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Friday, October 19, 2018

Ascent to Heaven - Maha Bharatha Series 96


We are now in Chapter 18, the final chapter in Maha Bharatha. I skipped several chapters since I did not find any significant conversations in them. 
The final sections of Maha Bharata are about the departure of Dhridhrashtra with Gandhari and Kunti to the forest and their death in a forest fire, the fight among the citizens of Dwaraka and their annihilation, the departure of Krishna and Balarama and the ascent of the Pandavas to “heaven”. In one episode, Arjuna requests Bhima to forgive Dhridhrashtra and give him whatever he needs to perform ceremonies for the dead before he goes on Vanaprastha, because “it is noble to forgive other’s faults and remember the good deeds”.  ( समरन्त्य अपराद्धानि समरन्ति सुकृतानि च)

When Dhridhrashtra goes on Vanaprastha with Gandhari, Kunti decides to go to the forest with them. Yudhishtra and his brothers request their mother to stay back. She refuses and her last words to her sons are: “Let your intellect stay with virtue; and let your mind think high (noble)” (धर्मे ते धीयतां बुद्धिर मनस ते महद अस्तु च)

On hearing the destruction of the Vrishni race, Yudhishtra says that it is all because of Time, the destroyer. It is interesting that the Sanskrit word for time is kaala and it also means death. Throughout Maha Bharata, Time, Fate and influence of Karma are given as responsible for every event, including the war itself.

When, it is the turn for the Pandavas and Draupadi to ascend to heaven, first Arjuna falls down on the way. When Bhima asks how this can happen, Yudhsishtra says that Arjuna’s pride and his inability to keep his promise caused his fall. Sahadeva falls because of his boasting about his knowledge and Nakula because he was proud of his physical beauty. Bhima falls because of his self-centeredness (and his temper?) (“not attending to the needs of others while eating”). Yudhishtra says that Draupadi falls down because of her partiality to one of the brothers (Arjuna, of course). Only Yudhishtra and a dog which follows them remain. 

Indra comes in person to take Yudhishtra to Heaven. But, Yudhishtra refuses to go without his brothers and Draupadi. Indra says that they have all gone to heaven casting off their human bodies, but “You shall go there with this body of thine”. Yudhishtra wants the dog to go with him. Yudhishtra refuses to leave the dog behind saying that “it will not be virtuous to cast off one who has been devoted to me”. Indra asks him again to let go of the dog. Yudhishtra replies: “It is sinful to abandon one who has been faithful and devoted. I will not let him go so that I can have my happiness. I will not give up someone who is afraid, who is devoted to me, one who is a destitute and is seeking my protection. Nor will I abandon someone who is afflicted, and one incapable of protecting himself”.  At this point, the dog transforms into his true self – Dharma himself, Yudhishtra’s father and is very well pleased.

After entering heaven in his human form, a rare privilege, Yudhishtra insists on joining his brothers and Draupadi. He first sees Duryodhana living in splendor and is outraged. He asks his companions how such an evil person attain to heaven and says that he does not want to stay at a place where Duryodhana lives but to where his brothers are. Narada tells him: “In Heaven, all enmities cease. Besides, since Duryodhana fought according to his Varna Dharma and died in a battle, he attained Heaven”. Narada asks Yudhishtra to forgive and forget.

Yudhishtra does not see his brothers or other noble souls and warriors and wonders why. “Heaven is where all of them are; not this” says Yudhishtra. Therefore, the gods take Yudhishtra to where all of them are. But, the path is full of darkness and obstacles, stench and filth. Yudhishtra asks: “What is this place anyway? How long do we have to go through this path? Where are my brothers?” The celestial messenger stopped and told Yudhishtra: “This is how far I am authorized to accompany you. Now, you are on your own. Of course, you can return back with me”. Yudhishtra was confused and stupefied and was ready to go back. Just then, he started hearing the voices of all his brothers, including that of Karna and of Draupadi, wailing in agony and requesting him to stay a little longer so that their suffering is bearable.

Yudhistra wonders how can this be – that Dhuryodhana and his accomplices are enjoying in comfort and all the noble and sinless ones are suffering. He even wonders: “Is this real? Am I dreaming? Is this my delusion? Or is it due to some disorder of my brain?” He gets angry and curses all the gods and even curses Dharma, his father. He asks the celestial messenger to go back to “his” gods and tell them that Yudhishtra wishes to stay with his brothers, Draupadi, Karna and Dhrishtadhyumna and others and give them comfort. The messenger duly does what he was told to do and informs Indra of what had happened.

Immediately, Indra arrives accompanied by Dharma, all the devas, and rishis. The place changes from a desolate, bleak, dark “hell” into a divine abode full of light and splendor.

 Indra addresses Yudhishtra: “You have attained success and your period of illusion is over. The Heaven is yours. Do not yield to anger. Life is full of good and bad. He who enjoys the results of his virtuous deeds must endure hell later. Those who endure hell first must experience heaven afterwards. Those who have committed many sinful acts go to Heaven first before they fall into hell. I wanted you to see hell also and that is why I sent you there first. You had committed a sin too by deceiving Drona during the battle. That is why all of you were shown hell by an act of my deception. All of you have been cleansed of your sins. The Heaven is yours. All of your people have attained to heaven. Come and see them”. And, Indra points out Karna, Arjuna, Bhima, Nakula, Sahadeva and his ancestors.

The concept of good acts (Virtue, punya), reward of Heaven for virtuous acts and of sinful acts (papa), for which the reward will be Hell are recurrent themes in Maha Bharata and they come out clearly in this section.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Anugita - Maha Bharata Series 95



Arjuna and Lord Krishna (Nara and Narayana) are taking time off after the coronation of Yudhishtra. Arjuna asks Krishna to repeat the teachings (Bhagvat Gita). The conversation is interesting. Arjuna says: “Please repeat what you said earlier in the battlefield. I was too distraught and distracted to understand those teachings fully”. Krishna replies: “That was so long ago. I do not remember everything I said. Let me give you a short version”. These are not the exact translations of the original. But, it is accurate understanding of the conversation between these bosom friends, or may be two halves of the same “person”. This teaching of Krishna is known as Anugita.

Everyone knows Bhagvat Gita. Many know about Uddhava Gita. In Maha Bharata we already saw Kama Gita and Ashtavakra Gita. Did you know that there are more than 25 Gitas? Anyway, here is Anugita.

Anugita spans from the 11th to the 50th section of Book 14. Most scholars think that this was not part of the original Maha Bharata but inserted later by one or several authors. There are three major sections extolling the virtues of penance and dharma and about Samkhya and Yoga philosophy. I am not writing about of all of these since these are repetitions of basic ideas. Some interesting passages include the following.

Joy is classified under three headings. Joy felt at the certainty of attaining what one desires is called praharsha; joy felt on attaining the desired object is priti and Ananda or satisfaction is when one enjoys the desired, attained object. Our folks were superb classifiers, even of a feeling as simple as JOY.

Passion consists of greed, anger and hatred.

Darkness or Ignorance consists of laziness, procrastination and delusion (?confusion).

This classification is followed by a sloka recited by King Amvarisha on sovereignty. After attaining great successes in his life, the king says to himself: “I have killed my foes and have controlled my faults. But there is one great vice which has not been destroyed by me. That is desire. Urged by that one fault one enters darkness and commits sinful and forbidden acts. That leads one to the cycles of birth and death. Subduing desire with intelligence, one should seek sovereignty over the soul. That is true sovereignty”.

This is followed by a story of King Janaka and a Brahmana in his kingdom. When the Brahmana commits some crime, King Janaka wants him banished and asks him to leave Janaka’s territory. The Brahmana says: “Yes, I will. But, please tell me what the limit of your territory is”. King Janaka plunged into deep thinking and did not say anything for some time.

He then said: “I inherited this dominion from my ancestors. When I tried to find what my dominion actually is, I could not find any on this earth. Everything is my dominion or nothing is. Even this body is not mine or the whole earth is mine. Thinking deeply, I realized that this earth is as much of others as it is mine. Therefore, please stay as long as you wish”. The Brahmana wants to know how the king came to this understanding.

King Janaka says: “The Vedas advise us not to covet other’s property. But, how am I to ascertain which property belongs to others? Therefore, I concluded that nothing belongs to me. But, how did I come to the conclusion that everything is mine? The whole world is represented in our minds as the objects of sensations. I have transcended the sensations and therefore, the objects these sensations depend upon. Thus I am the master of the world and the world is in my control. Whatever I do now is for the sake of guests, deities and ancestors”. The Brahmana reveals himself to be Dharma and says: “You have set the wheel of dharma in motion with Goodness (Virtue) as the circumference, Vedas as the nave and proper understanding and knowledge as the spokes”.

One can sense touches of Buddhism in these statements about desire, impermanence and inter-dependence.

Towards the end, there is a story of Utanka, a rishi who lives in a desert between Hastinapura and Dwaraka. Lord Krishna meets him on his journey back home after the war is over. The conversation between Utanka and Krishna is interesting, because Utanka is upset with Krishna for not settling the fight between the Kauravas and Pandavas without a war. He is so angry that he is ready to curse Krishna. Krishna says: “I do not want you to curse me and lose all the fruits of your long penance. Please listen to me about the events and then do what you desire”.

What Krishna says is fascinating. He tells Utanka that He is Brahman and also Vishnu, the creator and destroyer. This is similar to his statements in Bhagavat Gita. Then he says: “I come alive in different communities, among the Devas, among the Gandarvas and among the Rakshasas and among human beings. I perform my actions consistent with that community. In this situation, I tried to talk and persuade the Kauravas into reconciliation. They did not. Even after Bhishma and Vidura told them that I am Vishnu, the Kauravas ignored and did not listen to me. And they reaped the consequences of their actions”.

Utanka is satisfied. He asks Lord Krishna for one boon. That is for Krishna to show His Universal form. This is the second time in Maha Bharata when Lord Krishna shows His True Form.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Titbits and Big Things - Maha Bharatha series 94



It is amazing to see the influence of epics such as Mahabharata on the Indian psyche and therefore in the beliefs and conduct of the people of India. The best example is the respect for elders. It is such a pleasure to see the younger ones consider it their duty to take care of the elders. It is to show respect for their knowledge and to thank them for all their sacrifice. This is lacking in many western cultures.

Two practical examples are 1. Treating elders with respect and not addressing by their first name. Mahabharata has a passage on this topic in Book 13.  2. As a mark of respect, the habit of getting up when an older person comes on the scene. Soon after I arrived in US many years back, I was appalled when I found my colleagues sitting with their feet up on the table with cigarette in their mouths and addressing teachers by their first name. Even after 60 years in US, I cannot bring myself to calling my teachers by their first name. Dr. Lewis Coriell was my teacher and was as close to me as my father and my brother. I could never bring myself to addressing him by his first name.

But then, people in India go to the other extreme of not questioning wrong and false statements by elders purely out of respect. Elders also demand respect just because of their age and demand obedience. It is possible to respect elders without “obeying” every one of their commands and dogmas. It is not a mark of disrespect when the younger ones ask questions. That is the way they learn. 

It is not just what we do and ask. It is how we do (and ask) that makes a difference. 

Other statements we commonly make in our daily lives seem to go back to the Mahabharata period. Some examples: “Whatever I say to you seems to be just carried away by the wind”  (Vyasa speaking to Yudhistra when he keeps persevering with his guilt trips).

“Your head will burst if you disobey” -  a rishi talking with a king

“I will burn you to ashes”

“It is as clear as a gooseberry (amlaka in Sanskrit and nellikkani in Tamizh) on the palm of the hand”

“When the proper time comes, it will happen”

Gift-giving (dana) as a virtue is mentioned in several places in the Mahabharata. In Book 13, towards the end there is a whole section on this topic. The two main points are 1. Give gifts according to your capacity. 2. The recipient should be worthy of the gift.

There is also a classification of the motives for gift-giving. Bhishma says that some give gifts with a desire for merit, some with a desire for profit, some out of fear, some out of pity for the recipient and some  just because it is the right thing to do in that context.