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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Maha Bharata - Gems between stories: 12

Saunaka’s discourse

     In Book 3, Section 2, the Pandavas have started their 12 year banishment to the forests after losing the game of dice. Soon after entering the forest, Yudhishtra meets a sage Saunaka, skilled in the Sankhya system of yoga. He addressed the king, saying, Grief and fear overwhelm the ignorant but not the wise. Sensible men like you should not be deluded by false knowledge of the world.  Men by nature are afflicted with both bodily and mental suffering. Disease, contact with painful things, very hard work and want of objects (desires) are the four causes of bodily suffering. You can cure diseases with medicine, while mental ailments are cured by seeking to forget them by yoga-meditation. Mental grief brings on bodily suffering and true knowledge allays mental suffering. When the mind gets at ease, the body also eases.

     Affection seems to be the root of all mental suffering. Affection leads to attachment and desire. Desire for worldly possessions leads to greater attachment and anxiety. It is the cause of joy, sorrow and fear and every kind of pain. Withdrawing from worldly possessions alone is not adequate for mental peace. He, who though is in actual contact with the world performing his duties, realizes its faults, and remains detached may be said to have truly renounced the world. He lives like the lotus-leaf on which water never sticks.
     Wealth is not conducive to real happiness. Both acquisition and maintaining wealth are fraught with miseries. Wealth leads to pride, fear and anxiety. One with wealth is in constant fear of the king and the thief, of water and fire and even of their relatives. Even people who are helped with wealth become enemies for the sake of that wealth.
     Contentment is the highest happiness; the wise are ever content. They do not covet anything.
     When Yudhishtra says that he is not interested in wealth for personal enjoyment but in order to help others, Saunaka replies: “Life is full of contradictions. It is easy to fall into the cycles of birth and death. Vedas teach us to perform actions but renounce interest in the results of the action. (forerunner of the Gita). Therefore, you should let go of attachment and motives, control the senses and perform the following eight duties: performance of sacrifices, study (of the Vedas), gifts, penance, truth (in both speech and act), forgiveness, subduing the senses, and renunciation of desire. Of these, the four first pave the way to the world of the pitris. The last four last are always observed by the pious for their own welfare.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Maha Bharata - Gems between Stories 11 - Bhima and Yudhishtra. Book 3

After, Draupadi, it is Bhima’s turn to disagree with Yudhishtra and tell him that the Pandavas should go to war with the Kauravas and get their land back. He says: “Sometime forgiveness is mistaken for incompetence and weakness. Virtue itself can become a source of weakness.  Virtue (dharma) has to be practiced for a purpose. It should be the basis for the acquisition of wealth (artha) and objects of desire (kama).  He that practices virtue for virtue's sake always suffers, because he does not know the purposes of virtue, like a blind man incapable of perceiving the solar light”.

"One should regard virtue, wealth and pleasure one after another, in that order. One should ever pursue all three. The scriptures ordain that one should seek virtue in the morning, wealth at noon, and pleasure in the evening. The scriptures also ordain that one should seek pleasure in the first portion of life, wealth in the second, and virtue in the last. One should pursue all three, namely virtue, wealth, and pleasure dividing their time duly”.

There is a discussion on what pleasure is and how one gets it.  Bhima says: “Pleasure may be derived from the possession of various objects of enjoyment.  The joy that arises from the senses, the intellect and the heart when directed to the object of desire is called pleasure. But, once obtained the acquired objects do not remain the same. They undergo changes. At their loss or disappearance, or in the case of happiness involving people, when they get old and disabled or when they die, we experience distress. We are, at present, in this state of distress. Why not go and fight to get the land back?”

Yudhishtra acknowledges his mistake and says that he should not have played dice with those whom he knew were better at it than him and whom he knew may also cheat. But having given a promise that the Pandavas will go into exile if he lost, he had to keep the promise. He owns up to his mistake and apologizes to his brothers and to Draupadi for putting them into this distress.

He says: “O Bhima, you do not know how much I am hurting for all this, particularly to the insult heaped upon Draupadi. Having, however, given that pledge in the midst of the Kuru heroes, I am unable to violate it now. Wait, O Bhima, for the return of our better days. You can take your revenge at a suitable time.  But for now, O Bhima, my promise can never be untrue. I regard keeping one’s promise to be paramount”.

But, Bhima continues: “Only they who have unlimited life or know for certain how long they are going to live can wait for the right time. If we wait for thirteen years, our life will be that much shorter. As Kshatriyas we should fight for our kingdom and get it before we die. If we do not chastise our foes we are useless burden on earth. You are loath to violate your pledge out of weakness of disposition. Besides how are we going to be incognito for one whole year? Everyone knows us all everywhere. We should fight now”.

Yudhsihtra replies: "One cannot succeed with courage alone. In order to succeed one should think through and approach the task with well-directed energy, and all necessary implements. We know that all those kings we defeated and those who are already under Dhrithrashtra will be on the Kaurava side. In addition, Bhishma, Drona and Kripa are obliged to him because of the fact they are supported by the king. And then there is Karna. How do you expect to win the battle with such a formidable enemy?”

At this time, Sage Vyasa comes there and speaks with Yudhishtra alone and tells him that good times are ahead. He asks Yudhishtra not wo worry. He then gives him a special mantra called Pratismiriti to be taught to Arjuna. Vyasa says that Arjuna is none other than Narayana and that with the mantra in his possession, Arjuna should go the land of the Gods and obtain celestial weapons from Indra, Vayu and Yama. Vyasa also says something very inteersting: “Since you have a large retinue, continued residence here might exhaust the deer of this forest, and be destructive of the creepers and plants. Therefore, plan on moving to a different place” and then disappears. Yudhishtra gets the mantra and moves from Dwaitavana to Kamyaka forest near the river Saraswati.

In another episode, Arjuna is sent to obtain celestial weapons. In the section describing Arjuna entering Amaravati, there is a statement that “eaters of unsanctified meat are not fit to enter that town”. That suggests that “meat eating” was prevalent at that time particularly among the Kshatriyas. This statement also talks about “sanctified meat”. It probably means that meat offered first to the Gods, in the homa fire, and the left-over. The sanctification of meat is practiced in other traditions too.

Later, when Bhima and others are sad at the absence of Arjuna, a rishi by name Brihadaswa arrives and narrates the story of Nala-Damayanti. 

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Maha Bharata - Some Hidden Gems 10: Discussion between Yudhishtra and Draupadi

When the game of dice is played for the second time, Lord Krishna is away in a country named Anarttha. Does this have a symbolic meaning? Anarttha means “no wealth or no substance”. Evil happened when the Lord was in a land of no substance?

Anyway, Krishna comes back and talks to Yudhishtra and says that if he were present, he could have prevented the calamity. He also says: “Women, dice, hunting and drinking are four evils that deprive a man of prosperity”.

Starting with chapter 28, we read discussions between the brothers and Draupadi after the Pandavas are exiled. Draupadi in particular is incensed and asks Yudhishtra how he can be so cool and collected. She asks: “Are you not a kshtriya? How is it you are not angry when you have been exiled? Your brothers are great warriors and are capable of killing the kurus in no time. They are quiet because of respect for you. Don’t you see me, a princess and wife of the Pandavas living under these conditions in the forest? Does it not make you upset? People will take advantage of weak people. One has to show might and forgiveness on appropriate occasions. (In other words, this is not a time for forgiveness).”

Then Draupadi lists conditions under which one should forgive: those who serve you sincerely but make a mistake, and those who make mistake out of ignorance. If one offends you knowingly but pleads ignorance, that person should be punished. You can forgive someone for the first mistake; but not if he keeps repeating.

Yudhishtra then lists all the consequences of anger and points out how the ignorant think that showing anger is strength  whereas it only leads to calamities and destruction. It is not that wise men do not get angry. But they know how to show it appropriately and channel it. An angry man cannot see things in their true light. A man by forsaking anger can exhibit proper energy, when and where needed. Excessive and uncontrolled anger leads to the destruction of the world.

“If a man who is attacked with harsh words returns with harsh words, if an injured man injures the one who hurt him, if fathers slay sons, and sons slay fathers and if husbands slay wives, and wives kill husbands, O Draupadi, how can birth take place in a world where anger prevails? The birth of creatures requires love and peace!”  “O Draupadi, one should learn to forgive. The continuation of species is due to our ability to forgive. He, indeed, is a wise and excellent person who has conquered his anger and who can forgive even when insulted, oppressed, and angered by a strong person”.

He then quotes Kashyapa:  “Forgiveness is virtue; forgiveness is sacrifice, forgiveness is the Vedas, forgiveness is the Shruti. Forgiveness is Brahma; forgiveness is truth; forgiveness is stored ascetic merit; and by forgiveness is it that the universe is held together. Forgiveness gives peace of mind. Forgiveness and gentleness are the qualities of the self-possessed. They represent eternal virtue. O Krishna, (Krishna is the other name for Draupadi) how can one like us abandon forgiveness?”

Draupadi says: “I have heard that virtue protects everyone. But I do not see virtue protecting you, a virtuous man. May be this is Gods’ will or fate. But, why does God behave unfair persecuting the superior and well-behaved while the sinful are happy? Why does he allow the crooked Dhrithrashtra in prosperity and punish you and us?  If this is the act of God, it is God himself who is stained with the sin”. She then talks about action and inaction; about karma in relation to prior births etc and says that those who believe in destiny and chance are worst among men.

These are powerful stinging words from the princess. But, Yudhishthira does not show anger. He says: “Your speech, is delightful, but the language is one of atheism.  It is the Lord who is behind whatever we do; creatures are inert by themselves. If man’s actions alone are adequate, everything should be successful. If God alone decides the outcome, everything should be good and pleasant. Since neither is true, I believe destiny and chance are the outcome of our action in the prior birth (karma)”.

“I never act, desirous of the fruits of my actions but follow the rules of Dharma and the examples of the good and the wise. I give away, because it is my duty to give; I sacrifice because it is my duty to sacrifice! I act regardless of the fact whether those acts bear fruits or not. The man who works to reap the fruits of virtue is a trader in virtue. His nature is mean and he should never be counted amongst the virtuous. Why the virtuous suffer and the sinful ones enjoy is a mystery even to the gods. Therefore, even though we do not see the fruits of our virtuous acts, we should not doubt the Vedas and the Gods. We should perform sacrifices and practice charity willingly. Reflecting on this, I hope your skepticism gives way to faith. Do not slander God; but learn how to know Him. Do not disregard the Supreme”.
Don’t you agree that these are profound conversations we should all read and think about?