The Gambling Match is a contest of systems of philosophy; and the different points of view of the combatants may be represented as Pandavas (Vaisesika and Nyaya) and Kauravas (Nyaya and Sankhya).
The Pandavas are established in Vaisesika and the Kauravas in Nyaya; and the latter choose their own common ground, vis., Nyaya; and so the "game" is played in Dhritarashtra's Sabha or Assembly-Hall, which is a picture of this system of thought. We have observed that Nyaya has a twofold character; but, as the Kauravas have chosen their own ground, the basis of discussion is to be their own point of view of Nyaya, viz., that the Supreme Purusha is a mere spectator of Prakrti, and the latter does all the work of creation. Starting from this position, the Pandavas are required to show how they can establish themselves in Vaisesika, and make good its connection with Yoga as well.
Conditions of the Game: Before the "game" commenced, the two parties agreed to certain conditions and they were (1) that the means of proof were to be sought in the evidence of the senses, and this is the principal form of evidence accepted by all systems of thought, and called Pratyaksha Pramana; and (2) that the character of God as an Actor was not to be taken for granted. It was to be assumed that God had nothing to do with the manifestation of life or the performance of Action, and was a mere witness and spectator of the work done by Prakrti; for that is the point of view of Nyaya, the common ground between the contestants. Proceeding from this, it was for Yudhisthira to prove his Vaisesika point of view, and show that God is an Actor too. Thus, the question to be decided was, Is God an Actor or not? And, conversely, as the individual soul is akin to the Supreme Soul, Is Action the goal of life, or its abandonment?
Yudhisthira Loses the Game: Yudhisthira accepted, the common ground of Nyaya, as chosen by the Kauravas; and so he had to agree to the exclusion of the idea of God from Prakrti as well as the senses of Action, as a condition of the "game". He argued and lost; and Sakuni, who played for Duryodhana, argued and won; and the conclusion was in favour of Nyaya and Sankhya, viz., that the negation of Action was the end of life.
Draupadi in the Assembly Hall: Yudhisthira had argued the question in the light of all that he knew and understood, including the character of the whole Man the functions of his Hands and Feet, of Mind, Prana, and Buddhi; and so he had gambled away all his wealth and kingdom as well as his brothers and himself. One idea alone remained in the end of Action conceived and performed as a Sacrifice: and that was Draupadi. Should acts of sacrifice, conceived as creative, and meant for the benefit of the world, be performed, or should they also be abandoned? That was the question; and it could not be buried. So Draupadi too was staked, and lost; for the condition of the game! Was that the idea of God was to be excluded from all Action; and acts of sacrifice, without the idea of God, are like all other acts, and so must conform to the conclusion that they should be renounced.
But the very "stake" of Draupadi or discussion about Action as a sacrifice was out of place in that "Assembly Hall" or the system of Nyaya philosophy; for its very conception is that it is pervaded by the God idea; and it is, for that reason, the first step to Vedanta; and Vedanta excludes Nyaya completely. Hence Draupadi protests that she is unfit to appear in the Hall, as she is in her "monthly season" and dressed in "one piece of cloth"; both of which describe, in the light of the method of letter analysis, her character as being of the very essence of Action which was being denied, and pervaded by the idea of God which was excluded from the debate.
Uncovering of Draupadi: But she was brought into the Hall under compulsion; and those who did so had to take their chance of the result. They denied her very character as pervaded by the God idea; and this, when properly rendered, is the meaning of the attempt to uncover her. But Action as a sacrifice is really of the essence of the idea of God; and so she remembered Krshna, and the attempt to "uncover" her failed. But the result was not regarded as conclusive, and still the argument went on; and it was held that acts of sacrifice too must be abandoned if the position of Nyaya, as proved by Sakuni was sound. But here the tables were turned on those who argued in this way. For, if acts of sacrifice had also to be renounced, where was the need of believing that God existed at all, even as a spectator of the work of Prakrti? Was it not more logical to hold to the pure Sankhya position, utterly excluding God, and to believe that Prakrti is the sole creator of life? That this was the logical result of the utter negation of Action could not be denied; and it endangered the position of Nyaya itself.
Sacrifice and the Idea of Nyaya: Here it is necessary clearly to understand why the negation of Action as a sacrifice destroys the idea of Nyaya itself. If, in our search after Truth, we argue from the Known to the Unknown, the first and most rudimentary idea is that all life is created by Prakrti alone; and this is the point of view of the pure Sankhya system. But Prakrti (Pra, kri, ti) is characterised by Action; and that is its very meaning, being derived from Kri, "to act". Now the Sankhya holds that this world is a womb of pain; that there are innumerable individual souls, each separate from the other, and that they have come to be associated with Prakrti by the merest chance. The chief object of each soul, therefore, is to see Prakrti in all its aspects, and to escape from its bondage as soon as possible. Hence the goal of all is the utter renunciation of Action, born of Prakrti; and when, that is done, the soul attains to perfect freedom and happiness. But the question is how can the soul escape from Prakrti, when Prakrti is the sole creator of life, including the soul? And how can the soul abandon all Action, born of Prakrti, when, without performing the most necessary duties, even the barest existence would become impossible? To this the pure, unadulterated Sankhya has no reply and so we have to admit the necessity of performing actions as a duty and a sacrifice. Some action is indeed necessary; but, it is argued, we must so act that, while acting, we should still be free from its effects; and so the next step leads to the idea of God as a mere witness and spectator of Prakrti; and this is Nyaya. As the individual soul is conceived to be akin to the Supreme Soul, we too should live and act like the latter, as spectators of life and all our actions should be characterised by perfect self-control, and we should perform them only as a duty and a sacrifice. This is the position of Nyaya; and now, if as a result of the conclusion arrived at with respect to Draupadi, even acts of sacrifice are to be abandoned, what would become of Nyaya itself? Hence there is a protest in the camp of Dhritarashtra, for he represents Nyaya himself and so the blind, old king is obliged to put an end to the contest, and placate Draupadi, and restore their lost kingdom to the Pandavas once more. For, if he must admit the need of Action as a sacrifice, he must recognize the claim of Draupadi too; and, as the latter is characterised by God consciousness, all that Man (Pandavas) has lost in the debate must be restored, and he regains his old position as before. Thus Draupadi or Action conceived as a sacrifice, the first step to Vedanta, is the sheet anchor of the Pandavas, and leads them to victory in the end.
The Second Game: But Duryodhana is not satisfied. Whatever might happen to Nyaya, as a result of this discussion, it could not be held that Yudhisthira had established his position by any direct evidence of the senses, which was one of the conditions of the "game" and so they must discuss the problem yet once more; and whoever loses must go out to seek the proof of his point of view in the facts of manifest life, and return to the subject thereafter again. This is the second Gambling Match and the stake of exile for thirteen years. The conditions of the game are the same as before. Man (Pandavas) plays and loses; and goes out to seek the proof of God knowledge in the world of manifest life, and the unmanifest kingdom of the Heart.
Vana Parva: In the Vana Parva is described the story of Man's quest after Truth. He realizes that the idea of Action as a sacrifice can give but a partial idea of God-consciousness; and perfect truth can be attained only in the light of Prana. Or the consciousness of the individual soul, as in the Adi Parva Arjuna had gone out to understand the character of Ether, Mind, and Buddhi, he seeks now to realize the character of the Heart; and so he goes to his ancient home, the imperishable city that is situated within. This is the meaning of his visit to Indra's kingdom for the weapons wherewith to fight the Kauravas in the field again. He succeeds and returns. Man is enthroned in pure Vedanta, and duly armed for the next encounter.
But the time is not yet. Man has been established in Vedanta, as the best guarantee of the success of Yoga, its first manifest form in the world of life; but Vedanta, like all other systems, has a threefold character, and is associated with Buddhi as well as Mind; and so to be rooted in Vedanta Man must understand yet once more the idea of Buddhi and Mind from the point of view of Vedanta. In this Parva Man understands the relation of Vedanta to Yoga or the system of Buddhi; and as the latter is represented by the number 12, he spends twelve years of exile in this way.
Virata Parva: Man has still to understand the relation of Vedanta to Vaisesika, based on the idea of the Mind; and that is done in Virata Parva. This is the thirteenth year of his exile, and this number refers to the energy of the Heart. But, according to Vaisesika and Nyaya, Heart-energy is analogous to the energy of the Mind; and Man has now to understand the idea of the Mind (Vaisesika) in relation to the Heart (Vedanta); and so this year of his exile fits in with the significance attaching to the number thirteen.
Udyoga Parva: Thus Man has been firmly established in Vedanta, with its range extending to Yoga and Vaisesika. This is recognized in Udyoga Parva, and it is admitted that Vedanta is superior to Yoga. We have seen that Vedanta has Vaisesika at its lower end, and that it excludes both Nyaya and Sankhya. Hence, as the Pandavas (Man) are established in Vedanta, there is no possibility of a compromise with the Kauravas, who represent Nyaya. The Pandavas demand from them only five villages or towns in which to spend their days in peace; but Duryodhana is unable to give them even so much space as would be covered by the point of a needle.
But Nyaya is associated with Vaisesika at the upper end, and that is also the lower limit of Vedanta; and if the Kauravas could be induced to accept the Vaisesika, there yet might be peace and so Krshna goes to them himself to secure this result. But Vaisesika has a threefold character and the Kauravas understand it from their own point of view, as associated with Nyaya, which is exclusive of Vedanta and so, claiming the Vaisesika for their own, they wish to contest the position of Vedanta.
The challenge is accepted. On one Side is Vedanta, and on the other Vaisesika and Nyaya. But, as Vedanta is based on the unmanifest energy of the Heart, and the proof of each is limited to the evidence of the senses in the world of the manifest, Vedanta is satisfied with Yoga for its substitute and so the battle is apparently between Yoga on the one hand, and Vaisesika and Nyaya combined on the other, though the former may take such assistance from Vedanta, and the latter from Sankhya, as it can. The Pandavas accordingly muster their forces of Buddhi or Yoga, and bring seven Aksouhinis or divisions into the field, for Yoga is represented by this number, as we have seen. To this Krshna, the Supreme Purusha of Vedanta, adds himself, as an adviser and guide. The Kauravas, on the other hand, have the forces of Vaisesika and Nyaya at their command, and so they bring eleven Aksouhinis or divisions into the field; for the two systems combined are represented by this number. To this Krshna gives all that Prakrti or the Sankhya system can add. But the debate is primarily between Yoga, under the direction of Vedanta, on the one hand, and Vaisesika and Nyaya combined on the other; and the different points of view of the combatants may be indicated as follows: