Sunday, February 14, 2016

Karnayana: Sooryaputra’s Journey from Darkness to Light - 2


Karna Pledges Eternal Friendship to Duryodhana

The Adi Parva of the Mahabharata does not tell us anything about what happened to Karna in the years between the Pramanakoti and other childhood incidents and his appearance in the arena years later. But from the Shanti Parva of the epic we get a clear picture of the events of these crucial years in the life of this main pillar of Duryodhana’s evil strength, fear of whose competence would later make someone like Krishna lose sleep for three months immediately prior to the war. Krishna would find relief only when Karna is forced to use against Ghatotkacha the shakti Vaijayanti he had received from Indra that he had kept reserved for use against Arjuna. And such is Krishna’s relief at Vaijayanti being spent on Ghatotkacha instead of Arjuna that at the death of Bhima’s son Krishna jumps up on the floor of the chariot he was driving and dance, shouting and hooting for joy and gathering in his arms his friend Arjuna and slapping his back again and again to express his joy, confusing everyone in the war field, the Pandavas more than anyone else. 

Answering a question from Yudhishthira in the opening chapters of the Shanti Parva, after the war has ended, Sage Narada tells him about Karna’s early years in great detail. By then of course Yudhishthira has learnt that Karna was the eldest son of Kunti and hence his elder brother, whom according to Indian culture he should have treated like his own father.

To quote from the epic, Narada tells Yudhishtiira: “Endued with great energy, that child [Karna abandoned by Kunti at birth] came to have the status of a Suta. He subsequently acquired the science of weapons from the preceptor (Drona), that foremost descendant of Angirasa's race... Beholding that Dhananjaya was superior to everyone in the science of weapons, Karna one day approached Drona in private and said these words unto him, 'I desire to be acquainted with the Brahma weapon [brahmastra], with all its mantras and the power of withdrawing it, for I desire to fight Arjuna. Without doubt, the affection you bear to every one of your pupils is equal to what you bear to your own son. I pray that all the masters of the science of weapons may, through thy grace, regard me as one accomplished in weapons!”

So Karna’s rivalry with Arjuna was there even when both of them were Drona’s students in his gurukula.

Drona however refuses to give brahmastra to Karna – the epic gives two reasons: because of Drona’s partiality for Arjuna and because he knew Karna was wicked. Drona tells him that only one who lives fully the brahmana way of life, i.e. practicing self-mastery, non-violence, peace, love for all and so on, or  a kshatriya who has practiced austere penances, is qualified for acquiring the brahmastra and no one else. When Drona refuses the brahmastra to him, Karna prostrates before him and with his permission goes to Parashurama who was at that time living on the Mahendra Mountains. 

When Karna later enters the arena, looking the most majestic of all the people present there, glorious beyond words, who is described by the epic as glowing like the sun, the moon and fire, who is compared by the narrator of the story to a royal palm tree, tamala, Karna slightly bows to Kripa and Drona. It is the ritual bow to men for whom he is bound to show some respect because they are gurus and were his own gurus, but for whom he has no great respect because they had denied him the higher knowledge he had asked for. He announces loudly that he can do all that Arjuna did and do them all better than Arjuna. And in the next few minutes he proves he really can, making the entire audience in the arena divided into two groups – one supporting him and the other, Arjuna. 

He then calls Arjuna to a one to one combat. It is then that Kripa gets up asks for his identity, saying that only a prince can fight with another prince, which was the rule in those days. The question is asked with full knowledge of who Karna is. Duryodhana takes Karna’s side and gives an inspiring speech there, telling that in the case of great heroes birth should not be looked into, as in the case of great sages and rivers. As for his not being royalty, that is something that can be rectified instantly, he says – and right there, in the presence of the excited multitude, Duryodhana crowns Karna king of Anga, a small kingdom that personally belonged to him.

Karna is so moved by this act of Duryodhana that on the spot in the presence of the entire assembly he promises him lifelong friendship.

But in spite of his childhood friendship with Duryodhana and his being a part of his evil plans, Karna is essentially a man of high ethical values and great nobility. In the rest of this study we shall take a close look at the long journey of this friendship between a ruthlessly ambitious man willing to sacrifice all ethics at the altar of his ambition and another man for whom principles are the highest thing – one of those principles being his loyalty to his wicked friend. We shall also see the depths of evil Karna travels to with his friend and how the essential nobility of the man finally pulls him out of evil.  

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Karnayana: Sooryaputra’s Journey from Darkness to Light

The Mahabharata describes several close friendships: the friendship between Krishna and Arjuna, those between Krishna and Draupadi, the sages Nara and Narayana, Ashwatthama and Duryodhana, Drona and Drupada and so on, each uniquely fascinating in its own way. One of the friendships that get a lot attention in the epic is that between Karna and Duryodhana – between a man considered an ideal for high ethical principles, who is willing to give up his life itself for his principles and a man for whom power is the ultimate thing, for which he would sacrifice all ethics. This friendship is of central importance to the story of the epic – because Karna is Duryodhana’s greatest strength, the one man he can count on unconditionally, based on whose strength he does all kinds of atrocities throughout his life and finally goes to war with the Pandavas refusing to give them back as much land as the tip of a needle. In this study we are going to take a look at the journey of that friendship, the ups and downs it takes and many other fascinating aspects that are not widely understood. This will also be the study of a hero’s fascinating journey from darkness to light – ironically, the journey of the son of the sun god from darkness to light.

Karna with Duryodhana in Poisoning Child Bhima
To begin with, let’s get rid of a common misunderstanding. It is generally believed that the friendship of Karna, the son of the sun god and Kunti, and Duryodhana began in the arena where Duryodhana, his brothers, his cousins and other princes, all students of Guru Drona, were displaying their prowess in the martial arts they had learned under him. Towards the end of this display Karna enters the place and challenges Arjuna, but he is pronounced disqualified to make that challenge and ridiculed since he is not royalty. At this stage Duryodhana steps in heroically and says one should not look at the origin of rivers, saints and heroes, and hugging Karna and declaring him his friend, crowns him king of Anga. This is how the lifelong friendship begins – in popular perception.

But in reality, the friendship of the two is much older. They were childhood friends. After all, Karna was the son of Duryodhana’s father’s charioteer and it would be no wonder if Duryodhana had made friends with this amazing youth, older than him by a couple of years, who showed such great promise and great ambition.

An incident discussed in detail by the Adi Parva of the epic is the poisoning of Bhima by Duryodhana at Pramanakoti.

Duryodhana is only a young boy when the Pramanakoti episode takes place. The incident happens soon after Satyavati left Hastinapura along with her two daughters-in-law, Ambika and Ambalika, on the advice of her son Sage Vyasa, the author of the epic, who forewarned her of the terrible times ahead that would result from the actions of her great-grandsons and suggested that she should spend the rest of her life in the jungle in austerities and meditation, as was the practice in ancient India.
Duryodhana never liked the arrival of his cousins, the Pandavas, at Hastinapura following the death of their father Pandu. Without a doubt they were a threat to his authority and succession – after all, his own father Dhritarashtra was no more than a caretaker of the kingdom, a regent, and their father Pandu was the last officially crowned king of the Kurus. By traditional right the kingdom should pass down to Pandu’s eldest son Yudhishthira and Duryodhana was keenly aware of this.

To add to his pains, the second of the Pandavas, Bhima, was already emerging as more powerful than anyone of them and smarter than him and all his brothers. While there was no doubt that he ate more than any of them, he also had the best aim when they targeted objects, was the fastest of them all when they chased something or just raced, and when they played games like scattering dust, something very useful in combat, he outdid them all. Perhaps what Duryodhana found even more difficult to tolerate was that Bhima loved bullying them, laughing all the while, like by shaking trees and making them fall down when they were on trees and by doing other naughty things children with irrepressible energy do.

Considering all this, in the words of the Mahabharata, Duryodhana readies himself for what the epic calls ‘an act of sin’. His thoughts at this stage are made clear by the epic: he would eliminate Bhima and then “reign on his own as the sole king without being troubled by him.” The Mahabharata says what Bhima did to his cousins were the innocent acts of a child who had too much energy – they were not acts born of malevolence. Whereas what Duryodhana had in mind was not an impulsive act of a child, but a well thought out malevolent plan with a clear long time selfish goal. And he goes about the execution of his plan with thoroughness that would be admirable even in an adult, had it not been such a wicked act.

The first thing he does is to give orders for a beautiful mansion surrounded by rich gardens to be built at Pramanakoti on the banks of the Ganga. Then, when it is all ready, he invites the Pandava brothers for a picnic there – they shall have exquisite food and lots of fun there, he tells them. Duryodhana, the young boy, has made special arrangements to see that the food for Bhima is poisoned. 

Duryodhana takes them all on a tour of the gardens and pleasure groves, and then, to use once again the words of the epic, “the wicked boy with honey on his tongue and a dagger in his heart” invites all the brothers to enjoy the rich food that has been cooked and while they do so, serves the3 unsuspecting Bhima the poisoned food. Following this, they all sport in water – Bhima as always more active than anyone else, constantly encouraging all to give themselves totally to the sport, as he himself did. Eventually they all lie down on the bank of the river to rest and relax – and Bhima easily goes into deep slumber, fatigued as he was with all the swimming and encouraging others, the poison at work in his body all the while.

That is precisely what Duryodhana has been waiting for. While all the brothers were taking a nap, Duryodhana ties the sleeping Bhima up with thick forest vines and then casts him into the river. Bhima floats down the river and then slowly sinks to the bottom of the Ganga.
What we see here is Duryodhana’s evil genius at work even at a very young age. Bhima is miraculously saved from certain death by a combination of events and comes back days later from the land of the Nagas where he reached, his strength multiplied many times. 

But Duryodhana’s evil genius does not rest. Once again Duryodhana plots to kill Bhima with poison more deadly than before. Bhima is informed of this by Yuyutsu, Duryodhana’s half-brother who had become friendly with the Pandavas realizing their goodness, and Bhima in spite of knowing the food is poisoned, swallows it all without being harmed in the least by it because of the medicinal treatments he had received in the land of the Nagas. Attempt after attempt to end the life of the Pandavas – all of them, not just Bhima – continues for long.

We are told by the Adi Parva of the Mahabharata that Karna, along with Shakuni, was a part of all these evil acts.
evaṁ duryodhanaḥ karṇaḥ śakuniś cāpi saubalaḥ
anekair abhyupāyais tāñ jighāṁsanti sma pāṇḍavān
[MB BORI  01119042a-c]

Thus through numerous means Duryodhana, Karna and Shakuni the son of Subala repeatedly kept trying to kill the Pandavas.”

These incidents happen long before the princes become students of Guru Drona – even before they become students of Guru Kripa. Since the education of princes usually began at a young age, they must have been really young.

Karna was with Duryodhana from the beginning and he was part of the numerous wicked acts of the young boy whose ambitions were thwarted by the arrival of the Pandavas at Hastinapura. He planned these acts with Duryodhana and his uncle Shakuni and if he did so, in all likelihood he must also have been part of their execution. The fierce enmity that Karna displays in the arena does not begin with Drona’s announcement of Arjuna as the best warrior among the princes – it has a long history behind it. Along with Duryodhana, he hated the Pandavas right from the beginning.   


To be continued....

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Vedic Management: Why We Need It Today


Andres Leon’s More Than Anything in the World [Más Que a Nada en el Mundo] is a powerful film from Mexico that won the Best First Film awards both at the Guadalajara and the Montreal Film Festivals. Directed by Andres Leon Becker, it is the harrowing tale of a divorced young mother and her seven-year-old daughter living in a suffocating tiny apartment in the urban jungle that is Mexico City. Such is the apartment that once you enter it, you are completely cut off from the outside world. There are no trees to be seen from the windows, no sky, no streets, nothing. The only thing you can see is the backsides of other apartments on your left, right and across that you feel are so near you will be able to touch if you stretch out your hand – mostly drain pipes, tiny ventilators and some windows, all curtained off to keep the outside world away. No breeze ever comes in, and not more than a tiny bit of dim light if you keep the windows open.

The young mother is lonely. She has no social life, no significant relationships to satisfy her emotional and physical needs. Her only relationship is with her daughter who is totally dependent on her for everything. To support themselves, the mother has to work and her work keeps her so busy she is invariably late everyday to take the child to school and to bring her back. In touching scenes the film shows us the watchman of the school refusing to admit the child, on the orders of the principal, because she has already been late so many times in the past. In another scene we see the child, a shadowy figure, sitting all alone on the floor of the school veranda very late in the evening, darkness all around her, with not a human being anywhere in sight – she is waiting for her mother to come and pick her up.

It is not that the mother does not care. She does care for her – she loves her “More than Anything in the World.” But she is so harrowed by her work she has no time for anything else – not even for her daughter.

In her loneliness, the mother starts allowing men to visit her at home and when the men are there, the girl has to remain in her small room so that they get privacy.

And the little girl – Alicia – is scared. She is scared to be alone, she is scared to be separated from her mother, and the only way she can stand her fears is to keep her mother in sight, if not hold on to her. She walks into the room in which her mother is with her lovers, and relationship after relationship breaks down, making her mother take out her anger on her daughter in frustration.

One of the reasons for Alicia’s fear is because she believes the man living in the apartment behind hers is a vampire in the guise of an old man and he is out to get her mother. She does not know much about Vampires, but her best friend in school – her only friend, another little girl her age – is an expert. Vampires drink blood from the necks of women, she tells Alicia, leaving a mark there. And then there are two possibilities – either you die or you become another vampire. The little friend confirms that the sounds Alicia has been hearing throughout the night are the sounds made by the vampire.

Alicia is terrified for her mother. She inspects her mother’s neck closely when she comes back after a session of lovemaking and sure enough, there is a bite mark on her neck. Little Alicia shivers in fright, but hides her fear in herself – she does not want her mother to discover it. And she gets a crucifix to get rid of the vampire – her little friend who gives it to her tells her the only way to kill a vampire is to place the crucifix on his chest. One night while her mother is asleep, the seven year old child climbs out of her window, walk on toilet pipes and narrow ledges and in a scene no one will be able to watch without holding his breath and will never be able to forget once he has seen it, reaches the window of the old man and climbs in.

Now she is alone with the vampire at night in his own house. But she wouldn’t allow her fears to overcome her. She has to save her mother from the clutches of the vampire. She crosses rooms, opening doors noiselessly, and eventually reaches the room in which the man is lying on his bed and succeeds in placing the crucifix on his chest.

Unknown to her, the man is already dead when she reaches his room. She imagines him to be asleep and waits for a while to see the effect of the crucifix. The man does not move. She has achieved her goal and she goes back to her home.

The man she is sure is a vampire is actually a lonely old man who once had a wife and a little daughter but who are no more with him. He had been diagnosed as being in an advanced stage of cancer around the time Alicia and her mother move into the new apartment and has been living a life of utter loneliness and suffering. The man has forgotten to smile. His only pleasure in life is the occasional peep he gets into little Alicia’s room from his window – and Alicia takes his attempts to stand at his window and look into her room as his attempts at stalking her mother.

More than Anything in the World is a powerful portrayal of modern man’s loneliness and the utter meaningless and joylessness that his life has become, shown from the standpoint of a young mother, a little child and an old man. And these three are not alone in being lonely and joyless and in losing all meaning in living – a vast majority of people living today in modern urban jungles are like that. And if our lives are not already like that, we are fast moving in that direction.

~*~

It so happened that a few hours before I saw More than Anything in the World at the film festival, I had read about “the world of little kings’ in Lawrence G Boldt’s Zen and the Art of Making a Living and my mind linked the film and the book.

“About the time the Industrial Revolution was really getting into gear,” says Lawrence G Boldt, “political revolutions were everywhere replacing kings with parliaments, presidents and promises. The key promise was that the common man would one day soon be king. He would possess for his own the kingly prerogatives of power, leisure, and security – power over his station in life, the liberty of leisure, and the security of property....

“Every man would be king, enjoying the goods of life made possible through machines and mass production. There would soon arise whole nations of little kings, each at home in his castle; if not a palace, then perhaps a country estate; if not a country estate, then a home in the suburbs; in not a home in the suburbs, then perhaps a condo, an apartment, a mobile home – any kingdom, no matter how small. This is what we worked for. We laboured for a kingdom and the promise of the leisure to enjoy it.

“We aspired to the kingly life of leisure, a life of ease, a life to do with whatever we pleased, to be as irresponsible as we imagined the aristocracy to be.”
Leisure and opportunities to enjoy life were central to that world vision. I remember reading in Alwyn Toffler in the seventies, and later teaching about a future in which the main worry of governments would be that they wouldn’t know what to do with all the leisure people have.

And where we have ended up at the beginning of the twenty-first century is the world More than Anything in the World shows us. A world in which most men and women have to toil for fourteen to sixteen hours a day in their workplaces and then bring work home. A world in which there is no time for relationships. A world in which we do not know our next door neighbour. A world of broken families. A world of loneliness and meaninglessness, of isolation and closedness, of airlessness and suffocation. A world in which happiness is becoming a more distant dream every day.

This certainly is not the world of little kings.

The promises made by science and technology were not false. Science and technology can truly enrich our lives and make leisure possible beyond our dreams. The problem is not with technology, but with our attitude towards life, towards work and the world.

~*~

The Vedas are products of a rich society, a very rich society indeed, where affluence was the rule, wealth was worshipped as a goddess, in fact, the most beautiful of all goddesses. And what is amazing is that there is no suffering portrayed in this oldest literature of the world. There is no loneliness there, there is no world weariness and there is no suicidal rejection of the world. Instead, what we find is an unbelievable eagerness with which everyone embraces life, the spirit of festivity and celebration that permeates everyone and everything, utsava bhava. And there is immense creativity, great dynamism, deepest insights into life and the world, great harmony within people and of man with nature, where man was awake to the beauty and possibilities nature offers us and thrives in harmony with these.

And these without the possibilities created by modern science and technology. Imagine a world where we have the possibilities created by science and technology and have the same attitude towards life and work and the same harmony with the world in which we live!

We can be beautiful people living happy lives in the middle of beautiful things. We need not be ugly people living meaningless lives in the middle of beautiful things.

This is what Vedic Management would mean to us today.

India, together with China, controlled about sixty percent of the world’s economy until about the time of the European conquest of Asia [the first world, and not the third world; to me the first world is Asia, the part of the world that became civilized first; the second world is Europe and America is the third world.] We are speaking of economic domination for a few millennia, unlike the economic domination of the west which is only as old as the Industrial Revolution.

And the East did this without leading to the tragedy that modern life has become.

The tragedy of modern life is not only at the personal and social levels. It is as much a tragedy at the global level as it is at the personal and social levels. Today we are talking of the world we are living in facing extinction – the nuclear threat, global warming, the energy crunch, deforestation, and the million other problems that are threatening to wipe out human and other life as we know it from the face of the earth.

We are now seriously considering migrations to other planets as a survival strategy.

HBO recently aired a documentary called The Eleventh Hour at the prime time – and the documentary deserved the prime time. In the documentary, the world’s foremost experts in different fields talked about what we have done to our planet in the short period of the last two hundred years or so – our mineral resources are fast being depleted, our oil reserves are running out, our rivers and oceans are polluted, much of our drinking water is toxic, animal, bird, tree and plant species are disappearing from the face of the earth at an alarming rate never to reappear again, our forests are disappearing, the air we breathe is poisonous over much of the earth, the greenhouse effect is making the snows on our mountains and on the north pole melt, ocean levels are rising, islands all over the world are slowly sinking into the seas and tomorrow much of our continents will follow, temperatures are rising so high so fast that much of the world will soon become inhospitable for human beings and animals.

It is these disasters that we discussed in the recent Copenhagen Summit.

But the Vedas tell us that economic progress is possible without causing these disasters.

Vedic Management can help us achieve economic progress without bringing the world to the brink of extinction.

~*~

W.W. Jacobs has written a powerful short story called The Monkey’s Paw which has haunted readers ever since it was published in 1902.

When the story opens, we are with the Whites in their home. Outside it is a dark and stormy night, but inside everything is calm and serene. Mr White and his son Herbert are playing chess and Mrs White is knitting by the fire.

Soon a family friend arrives on a visit: Sergeant Major Morris. Morris has just come back after spending years in India. Among the things he has brought back from India is a monkey’s paw. The paw, explains Morris, has the power to bring to fulfilment three wishes of three persons – it has been empowered by an Indian fakir. Morris has already had three wishes fulfilled and another man before him – his third wish was for death. Sergeant Major Morris tosses the paw into the fire, telling that the best thing to do with the paw is to keep as far away from it as possible. He wants it to be destroyed before it made more people suffer.

Mr. White jumps up and rescues the paw from the fire. He is fascinated by the paw and the story behind it. None of the warnings by Morris will make him give up the paw. Eventually the Sergeant-Major explains how to make wishes on the paw.

After Morris leaves, the Whites make fun of the powers of the paw. They do not seriously believe such things are possible. Herbert suggests that his father should wish to become an emperor – that way he would be able to escape the nagging of his wife. Mrs White chases her son about in mock anger.

Herbert considers seriously what wish to make, though he still does not believe in the powers of the paw. Herbert playfully suggests that they should wish for two hundred pounds – that would pay off the money for their house. Mr White makes the wish.

The moment he makes a wish, Mr White gets a shock. He is sure the monkey’s paw moved in his hand.

Soon all three of them go to bed after putting out the fire.
The next morning they all joke about the monkey’s paw and its powers and then Herbert White leaves for his job. It was later that day that Mrs White notices a man hesitantly approaching their house. The man reluctantly reveals who he is. He has come from the factory where Herbert worked. There had been a fatal accident at the factory and Herbert has been killed. The factory sympathizes with the family. The company does not hold itself in anyway responsible for the accident, but as an act of kindness, they would give an amount of money as compensation.

Mr While is sure he knows how much the compensation would be. “How much?” he asks. And he is told, “Two hundred pounds.”

The amount they had wished on the monkey’s paw.

Days pass in the gloom of the horrid death. Mrs White is almost mad with grief. One day she asks her husband, “Where is the monkey’s paw?’
She wants Mr White to make another wish: their son should come back.
Mr White is horrified at the thought. He hasn’t told his wife that Herbert was caught in a machine in the factory and was mashed totally out of shape. He could be recognized only through his clothes.

Mrs White forces her husband to make a wish on the monkey’s paw that their son comes back. He makes the wish, and as he does so., suddenly the candle in the room goes out. There are strange noises in the house – perhaps a mouse, they think. Mr White strikes a match to light the candle and that too goes out. Before he can strike another, there is a knock at the front door.

Mr White begs his wife not to open the door and holds her back. She struggles to get free of him. "You're afraid of your own son," she accuses him, crying. "Let me go. I'm coming, Herbert; I'm coming."

There is another knock, and another. The old woman with a sudden wrench breaks free and runs from the room. Her husband follows her to the landing, and calls after her appealingly as she hurries downstairs. He hears the chain rattle back and the bottom bolt being drawn slowly and stiffly from the socket. Then the old woman's voice, strained and panting. "The bolt," she cries loudly. "Come down. I can't reach it."

But her husband is on his hands and knees groping wildly on the floor in search of the paw. If he could only find it before the thing outside got in. A perfect fusillade of knocks reverberates through the house, and he hears the scraping of a chair as his wife puts it down in the passage against the door. He hears the creaking of the bolt as it comes slowly back. At the same moment he finds the monkey's paw, and frantically breathes his third and last wish.

The knocking ceases suddenly, although the echoes of it are still in the house. He hears the chair being drawn back and the door being opened. A cold wind rushes up the staircase, and a long loud wail of disappointment and misery from his wife gives him courage to run down to her side, and then to the gate beyond.

The street lamp flickering opposite was shining on a quiet and deserted road.

~*~

What has happened to humanity during the last hundred and fifty or two hundred years is exactly what happened to the Whites. Here was Science and Technology, which looked all powerful to grant any wish of his, and he made those wishes. And now we are facing the threat of extinction.

But there are ways of getting what we want without paying the price the White family had to pay for the fulfilment of their wishes in The Monkey’s Paw.

The Vedic Management Way

Vedic Management is about progress without paying the terrifying price modern man is paying for it. It is about work habits that do not alienate man from man and engender loneliness in life. It is about transforming work itself into a celebration, a process of growth and transcendence. It is about growing in harmony with nature rather than depleting it for achieving growth. It is about achieving economic prosperity and progress without exhausting our mineral resources and oil reserves, without polluting our rivers and oceans, without making our drinking water toxic, without making the air we breathe poisonous, without destroying our biodiversity, without causing the greenhouse effect that is making the snows on our mountains and on the north pole melt, without making ocean levels are rise, without making islands all over the world sink into the seas, without making global temperatures go up. It is about progress without destroying family and social life, without transforming the heaven that is the earth into hell. 

Mahabharata, Leadership and the Language of Power

Power has its own language. It speaks that language all the time, and it understands only that language.
There is a beautiful African folktale I love, about a lion and nine wild dogs.  The lion was old, his limbs weak, his muscles loose and he couldn’t hunt anymore. One day he was sitting just outside his cave when he saw a pack of nine dogs passing by. The lion raised his voiced and asked them, “Come, join me. I’ll let you hunt with me today.” The dogs knew the lion was too weak to hunt and was actually ordering them to do the hunting for him. They looked at each other. True the lion was old, but he was still a lion and they were afraid to say no.
The lion and the dogs hunted the whole morning. By noon they had killed ten deer. The dead deer was piled up in a heap and they sat around it. The lion paused dramatically and then raising his voice said, “Now there is a big problem before us. How do we divide the kill?”
The youngest of the dogs responded instantly, laughing, “What is the problem? There are ten of us and there are ten deer? We will each take one.”
Before the young dog could complete his sentence, the lion leapt up and gave him a resounding slap. ‘You idiot! Don’t talk nonsense! If you don’t know anything, just keep your mouth shut.”
The lion looked at the dogs one by one. None more dared to respond. When he found they were all silent, he said, “I get it now. It is quite easy really.  We You are nine dogs. You take one deer – then you become ten. I am a single lion – I will take the remaining nine deer. Then we too will become ten. That way we end up equal.”
This is how power sees things. This is how power speaks. Chit bhee meri, pat bhee meri, as we say in Hindi - heads I win, tails you lose.
I remember another story I had in my primary school text book, a story that exists in slightly varying forms all over the world, including the Jataka Tales and Aesop’s Fables.
Once a bone got struck in the throat of a wolf. Try all he could, he couldn’t get it out. Screaming in pain, his eyes wide with the fear of death, he ran all over the forest. A stork saw him and taking pity on him, asked him to open his mouth. The stork gently put his head inside the mouth of the wolf and with his long beak pulled out the bone. The wolf gave a grunt of relief and walked off, without even a word of thanks to the stork. “Shouldn’t you at least thank me once?” asked the stork. “Who should thank whom?” howled the wolf. “You put your head inside my mouth and you are still alive. Shouldn’t you thank me for not biting your head off?”
Once again, the language of power. Arrogant power.  
These stories came to my mind when I read a small speech by Duryodhana in the Udyoga Parva of the Mahabharata.  A speech in the language of arrogant power.
The occasion is Krishna’s peace mission to the Kuru assembly in Hastinapura. Krishna has tried to make Dhritarashtra understand how he can rule as the unchallenged emperor of the whole earth united with the Pandavas and how disastrous a war between his sons and the Pandavas would be. He spoke to the old emperor of the need for restraining his wicked sons and their friends. The Mahabharata tells us that goosebumps appeared all over the assembled kings as they listened to Krishna’s wonderful speech but no one had the courage to utter a single word in response because Duryodhana was present and so great was the fear he inspired in them.
When no one else spoke for quite some time, first Sage Parashurama and then Rishi Kanva who were present in the assembly spoke addressing Duryodhana, encouraging him to opt for peace. Duryodhana’s response to the words of these wise men was to look at Karna and burst out in loud laughter at their words. He then slapped his thighs and told them their senseless speech was of no use, he was going to remain what God had made him.
Following Parashurama and Kanva, Bhishma and Narada spoke to Duryodhana advising him not to be obstinate and to agree for peace, but their words too had no effect on him. Dhritarashtra then confessed his helplessness to Krishna and asked him to directly speak to Duryodhana in the assembly, which Krishna did, asking Duryodhana to obey his father for the good of the whole world. He reminded Duryodhana how he had tormented the Pandavas “from their very birth” and in spite of that how they have always acted generously towards him. “Look at your sons, brothers, kinsmen and other relatives,” Krishna told him, “and let not the race of the Bharatas perish.” Krishna assured him that the Pandavas would make him the crown prince, Dhritarashtra the sovereign of the empire and asked him to give back to the Pandavas the half of the kingdom that belonged to them.
Following Krishna, Bhishma spoke to him again at some length, advising peace, and then Drona did the same. After that Vidura spoke and once again Dhritarashtra. Following Dhritarashtra, Bhishma and Drona spoke once again, all speaking of the need to avoid war and the advisability of peace, asking Duryodhana to give back to the Pandava’s their share of the kingdom taken away from them through the dice game.
It is then that Duryodhana gave the small speech we are going to take a look at. The speech is addressed to Krishna.
“Indeed, uttering such harsh words, you, without any reason, find fault with me alone,” said Duryodhana “But do you censure me, having surveyed the strength and weakness (of both sides)?  Indeed, yourself and Vidura, the king, Guru Drona, and the Grandsire, all reproach me alone and not any other monarch. I, however, do not find the least fault in myself. Yet all of you, including the (old) king himself, hate me. O repressor of foes, I do not, even after reflection, see any grave fault in me, or even any minute fault.” [KMG translation. English modernised for ease of reading.]
Duryodhana is deaf to all that so many have said in the assembly because he does not understand their language – the language of love, of kindness, of consideration for others, of generosity, of empathy, the language that all leaders of men should know. He understands only one language – the language of power. For him love is a weakness, kindness is a weakness, thinking of the good of others is a weakness.
I remember one of the top industrial houses of the country asking me to give a speech in an open auditorium. My speech was about the need to keep the good of others too in mind while taking decisions, the need for flexibility in decision making and so on. I was later told that the previous speaker had spoken of selfishness as the ultimate virtue. Krishna wouldn’t have agreed, but Duryodhana would have agreed completely.
After complaining that everyone is criticising him alone, the first thing he does is to ask if Krishna is speaking after assessing the strengths and weaknesses of both sides! For Duryodhana to be strong is to be right, to be weak is to be wrong. Might is right – that is the language of power. If the combined power of Bhishma, Drona, Karna, Ashwatthama, Dusshasana, Jayadratha, himself and their armies can defeat the Pandavas and their army, then there is no need for him to show any generosity to the Pandavas. Then there is no need to give them back their kingdom which he has snatched away from them through treachery. But, if on the other hand, the Pandavas are stronger than him, then he would perhaps be willing to think of it.
Indian leadership philosophy says that kingship is a social contract – the same thing that Rousseau said after several millennia. The Mahabharata says that at one time the world was ruled by matsya nyaya – fish eat fish philosophy, the larger and the stronger eating the smaller and the weaker. And because of this there was complete anarchy and chaos all over the world. No one knew peace – the only way to survive was to be stronger than everyone else. The whole earth became filled with strife, life became a constant battle with rivals. And then some wise people joined together and decided that they would appoint one of them capable of protecting all the others as their leader, the king, and in turn for his protection, give him a share of all they owned. This is how kingship came into being. And now Duryodhana is asking Krishna if he had assessed the strengths and weaknesses of both sides before he suggested peace with the Pandavas.
Krishna’s entire life was a battle – a long battle against the philosophy that might is right, that whatever the might ones did was right, that they had the right to exploit all who were weaker than them.  Krishna wanted to establish a world where dharma – the common good, lokasangraha – would be supreme, where might will not necessarily be right.  Yes, even Krishna agreed with the Mahabharata statement balam dharmo’nuvartate – dharma follows strength, dharma walks in the footsteps of strength. But to Krishna it meant that to practice dharma you had to be strong, and not that whatever the strong did was dharma. Duryodhana right from his birth believed that whatever the strong did was right, if you are strong you can do whatever you want. Krishna’s life mission was to destroy all men in positions of power who practised this philosophy – Shishupala, Raja Saubha, Kashi Raja, Kala Yavana, Paundraka Vasudeva, Naraka Asura were all killed by Krishna because they believed in matsya nyaya. He had Jarasandha killed by Bhima because he too stood for arrogant power that considered might is right – the emperor had already defeated eighty-seven kings and thrown them into dungeons and was waiting for the number to be full one hundred so that he can kill them en masse in a ritual human sacrifice in a show of his imperial power.  Krishna was sure that matya nyaya would lead humanity to its end and the only way humanity can survive was through yajna – actions performed for the common good, for the good of others, leaders living their lives in the service of others, by treating leadership as a kind of spirituality as ancient India envisioned, speaking of which India repeatedly said that if a king served his people well he need not do any yajna, yaga, homa, medha or other sacrifices because by serving his subjects he has achieved the results of all these.  
Duryodhana now tells Krishna that he does not find any fault with himself – he does not find any major fault with himself, he does not find any minor fault with himself, however much he reflects on himself. Let me quote here his exact words once again: “I, however, do not find the least fault in myself. Yet all of you, including the (old) king himself, hate me. O repressor of foes, I do not, even after reflection, see any grave fault in me, or even any minute fault.”  
Power makes you blind to the truth. Particularly to the truth of yourself.
Duryodhana does not find any fault in himself, neither grave nor minute, even after thorough reflection.
This is said by the man who as a child [according to Krishna in his shaishava period, which would mean early childhood] poisoned Bhima and then tied his hands and legs with forest vines and threw him into the Ganga in Pramanakoti. This is said by the man who had tried numerous other times to kill all the Pandavas through poisoning and through all other means available to him speaking. This is said by the man who had tricked the Pandavas and their mother to go to Varanavata and stay in a house he had had specially built for them mixing hemp, resin, lac, clarified butter and other inflammable substances with wood and other the construction material with the intention of burning them all to their death there. This is said by the man who had bribed his citizens and their elders so that they would keep quiet about his wicked actions. This is said by the man who so terrified even his vassal kings that even though they had goosebumbs listening to the words of Krishna in the assembly they were not able to utter a word in response to it because of the fear of Duryodhana – despite there being present in the assembly such men as Duryodhana’s father Dhritarashtra himself and Sage Parashurama, Sage Kanva, Narada, Bhishma, Drona and so on, all of whom approved of what Krishna said,. This is said by the man who later, just because he was jealous of Yudhishthira’s success and wealth, invited him for a deceitful dice game and through it snatched away his kingdom and all his wealth. This is said by the man who presided over what is perhaps the most humiliating thing done to a woman in all of Indian lore – the magnificent Draupadi, the queen of Indraprastha, brought to the assembly dragged by her hair from where she was resting in the inner apartments wearing a single piece of cloth as custom demanded of women in those days during their monthly period. This is said by the man who slapped his left thigh and asked that Draupadi to come and sit on it like you would ask a common whore; by the man who presided over the attempt to publicly disrobe that Draupadi in the assembly in the presence of their husbands, brothers-in-law, father-in-law, other Kuru elders and numerous invited kings from all over the land.
Duryodhana does not see any fault in himself, grave or small, even after reflection.
The Ishavasya Upanishad rishi in a thrilling voice cries out: hiranmayena patrena satyasya apihitam mukham; tatvam pooshan apavrinu, satyadharmaya drishtaye – the face of Truth is hidden by a golden disk of light; oh Lord of the Sun, remove it so that I may see with my inner eyes truth and dharma. In Duryodhana’s case too both truth and dharma are hidden – not by a disk of light, but by the pitch darkness of power.
Duryodhana does not see anything wrong with the dice game. Duryodhana ignores completely what was done to Draupadi in the dice hall – as though it is not even worthy of being mentioned, it is such an insignificant thing done to a woman who had been won in the dice game and had become his slave. As for the rest of the game, he asks Krishna: “In the game at dice, O slayer of Madhu, that was joyfully accepted by them, the Pandavas were vanquished and their kingdom was won by Sakuni. What blame can be mine as regards that? On the other hand, O slayer of Madhu, the wealth that was won from the Pandavas then, was ordered by me, to be returned unto them. It cannot, again, O foremost of victors, be any fault of ours that the invincible Pandavas, were defeated once again at dice and had to go to the woods. Imputing what fault to us, do they regard us as their enemies?” [KMG trans.]
It was Dhritarashtra, shaken thoroughly and trembling like a leaf in a storm by the inauspicious omens that were seen and heard towards the end of the attempt to disrobe Draupadi as she prayed to Krishna and was saved by him, who had ordered the return of the Pandava kingdom and wealth to them. The blind old king cowered before Draupadi’s spiritual might and terrified that she can wipe out the Kurus, ordered everything to be returned to the Pandavas. That is how the epic describes it, but Duryodhana sees it all very differently. For him it was he who had returned it to them and he implies by his tone though he does not expressly say it, that it was an act of generosity on his part. “On the other hand, O slayer of Madhu,” he asks as though he does not comprehend it at all, “the wealth that was won from the Pandavas then, was ordered by me, to be returned unto them.”
There is an expression in Hindi – doodh ka dhula, meaning totally pure and innocent, without a touch of stain. That is what Duryodhana claims himself to be.
Duryodhana continues: “And, O Krishna, though (really) weak, why do the Pandavas yet so cheerfully seek a quarrel with us, as if they were strong? What have we done to them? For what injury (done to them) do the sons of Pandu, along with the Srinjayas, seek to slaughter the sons of Dhritarashtra? We shall not in consequence of any fierce deed, or (alarming) word (of theirs), bow down to them in fear, deprived of our senses. We cannot bow down to Indra himself, let alone the sons of Pandu.” [KMG trans.]
Duryodhana’s power speaks again, in the language that power speaks in: Though really weak, why are the Pandavas quarrelling with them, as if they were strong, he asks. No, he and his brothers are not going to bow down to them in fear. Why speak of bowing down to the sons of Pandu, they cannot bow down to the lord of the Gods himself.”
Duryodhana sees giving back to the Pandavas what is rightfully theirs only in one light: as an act of cowardice. Giving them back what is theirs will be an act of fear. And he and his brothers are not afraid of any earthly power. Why, they are not afraid of any divine power either. If Indra himself comes before them, they will not bow down to him.
It is not wonder that he speaks thus. Power has made him totally blind. In the royal assembly he constantly ridicules and humiliates Grandfather Bhishma, Guru Drona, and sages like Parashurama, Kanva, Narada and so on. As for Vidura, his uncle, he treats him as though he were his servant. The only person whom he does not generally humiliate in public is his father. He does that in private, when he is with his friend Karna, brother Dusshasana and uncle Shakuni. He does not humiliate him publicly because he occupies the throne, wields power – the only thing Duryodhana respects.
What he has learned from his education is that a kshatriya should not bow down before anyone, except before a brahmana, that too for the sake of piety. A kshatriya can break but not bend, says he.
 He forgets there are innumerable other things before which we should all bow down, whoever we are – truth, goodness, kindness, compassion, love...
Finally, he concludes his response to all who had spoken to him of conciliation, peace. “That share in the kingdom which was formerly given them by my father shall never again, O Kesava, be obtainable by them as long as I live... as long as I live, even that much of our land which may be covered by the point of a sharp needle shall not, O Madhava, be given by us unto the Pandavas.’”
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That is how power sees things. That is how power speaks. Arrogant power. Brute power. Power devoid of wisdom.
 A bird flies on two wings, not on one. Even so a king needs both power and wisdom. But all Duryodhana has is power.
The only language arrogant power understands is the language of power. Krishna concludes his failed peace mission to Hastinapura by speaking to Duryodhana in the language of power and showing him what real power is. “You wish for the bed of heroes? Indeed, you shall have it, along with your counsellors. Wait for a short while, and the great slaughter will start,” Krishna assures him.  One by one Krishna lists in the assembly Duryodhana’s evil deeds beginning with the Pramanakoti incident. And subsequently, before leaving, Krishna shows him and the assembly his cosmic form, his vishwaroopa, with a thousand arms and a thousand legs, with a million faces, each more terrifying than the other, the same vishwaroopa he later shows Arjuna in Kurukshetra before the war begins, on his request, seeing which the great warrior trembles in dread again and again, and falls at his feet repeatedly and requests him to come back to his original gentle form.
I wish Duryodhana had understood at least that. But he fails to understand even that language and India plunges into aeons of darkness.

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