Narach Philosophy

DEATH OF ABHIMANYU


Abhimanyu, the son of Arjuna, is slain by the Kauravas in this Parva. As we have explained, Abhimanyu is Abhimana or Egoism, born when the individual soul is associated with Buddhi and the elements; and the idea of his death is easy to understand. It means that pure self-consciousness, characteristic of the soul in Vedanta, cannot be attained so long as Egoism or Abhimana (Abhimanyu) lives; for though, when properly understood, Abhimana is a modification of the Atman or the individual soul in the world of manifest life, Egoism is generally regarded as born of Buddhi, and draws Man away from Vedanta (pure self-consciousness) to Yoga (Buddhi), and thence into Vaisesika (Mind), Nyaya and Sankhya (Purushic and Prakrtic Ether). Hence Abhimana or Egoism (Abhimanyu) must be "slain" before the individual soul (Arjuna) can attain to perfection in Vedanta.

Karna Parva: After Drona's defeat, his place is taken by Karna who, as we have pointed out, is Seed, Vegetable kingdom, or Food. The problem of Food has been examined in considerable detail in the sacred books of the Hindus. All creatures are produced from Food, and Food is the root of the physical body. It refers, therefore, to the physical energy of the Heart, or Blood into which it is transformed, and builds up the whole physical body. At the same time, Food is swallowed by Prana or Breath, which is another aspect of Heart-energy. Hence Food and Prana are spoken of as two gods, and sometimes even identified; and they minister to each other.

Thus the problem of Food may be considered from two main points of view. In one case Food is superior to the body; creates it and contributes to its strength; in the second it is swallowed by Prana, which is, therefore, superior to Food. Corresponding to these two ideas Karna fights for two days. In the first half of the battle he defeats all the Pandava brothers, except Arjuna (Prana), but in the second he is himself slain by Arjuna or Breath. As Food can only overpower, for the time being, the functions of Buddhi, Mind, and Arms and Legs, by sending them to sleep, Karna cannot "kill" Yudhisthira and his brothers while defeating them. But Food cannot overpower Prana at any stage; and even in perfect sleep, induced by Food, when all other functions of the body are suspended, Prana continues to act undisturbed. Hence Arjuna cannot be defeated by Karna at all.

The, manner of Karna's death is on a par with the rest of the story of the Mahabharata. He has already torn away his natural ear rings and armour with which he was born; and now his car gets stuck in the earth; and Arjuna, at the suggestion of Krshna, strikes him dead before he can extricate it. The ear rings and armour represent the form and outer skin or rind of Seed (Food); and these have to be torn away, pounded, pulverized or masticated, before Man can swallow Food; and that is why Karna has allowed his ear rings and armour to be torn away. Now Food is put into the mouth and masticated; and the next question is, how and when does Prana or Breath swallow it? It does so when Food approaches and gets stuck in the throat; and that is the real meaning of Karna's car getting stuck in the earth. Then Arjuna (Prana), at the suggestion of Krshna, slays Karna, or swallows Food; for all Food is regarded as an offering or sacrifice unto Prana and all sacrifice is really made in the name of Krshna, the Supreme Purusha of sacrifice himself.

Salya Parva: Seventeen days of battle are over, and one more remains; and Karna's place is taken by Salya, the brother of Madri. He represents the Sankhya system of thought, holding that the end of life is Knowledge and not Action; and as this system is based on the Prakrtic half of Ether he fights for only half a day, and is easily disposed of.

His place is taken by Duryodhana; and he, like his father, represents the Nyaya system. As this system is based on the Purushic half of Ether, he too fights for only half a day. Like Drona he argues that the Mind is concerned with only the senses of knowledge and not action; and so the end of life is Knowledge and not Action. But Bhima, who represents the correct notion of the Mind, easily proves that the Mind is associated with both the senses of knowledge and action; and this, when properly interpreted, is the idea of the last Club fight between Bhima and Duryodhana, when Bhima, at the suggestion of Krshna, strikes Duryodhana on the thigh and slays him.

Thus ends the eighteen days battle or debate; and the whole array of the Kauravas, representing the Nyaya and Vaisesika systems, together with such assistance as they can derive from pure Sankhya, is defeated and destroyed. Only three persons from their ranks remain: (1) Asvatthaman, who represents the correct idea of the Mind, as associated with both the senses of knowledge and action; (2) Krtavarman, who represents the idea of Action, performed by means of control of the mind; and (3) Krpa, who represents Action as necessary in the light of the Sankhya. These three cannot be slain, for they represent the idea of Action in accordance with the three respective systems of thought Vaisesika, Nyaya, and Sankhya, which were under debate. Asvatthaman, holding that the Mind is associated with both the senses of knowledge and action must admit the necessity of action, and agree that the end of life is both knowledge and action. Krtavarman admits the necessity of action in accordance with the idea of Nyaya, as characterised by control; and Krpa in accordance with that of Sankhya. The question to be decided in this great "battle" was, Is Action imperatively necessary? All the three have already admitted its necessity in accordance with the three systems of thought they represent; and so they cannot be slain.

Sauptika Parva: This is the Tenth Parva; and, in accordance with the system of thought followed in the Mahabharata, the idea of the number ten, viz., the ten senses of knowledge and action, is examined in this Section again. As nothing of the great Kaurava army remains, the question can be considered only in the light of the Pandava forces that survive and now it is shown that, when the ten senses cease to be pervaded by the energy of Prana, they are not only cut off from the idea of God, but they cannot function at all. In this connection we have to remember that the whole battle of Kurukshetra, like the Game of Dice, was fought in the light of the evidence of the senses; and it was for this reason that Dhrstadyumna, the brother of Draupadi, representing the sacrifice of the senses of knowledge, as she does of action, was chosen to be chief general of the Pandava forces and now a question is asked, What is the character of the senses? Can they function without Prana or Breath? The reply is in the negative; and so, in the absence of Krshna and Arjuna (Supreme Soul and Prana), all those who represent the senses of knowledge and action Dhrstadyumna and others are shown to be functionless; and they are defeated and slain as they lie inactive and in sleep. This is done by the three survivors of the Kuru army, who represent Action in the light of their systems of thought, as has been explained. Thus, on the side of the Pandavas, Man alone (Pandava brothers) survives, accompanied by Draupadi and Krshna, Action in sacrifice and God-consciousness, the two divisions of the idea of Vedanta; and so he (Man) is established in pure Vedanta. On the side of the Kauravas the necessity of action too is admitted by all the three systems under debate; and those who disagreed are defeated and slain and so the great "battle" ends.

Stri Parva: Thus we have understood the real nature of Prakrti in relation to Purusha in the light of all systems of Hindu Philosophy and so, as Prakrti is symbolized as a Woman, all the women of the race of the Kauravas and Pandavas expose their faces and come to the waters of the Ganga, which represents Prakrti itself, lamenting for those who are slain. This is given in the Stri Parva. Here also we get the curse of Gandhari, the wife of Dhritarashtra, telling Krshna of his approaching end after a period of 36 years. This, however, is but a pictorial method of representing two cycles of thought, each consisting of 18 years; and we have already explained that this number signifies a conflict of three principal systems of philosophy. We have seen how the cycle ascends from Nyaya to Vedanta; and now we shall see how it can descend from Vedanta to Nyaya. Pure Vedanta, based on the unmanifest energy of the Heart, is unmanifest like the Heart; and so its place in the world of the manifest is taken by Yoga, based on Buddhi. But Buddhi is generally understood to be characterised by Knowledge more than Action; and so it is easy to forget the idea of the Supreme Purusha as sole Actor in the universe. Then in one descending cycle of thought (18 years) we come down from Buddhi or the Yoga system to Mind or Vaisesika; and then in another cycle (18 years) to Purushic Ether or Nyaya and then, as Vedanta ends where Nyaya begins, the very idea of the Supreme Purusha as Creator and Actor is forgotten and lost; and so Krshna passes away. This is the idea of the curse of Gandhari.

Santi Parva: The Twelfth Parva conforms to the idea of the number twelve. It refers to the Yoga system of thought; and, as the range of Yoga extends to Vaisesika and Nyaya, all these systems of thought are reviewed in this Section. Nor is Sankhya omitted, for it is closely allied to Nyaya. And, as Bhishma had been converted from Nyaya to Vedanta by witness sing how Prakrti (Woman) could be transformed into Purusha (Man), he is regarded as the best person to survey them all.

Anusasana Parva: The number thirteen refers to the Heart or the system of Vedanta; and so the idea of Vedanta is examined by Bhishma in this Section. After having done his work, Bhishma passes away.

Asvamedha Parva: All systems of thought, from Sankhya to Vedanta, have now been examined; and we have seen how Nyaya evolves out of Sankhya through the idea of self-control or sacrifice of the senses. Then we can rise from Nyaya to Vaisesika; thence to Yoga; and thence to Vedanta. Thus the basis of all God knowledge is the control or sacrifice of the senses; and this must never be forgotten and so in this Parva, after gaining all knowledge and power, Yudhisthira performs the Asvamedha Sacrifice or the Sacrifice of the Horse or the senses; for the Horse in sacred literature represents the senses of knowledge and action.

Asramavasika Parva: The last five Parvas of the Mahabharata are but a small fragment of the whole work. The main events of the story have now been told, and a brief description of its concluding scenes only remains. We have seen that Man (Pandava brothers) has been established in pure Vedanta, associated with Draupadi on the one hand and Krshna on the other. But pure Vedanta rests on the unmanifest energy of the Heart, and its place is taken by Buddhi or Yoga in the world of manifest life. But the range of Yoga extends to Vaisesika and Nyaya; and so Man (Pandavas) lives in peace with Nyaya (Dhritarashtra) for the time being. But Man still remembers that his Yoga is really born of Vedanta, which excludes Nyaya; and so Dhritarashtra, the blind, old King of Nyaya, with whom the Pandavas live in peace for some time, has to retire into the forest, accompanied by Gandhari, Kunti, and Vidura. This is given in the Asramavasika Parva; and after some time they all pass away.

Mausala Parva: With the death of Dhritarashtra, one cycle of 18 years has passed; and Man has come down from Yoga to Vaisesika. Another cycle (18 years) passes too; and Vaisesika has given place to Nyaya, which excludes Vedanta; and so the time has come for Krshna too to pass. Vedanta had been established when a Woman (Sikhandin) was transformed into a Man, and Bhishma was convinced and converted from Nyaya to Vedanta. Even so, when a Man (Samba) appears disguised as a Woman, signifying the transformation of Purusha (Man) into Prakrti (Woman), the opposite result takes place Krshna, the Supreme Purusha of Vedanta, is reduced to the position of Nyaya, and so he passes away. This is given in Mausala Parva.

Mahaprasthana Parva: Thus Man has accepted the position of Nyaya once more. Prakrti is regarded as the principal actor in life, and Purusha is but a spectator of its work. And so Arjuna (Prana or the individual soul) is but a poor guardian of the Women (forms of Prakrti) left in his charge by Krshna after his death. He cannot protect them by any action, and so his great bow, Gandiva, falls helpless by his side; and they are carried away by "robbers" or pass out of his control of their own accord. But the end of Man is also near. He, who believed in pure Vedanta, cannot be satisfied with Nyaya; and so he too must pass away. Man (Pandavas) dies, in the reverse order of his birth; and as the birth of the Pandava brothers represents the birth of the child from the womb, head foremost, even so is the manner of their death expressive of the manner in which a man dies. First, all actions are suspended; and that is the end of Draupadi, preceding all. Then the legs are paralyzed; and that is Sahadeva; and they are followed by arms; and that is Nakula. Then Breath or Prana passes out, and that is Arjuna; and that is followed by Mind or Bhima; and Yudhisthira or Buddhi comes last of all. This is the manner of death according to Nyaya, which conceives of Breath or Prana but as physical Air; Buddhi as the ultimate energy; and Knowledge as the final end and so Yudhisthira is accompanied by (the senses of) Knowledge, personified as a Dog, and proceeds to the world of the unmanifest, in life after death.

But the unmanifest (Heart) really belongs to Vedanta, according to which Action in sacrifice, and not Knowledge, is the highest end. That is the abode of Indra, the performer of many sacrifices; and so Yudhisthira is told that his Dog cannot accompany him to heaven. But Man has chosen Nyaya and not Vedanta; and so Yudhisthira (Buddhi or Intellect) cannot part with his Knowledge or Dog. But as all systems are connected with one another, it is not impossible for Man to revert to Vedanta once more, and realize it as the highest Truth and so is Yudhisthira admitted to realms on high in any manner he desires; for however Man approaches the Eternal, all paths lead unto Him, it is said.

Svargarohana Parva: And now there is the end. Yudhisthira, having accepted Nyaya, sees all things lopsided at first; but his choice is made, and he is prepared to abide by the consequence. He sees his brothers and Draupadi in the tortures of Hell; but is willing to remain with them to the last. Then, by the grace of God, the bonds of Man are broken once more; and he sees Vedanta as the one imperishable Truth of life in the world of the Unmanifest and so Yudhisthira is transferred to Indra's abode, the kingdom of Vedanta and beholds there his brothers, Draupadi, and Krshna, as well as the Kauravas and their friends all happy in having attained to the one eternal Truth. Thus ends the story of the Mahabharata. Its first scene opens in the Court of Brahma, the Supreme Purusha of Nyaya; and its last closes in the abode of Indra, the god who represents the idea of Vaisesika and Yoga evolving into Vedanta.

Thus ends the story of the Mahabharata a great picture of all Systems of Hindu Philosophy. The Battle of Kurukshetra might perhaps be regarded as a contest between Vedanta and the religion of Buddha; and its conclusion might appear to indicate that, for a time, the religion of Vishnu (Vedanta) came to prevail; and then it was succeeded by Buddha's. But the story of the Mahabharata serves to illustrate a more permanent cycle of thought in the course of human affairs. At one time in his life Man believes in this material world (Prakrti) as providing an answer to all that relates to him. Then slowly, dissatisfied with the answer, he turns to God as the sole, Supreme Creator of the universe. For a time he holds to this belief and grows in his faith; and then the cycle moves down again; and once more he comes to believe in the world around him rather than in God. This continues for a time; and then the cycle moves up again; and he turns slowly to God once more. This is the course of human life, and this the cycle of human thought; and it is this that is pictured in the Mahabharata more than the contest of particular religions and creeds.

There would appear to be a yet deeper reason for the success of Nyaya in preference to Vedanta in this world, as represented in the story of the Mahabharata. Vedanta stresses the necessity of performing all actions as a sacrifice, irrespective of their result; and it seems difficult for Man to accept this truth; for Action is apparently painful in its performance; and Action, accompanied by change, seems painful in its result. Man wishes to seek joy and avoid pain; and so finds it difficult to realize this truth of Vedanta, with universal Action for its goal. He appears to get more comfort in contemplation and absence of change; and feels it more in harmony with the limitations of his nature to hold that Knowledge and not Action is the highest end and so he finds more satisfaction in regarding the Supreme Purusha himself as a mere witness and spectator of Prakrti, and the individual soul, akin to the Eternal, to be of the same character too. It is the severe logic of facts which compels him to realise that Action is the Law of Life, and Vedanta the only consistent scheme of thought; but it seems as though he would accept this only for a time, and then slowly recede into Nyaya. But the cycle of thought rises yet again, and he turns slowly to Vedanta once more. In this way we rise and fall from Nyaya to Vedanta, and Vedanta to Nyaya from time to time.

But this interpretation of the story of the Mahabharata, while solving some of the most intricate problems of philosophy and religion, raises a number of other questions. The simplest and the most obvious would be, is not the Mahabharata a historical or a semis historical work, called Itihasa? Were not the Kauravas and Pandavas real, living men of flesh and blood; and Rama and Krshna too? Are there not great and famous places associated with their birth, life history and death? And is all this to pass into a narrative of pure philosophy or a picture of ideal systems of thought? The reply to this is obvious. The ancients did not regard thoughts as different in essence from things, and held that all Matter was created out of the Mind; and so to them an Idea was as living a form of life as material things, perceptible to the senses. They were witness to a great and mighty civilization deeper and more perfect than ours; and so were able to arrange all forms of life in terms of systems of thought; and picture India itself as an image of the manifest universe and so they constructed their dynasties of ideal heroes and kings, of the Solar and the Lunar race, together with an hierarchy of gods, ascetics, Rishis, Brahmanas and all, to represent their theories of creation. The picture they drew is so human and so true to life, because Ideas are conceived as real, living forms of flesh and blood, with human emotions and human sympathies, and the actions of real, living human beings and so perfect was their system, so great their thought, and so wide their authority, that all Hindu life came, in course of time, to be fashioned after the picture they had drawn. Religions, institutions, laws, castes, names of places, kingdoms, and kings, followed the ideas they had expressed; and India became a miniature of the manifest universe. All this might appear to be very extraordinary at first; but the proof of it lies in the sacred books themselves. The tendency to personify Thoughts into forms of life, and express Ideas in terms of Art, is of the essence of all creative work, as old as civilization itself; and it is not uncommon to see places and institutions so named in modern times and this universal application of Thoughts to Things is no more wonderful than the ancient systems of Hindu Philosophy and Religion, which spread over the world in their time, and have survived the shock of ages, and continue to exist, however mutilated, to this day and so we yet might see in the old, traditional forms, practices, ceremonies, and ritual of the Hindus, the same age long idea of creative principles. The test of Truth must lie in its application to the facts of life; and while the method of letter analysis gives the original meaning of words, the result may still be verified in the life and institutions of the Hindus, which have continued almost unchanged through the long lapse of years.

These speculations with regard to the Mahabharata have yet wider ramifications; and it is permissible to believe that the stories of the Old Testament, often as mysterious as those of the Puranas and the Epics, have a similar interpretation, corresponding to the same ancient system of thought. This would be nothing strange, for Ideas make their way easily through the world; and even the New Testament is believed by many to be but a restatement and a newer witness of the Old and then, might we not regard the ancient Epics of Greece also in the same light? But all this must await further investigation and require the collaboration of many minds.

In the present work I have as far as possible, referred to the original Sanskrt texts, and thought it desirable to give ample references. But, for obvious reasons, I have limited myself to the Rig Veda, the most ancient as well as the most sacred, where other Vedas only repeat the same hymn or the same idea. Nor have I given many references, though easily available, where one has sufficed. References to the Vedas are to Sir Ralph Griffith's translation; to the Upanishads, Brahmanas, etc., unless otherwise stated, to the Sacred Books of the East, published by the Oxford University Press; while references to the Mahabharata are to its translation by M. N. Dutt, and the original is the Mumbai edition, published by Gopal Narayan & Co. It would be impossible to acknowledge the whole obligation in the composition of this book. The sacred works of the Hindus are the legacy of India and the heritage of the world.