The Mystery of the Mahabharata: Explanation of the Epic

Hinduism, as the ancients conceived it, was a great University of Religions, where they studied Nature in a scientific and systematic form, founded their schemes of Philosophy on its essential laws, reared their systems of Religion on both, and applied them to the use of the average man in his work-a-day life.

They believed that there was a Science of Life, that there was one Law made manifest in many forms, governing the universe; and so, by extending the truths of the Known to the Unknown, they constructed their theories of this and the other world, comprehending all that the human mind can understand or imagine and he who entered the portals of this great University and studied the Law of Life in a systematic and scientific manner, was a Hindu.

All truth arises from doubt; we ask questions when we think; and all knowledge is born when, not knowing, we wish to know. We begin with denial or doubt, and end with conviction of truth; but to come to this conclusion we must pass through a number of stages of thought. This must necessarily be so when we attempt to study the whole universe, and the origin and end of things. The problem is so vast, that it cannot be examined from a single point of view; and the different ways in which we can make the attempt, give us the different schemes of Hindu Philosophy and Religion.

We might deny or doubt even the existence of God; we might associate him with Nature in the creation of life, or regard him as the sole creator of the universe, but so long as we make an attempt to study the question in a proper manner, we are Hindus and so atheists and agnostics, dualists, qualified Monists, and pure Monists - Jainas, Buddhists, Saivites and Vaisnavites - are all Hindus, because they all belong to one brotherhood of thought, and their systems of religion constitute but different stages in the attainment of Truth in a scientific and systematic form. As in a great University we have different Faculties and courses of study, different examinations and degrees, to mark the scholar’s attainments matriculation, the Intermediate stage, the Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, and finally the doctorate and all students, from the lowest rung of the ladder to the highest landing, claim the University for their alma mater, even so was it with Hinduism as it was originally conceived; and all those who belonged to this great University of Life and were prepared to study its problems under proper discipline were Hindus. Those, however, who were outside its pale, were not Hindus, even though they might accept its conclusions, because they could not understand the different stages through which we must pass to attain to the ultimate Truth. Hinduism is perhaps the oldest religion existing in the world and has passed through many vicissitudes through its long and chequered history, and it should hardly cause surprise that its original conception has been altered with the lapse of years. But its systems of Philosophy and Religion, as described in the Sacred Books, are still unchanged; and, though actual practice can seldom conform to principles, we may still find in the daily worship of the Hindus today the basis of essential ideas as originally conceived. Indeed, there is no religion in the world which receives the atheist and the agnostic as well as a believer in God equally into its fold; and that is because atheism leads to agnosticism and the latter to dualism; and thence we rise to qualified Monism, and end in belief in God as the sole supreme creator of the universe. This is the fundamental idea of Jainism and Buddhism, Saivism and Vaisnavism as we have explained.

But is it possible to study Religion in a scientific manner? We are often told that Religion begins were Science ends, that it is a matter of faith and not reason, and that it is impossible to reconcile things that are contradictory in their fundamental conception. But the ancients believed that the human mind cannot be satisfied unless Science, Philosophy and Religion are harmonized into one great whole - the universal Law of Life; and that is their conception of Sanatana Dharma or Eternal Religion, which teaches us how to rise from atheism and agnosticism to pure belief in God. Indeed, no other religion in the world can convert an atheist or agnostic into belief in God; nor do we get a proper definition of God anywhere else.

The ancients believed that there is one great, fundamental, creative energy of Life, making itself manifest in five different ways, (1) Super-electric energy, (2) Heat, (3) Electric energy, (4) Magnetic energy with a north, or south seeking, pole, and (5) Magnetic energy with a south, or north-seeking, pole. The higher is transformed into the lower; and to complete the whole cycle of energy, the last is again merged in the first, and life continues without end. They held that these five energies constitute all forms of manifest life in the universe, and in Man they correspond to his (1) Soul, (2) Buddhi, (3) Mind, (4) Senses of Knowledge and (5) Senses of Action, respectively. On the basis of these five they reared their five great systems of Philosophy - Vedanta, Yoga, Vaisesika, Nyaya and Sankhya, with the Purva Mimamsa as a connecting link between them; and constructed, according to their scope and range of thought, their four great systems of Religion - Vaisnavism, Saivism, Buddhism and Jainism, with the Tantra or Shakti worship as a connecting link between them. It is these five creative energies that are personified in the Gods hymned in the Vedas, and the same idea is expressed in different ways in all other Sacred Books of the Hindus. This has been explained in the previous Volumes; but it is necessary fix the reader to bear it clearly in mind, because it is this that is rendered in the Mahabharata in story form.

We have observed that the ancients reconciled Science with Philosophy and Religion, and it is important to remember how this was done. If we study Nature aright, we see that it has unmeasured vastness and limitless power; at the same time it is governed by a Law which is uniform, beneficent, and just, and makes for the creation and continuance of life without end. This is what the ancients described in one word as Sacrifice, and this is the essence of their idea of God. If we believe in Sacrifice in connection with Nature, we transform it into God. In other words, God maybe defined as Nature characterized by Sacrifice; and it was by this means that they harmonized Science with Philosophy and Religion.

As in a great University we have different methods of imparting knowledge, so have we in Hinduism or the University of Religions in their bearing on Life. We may have a scientific and systematic treatment of the whole subject of inquiry, or we might vary the method according to the character of the subject and the capacity of the student. Hence we might make use of direct explanation, or symbols of Art, or Story-form. The last is perhaps the simplest and most popular, though not without dangers peculiar to the method, and we still attempt to interest children in the truths of Science by means of stories adapted for the purpose in our own days. The Puranas and the Epics of Ramayana and the Mahabharata are just such attempts to impress the fundamental truths of Science, Philosophy, and Religion in story form; and the reader can now see for himself how far this is really true at least in the case of the Mahabharata.

In order to assist the reader in arriving at a conclusion on the subject, it might be convenient to suggest a few tests that might be applied to the work. The Mahabharata is said to be a picture of all systems of Hindu Philosophy and Religion rendered in story form, making use of the ancient method of letter analysis and all the symbolism that occurs in the Sacred Books of the Hindus. Hence, the reader should make sure that the description of the method of letter analysis, as given in the First Volume, is correct, and it is properly applied in interpreting terms in this and the following Volume. The fundamental idea of all systems of Hindu Philosophy and Religion is given in the Second Volume, and there we have the Ascending and Descending Scales of Thought by means of which we can go up and down the whole range of these systems. The reader should see that this description is correct, and we have a proper picture of it in the Epic a description of the symbolism used in the Upanishads and other Sacred Books of the Hindus is given in the Third Volume, and the reader should satisfy himself as to its correctness and proper application in the Mahabharata. In other words, he should see that (1) the names of persons and things are properly analysed according to the ancient method of Letter-analysis, and really give us ideas of Philosophy and Religion; that (2) these ideas can be supported by the authority of the Sacred Books themselves; that (3) the whole scheme is a picture of Philosophy, and consistent from beginning to end; that (4) the same name of a hero or god Krshna, Arjuna, Varuna, Vishnu, Indra, etc. has the same significance throughout all Sacred Books, from the Vedas downwards; and that (5) we begin from the lowest system of thought and rise by stages to the highest, and then, to complete the whole cycle of thought, come down in the same manner once more. It is only when the reader has satisfied himself and on all these points that he can come to the conclusion that the Epic is really a picture of all systems of Hindu Philosophy and Religion in Story-form. It is now possible for him to decide the question for himself.

The Method of Letter-analysis has been explained in detail in the First Volume, and a reference has been made to it in the Third. As it depends for its application on the meanings attaching to letters of the Sanskrt alphabet, it would be convenient to give them here once more. It is also necessary to have an elementary knowledge of Sandhi rules, which tell us how vowels and consonants are changed in combination; but if the reader is not aware of these he might trust that this part of the work has been properly done.

A perusal of these pages will show how far the Mahabharata is really a picture of all systems of Hindu Philosophy and Religion. Nor can there be any doubt that it was intended to be so by its author or authors; for we are told in the very opening chapter of the Epic that Vyasa composed this holy history after arranging the Vedas and other Sacred Books of the Hindus, and there it is said that it contains the truths of, and is to be understood as a great commentary on, all of them. The whole work is divided into 18 Parvas or sections, and each Parva is again sub-divided into minor Parvas a Parva in Sanskrt means "a knot, joint, limb, member; a break, pause, division, section; the step of a stair-case, etc. etc." It will be found on examination that a Parva has all these meanings in the Epic. It is a section of a book; it marks a division of a system of thought; it in a link or knot between different systems; and it is a step by means of which we can go up and down the stairway of thought. The original Parvas of the Epic are but different steps to indicate definite stages in the progress of Man from one system of thought to another, and we have followed them strictly in explaining its idea as a, picture of Philosophy.

We have observed that the Mahabharata is a conflict as well as a harmony of all systems of Philosophy and Religion. There are five great systems of Philosophy, and, in order to explain their connection and conflict, they are grouped into four great systems of Religion - Vaisnavism, Saivism, Buddhism and Jainism. The first conflict is between Jainism and Buddhism, for the former corresponds to Sankhya-Nyaya, and the latter to Nyaya-Vaisesika, and so they have both their points of contact and conflict. Then the Second pair is Buddhism and Saivism; but, as Buddhism corresponds to Nyaya-Vaisesika, and Saivism to Nyaya-Vaisesika-Yoga, there can be no real conflict between them, and we get rather a division (of the kingdom) of thought between them. The next pair after that is Saivism and Jainism, and there can easily be a conflict between them, and that is the second contest between Man and his opponents (the Gambling Match). The next pair is Saivism and Vaisnavism; but there is very little fundamental conflict between them. Then lastly we get the greatest opposition between Buddhism and Jainism on one side, and Vaisnavism on the other; and that is the last great "war" (the Battle of Kurukshetra) between Man and his enemies. Vaisnavism corresponds to Vedanta-Yoga-Vaisesika, and Buddhism and Jainism to Vaisesika-Nyaya-Sankhya; and so they have both their points of contact and conflict. It will be found on examination that it is this that is pictured in the Story of the Mahabharata; and here it would be convenient to give a brief summary of the whole as it is explained in this and the following Volume.