Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Copenhagen Summit and the Mahabharata


There is a beautiful story we all know from the Mahabharata. It is in the Udyoga Parva of the epic.

The Mahabharata war is about to begin. Both the Kauravas and the Pandavas are seeking allies and troops. Both Arjuna and Duryodhana reach Dwaraka seeking Krishna’s help. It so happens that both of them reach Dwaraka on the same day. Duryodhana is the first to enter the chamber where Krishna is asleep. He chooses for himself a fine seat at the head of the bed. Soon Arjuna too enters the chamber. Seeing Krishna asleep, he stands at the foot of the bed, bowing to him, his hands joined in prayer.

When Krishna wakes up from his sleep, it is Arjuna who is at the foot of the bed that he sees first. He greets him and then seeing Druyodhana, greets him too. Krishna enquires about the purpose of their visit.

Duryodhana is the first to speak. He tells Krishna that since Krishna is equally friendly with both him and Arjuna and have the same relationship with both of them, Krishna should be guided by who came first seeking his help and since it was he, Druyodhana who came first, Krishna should help him in the impending war.

Krishna replies that though it is no doubt Duryodhana who came first, it is Arjuna that he saw first. So he is going to offer his help to both of them.

The Narayana Sena, his huge army, each soldier of which rivals him in strength and is capable of fighting in the thick of the battle, would fight for one of them. And he himself would join the other side, but with the condition that he would not fight on the field.

He then says he is going to give the choice to Arjuna, saying that not only did he see Arjuna first, but Arjuna is the younger of the two and the younger one always gets preference.

Arjuna’s mind is clear. There are no conflicts in his mind about which of the two he is going to choose. His trust in Krishna is so total and complete that he would choose him against the whole world.

There are no doubts in Duryodhana’s mind either about which of the two he wants. He has no trust in Krishna. Nor does he love Krishna as dearly as Arjuna does, or hold him in the same awe and reverence in which Arjuna holds him. Besides, Krishna is not going to wield weapons and fight in the battle. He knows what Krishna would at best be to him: a burden. He wants the Narayana Sena.

And he is afraid that Arjuna might choose the Sena. Any sensible man would choose the Narayana Sena. Only a fool would choose Krishna.

Perspiration breaks up all over Duryodhana. If only he had stood at the foot of the bed, instead of seating himself at the head of the bed! Or if only he had come a day earlier – at least an hour or two earlier!

Every fibre in Duryodhana’s body desires Arjuna should choose Krishna. That is the only way now that he, Duryodhana, can get the all important Narayana Sena. Krishna’s army is a force of veterans that has fought and won battle after battle under Krishna. If he gets the Sena for himself, the war is his.

Duryodhana closes his eyes in a silent prayer to all the gods he knows: Make Arjuna choose Krishna.

And he cannot believe his ears when he hears Arjuna say: “I choose you, Krishna.”

Such was Duryodhana’s relief that he collapses in his seat.

Krishna now turns to Duryodhana with a smile on his face. “The Narayana Sena is yours now,” he tells him.

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One of the most mysterious truths about the world is that all our prayers are answered here, all our desires are fulfilled here. Such is the nature of this world, which is made more of mindstuff than of physical matter. Thought is the most powerful force in the world. It controls everything and begets realities in the outside world.

It is for this reason that the wise have said: desire wisely. Desire wisely for your desires are going to be turned into realities.

In our ancient stories we read about the Asuras. An Asura does tapas to acquire power and the Lord appears before him. When the Asura asks for power – in whatever form it is – the Lord says: Tathastu, may it be so! When Ravana asks for power over the three worlds, Shiva says, “Tathastu!” When Bhasmasura asks that anyone he touches on the head with his hand should be turned into ashes, Shiva says, “Tathastu!”

Such is the power of the human mind that every desire of ours is fulfilled.

If Duryodhana wishes for Narayana Sena, he gets it. And if Arjuna wishes for Krishna, he gets it.

In my own personal life, I have noticed this repeatedly: every desire eventually is fulfilled.

And I have learnt to fear the power of desire. For even negative desires are fulfilled.

Indian scriptures have extolled the virtue of desirelessness. There are many ways of understanding desirelessness. One of the ways in which I understand it is to surrender all your desires and accept what life brings. And I have observed that what life brings is better than what you would have desired – better than what you would have got if it had been your desire that is fulfilled.

Allow things to happen rather than trying to make things happen. When you try to make things happen, they will happen. But what happens without your trying to make it happen is always better than what happens when you try to make things happen.

Osho puts this beautifully when he says: be the essential man, do not be the accidental man.

The essential man for Osho is the one who allows things to happen, knowing that that way the best will happen. The accidental man is the one who struggles for things to happen the way he wants them to happen.

The essential man swims with the current. The accidental man swims against the current. The essential man can let go and float with the current. The accidental man fights the current.

Durydohana is the accidental man. Arjuna the essential man.

The essential man is not a non-doer. He is a doer, as Arjuna is a doer. But he acts in harmony with the current – the current that ancient India called Ritam, the cosmic flow. And the accidental man acts against this Ritam.

Swimming with the current is the Tao, to use a Chinese term. Swimming against the current, living against the Tao.

The successes of the accidental man are temporary successes. But eventually he fails.

The Duryodhanas of the world can at best have immediate good – preyas; Shreyas evades them: lasting good is not for them.

Shreyas is for those who act in harmony with the world. In harmony with the Tao.

The philosophy of the west is the philosophy of preyas. The philosophy of the east, that of the shreyas.

For the last three hundred years or so, inspired by the philosophy of the west, we have been working for preyas forgetting shreyas. The result is what called for the just completed Copenhagen Summit. Three hundred years of preyas and the world is facing the threat of extinction!

This is akin to what happened in the wild west of America when the Europeans first reached there. Native Americans and the buffalo have been living in harmony there for countless ages. The natives have always been hunting the buffalo and living on them, without causing any harm to the species. And in a less than a hundred hears, the white hunters brought the buffalo population in America to the brink of extinction!

The forests of the world, our mineral and oil resources, are disappearing at an alarming rate.

Remember the film they recently showed on HBO: The Eleventh Hour.

I recently saw a powerful documentary called Gaanv Chodbo Nahin. The documentary is inspired by the feelings of the tribals of Chhota Nagpur and other areas against what is being done to their land. A question one of the tribals asks remained in my mind long after the documentary was over: “Were our forefathers fools that they worshipped this land?”

Were our ancestors fools when they tried to live in harmony with the world, rather exploit it? Were our ancestors fools when they worshipped our trees and lived in harmony with them, rather than exploit them? Were our ancestors fools when they worshipped our mountains and lived in harmony with them, rather than exploit them?

In the Bhagavata, Krishna asks the cowherds of Brindavan to worship Mt Govardhan rather than offer prayers to Indra. While still a child, he leads his people in a revolt against the worship of Indra. In the symbolism of India, Indra has always stood for the mind, the lord of the senses: indriyanam raja indrah. Worshipping Indra is worshipping the senses and the mind and that is what leads to the destruction of the earth through man’s insatiable greed.

We need Krishna once again now: to lead us against the worship of Indra and teach us to worship our mountains and rivers, our forests and animals.

We need once again to learn to desire wisely.

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