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Saturday, December 9, 2017

Yudhishtra replies to the criticism of his brothers: Book 12 Section 19. - Maha Bharatha series 56



Yudhishtra answers his brothers and explains the reasons for his dilemma. He says that the Vedas and the Scriptures are confusing. The Vedas emphasize a path of action (karma marga) and a path of knowledge (gnana marga).  Scriptures are confusing because they are based on reason and there are different ways of reasoning leading to different points of view. He addresses Arjuna and says: " You are knowledgeable in the intricacies of the battle-field, but not on the paths of dharma (virtues)".

Yudhisthtra goes on to say that one can attain Moksha (liberation) through penance (tapas), renunciation (sannyasa) or through knowledge of Brahman (brahmagnana). Of these, the third is superior to the second and the second superior to the first. Least important is wealth (in the form of land and possessions). Yudhishtra says that his brothers were wrongly focused on wealth (the land) in their arguments.

He further states that the way to Brahmangnana is through the path of Yoga, reflecting on the words of the scriptures and understanding the difference between the real and the unreal. "Due to ignorance we misidentify the Atman with this physical body. Due to the ignorance we get reborn and suffer the cycle of samsara. Once we realize the true Atman as free from the attributes of the body, we can attain realization and get free of the cycle of birth and rebirth".

A rishi by name Devasthana, who is in the assembly takes up Arjuna’s argument that wealth (artha, includes land and wealth in the sense of gold, money etc) is important to perform one’s duties. He tells Yudhishtra that having won the kingdom, he should not leave it without a good reason. He says that the Vedas talk about four stages of life (ashrama – brahmacharya, grahstashrama, vanaprastha and sannyasa) and that one should go through them in that  order. Rishi Devasthana locates Yudhishtra’s status in grahasthashrama in which he has  to perform sacrifices and give profuse presents to others. The rishi refers to a system of agama called Vaikanasa (which preaches that one should not seek wealth) and rejects it immediately. (Vaikanasa is one two Vaishnava agamas. The other is Pancaratra). He says: "The Supreme Ordainer (meaning?   ) created wealth for use in sacrifice and also created men to take care of that wealth and use it for sacrifices". He then gives the example of Indra and Sarva, who became glorious by using wealth to perform sacrifices.

Devasthana follows up with a talk on contentment. (I do not see the immediate connection, although accumulating wealth often needs to lack of contentment.) He says that contentment is bliss and that  one should withdraw one’s desires like a tortoise draws in all its limbs under the shell. Devasthana says: “It is said that a person who has seen his own soul is one who has conquered his desires and aversions. When one is not afraid of any creature and no creature is afraid of him, he is said to have attained Brahman. Such a person does not cause injury to anyone in thoughts, words or deeds”.

He continues: “There are different schools of thought on how to practice religion and virtue. Some emphasize peacefulness; some praise action (karma) and some contemplation (dhyana); others praise sacrifice (yagna) and some others praise renunciation (sannyasa) or gifts (dana) or silent meditation (Samadhi). The righteous elders tell us that non-injury (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), justice, compassion and self-restraint, modesty and patience are the best practice of a religious person He then adds: “Manu agrees”, suggesting that this part of Maha Bharatha was written after Manu’s Dharma Shastra. Devasthana asks Yudhishtra to take up his duty assigned to him at this stage in life, carry out his duties impartially without attachment to wealth and attain glory and liberation. 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Bhima's advice to Yudhishtra (Book 12,section 16) - Maha Bharatha series 55


I thought that Arjuna’s plea to Yudhishtra to accept his duty as a King in Book 12, Section 15 was a masterpiece. Therefore, I summarized that speech and wrote that such pieces carry the essence of the teachings of Maha Bharatha and should be brought to the attention of everyone. I was too quick, because in the very next section (section 16 of Book 12), Bhima gives a piece of his mind. In it are some superb set of ideas.

Bhima says that there are two kinds of diseases, physical and mental. They are inter-connected. Physical illness leads to mental illness and vice versa. Cold, heat and wind (the Sanskrit words used are shita, ushna and vayu) are the elements, which when in harmony lead to good physical health. When are not balanced, there is illness. You can balance the cold with heat and heat with the cold etc. Ayurveda is based on these concepts.

Similarly, goodness, passion and ignorance (satva, rajas, tamas) are the elements which have to be in balance for good mental health. If they are not in balance, there is mental illness. Grief is balanced by joy and joy is checked by grief. There is no use being sad at good times because of recollection of the past. Bhima says to Yudhishtra: “If your nature is to be sad when things are good because of memory of the loss of so many of our family and friends, why don’t you remember the times when the Kauravas insulted us and Draupadi and made us suffer? You won the physical battle against the mighty Bhishma and Drona, with the help of all of us and so many friends. You are now succumbing to your mental battle. You have to win it by yourself”.

To me, these are profound words coming from an unlikely source in this epic. After all, Bhima is considered to be full of strength and impulsive and not so bright. For him to say these words?

More important, is this not the essential message of Maha Bharatha? Is not battle of Kurukshtra  a metaphor for battle between dharma and adharma (virtue and falsehood); and also of our internal battles, mental battles? Even the famous physical scene of Gitopadesa is a metaphor. The advice is given in the battlefield. The chariot is the body. The horses are the senses. The reins are the sensory impressions and the mind. And the reins are held by the Lord.