Wednesday, June 20, 2012

I vs We : 4 Heros from the Mahabharata.

Recently at a retreat a monk spoke about living a Balanced life. Althrough the days of the retreat, he had spoken to many sincere souls who wanted to do sadhana but did not have the time to do it owing to their busy lives in Mumbai. The monk thought it apt to touch upon this subject.

While mentioning the various aspects of life we need to balance, he touched upon a particular aspect : Balancing personal goals vs collective goals or goals for the higher good of a community. To express his point he cited 4 characters from the Mahabharata in whose lives the balance of this particular aspect played a deciding role. I found his observation extremely interesting since I love the Mahabharata and its characters.

Bhishma :

This venerable and revered old warrior, the grandsire of the two sides at war, found himself in an odd
position. His sympathies were with the Pandavas but he fought on the side of Kauravas owing to his pledge to serve Hastinapur.
However Bhishma when seen from the spiritual perspective represents the Spiritual ego - One which never dies on its own, one which is hard to kill, one which wishes to serve good but unknown to it, ends up serving the bad.

From spiritual perspective, Bhishma fought neither for the Pandavas nor for the Kauravas. He fought for Himself and His personal pledge. Had he been fighting for the kauravas whole heartedly, he could have easily killed some of the key pandav brothers upon confrontation, but he was loathe to doing so and moved on focusing on the rest of the army.

The monk mentioned that this was a typical case of serving the personal goal as against doing that which was for the higher good.  Bhishma knew that even if his side won, it wouldn’t be in the best interest of Hastinapur. Yet he kept going just to uphold his pledge that he had taken even at the cost of the pandavas who he knew were righteous and the kingdom who he was suppose to serve.

Yudhishtir :

The error of Bhishma can be better understood by comparing him to this noble character. Yudhishtir was called Dharamaraja – the upholder of Dharma or righteousness. He was said to be loved by all and had no enemies. Even Duryodhana held nothing personally against him. His love for truth was such that his was the only chariot in the whole battlefield which was levitating 4 inches above the ground owing to his righteous character.  To serve Dharma was Yudhishtir's highest personal goal.

During the battle as Acharya Drona was wreaking havoc by slaying the Pandav army by the 1000’s, Sri Krishna observed that it was impossible to stop the acharya except by killing him even by unrighteous means. Drona's love for his son was well known.  Sri Krishna plotted that a certain elephant by the same name as his son be slayed and word be spread in the battlefield that Ashwathama his son has been killed.

The battle of Mahabharata had over 4 million soldiers fighting over several kilometers of space. In the din of battle it was difficult to ascertain any news. When the news of Ashwathama's death was declared by Bhima ( who had slayed the elephant ) Drona couldn’t believe it , simply because his son too was a matchless warrior. Yet his heart sank. The only way to confirm the news was to ask the righteous Yudhishtir, who as King would be informed of the truth and Yudhishtir would never lie. Sri Krishna was counting on this.

Thus it was that Yudhistir found himself between a decision of his personal love for truth and a lie which would serve the higher good of the righteous side.  Yudhistir choose the latter. He choose to lie and take upon himself the burden of untruth and in doing so knowing that he was serving the good of the Righteous.
Many may have differing opinions over the above two cases.. but then such is the beauty of the Mahabharata that each perspective is valid and wisdom-giving in its own way.

Karna :

The wronged warrior, the tragic hero, the underdog.
Karna is a character very easy to love and sympathies with. Born in a royal family, off a divine source yet he lived his life fighting for himself and upholding his respect.  Given up by his mother, cursed by his Guru; Karna spend his whole life wanting to prove himself. And the only way he could do that was to be given an opportunity to fight the famed Pandav archer Arjuna.

He found an ally in Duryodhana , who offered Karna his friendship knowing well that here was the answer to Arjunas prowess should there ever be a war. Karna was a matchless archer born with Divine armor that made him invincible.

Yet Karna in many ways was a mixture of opposites. For all the good he had in him – his friendship, valour, generosity .. yet he was at fault of siding the wrong in view of his indebtedness to Duryodhana. Karna knew well that it was purely upon his strength that Duryodhana dared the faultless pandavs. It was in his presence that the pure and faultless Draupadi was dragged into and stripped in the court, yet Karna choose to hold on to his personal vow of loyalty as against speaking upto his friend and showing him the right way.

But there are other surprising factors. Karna's loyalty to Duryodhan is also questioned by the wise. Knowing well that the Indra had come to take away his armor in alms that would severely weaken him in the battle and despite the warning of his father the Sun God, Karna gave away his armor choosing to again uphold his personal vow of charity as against the good of the army and friend who were depending on his invincibility. He also disregarded this loyalty by promising his mother that he would not kill any Pandav other than Arjun.

Further spiritual scholars say that in a way the war began with Karna and could have also ended with him, on 2 occasions. Firstly when Sri Krishna revealed to Him his origins as the eldest pandav, Karna could have reveled the same to Duryodhana who he knew would be delighted, but he also knew that in his indebtedness he would offer the pandav kingdom, now his as the eldest pandav, to Duryodhana and that would be unfair to the pandavs because he too knew that the pandavs were fighting for the right cause.

Secondly during the battle, Karna had the opportunity of finishing the war once and for all. Having defeated  Yudhistir in a personal fight, he could have done what Drona had been wanting all along – to take Yudhistir hostage as that would end the war immediately. However Karna let go and deprived his friend Duryodhana of victory and also gave himself a chance to fulfill his lifelong dream of fighting Arjuna and proving once and for all that he was a better warrior. This dream was fulfilled when he fought Arjuna and despite his death, King Shalya who witnessed the fight declared Karna to be a better warrior of the two.

Sri Krishna –

Lord Krishna  was an ideal example of some one who gave preference to the good for all as against His own good. Despite taking a personal vow of not wielding weapons during the war, Sri Krishna almost broke the vow twice to personally slay Bhishma who was proving unstoppable and in order to inspire Arjuna.  He singlehandedly bore the brunt and infamy of all the war wrongs committed from the Pandav side in form of the 2 curses he received after the war. Yet Sri Krishna ever gave preference to what was good for all even at the cost of His own good.

Little wonder that Bhishma and Karna found themselves in the wrong and losing side and Sri Krishna and Yudhishtir found them selves in the winning side.

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