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Saturday, October 7, 2017

Krishna advises Arjuna to insult Yudhishtra - Maha Bharatha series 47

In book 8, Section 69, is an episode where Arjuna goes out of the battle-field to make sure his brother, Yudhishtra (Dharma) is safe. This was soon after Karna had defeated Yudhishtra in the battle. When Arjuna enters the tent accompanied by Krishna, Yudhishtra thinks that Arjuna came to tell him that Karna had been killed. When he finds out that it is not so, Yudhshtra gets angry and belittles Arjuna for lack of valor. Yudhsihtra goes as low as to ask Arjuna to give his Gandiva to someone else who can kill Karna.

Earlier, Arjuna has taken a vow that if anyone says that he is not fit to hold Gandiva in his hands, Arjuna will kill that person. Therefore, Arjuna takes the sword from his sheath and is ready to kill his elder brother. That was the duty of a Kshatriya, to keep his vow. Krishna intervenes. He asks Arjuna to calm down and points out that Yudhishtra said those harsh words because of his mental state after defeat at Karna’s hands and also to incite Arjuna to heroic action. Arjuna says that it is not possible for him to put the sword in his sheath, since by doing so he will commit a sin of not keeping a Kshatriya vow.

Then, there is a delightful discourse by Krishna on the intricacies of morality. He says that it is difficult to discriminate between what should and should not be done in a given situation. Between breaking the vow (keeping the truth) and killing, killing is worse. “And in this situation you are trying to kill your elder brother for a vow you took in ignorance. Besides, Kshatriya dharma says that you should not kill one who is facing away from the battle field and who does not have any weapons” says Krishna.

Krishna proceeds to say that although truth is a great virtue, there are occasions when falsehood is acceptable. For example, Krishna says: "falsehood is acceptable when life is in danger, in marriage (?) and when one is about to lose all of one’s property falsehood is utterable and is not a sin". There are subtle differences between truth, falsehood and outright lie!

Krishna goes on to tell Arjuna the story of Vahlaka and Kausika. Vahlaka made a living by hunting although he did not like the idea of killing. He did so strictly to take care of his family. At one time, he could not get any animals to supply food for his family and found an unusual creature drinking water. He killed the animal instantly, not knowing that the animal was blind. In spite of that, a celestial car came to take him to heaven. That happened because the animal he killed was a human who was very cruel and had therefore been cursed to become a blind animal by the gods. 
In the other story, Kaushika was an ascetic who had taken a vow to speak truth at all costs. He lived in a forest. Once, some villagers entered the forest to escape from robbers who plundered their village. The robbers followed them and when they found Kausika, they asked him whether he knew about the villagers. He told them the truth and caused great harm to the villagers at the hands of the robbers.
Given these episodes, Krishna says: “Wish there were an easy way to know what is virtue and what is sin. Sometimes, scriptures help. But, scriptures do not deal with all situations. Sometimes, you can reason it out. Whatever is inoffensive and whatever protects and preserves people is Dharma”. Now, Krishna speaks about Dharma, and not truth and untruth. Dharma seems to be the overarching principle, and truth, non-violence etc are sub-servient to that higher principle.
Krishna then says that Arjuna should forgive Yudhistra since he used harsh words when he was tired and frustrated. Krishna also gave Arjuna a way out of his dilemma. Krishna pointed out that for a Kshatriya, getting insulted by someone would be equivalent to being killed and therefore, Arjuna should call his brother in a singular “you” rather than in the third person respectable “you” and insult him.

Arjuna accepts that solution. He uses the word "you"  and criticizes Yudhishtra for his love of gambling which was responsible for all the suffering that fell on the Pandavas and Draupadi.  Arjuna feels remorse for having been disrespectful to his elder brother.  But, Yudhishtra accepts that criticism since he knows that Arjuna is correct. He feels remorse and says that Bhima should become the king and that he (Yudhishtra) should go to the forest etc. Krishna has to appease both of them and get them back on the main goal of defeating the Kurus.  

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