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Saturday, August 26, 2017

Arjuna's List of "sinful" Acts: Maha Bharata Series 42

Arjuna takes a vow and during that process lists “sinful” acts worthy of punishment. This is in book 7, section 73.

On learning that Abhimanyu was killed by Jayadratha, Arjuna says that if he does not kill Jayadratha the next day, he will undergo the punishments that are reserved for the following acts of “sin”. (Buddhists will call these as “unwholesome acts” – not “sinful”).

The list of sins and sinners include: the wicked ones who are capable of slaying one’s own parents; violating the wife of the preceptor; those who speak ill of others; taking over of  the property left in confidence for safe-keeping;  betrayers of trusts; those who eat sugared milk and rice and cakes or meat, without having dedicated the same to the gods;  they who insult people worthy of respect, or their preceptor; touching brahmins or fire with the feet; spitting and passing urine into water; bathing nude; accepting bribe, speaking falsehood, deceiving and cheating, and falsely praising others; eating in the presence of others, particularly the dependents without sharing with them and giving to those who do not deserve and not to those who deserve.  

Later when Subhadra is lamenting at the loss of her son, she prays that her son attain heaven reserved for those who perform virtuous acts. She prays that Abhimanyu goes to a place which is reserved for those who speak the truth, who share their food, who keep the trust etc. This list is the opposite of the list of Arjuna. 

When Krishna is consoling Arjuna and Subhadra, He says: “Time cannot be conquered. It forces all creatures to the inevitable end” and “Grief that makes a person forgo all efforts is an enemy of that person. A person, by indulging in grief, gladdens his foes and saddens his friends, while the person is himself weakened. Therefore, do not yield yourself to grief”.

In Section 80 and 81, Arjuna and Kesava go to Lord Mahadeva to obtain His special weapon – pasupata astram. In that episode, when they pray to the Lord, several names are used to address Him. Two most used names are Bhava and Mahadeva. All other names attributed to Lord Shiva are there, such as pinakapani, trinetri, nilakanta, khabhardin, Shiva and Rudra. Shiva is also described as having thousand eyes and thousand arms, very much like how Lord Vishnu is described elsewhere.

In His consolation of Subhadra, Draupadi and Uttara, Krishna says: “Abhimanyu is destined to go to Heaven since he died in a battle performing his duty as a Kshatriya and therefore a warrior. Therefore, do not grieve for him”.

I cannot help inserting my personal bias here. Belief in the assurance of a special place (heaven) after death is certainly an effective way for handling the grief of losing one’s kith and kin. I am for it from that point of view. But, it is fooling oneself. At the approach of death, all of us mortals, are afraid. We do not know what happens at death or after. As my mother said once: “No one who died came back to tell us what is out there”. Therefore, we create our own narrative of a heaven full of gardens, flowers and damsels (what about women!) if we behave well (do punyam etc) and to a place full of snakes and beasts and boiling oil if we don’t. This has the additional motivation for behaving “good” and perform virtuous acts during this life. If such belief leads people into “good” behavior, why not?

My personal bias is to go beyond “blind faith” in imaginary abodes after death and accept the inevitable. I would rather perform “wholesome, helpful” acts (not good and bad; not virtue and sin) here and now, just because it is the right thing to do, not because I am assured of a place in “heaven” or am afraid of a place called “hell”.

To use a modern-day example, I would rather drive on a highway within the posted speed limits because it is the safe thing to do, not because I am afraid of getting a traffic ticket. An internal-“policeman” is far superior to an external one, particularly an imaginary one.

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