and that no one can conquer them on this earth. Vyasa also says that Aswatthaman has also worshipped Lord Shiva in his earlier life and this is how he is endowed with such prowess. But, Aswatthaman realizes that Nara and Narayana who are the embodiments of the Supreme and who know that Brahman and the Universe are the same are here for a purpose and that no human can “conquer” them.