Thursday, February 20, 2020

Living Bhagavad Gita 003: Arjuna Vishada Yoga

Short articles on the Bhagavad Gita for the busy, stressed working people of today. Discusses how to live the Gita in our daily life.
[Continued from Living Bhagavad Gita: 002]

Praise in the right place is praise; praise in the wrong place is an insult. Praise at the right time is praise; praise at the wrong time is an insult.      
In these opening verses of the Bhagavad Gita, Duryodhana addresses his guru Acharya Drona using the word dvijottama, a word that literally means the best of brahmanas and in common usage means a noble brahmana. Since Drona is neither the best of brahmanas nor a noble brahmana, this definitely is an insult, or at least sarcasm. Unless of course he is trying to flatter his guru, which the context shows he is not.
The definition of a brahmana handed down for thousands of years through the karna-parampara, the oral tradition, is: one who knows the Ultimate Reality, Brahman, or in other words someone who knows God: brahma janati iti brahmanah. By an extension of the definition, the term could also be used for one whose aim of life is knowing God and treads the path that leads to God realization by living a life of nivritti – of serenity, quietude, acceptance, forgiveness, patience and so on.
This is not the way Drona has been living his life, though the society in his days expected a brahmana to live such a life. Instead, he had chosen to be a teacher of the martial arts and is standing in the battlefield fully armed to fight a war and kill Duryodhana’s enemies. Though he is not the commander-in-chief of the Kaurava army yet, he would become that once Bhishma falls. That definitely is not being a noble brahmana.
The Buddha is just stating the traditional perception of who a brahmana is when he says in the Dhammapada:   
One who has laid down the rod
In dealing with beings, moving or still,
Who neither kills nor causes to kill,
Him I call a brahmin. [James Carter translation]
And again:
Whoever endures abuse, assault, and imprisonment
Without animosity,
And who has forbearance as one’s strength,
As one’s mighty army,
I call a brahmin. [Jack Kornfield translation]
Forget about being a dwijottama, Drona is hardly a dwija at all, unless you go by birth alone, though even then you are expected to live a certain lifestyle which Drona has given up a long time ago.  Some of the basic virtues by which a brahmana lives are lack of vengefulness, forgiveness, great self mastery, endurance and so on.
Consciously or unconsciously, Duryodhana is just adding another insult to the list of insults he heaps upon his guru in these opening verses. And by doing that, he is not promoting his cause in any way. The only way to understand his behavior is by assuming he has temporarily lost mastery over himself and his actions are not emerging from his conscious self but from his unconscious, as it happens with all of us in our moments of great fear or stress.
Duryodhana here demonstrates complete lack of emotional intelligence. He is not in touch with his own inner feelings and naturally has no mastery over these feelings. He has got into such situations numerous times in the past too, thus incurring the curse of rishis and the anger of his elders.
The Kuru prince has throughout his life been a slave to his emotions, something no leader can afford to become, either in earlier times or today. Atma jeyah sada rajna – one should always be a master of oneself, says the Mahabharata, discussing one of the first principles of leadership. And self mastery means mastery over one’s body, one’s senses and one’s mind. It includes mastery over the six enemies of man – kama, krodha, lobha, moha, mada and matsarya – lust, anger, greed, delusion, pride and intolerance..This is particularly true of a man in a leadership position, because he is responsible not only for himself but for others, sometimes tens of thousands of others, as in the case of an ancient king or the head of a modern corporate house, or the captain of a team of let’s say mountaineers, sportsmen, explorers, or whoever else.  One of the most striking examples of a sportsman losing mastery over himself and suffering great loss for himself, his team and his nation in modern times is that of the great Zinedine Zidane in the 2006 Football World Cup final in Berlin.
Why has Duryodhana lost mastery over himself? What could be the reason? Let’s look at his words to his guru Drona once again before we proceed further.
Among other things he tells the Acharya his own army is aparyapta and that of the Pandavas is paryapta. His words here are traditionally interpreted in two different ways. One, to mean his army is boundless and that of the Pandavas is limited. And two, just the opposite: his army is not sufficient to meet the challenge, and that of the Pandavas is adequate.
In my previous discussion [Living Bhagavad Gita: Short Essays 002], I had followed the first traditional interpretation of his words. Let’s now give his words the second meaning: that he feels his army is inadequate whereas that of the Pandavas is sufficient. Why does he say such a demoralizing thing when he and his people are standing in the battlefield ready to begin the war?
Well, Duryodhana has just counted the major warriors on both sides. While on the Pandava side he mentions several mighty warriors, he mentions only a few on his own side. Surprisingly he misses even such powerful warriors on his side as his brother Dusshasana, Bhurishava and Shalya, each one of whom is a truly mighty warrior, each capable of commanding large armies and causing great harm to the enemies. Shalya has in fact joined his side with an entire akshauhini of army and would eventually become the commander-in-chief of all Duryodhana’s forces after the death of Karna!
And he mentions Karna – who is not present on the spot to fight the war, has vowed not to enter the war field so long as Bhishma stands!
Has the presence of so many mighty warriors on the enemy side confused him? Has it made him doubt his chances of victory, lose his confidence?
A short while before the war was finally decided upon, Duryodhana was absolutely sure of his victory. When Krishna had gone to the Kuru assembly and negotiated peace, the language Duryodhana used throughout was the language of power. Every time Krshna would suggest a way to end the conflict and find peace, Duryodhana would ask: But who is more powerful, they or us? But all on a sudden, his sense of his own power, his army’s power, seems to have deserted him. What could be the reason?
Could it be that the sight of so many mighty maharathis on the Pandava side made him suspect his own power? It is possible that earlier Duryodhana had assumed that the Pandavas would not be able to procure the alliance of so many mighty warriors and such a huge army?
While I believe that is possible, there could be another important reason. Something related to his people’s commitment to him. 
Duryodhana has doubts about the commitment of his people to him and to his cause. In fact they have told him so openly several times in the past and he himself has accused them of being more sympathetic towards the Pandava cause than to his cause. This has lead to explosive scenes in the Kuru assembly numerous times in the past.
When he looks at the Pandava army, he sees people totally committed to one cause, all of them standing behind Yudhishthira as one. But on his own side he knows no one is really with him. No one, not totally. Except perhaps his brother Dusshasana, who was like his twin soul.
Let’s take a quick look at the important people on Duryodhana’s side, those he mentions and those he does not mention. The first person on his list is Acharya Drona himself. It is well known that Drona’s favourite disciple is Arjuna, loved so much by the Acharya that to make sure that he remains his best student he asks for the thumb of Ekalavya in gurudakshina, thus destroying Ekalavya as an archer forever and gaining for himself eternal notoriety as a guru. It is also equally clear that Drona has no love for Duryodhana. The acharya sees him as arrogant, impulsive, incompetent brat, a usurper of power.
It has been so from the beginning. In the crocodile test devised by him to check the devotion of his disciples, when a crocodile attacks Drona, it was Arjuna who saved him risking his own life while Duryodhana watched on helplessly. While Duryodhana failed to give the guru dakshina Drona wanted in the form of Drupada, captured, bound and brought to him, Duryodhana failed to do that and it was the Pandavas, led by Arjuna, who did it. Arjuna repeatedly proves his total devotion not only to his guru but also to learning, even defeating his guru in his cunning, unethical schemes to stop him from becoming his best disciple. Every teacher would love such a disciple.
Drona has repeatedly said that Duryodhana has neither any right over the Kuru crown nor the ethical requirements to wear it. The acharya certainly has no commitment to Duryodhana. Just before the war starts, as Yudhishthira comes to Drona seeking his blessings in the war and requesting him to join his side, Drona publicly announces he is on Duryodhana’s side only because of his financial indebtedness to him. Arthasya dasah – a slave to his wealth, that is how Drona describes himself then.
Kripa’s attitude in everything, including his commitment to Duryodhna, is the same as that of his brother-in-law Drona. Drona’s son Ashwatthama is close to Duryodhana as a friend, though he has frequently and bluntly questioned Duryodhana’s unethical ways.
It is too well known that Bhishma has no commitment to Duryodhana. Nor has Shalya, not mentioned here by Duryodhana, who is really Pandu’s wife Madri’s brother and thus an uncle of the Pandavas, who was waylaid and tricked to join the Kaurava side while he was on his way to join the Pandava side. His heart is with the Pandavas.
Vikarna, a younger brother of Duryodhana, is the only one who shows the courage to question what was being done in the Dice Hall to Draupadi, apart from Vidura. Though he fights for Duryodhana because they are brothers, his heart is not with him.
And Karna? His heart is definitely not with Duryodhana in this war, as he himself says openly to Krishna, because he considers Duryodhana ethically unfit to become king. When Krishna offers Karna the kingdom and asks him to join the Pandavas who are actually his brothers, Karna tells him he knows that and asks Krishna not to give him the kingdom because if it is given to him, out of his friendship with Duryodhana he would give it to him, and he does not deserve it, he is unfit to become king. True, Duryodhana counts on him heavily and perhaps believes he is with him fully, but he knows the fact that because of a quarrel with Bhishma, he would not be joining his side to fight the war so long as Bhishma stands. He may not know of the promise Karna has made to his mother not to kill any of her sons except Arjuana, but he certainly knows that Karna has put his own ego above Duryodhana’s interests by taking the decision to keep away from the war so long as Bhishma fights.             
Is there any wonder then if Duryodhana is shaken as he looks at both the sides as the war is about to start? He knows that wars are not won by skilled people, but by skilled people with commitment. A successful leader is he who is able to generate that commitment in people whether it is in the Mahabharata war, in any other war, or in a modern corporate house, a political party, an election, or whatever ‘battle’ it is. People contribute best to a cause when their heart in it.
Duryodhana knows he is a failure as a leader. His guide all his life has been Shakuni whereas the Pandavas have Krishna with them to give them strength and to show them their path. He also knows he does not have even the blessings of his own mother for this war in which she considers him on the side of adharma! She refuses to bless him as he goes to her seeking her blessings as he starts out.  As he bends and touches her feet, instead of the conventional vijayi bhava, be victorious, what she says is yato dharmah tato jayah – Victory will be where dharma is!  
Rather than asking Duryodhana to shut up, Bhishma in a tactically brilliant act blows his powerful conch to stop Duryodhana’s babbling and to announce the war.  He has openly criticized Duryodhana all his life but does not want to do that again at this juncture and in front of all these people!
tasya sanjanayan harsham kuruvriddhah pitaamahah
simhanaadam vinadyocchaih shankham dadhmau prataapavaan // BG 1.12 //
Then Bhishma, the aged Kuru grandfather, roared like a lion and blew a powerful blast on his conch making Duryodhana’s heart leap with joy.
Thank you in advance for your comments and questions!

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Living Bhagavad Gita: 002

Short articles on the Bhagavad Gita keeping in mind the busy, stressed working people of today

[Continued from Living Bhagavad Gita 001]

Responding to Dhritarashtra’s question, Sanjaya says:
Having seen the army of Pandavas drawn up in battle array, King Duryodhana then approached his teacher, Drona, and spoke these words:
“Behold, Oh Acharya, this mighty army of the sons of Pandu, arrayed by the son of Drupada, your disciple of great intelligence. 
“Here are the fearless mighty archers equal in battle to Bhima and Arjuna: Yuyudhana [Satyaki], Virata, the great chariot warrior Drupada, Dhrishtaketu, Chekitana, the valiant king of Kasi, Purujit, Kuntibhoja,  the great Shaibya, the heroic Yudhamanyu, the brave Uttamauja, Abhimanyu and the sons of Draupadi – all great warriors indeed.
“Now know, Oh Great Brahmana, the names of the leaders of my army, the most distinguished men on our side. Let me tell you their names for your information. Yourself, Bhishma, Karna, the war winner Kripa, Aswatthama, Vikarna, Jayadratha and Saumadatti. And then many other heroes too who have laid down their lives for me, all outstanding in warfare, all armed with all kinds of weapons.
Boundless is our army led by Bhishma, but their army under the protection of Bhima is limited. So in whatever formation the army is, all of you stand in your positions and make sure Bhishma is well protected.
Then Bhishma, the aged grandfather of the Kurus, roared like a lion and blew a booming blast on his conch, making Duryodhana’s heart leap with joy. Gita 1.3-12
The truly wicked do not abandon wickedness till the very end.
Along with Shakuni, Karna was with Duryodhana in all his dark deeds right from their childhood. The three of them together made numerous attempts on the life of the Pandavas even before they began their studies under Drona, says the Mahabharata. However, towards the end, sometime before the war, Karna’s transformation begins. He still fights on Duryodhana’s side, but his heart is not in his friend’s victory. In fact he says so when Krishna offers him the kingdom, asking him to join the Pandava side. He says openly to Krishna that Duryodhana is wicked and should not become king.
Seen in this light, his refusal to fight so long as Bhishma fights, his giving away of his armour and earrings that made him invincible and his promising his mother that he would not kill any of her sons other than Arjuna, all assume a different meaning. 
However, Duryodhana never gives up the path of wickedness until the very end. The epic says he was an incarnation of the Kali Age and perhaps that is the reason why he never abandons evil. Kali is evil.  
We see this darkness in Duryodhana’s heart right in the first words he speaks to his guru Drona in the Gita.
Behold, O Acharya, this mighty army of the sons of Pandu, arrayed by the son of Drupada, your disciple of great intelligence.
Every word he speaks here spits out vicious dark fumes of poison at his guru who is with him in the battlefield ready to lay down his life for his cause just out of gratitude for the Kuru wealth he has enjoyed for years and not because he believes in his cause. He has no faith in Duryodhana, no respect for his claims over the kingdom, no respect for him as a person, and does not consider him ethically fit to rule, still gratefulness compels him to fight on his side, as he says again and again openly. In spite of that, and perhaps partly also because of that, we see Duryodhana’s contempt for him in these words.
He does not forget to point out to Drona that the supreme commander of the Pandava army is his disciple and the knowledge and skills he is using against them are all taught by Drona himself. Not content with this, he also points out that he is the son of Drona’s arch enemy Drupada!
The placing of the words panduputraanaam and aacharya is interesting. Was it a Freudian slip that the two words could be read together thus making Duryodhana insult Drona further by calling him the acharya of his enemies?
One of the essential leadership qualities is to know when to speak and when to keep quiet, when to give advice and when to seek advice. Prattling reveals lack of confidence and reduces your credibility, respect and the ability to command as a leader. An able leader retains mastery over himself however difficult the circumstances are and holds back the tendency to babble and rattle. The war is about to begin and Duryodhana as the leader of the Kauravas, should have sought his acharya’s advice and guidance rather than telling him what to do, which is what he does in the nine verses he speaks in the Gita, all of which are said here. Besides, there is absolutely no need for him to tell Drona who the important warriors on his side are – that acharya knows every single one of them.
Speaking of great leadership, John Heider in his book The Tao of Leadership, which interprets for us people of today Dao De Jing, the ancient Chinese classic and the second most translated book in the world, says:
The wise leader speaks rarely and briefly. The leader teaches more through being than through doing. The quality of one’s silence conveys more than long speeches.
Be still. Follow your inner wisdom.
In order to know your inner wisdom, you have to be still. The leader who knows how to be still and feel deeply will be effective. But the leader who chatters and boasts and tries to impress the group has no centre and carries little weight.
By speaking when he should have kept quiet and allowed the acharya and others to speak, Duryodhana reveals his shallowness here. And by what he says, he reveals his meanness and wickedness.
What is the reason behind Duryodhana’s lack of confidence that makes him blather?   
Truth, integrity and uprightness give us strength and confidence. Guilt drains our confidence. Duryodhana is a swindler of power, a usurper. He knows he has no right over the Kuru throne. All of it belongs to Yudhisthira and he could have avoided the war if he was willing to give him just five villages, but he wouldn’t give them so much land as could be pierced by the tip of a needle. Deep in his heart he knows the warriors in the battlefield are all going to die for the sake of his ego, because of his power hunger. That guilt weighs down on him heavily. He tries to project confidence in his actions and speech, but his confidence is not real, it is only a put on. Just beneath his façade of confidence there is complete lack of confidence. All you have to do is scratch the surface and his lack of confidence becomes visible.
Duryodhana, in the words of the epic, is an incarnation of the age of kali when naked power hunger rules the world, as we can see around us every day. Our world believes that anything you do for power is justified. Our politicians earlier admitted secretly that there are no permanent enemies in politics, but today they openly and loudly proclaim it as their governing principle. 
Soon after the princes complete their education under Drona, Yudhishthira is crowned yuvaraja and he becomes famous as a competent ruler and his fame exceeds that of his father Pandu who was adored by his subjects. Dhritarashtra becomes jealous of his success and asks his minister Kanika to advice him how he can recapture power. Kanika gives a long lecture here on cunning, manipulative, asuri leadership and advises Dhritarashtra to practice it. It is as though Duryodhana did not have to learn such leadership but was a born master of it, for that is what he practiced all his life, right from his childhood, even before he became a student of Drona. And he knew all along what he was doing and that gave birth to guilt in him. There is a famous Sanskrit verse said by him, a verse whose textual source has been lost, which says: janami dharmam na cha me pravrittih, janami adharmam na cha me nivrittih; kenaapi devena hridisthitena yathaa niyukto’smi tathaa karomi - I know what dharma is but I am not driven to act according to that and I know what adharma is but I cannot keep away from it; I act as directed by some power that lives in my heart.
When you know what is right and do not act accordingly, when you know what is wrong and you still follow it all your life, there will be immense guilt in you. It is this burden of oppressive guilt that erodes Duryodhana’s confidence and makes him blabber on as he does here.
Duryodhana stands for the political philosophy Krishna fought to destroy all his life: power as an end in itself. He was told repeatedly by such elders as Bhishma and Drona and by his own mother and father that he had no right over the throne by birth and even if he had, he is not morally fir to become king. His father openly tells him in the Kuru court that he, Dhritarashtra, was never king and hence the kingdom cannot be his by inheritance.  
Poor interpersonal skills have always been one of Duryodhana’s many weaknesses because of which he made enemies throughout his life. He earns the curse of several sages and elders because of his arrogant ways of dealing with people. Though the Gita does not specifically say so but only indicates it, it is clear his words here ire and irk the revered acharya and creates confusion in the minds of other senior warriors on his side who could hear him, which is why Bhishma interferes at this juncture and blows his conch announcing the war, thus preventing him from continuing his senseless speech.
It is interesting that it is to his guru Drona that Duryodhana comes to speak, and not to his army’s supreme commander Bhishma, who is also his grand uncle, a member of the Kuru family, and the most senior warrior on his side. Bhishma is also perhaps the oldest man in the battlefield and the wisest man on the Kaurava side. His intention here is to stir up his guru, but what he actually accomplishes is to outrage the acharya, to insult him, disgrace him.
Duryodhana uses outrage and insult as a means of motivation repeatedly. All asuri leaders do so and Duryodhana is clearly an asuri leader. Such men like to humiliate and anger their people thus hoping to get the best out of them. Of course they also intend to demonstrate their power over their people. This is typical boss behaviour – something that a leader rarely does and a boss always does. This kind of motivation does work for a while, like whipped horses people give what they can out of their fear of insult and punishment – but it ultimately proves counterproductive because all of us resent wounds to our ego and would let down the leader and avenge the insult as soon as we get an opportunity.  Motivation through fear is the worst kind of motivation. It destroys relationships – and effective leadership is a relationship.
In his prattling, Duryodhana praises the enemy army and its warriors, which is tactically stupid at this stage. He says the strength of his own army is Bhishma. Even if this is the truth, saying so to Drona at this point is not the right thing to do from a motivational angle. For all we know, Drona is no less a warrior than Bhishma. What Duryodhana does here is to tell the acharya that he is not as important as Bhishma is, not as competent as Bhishma is. Demoralising a warrior like Drona at the beginning of the war and creating resentment in him is idiotic.
Krishna later in the Gita classifies people as daivi or asuri – daivi people are those who are rich in noble virtues and asuri people, in dark qualities.  Asuri people spread fear, distrust and resentment wherever they go, and that is what Duryodhana does all the time. Speaking of such people, Krishna says they are bound for hell. It is not only that they live in hell all the time, but also create hell for others.  
What Duryodhana does in the next few verses of the Gita is, apart from insulting the acharya, telling him what to do. Of course, Duryodhana has the right to do so since he is effectively the Kuru king and the acharya is working for him. Drona is an employee of the Kurus and Duryodhana is his de facto employer and as his de facto employer he has every right to tell him what to do.
But apart from being his employee, Drona is many other things too. He is Duryodhana’s guru, the greatest living teacher of the martial arts, and from all we know, knows the dhanurveda, including the war strategies it teaches, better than anyone else in the battlefield and you do not order about such people.      
Tom Peters is the author of the world’s first modern management best seller The Pursuit of Excellence. In his subsequent book A passion for Excellence, he talks of seven people truths, one of which is: “Listen to your people... Bosses don’t have all the answers.” This is a people truth Duryodhana forgets when he instructs Guru Drona what to do.
He also forgets another people truth that Tom Peters talks about: “People have egos and development needs…and they’ll commit themselves only to the extent that they can see ways of satisfying these needs.” Duryodhana’s words to Drona here crushes the achary’s self-respect by reducing his role in the war to that of someone second to Bhishma whose guard he should be throughout the war because if Bhishma falls, everything is lost. Drona is an ambitious person, had perhaps ambitions of becoming the commander-in-chief of the Kaurava army – later, after Bhishma’s fall, when he is given that position he celebrates it. It is that Drona who has been told what he should do in the war – protect Bhishma.
When you are guilt ridden, you lose confidence, become confused and say things you shouldn’t say and do things you should not do.   
Why does Duryodhana go to Drona here and not to Bhishma? Bhishma is not his employee and will not listen to him, instead will openly ask him to shut up unless he has something meaningful to say, whereas Drona is bound to listen to him, albeit unwillingly because even though he is Duryodhana’s teacher, but he is also his employee. And as his employer, Duryodhana can command him.
That is how the arrogant mind thinks. In India we worship our gurus, but once power goes to your head, the guru is no more a guru, the disciple is no more a disciple.  

Your comments and questions are most welcome!

Living Bhagavad Gita 001

dhritaraashtra uvaacha:
dharmakshetre kurukshetre samavetaa yuyutsavah
maamakaah paandavaashchaiva kimakurvata sanjaya BG 1.1
Dhritarashtra’s question to Sanjaya is what his children and the children of Pandu did as they stood ready to fight and kill one another in the dharmakshatra called Kurukshetra.
Well, the Mahabharata war could have been avoided if Duryodhana had been willing to give the Pandavas just five villages, but he refused even that and said he would not give so much land as could be pierced by the tip of a needle.
Gandhiji put it beautifully when he said there is enough in the world for everyone’s need but not enough for one single man’s greed. For Duryodhana his own kingdom that he had usurped from the Pandavas was not enough, he was greedy for the kingdom built up from scratches by them later too, over which he had no right.
The Mahabharata elsewhere contains a rare gem of a lecture by Dhritarashtra to Duryodhana in which the physically blind father advises his spiritually blind son the importance of following ethical ways, especially if you are a leader of men and organizations.
Greed is not good, whether it is in personal or professional life or in industry or business. Our world is filled with greed today, is driven by greed, because we have lost our moorings in spirituality. An American slogan that was very popular all over the world a while ago summarised it all: GREED IS GOOD!
The place where the Mahabharata war takes place is Kurukshetra, described by the Gita as dharmakshetra. For the Gita, Kurukshetra is dharmakshetra, the field where you can practice dharma, pursue spirituality. For practicing spirituality, you need not go to mountain tops, caves or monasteries. While there is no harm in occasionally retreating to these places, Krishna and the Gita are against retiring permanently from the world to practice spirituality.
There is an ancient Zen saying: “Small hermits conceal themselves in hills and thickets. Great hermits conceal themselves in palaces and towns.” Spirituality can be practiced in your workplaces, in the market, at home, wherever you are.
Arjuna wanted to run away from the battle field and live the life of a monk. Krishna’s response is to call him a eunuch for entertaining such thoughts and abandoning dharma – dharma as the common good should not be abandoned nor should Arjuna abandon his duty as the protector of dharma.
Dr Charalampos Mainemelis of London Business School has been engaged in research on time transcendence and ego transcendence and feels that for the modern man the ideal path to have these deep spiritual experiences is through work – dedicated, focused work that you enjoy.
It does not matter what you do, with a change in your mindset, your work as a corporate executive can become your spiritual practice, your work as a bureaucrat, as a teacher, as a mother, as a father, as a cook, driver, clerk, salesman, all can become your spiritual practice. To use some ancient examples, fetching water can become spirituality, chopping wood can become spirituality.
The Bhagavad Gita teaches us how to transform whatever we do into a spiritual practice. And when that happens, we no more run after the world restlessly driven by greed, jealousy and anger, as Duryodhana does all his life. Instead, our inner world becomes filled with serenity, contentment and bliss.
Kurukshetra becomes dharmakshetra when we stand and fight the battles of our life rather than run away from them.
The Mahabharata, of which the Bhagavad Gita is a tiny part, displays anti-monastic tendencies throughout, sometimes equating monasticism with escapism. We can see this right from the beginning.
Traditionally there are three ways of reading the epic, one of which begins with the story of Astika who stops Janamejaya’s snake sacrifice. Astika is the son of a Naga woman and an ascetic named Jaratkaru. One day while wandering through forests, Jaratkaru comes across a group of people precariously hanging upside down in a dry well. They tell him they are his ancestral spirits and would get gati, further progress in their journey, only if he married and produced offspring. They order him to go back and get married. Astika is the son later born to Jaratkaru.
The voluminous Mokshadharma Parva of the epic gives preference to spirituality while living family life. For instance, in one of the stories the ascetic Jajali is sent to the family man Tuladhara to learn from him true spirituality.
In the Bhagavad Gita when Arjuna later tells Krishna that he would prefer to live the life of a monk, begging for his food, rather than enjoy the kingdom stained by the blood of his people, Krishna asks him not to behave like a eunuch. Later Krishna says the man who does what he needs to do without being dependent on its results is a sannyasi and a yogi; and not the one who has given up all ritual activities and stays inactive.
Krishna rejects traditional sannyasa and monastic life, and instead teaches the sannyasa of attitude, jnana-sannyasa – being detached from results of actions while performing what one has to do with total commitment. To Krishna, not karma sannyasa but this detachment with complete commitment is true sannyasa.
Krishna also teaches total renunciation of the will and acceptance of whatever life brings, calling that true sannyasa. A revolutionary statement that Krishna makes in the Gita is na hi asannyasta-sankalpo yogee bhavati kashchana: without giving up sankalpas, one never becomes a sannyasi. So anyone who says I shall do this or I shall not do this is not a sannyasi or yogi according to Krishna; instead he who accepts whatever life brings to him and does what life demands of him at the moment is.
For Krishna the highest way of living is total commitment to one’s duties and responsibilities with complete detachment – anasakti. That is the reason why Krishna insists on Arjuna staying in the battlefield and doing what he has to do, however unpleasant it is.
In our professional life too we often have to do things we do not want to do. Krishna’s advice to us is to stay heroically where we are and do such things in the interest of the good of the world, rather than running away from them. Spirituality is not running away from responsibilities.
The Bhagavad Gita does not take any time to go to the heart of our misery to which Krishna gives us the solution. It indicates the problem in its very first verse.
Dhritarashtra’s question to Sanjaya is what his children and Pandu’s children did in the dharmakshetra Kurushreshtha. Mamakah – that is the word the blind king chooses to use. Or maybe, that is the word that comes out of his mouth on its own. Sometimes the most core issues facing us find expression in our words unawares.
Mamata is blind love for one’s people. And mamata is at the very heart of the problem of both the Mahabharata and the Gita. It is this that causes the Mahabharata war and it is also this that gives birth to the Gita. The epic ends with Vyasa’s statement that each one of us has had thousands of mothers and fathers and hundreds of sons and wives in the past. That we are sojourners in this world and our relationships with those we call our own is like that of logs meeting by chance in the vast ocean and parting again.
This is not to say that we should not love our people, or others for that matter. On the contrary, these short meetings are opportunities for us to give all our love to one another and not to waste them in anger, hatred, jealousy, vengeance and other asuri drives.
One of the most beautiful poems in the Sanskrit language is the deeply touching Matri Panchakam by Adi Shankaracharya in which he wails for his mother saying he could neither give her water nor chant the taraka mantra in her ears at the time of her death.
What is said is that we should not love our people blindly but with detachment, anasakti. They should be our strengths, not our weaknesses.
Dhritarashtra was blinded by his attachment to his son Duryodhana and because of that instead of correcting him when he started moving in evil directions, he either stood with him or turned a blind eye to it. His blind attachment makes him fail as a father and in the final analysis, it is this that causes the Mahabharata war that plunges our land into darkness for thousands of years.
As Kahlil Gibran said:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
This ability to love deeply without allowing our love to blind us is important for all of us. And it is much more so if you are a person responsible for many people, as Dhritarashtra was, as a modern leader is. Only with detached love can we be truly impartial and unbiased, and thus win the trust of all our people and be a leader in the full sense of the term.  Many a leader has been destroyed by favouritism arising from blind love.
Love without asakti should be our ideal.
Love with anasakti so that life does not become a Mahabharata tragedy for us. 

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Pandora and Sandhya: Woman as a Curse, Woman as a Blessing

The study analyses the story of the birth of the first woman in Greek mythology and contrasts it with the story of the birth of the first woman in Indian Puranas, revealing the Indian perception of woman in contrast to the Ancient Greek and Western perception of woman. In the ancient Greek perception, woman appears as a curse on mankind, born out of the anger of the gods and their need to punish man, all-negative except that she can be the mother of his children; whereas in Indian stories, she is born of the calm, serene mind of the creator in meditation and is an expression of the sacred creativity inherent in the divine: all-beautiful, with not one thing negative about her.     

Pandora is the first woman created according to ancient Greek myths and Sandhya, the first woman born according to ancient Indian myths. While there are a few similarities between the two, the contrasts between them are great. By comparing the stories of the first woman in these two cultures, we can arrive at how the two cultures perceived women – perceptions that influenced Indian and western attitudes towards women for millennnia and still continue to influence to some extent. True, one example from each culture is not enough for such a study, but then when it comes to the first woman, we cannot have many examples either.

Let’s begin with Pandora. There are variations in the story Greece tells us about her, as is true of all Greek stories, but according to Hesiod, one of the earliest Greek poets and Homer’s near contemporary, in whose work Theogony she first appears, Pandora’s story begins when the gods and human beings decide to have a sacrificial feast together at Mekone. Human beings until then were only male – anthrōpoi – there were no women, the first one was yet to be born, yet to be created. And these human beings lived in perfect harmony among themselves, perfect peace and perfect concord with gods and nature. Life was a symphony and man did not have to work – the earth yielded whatever he needed and more, without sweat and toil. There existed no old age, no disease, no suffering, no pain, and nothing unpleasant ever happened – as in the satya yuga of India!

Enter Prometheus, the titan who had immense love for men and wanted to do what is best for them. And when he heard about the feast, he slew an ox, as was common in ancient Greece, and divided the ox into two parts – one consisting of the most edible parts of the animal like its meat, muscles and fat and the other, just the bones. Prometheus is known for his cunning – he wrapped up the good parts and covered it with the innards of the ox, making it unappealing; and the bones he wrapped up and covered with fat, making it look appetizing.  He then offered the choice to Zeus – the god could choose for the gods whichever part he preferred. Zeus knew the cunning of Prometheus – generally considered a great asset by the ancient Greeks as by folk cultures all over the world. In spite of knowing the trap, he chose the wrapped up bones and as a punishment for the people for whose sake the titan wanted to cheat the gods, pronounced a curse on them: from then on, the earth would no more yield food on its own and men would have to sweat and toil to produce it. And even that yield would depend on the seasons, would be unpredictable and so on and so forth. He also decreed that in future, when a sacrifice is offered, gods would take the bones of the animal burnt at the altar – the smells carried upward by the smoke – and all the meat men can have for themselves. Still not content with what he had done, his fury at the cheating still not appeased, Zeus took away fire from the earth – men would no more be able to cook food, but would now have to eat it raw.

Titan Prometheus, with his cunning and his love for man, had an idea about this too. He wouldn’t allow Zeus to punish man so cruelly for what was essentially his mistake. So what he did was to hide a spark of fire in a reed and bring it to the earth. For which blessing, humanity called him their savior, the fire-bringer. They could now eat cooked food, work with metals, bake earthenware, do all kinds of things with fire and thus have civilization.  

That was again an act that would not go unpunished by Zeus – Prometheus was given, as a punishment for his transgression of trying to benefit man once again, the most awful punishment imaginable perhaps, a brutal torment that would have no end and would go on and on. He would be chained to a rock where a vulture would forever feed on his liver – the vulture would peck and pull out pieces of his liver and feed on it; and the liver would grow back overnight so that the vulture can feed on the immortal titan’s liver the next day again.

That was the punishment for Prometheus. But men whom he loved so much, for whose sake he did all this, wouldn’t be spared either. Their punishment would be worse than the earlier two: a new being would be sent into their midst, a new being called woman. And what would be woman’s job? To separate man from joy and happiness forever, to destroy his peace and serenity, to create discord among men, to drive them crazy – she would be the source of all their misery and yet they wouldn’t be able to live without her, for she promised them bliss, one look at her would fill them with intense pleasure; and also, she would be the mother of their children. An amazing creature that made them go dizzy, she would enter their homes, cunning, insidious, manipulative, treacherous, take over their hearts and make sure there was no peace there. She would create discord among them; would sow the seeds of jealousy, rivalry, disputes, conflict, dissonance, clashes, quarrels, discontent and greed. Her way would be seductive submissiveness. They wouldn’t be able to do without her, they would so pang for her that separation from her even for a moment would be hell for them. And with her in their homes and hearts – from where she would rule over them, dictate to them what to do and what not to do, play with them as though they were mere puppets, make them dance to her least wish and drive them insane, life would be hell again.

Zeus was not finished yet, so furious was he, he ordered the gods to bestow gifts upon her – all kinds of gifts: that is what Pandora means, pan meaning all, and dora meaning gift. These gifts were meant to punish man, turn the world evil, fill it with misery and agony and distance man forever from the gods and all that made life worth living. She would be beautiful beyond words, and for that reason men would crave her, and suffer endlessly for it. Man would no more be the simple man, but would be split into male and female, forever restless, forever seeking, forever crazy, forever driven to the unattainable, forever searching for the paradise lost.

The last gift given to Pandora as ordered by Zeus was from Hermes, the heavenly thief. He gave her his thieving nature, the desire to exploit others, to steal what belongs to others, to live like a parasite without producing any food on her own unlike men who sweated in the fields in the sun and the rain, and in heat and cold, to plough the earth and sow seeds to produce yield from the earth, while she stayed home.

Pandora brings with her all these “gifts” in a jar. Down on the earth she opens the lid of the jar and all the gifts given her by the gods to punish man escape and spread all over the world – all except hope, which sustains man in the middle of all the misery that life had become.

The vengeance of Zeus is complete now.

This then is the story of Pandora, the first woman created according to Greek mythology.


Let us now take a look at the story of Sandhya, the first woman born of the Creator, Brahma according to Indian myths. As in the case of the Greek myth of Pandora, there are several versions of Sandhya’s story – in fact much more so – but for our discussion we shall follow the detailed Kalika Purana narration. The story is told in the opening chapters of the purana.

Brahma, the Creator [different from Brahman the Ultimate Reality, pure existence-consciousness-bliss], first created the Prajapatis such as Daksha and then the ten mind-born sons such as Marichi, Angira etc. Following the birth of the mind-born sons, manasa-putras, as Brahma sat in deep meditation, from his mind was born a woman of amazing beauty named Sandhya, Twilight. She was endowed with every desirable quality, says the Kailka Purana: sampūrna-guṇa-śālini. There was no equal to her in the world of gods or anywhere else, and she was without equal in the past, present or future. Her hair was enticing blue-black and she had large blue eyes that reminded you of blue lotuses. Those eyes were timid like those of a doe, moving constantly, and her eyebrows reached out towards her ears. Her nose resembled a sesame flower and was so incredibly beautiful that it made one feel as though it was the beauty of her forehead melting and flowing down in such a wonderful shape. Her face reminded you of a golden lotus; and her rich, lush red lower lip, the ripe bimba gourd. Her two full breasts, thrusting upward as though they were trying to reach her lovely chin [pīnottuṅgau, chibukaṃ yātuṃ udyatau iva], her thin waist, broad hips, heavy thighs, lovely feet, all made her temptingly, irresistibly alluring.

But of course, Kama, the god of desire and love, was yet to be born. So while Brahma, the prajapatis and the manasaputras were all curious to know who she was and what her function in the process of creation would be, none of them lusted for her – at least not for now.

And then, all of a sudden, without any warning, as they sat musing about Sandhya, there emerged from the mind of the Creator yet another being of great beauty – this time a male, of the complexion of gold dust, with a wide chest, long dark-blue hair, dancing eyes, young, tall, chest as wide as a door plank, shoulders like those of a rogue elephant. The Kalika Purana here pauses to give us a description of the perfection of male beauty and unless we are familiar with Indian mythology, we expect him to be the match for Sandhya – the perfect male and the perfect female.

As the prajapatis and the mind-born sons of Brahma look on, their curiosity awakened, the new being, from whom wafts a heady fragrance, looks at Brahma, bows to him and asks him what his function is, what he should do – remember the creation of the universe has just begun and is still in the initial stages. He requests Brahma to assign to him any work befitting him. The Creator does not say anything for a while – he is himself taken aback by the majesty of the awesome things that are happening. Then, mastering himself, overcoming the awe he is feeling, he speaks to this male being, giving him a bow and five flower arrows, telling him to continue the process of creation with the help of his superb body and the five arrows, bewitching men and women. Brahma assures him that neither the gods, nor the gandharvas or kinnaras, nor the yakshas, nagas, rakshasas, pishachas, asuras, daityas, vidyadharas or human beings will be able to resist him. Nor will birds, beasts, worms, fish, insects or anything else that breathes.

Well, he adds by way of concluding, why to say more, neither I, nor Vishnu or Shiva will be beyond your capacity to influence. None shall be impervious to you! Sneak into the hearts of all, unseen and unknown to them, become the cause of their happiness and continue the eternal process of creation.
Brahma then blesses him: May the hearts of living beings always be the target of your arrows! May you be the giver of joy and delight to all that breathe!

This mind-born son of the Creator is given the name Manmatha, for his capacity to churn the minds of people, and Kama, because he is the most charming and beautiful of all. He is also given a couple of other names for similar reasons – Madana, Kandarpa, etc. He is again blessed: his flower arrows will be more powerful than the weapons of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. He is given omnipresence – the entire universe will be his abode, there will be no place where he has no entry and all will be subject to him – all, including plants, bushes and grass, right up to Brahmaloka, and no one anywhere shall be equal to him. He is told that the daughter of Daksha, Rati, shall be his wife.

It is now that the story takes a turn. Kama muses over all the powers and blessings he has received, picks up his bow Unmadana shaped like the eyebrow of a beautiful woman and his five flower arrows and decides something very daring: He would test his powers on Brahma himself along with the others present there. He stretches the bow fully until it forms almost a circle and places the arrows on it. A sweet, fragrant wind starts bowing and, as he lets go and the flowers hit Brahma, the prajapatis and the ten mind-born sons of brahma, every one of them becomes erotically enchanted. Unable to take their eyes away from Sandhya, they keep looking at her and as they do so, powerful desire for her arises in their minds and fills their bodies with sexual craving – they all lust for her deeply, the lust engendering sexual reactions in their bodies and making them perspire.

Kama doesn’t spare Sandhya either – she too is hit by his arrows. And as Brahma looks at her his mind and body filled with lust for her, from her body are born the forty-nine sentiments [bhāvas] as well as haughty indifference, tempting talk, cajolery, coquettish gestures and other hāvas. Also born of her are the sixty-four arts.

Sandhya too, pierced by the arrows of kama, starts exhibiting feminine behaviours under sexual desire – sidelong glances, smiles, giggles, shyness, embarrassment, light tremor of the body, restive eyes, and so on. With those gestures, Sandhya’s desirability multiples and she becomes enticing beyond words. In the words of the Kalika Purana, she becomes irresistibly charming like a heavenly river filled with fine, golden ripples.

As Brahma looks at Sandhya, herself a victim of Kama and filled with sexual longing, expressing that longing in her looks, gestures, stance and glances, expressing it through her entire body, her sexually awake body is covered by perspiration.

Seeing his effect on Brahma, the prajapatis and the manasaputras as well as on Sandhya, Kama concludes: Yes, I am capable of performing the job the Creator has allotted to me.

It is at this moment that Shiva appears in the skies above them and looking at them laughs at them ridiculing them. “Brahma,” he asks, “how come you get sexually excited seeing your own daughter? Certainly very inappropriate for someone who follows the Vedic way! One should treat one’s daughter-in-law exactly as one treats one’s mother; and one should treat one’s daughter exactly as he treats his daughter-in-law – this is the Vedic way of life, expressed in words that came out of your own mouth. How is it that just because of Kama you have forgotten all that? What holds the world up together is firmness of the mind – and you have lost that firmness because of something as insignificant as Kama. And how have the great ascetics who spend all their time in meditation fallen and started lusting for a woman?  How has some silly guy like Kama, who has just got his work allotted to him by you, who has no sense of the right time and the right place, made you victims of his arrow? Shame! Shame on you all!”

Hearing these words of Shiva, Brahma becomes doubly ashamed and his body becomes covered with perspiration again, this time out of embarrassment. He masters himself and holds himself back, though a moment ago, filled with lust, he was about to grab Sandhya in his arms.

From Bramha’s perspiration, says the Kalika Purana, are born the pitarah/pitrs – the manes. And from the perspiration of Daksha, who has a hard time controlling his sexual arousal, is born Rati, the goddess of sexual love and beauty, the slim wasted, slender, irresistible goddess of the golden hue, whom he gives to Kama as his wife.

To end the story, Brahma becomes infuriated with Kama for making him lust for his own daughter and curses him that he would be burned to ashes by Shiva. Later, when Kama explains he was just testing the powers Brahma had said he has, and begs forgiveness, the Creator forgives him and tells him that he will regain his body when Shiva takes a wife.


As far as the Kalika Purana is concerned, the story of Sandhya ends here. However, the Shiva Purana which tells exactly the same story of Sandhya, even using identical vocabulary, imageries and metaphors in its Rudra Samhita section, continues her story from here. The Purana tells us that after Shiva and Brahma leave the place, Sandhya muses over the incidents that have happened. Her own father was tempted by her, her brothers – the prajapatis and the mind-born sons of Brahma – too were tempted by her, shot by the arrows of Kama. Not only that, because of the arrows he had shot at her, she too had become erotically excited and had started behaving in sexually suggestive ways. True, Kama has reaped the fruits of his actions in the form of the curse he received from Brahma, but she too had committed the grave sin of lusting for her own father and her brothers. She decides to perform the expiatory rites prescribed by the Vedas for such a sin – ending one’s body by entering a sacrificial fire. She decides to do that, but before that she would do one thing for the good of the world. She had felt sexual feelings from the very moment of her birth – she was just born when all these things happened. Hence she would perform extreme penance so that no new born will have sexual feelings. Eroticism, sexuality, should come to all only on maturity. After achieving that goal, she would give up this body of hers that had tempted her father and brothers and in which she had felt sexual arousal for her father and brothers.

She realizes she is inspired to meditate and purify herself by the sight of Shiva that she had had as he appeared before them all. 

With these noble thoughts, Sandhya goes to the foot of the mountain Chandrabhaga in the Himalayas and prepares to meditate and do tapas there. Brahma sends his son Vasishtha to her so that he can instruct her in meditation and tapas, telling him that she considers the temptation she felt for them as her first death – the real death – and now she wants to make her death complete by abandoning her present body so that she can be reborn in a fresh, unstained body.  Brahma asks Vasishtha to assume a different body so that Sandhya would not embarrassed by his sight – she had sexually desired him earlier.

When Vasishtha sees her, Sandhya is sitting on the bank of the Himalayan lake Brihal-lolita, near Mt. Chandrabhaga. Seeing him, now appearing as an ascetic, Sandhya bows deeply to him and responding to his questions tells him she is Sandhya, she is blessed by his sight, and she has come there to perform tapas but does not know how to do it. Vasishtha asks her to meditate upon Shiva – focus her attention on him, worship him using a mantra he gives her. She does it for so long that her matter hair growing down from her head covers her entire body, leaving her face bare, making her look like a frost covered lotus in the words of Shiva Purana. When Shiva appears before her and offers her boons, she tells him her first boon would be that no one should have sexual feelings right from birth. She also requests that the man who would become her husband should be an intimate friend of hers and any man other than her husband who looks at her lustfully should become impotent. These boons are granted by a highly pleased Shiva who declares her free from all stains from her past. Eventually she burns her body in the sacrificial fire of Rishi Medhatithi and is reborn from it as Arundhati and marries Vasishtha.

Vasishtha and Arundhati have since then been the highest example for marital love and fidelity and the ideal couple in every imaginable way. A ritual that is still performed in Hindu marriages is called Arundhati darshana, seeing Arundhati: immediately after marriage, the newly married couple standing close to each other and holding hands takes a look at the early morning sky for a view of Arundhati, today seen as part of a constellation.

Thus Sandhya who begins as the embodiment of female splendour and is used by Kama to tempt her own father and brothers ends up as a symbol of not only beauty but also loyalty, unswerving fidelity, perfect love, total commitment and all other qualities that make married life worth living. She also enjoys the total love of her man – Vasishtha’s love for Arundhati is the most complete love a man can have for his woman. 

As we can easily see, the two women have hardly anything common between them except that they are both young and beautiful and the first women created. One is created in anger and in order to punish man, for what was no fault of man, the creator’s heart full of vengeance and fury, whereas the other is born of meditative calmness, serenity, joyfulness, the festive feeling that is the result of meditation. Sandhya is also self-born, not intentionally created; she just emerges from the Creator’s heart, as all highest creation does, in what is called the flow state, in what China calls wu-wei and India calls akarma, the state of effortless efficiency in action with no actor/doer being present, actions originating from the highest dimension of existence, as a manifestation of the creativity that is inherent in pure existence-consciousness-bliss. She is born of egolessness, from the state of self-transcendence that meditation takes us to, as all that is best in existence is, unlike Pandora who is a creation of Zeus’ wounded ego. Since bliss is the source of Sandhya’s origin, her essence is blissfulness, what India calls ananda. There is absolutely not one thing negative about Sandhya.

Whereas except that she is beautiful, desirable and can become the mother of his children – a huge thing indeed, of course – there is not one thing positive about Pandora. The way Greek mythology describes it, the joy she promises is a trap. Her true promise is what she is born to do to man – fill his heart and home with hatred and jealousy, with competitiveness and rivalry with others, with anger and jealousy, with lust, grief and sorrow,  with fear, anxiety, discontent, greed, envy, cruelty, rage and the hundred other negative emotions. She would make man hate man, make man kill man for her sake, would transform what was heaven into hell. Pan-dora, all-gift, is not a gift at all, but a pestilential curse.   

Sandhya excites men sexually, fills their hearts and body with lust, even forbidden lust, but that is not her fault. It is because of Kama, the god of desire, love, lust – because of the arrows Kama shoots at men. And she is as much a victim of Kama as the men are. And when she has excited men with incestuous desire for her, she feels guilty about it, feels repugnance for herself, and deciding to atone for it, sets out immediately on a journey to purify herself through meditation and penance. In an act of atonement for what she considers her sin – even though we can see she has committed no sin – she wants to abandon the very body which tempted them, in which she herself felt desire for them. She then takes another birth, this time as the very embodiment of chastity, loyalty, conjugal devotion and what Krishna in the Gita calls dharma-aviruddha kāma, desire that does not go against dharma, righteousness, the common good.

She does another amazing thing. Before abandoning the body in which she feels she has sinned and done something repugnant, as the Shiva Purana which continues her story tells us, she would spend years praying to God, meditating upon Shiva, and when he appears, ask him as her first boon: that no newborn would feel the sexual urge, sexuality would awaken only years later, when the child has grown up.

I want to add one more thing here, a beautiful thing that her story tells us: the way to self-mastery, to mastery over unbridled sexuality as well as over everything else, is consciousness, what the western world today calls mindfulness. In fact that is the only path to self-mastery, which all of us need everywhere, at all times, the absence of which leads us to excesses and to horrible crimes, news about which the media fills us every morning as we sit down to watch the news on TV. Shiva in Indian culture stands for consciousness, awakened consciousness, pure consciousness – the chit/chid of sat-chid-ananda. It is his sight that awakens Brahma, the prajapatis and the mind-born sons of brahma from the darkness of blind lust. Again, it is his sight that awakens Sandhya. The antidote for Kama’s arrows is Shiva, consciousness, conscious living, awakened living, mindful living. The Shiva Sutra, a brilliant Kashmiri Sanskrit text tells: triṣu chaturthaṃ  tailavad āsechyaṃ, a sutra that asks us to bring in the fourth state, consciousness, into our other states – waking, dream, and sleep. This is the highest spiritual path and the only way worth living, and that is what Sandhya teaches us through her own practice.    

To conclude, Pandora is woman as a punishment to man, as a curse, created in anger, to destroy, whereas Sandhya is a result of meditativeness, an expression of God’s creativity, divine creativity, sacred creativeness, a manifestation of creative sacredness in female form. She is an expression of the beauty that is within God – sundaram – finding expression in feminine form. She performs tapas so that no one becomes a victim to the enormous powers of kama as she had become, so that kama will have power over us not until we are grown up and matured enough to understand and handle it. That is her parting blessing to the world before she ends her body which she feels has been polluted and is reborn as Arundhati. It is interesting to note that she does not curse kama, does not say no to sex, which would be the denial of life itself, denial of the flowering of new life, denial of one of the greatest joys of life, but only delays it until maturity.  

These two stories about the first woman speak of two completely different perceptions of woman: India speaks of her as irresistibly beautiful and essentially sacred, a blessing upon mankind. Whereas for ancient Greece she was a curse, a punishment, someone who sows the seeds of hell on earth.


Saturday, June 30, 2018

Araja: When a Girl Is Raped

Women’s safety is a major issue across the world today. India has become notorious as one of the most unsafe places for women. Our print and electronic media are filled with news of rape and other forms of violence against woman, at least some of which shake the very conscience of the nation. We wake up every morning to hear reports of very young children being subjected to sexual atrocities. In such times, this story of a young girl raped brutally and destroyed by a power-intoxicated man and the consequences of that dastardly act that ancient India tells us can perhaps function as a warning to all of us.
The story is of Araja.
Araja could be her name. It could also be a description of what, or how old, she was. The word arajaa means one without impurity – from the word rajas, meaning impurity. Rajas could also mean many other things, including a woman’s monthly period, which would make the word Araja mean a girl who has not yet reached puberty. A prepubescent girl.
She was the older daughter of Shukracharya, the elder sister of Devayani famous in stories that relate her to Brihaspati’s son Kacha, to the asura emperor Vrishaparva’s daughter Sharmishtha and to Emperor Yayati. When the story happened, Devayani could have been just a child, or maybe she was not yet born.
On that day young Araja was all alone in the forest close to her father’s ashram. The spring had touched the forest a couple of weeks ago and its magic had transformed every tree. The wild mango trees seemed to be dancing in the wind that was pregnant with the fragrance of champaka flowers. Both the bakula and karnikara trees filled the not very dence forest with their intoxicating scents.
Araja loved the palasha groves and bamboo thickets where she sometimes spent hours. On the bank of the small stream that flowed singing a song that only the birds and wild animals understood, there were several thickets of ketaki bushes, their stems full of thorns, the trees avoided by all because of the snakes that abounded in the thickets when the divine fragrance that emanated from their golden leaves could be smelt half a mile away and drew people irresistibly to them. Here and there stood a bilva and peepal from which it was Araja’s proud job to collect leaves for the sacred rituals her father seemed to be always practicing. A young peacock followed the adolescent girl wherever she went, every now and then pausing in its walk, raising its head high and sending its long call to the heart of the forest – the peacock lived in the ashram, along with several deer and numerous other animals.
Young Araja was lost in the sweetness of the call of a cuckoo perched on a jambu tree when she was suddenly awakened by the awareness of someone close to her – a stranger.
The man was tall and handsome, powerfully built, very obviously a royal personage if not a king. His eyes were on her – and she realized, less on her face and eyes and more on her hips that had recently started spreading out under her clothes, her naked thin waist and on her chest that had just started budding. Araja pulled her clothes more tightly to her, which only seemed to interest the man more – a smile suddenly started spreading across his face.
He asked her who she was and why she was wandering alone in the forest.When she told him she was the daughter of Shukracharya, the place was safe because it is not too far from her father’s ashram, and she was collecting sacred leaves and flowers for his worship, his eyes glowed. With his smile broadening further, he told her Shukra was his royal priest. “I give him profuse dakshina and it is on that dakshina that the acharya lives.”
Araja stared at him, not liking his tone. She did not like anyone slighting her father. Her father was no ordinary priest – he was the chief priest of the asuras and even the gods feared him. As for the dakshina, her father’s powers were such that if he wanted he could command the god of wealth himself to give him as much of it as he wanted.
“I am King Dandaka, youngest son of Emperor Ikshwaku, grandson of Manu, great grandson of the first king on earth, Vivaswan, and all that is in this vast land south of the Vindhyas belongs to me. And that includes all the people who live here too.” He paused for a moment and added with a smile, “So, little girl, you are standing on my land this very moment and you belong to me too!”
Araja did not say anything. She did not feel like talking to such an arrogant man. She had met many kings in the past, they came to her father’s ashram every now and then, in their powerful chariots, but they were always humble, particularly around the ashram and before her father. They invariably stopped the chariot some distance away and alighting, came walking, usually barefoot, to her father, Most of them dared not even sit in his presence even when he insisted and almost all of them touched her father’s feet with their crowned heads, calling him their guru.
“You are very beautiful,” said King Danda. “My royal apartments are full of pretty women but I do not think anyone of them has the beauty you have – at least not as much as you would soon have, once your body blossoms fully. You are only a bud now, but I love buds more than flowers.”
The king stood appraising her with his eyes.
“I love you, pretty girl. Watching you, I am not able to control my desire for you. It is as though if I do not have you, I would explode.How about becoming my queen? I have hundreds of them in my inner apartments. The king has an exclusive right over all that is best within the kingdom. So that is where a precious jewel like you belong.”
The king spread out his arms and invited the confused little girl into them. She stood unmoving and then he started taking steps closer to her.
Araja started shivering in dread. “Don’t you do anything to me, rajan,” she said. “I am your guruputri and like a sister to you.”
His steps only became steadier as he laughed aloud at her words, his mirth spreading them in the wind.
“Let me make you mine,” said Danda. “Now. This very moment! You fill me with such desire.”
“If you need me you must ask my father,” said Araja. “I belong to him, and to anyone he gives me to. If your intentions are good, wait, the ashram is close by, ask him. But if your intentions are not good, remember, my father is the guru of all the asuras and before his awesome power, the world of the devas and asuras and the whole earth trembles. Don’t do anything foolish, I beg you, rajan. Touching me without my father’s permission will destroy you. Just because you are the king of this land, don’t think you can do anything. He can reduce you to ashes in a split second with his ascetic power.”
Her voice rose in the urgency and despair of her speech and became almost a yell. A strange dread that she had never known before possessed her. She wanted to scream and yet no sound came out of her mouth. She wanted to turn around and run, but her limbs would not move. All on a sudden, it was as though it was all a nightmare, she was in a nightmare, the surroundings of the ashram were part of some unspeakable horror she was experiencing in a horrid sleep . How else could something as horrible as this be happening to her – that too so close to her father’s ashram where all her life she had known no fear, where even dreaded animals became peaceful because of the spiritual power of her father, where every tree and bush was her friend?
She fought desperately with her dread and with a tremendous effort of will pulled her body out of the stupefaction in which it was frozen and turned around and ran. It was then that Danda caught her by her hair and pulled her to him. She pushed him away with all her might, but the little girl was no match to the raw male power of the mighty king in his mature age.
Her fight intoxicated him. Fresh energy shot through all his limbs and he held her tightly to him by one hand, still clutching her hair by the other hand.As she pushed at him with all her little strength, he slapped her hard on her cheek, releasing her hair at the same time, the blow sending her to the ground.
The next moment he was on her, pulling her clothes away from her, kissing her lips, kissing all over her face, kissing her shoulders, kissing the buds of her breasts in the frenzy of his lust that had suddenly grown insane. A violent scream that rushed out of her could barely leave her as he, now lying on top of her, smothered it with his left hand, while spreading her legs with his right hand. She tried to clutch her legs together, but he was already between them and thrusting violently.
A blood curdling scream arose from the depths of her being as he held her pressed down to the ground and tore into her, violating her brutally.
The forest stood still. The birds and animals had stopped breathing. The trees no more danced in the wind. Even the nearby stream seemed to have ceased to flow.
Then the peacock raised its head and cried violently. The monkeys perched on trees nearby started screeching. An owl, woken up from his sleep, hooted ominously, his deep voice booming. Form the distance came peals of laughter – hyenas.
And the next moment the whole jungle exploded with a thousand angry, fierce sounds. Elephants trumpeted furiously. The roar of a lion filled the forest. The stream rushed forward with violence in its movements. A hundred sleeping owls suddenly woke up and filled the jungle with their blood curdling hoots. A hundred peacocks raised their head and opening their beaks wide, began to cry without stopping. The vultures perched on a dry tree screeched, and spreading their wings took off into the air, their shadows falling over the king and the young girl. A dark-furred giant bear stood on its back legs, a shocked expression in his eyes, and watched, his mouth open.
The whole forest was shocked and protested in ferocious anger. Everything that was sacred in the jungle was shorn into shreds. Like a violent whirlpool, the jungle was at once restless and still.
The girl kept screaming.
And then King Danda was finished with the tender body of the young girl, his lust satiated for the moment. He let go of it, discarded it, fouled and bloody, like the leftover meat that a lion abandons and walks away because he has had his fill.
The jungle had grown silent again. Not a sound anywhere.
In the middle of that silence, the young girl tried to get up and sit down but failed collapsed on the ground. It was as though her body no more belonged to her. And perhaps it did not – she no more felt any ownership towards it. It was no more her body. It was a body that used to be hers, a body that had belonged to her all her short life until now, but no more. She felt totally alienated from it, wanted it no more, it had become a repulsive thing for her, abhorrent, she wanted to get away from it, discard it right there in the middle of the jungle and walk away, which of course she could not. She did not want to carry it into the sacred ashram that was her home, at least used to be her home. She felt polluted and felt if she entered the ashram she would pollute it too. For she was a disgusting, repulsive thing now, gross and sickening, loathsome.  
It was a group of young disciples of the Acharya who had come there running that found her there, and from the words that she wrenched out of herself learnt what had happened. “King Danda…. King Danda…King Danda… He…He…Me… Me…”
Her eyes were on her blood-soaked clothes that remained stuck to her thighs.
Shukracharya’s body shook violently when he heard the words of his young disciples. His eyes spat fire. He ran to where his young daughter lay, hardly in touch with the world, her lips whimpering words that no one could make out, her eyes unseeing. Her body convulsed every now and then, becoming taught like a bow stringed and pulled, and then, after the convulsion, totally spent, without any energy, more dead than alive.
The only man in the world whom even the mighty gods dreaded stood in helpless fury as he watched his young daughter lying bathed in blood. He had failed. He was supposed to be the protector of the asuras, those men of boundless power who ruled much of the earth, at one time the whole earth, and he had failed to protect his own daughter! Shukra who wielded power beyond imagination, who could bring the dead back to life, who could change young men into old ones and give eternal youth to whom he wanted, who could command the earth and the heavens, storms and rains, at whose command mountains moved and oceans dried up – there was nothing he could do for his own daughter, the little girl whom he loved more dearly than his own life.
Time couldn’t be turned back.
The earth under his feet was scorched by the fire of anger in him. Each teardrop that fell from his eyes became fire as it touched the earth and rose up in flames. He wanted to destroy the whole earth.
Using the years of tapas he had practiced, using his superhuman powers, Shukracharya mastered himself. No, he will not destroy the earth. For the sin of one person, he will not destroy the whole vast earth, the mother of all beings. But he would destroy the king, destroy his land. All that is on that land would perish. It is the law, the eternal law. When a king commits sin, the whole kingdom is destroyed. Just as one part of everything, good and bad, that the subjects do goes to the king, the subjects too pay for the kings sins. The part of the earth of which he is the master too suffers with him and his people for his sins.
King Danda was doomed. His kingdom and all its people were doomed for the sin he had committed. And the very land shall pay the price.
“I, Kavi Ushana, Acharya Shukra, the guru of the asuras, curse you, rajan, on the strength of the life of tapas that I have lived all my life,” said the great ascetic, the maha-yogi, filling his palm with water from his kamandalu, “Know that for the next seven days fierce winds will blow through your entire land. Burning winds shall blow for seven days without relief, raising duststorms across your kingdom. Trees will be uprooted, mountains will split open, rivers will dry up, the earth will crack open, opening up deep ravines everywhere. No tree will remain in its place, not a mountain, not a river, not a lake, nothing. No living being within the kingdom, be it human, animal, bird or whatever, shall be spared. Everything will be choked to death by the wind and the dust it raises. There will be no air to breathe for any living being. The dust storm will blow nonstop for seven days, at the end of which dust will settle on everything. The entire kingdom will be buried in dust for ages, nothing living shall breathe in your kingdom. Nothing will grow – no trees, no bushes, not even grass.  Yours will be the kind of land the earth has not known in the past. For ages it will lie choked by dust. Nothing will walk or crawl upon it. Even birds will dread to fly over it. There will be not a drop of water to drink for anyone, no air to breathe, the earth shall scorch, scorching the dust above it. And when your kingdom comes back after ages, it will be known as the Dandaka forest, where daylight will dread to enter. Filled with monstrous trees and animals, with marshes and creatures of the marsh, man will avoid it by miles.”
And that is how it was. That is what passed.
All over Danda’s vast land, hell fire rose up from the earth. First the grass and plants and then the tress and vines caught fire and burnt to ashes. All the rivers and lakes and ponds began drying up, killing everything in them. The mountains shook and crumbled. Dust rose up from the scorched earth. Fierce dust storms began howling through the kingdom, moving at speeds no one had ever known, a hundred miles an hour, two hundred miles an hour, three hundred miles an hour. People couldn’t see anything because of the dust, couldn’t breathe because all they could breathe in was dust that choked them with every breath. People took shelter inside their homes, but soon the houses crumbled, killing them with it. Birds and beasts and all that crawled on the ground perished as did all life in water.
Seven days of pure hell! An unending eternity of hell!  By the end of which a vast land that was filled with magnificent cities, luxurious homes and rich palaces had been wiped out for ever and ever. The lush vegetation of the kingdom of Danda, its thick forests, farms, gardens, rivers, lakes, were all a thing of the past. All that remained was a kingdom of dust, an endless desert of dust, with no life in it.
The kingdom of Danda no more existed.
A woman raped by the man whose duty it was to protect her, and a kingdom wiped out from the face of the earth.
Centuries passed and slowly life, irrepressible life, began claiming the land back once again. Grass sprouted here and there, then small plants and trees, then insects, birds and beasts… Slowly life came back after long ages and the land began to be occupied again. By rakshasas. And then by a few ascetics here and there who mostly ended up as food for the rakshasas.
This is the Dandakaranya of the Ramayana fame – into which Rama was exiled for fourteen years by his angry stepmother Kaikeyi.
To me here, in this story, Shukracharya is not just the father of Araja and a great ascetic but the very hand of the power that controls the universe and rightly rewards us for our actions, good and bad – call it niyati, call it dharma, call it destiny, call it God.  

Living Bhagavad Gita 003: Arjuna Vishada Yoga

Short articles on the Bhagavad Gita for the busy, stressed working people of today. Discusses how to live the Gita in our daily life....