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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Maha Bharata - Some Hidden Gems - 5

Playing the Dice

Book 2 Sec 54:   Dhritrashtra advises Duryodhana not to be jealous of the Pandavas and covet their land because jealousy and coveting other’s possession lead to unhappiness. On the other hand, people who are content with and protect what they have earned and practice their allotted dharma always see prosperity. 

In Section 58, when Duryodhana and his friends are trying to get Yudhushtra to play dice, the elders hide behind the argument that “fate has ordained it”. This idea of “fate” determining human actions is central to all of the events in Maha Bharata. This is a philosophical issue dealt with in all traditions to explain events, particularly when good people suffer and evil ones prosper and when innocent children suffer. Free will, God’s will and Fate are subjects discussed with plenty of heat, but no light.

 Sakuni, the evil advisor in this epic, has some interesting arguments in favor of playing dice.  1. Dice playing is not the cause of the problem. It is the stake people place as part of the game which causes trouble. Does this sound very much like the arguments of the group opposed to gun control?   2. Trying to win is the motive behind war and gambling. The motive is not dishonest. This leads to the argument about the means and the ends. If the end is noble, can one resort to sinful and harmful means?

It is during these discussions that Vidura says his famous masterpiece (Book 2 Section 61): “For the sake of a family, a member may be sacrificed; for the sake of a village, a family may be sacrificed; for the sake of a province, a village may be sacrificed, for the sake of a country a province may be sacrificed; but, for the sake of a single soul, the whole earth may be sacrificed”. This same thought is expressed by Krishna in Book 5, Section 128 trying to dissuade Dhuryodhana from war.

In Section 66, when Draupadi is dragged into the court by Duryodhana’s brother, she appeals to everyone there about morality. “Happiness and misery affect both the wise and the unwise. But, morality should be practiced by everyone. Morality is subtle and only the wise with clear vision can see what morality is”. In this section, there are statements to the effect that women are “the property of men and are under the order and disposal of their husbands”. Therefore, Yudhishtra had exercised his role as a husband to do what he wanted to with his wife, by placing her as a bet in the gamble. He was wrong but this was allowed in those days! This is the excuse by the wise for not taking action against Duryodhana.

When Yudhishtra is dragged into playing the dice a second time, he agrees to and gives two excuses. 1.My uncle has ordered me to do so. I cannot disobey elders. 2. It is preordained. Both are lame excuses and unworthy of Yudhishtra. But, obviously those were the standards then. 

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