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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Yuga cycles and Kaala (Time) - Maha Bharata series 74

Book 12, Section 201 and 203 
Bhishma recounts the beginning of the cycles of Yuga with Supreme Vishnu in repose and the Brahma of the cycle coming from the lotus emanating from Vishnu’s navel. This is the same as told in the beginning (Book 1) with more details. The repetition is probably meant to establish Vishnu at the center of worship. The population of the earth by the seven rishis, the parajaptis,  humans, asuras and animals is recounted.

It is stated  that all the Vedas return back to the Supreme (Vishnu, as told here) at the end of the four yugas. They reappear at the beginning of the next cycle and captured by the rishis to be preserved and passed on. In this sequence, we are told that Brhaspati receives the Vedas, Sukra receives the Dharma teachings, Narada gets the texts on music, Bharadwaja gets the texts on arms and warfare and Atri gets the medical texts.

In another section, there is a definition of Brahmacharya as a state in which one withdraws from all senses and sense-objects and dwells in the mind only. To reach that state, one should not have any contact with women since, according to the text, women are full of passion.  Also. according to the text, the man's “seeds” are floating all over the body through thousands of channels (naadi) and are the results of desire.
The subject of renunciation is called Samyagradha and is dealt with in Section 219. It says that one cannot attain tranquility without renunciation. The purpose of Vedic sacrifices and other rites is for renunciation of wealth and other possessions. Vows and fasts of diverse kinds are meant to help with self-restraint and renunciation of enjoyments. Yoga and penance (tapas) are for renunciation of pleasure and happiness. Renunciation, however, of everything, is the highest kind of renunciation.

When asked whether fasting is a penance, Bhishma says that it is not. But, self-restraint (acts and letting go of results) and compassion are. He also defines vegetarianism as not eating meat that had not been offered as a sacrifice.

In section 222, the discussion between Prahlada and Indra was likely influenced by Buddhist teachings. In this passage, Prahlada clearly speaks of impermanence. He also says that all of us have “good” and “bad”qualities. In Buddhism they mention 51 qualities which are present in all of us. However, Prahlada says that Soul is different from the body. Buddhists deny the existence of separate self or atman or soul.

Another important episode with a conversation between Vali and Indra is given in Section 224 (English version). Vali is living alone as a recluse and in the “form” of an ass. Indra teases and taunts him for his “low” state. Vali, an asura, former king of the Danavas asks Indra not to be haughty and proud since he will also fall from his high state in course of time.

 This discourse equates time (kaala) with Brahman (not Brahma, the creator god). It says that Time rules everything in this universe, including the gods and asuras. Our conditions are determined by time and everything in this world are transient. People in high position come down over time and those in low position get to a higher position in course of time. Knowing this, there is no need to be sad or happy about the course of events.

The idea that time controls everything and therefore we can do nothing seems to be the message. Combined with the concept of karma, it is easy to fall into fatalism.

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