Narach Philosophy

THE MAHABHARATA: AN INTRODUCTION


The idea of the Mahabharata, as a great picture of a great Philosophy of Life, occurred to me almost like a dream. I have pursued it for nearly eight years; and the result of my study, relating to the Vedas, is contained in this volume; and that, relating to the Mahabharata, will follow in the next. My study of the Mahabharata led me to the Vedas, Upanishads, Satapatha Brahmana and the Systems of Hindu Philosophy; for the "story" is, even as it claims to be, a picture of all sacred philosophy and literature; and it is in this light that I have explained and interpreted it.

It was my intention to publish the work as a whole, from the Vedas to the Mahabharata, in order that my interpretation might be properly understood. But the work was vaster than I had imagined; and, as a number of persons with whom I had occasion to discuss the subject, desired to see as complete a statement of it as possible without waiting for the end of the whole, I prepared the present volume ending with the Vedas, to be followed by another, relating to my interpretation of the "story" of the Mahabharata, as soon as possible. The present volume was accordingly written more than two years ago, and printed last year. But I felt that the character of the subject was such that its full significance could hardly be realized without an interpretation of the "story" of the Mahabharata itself; and so I took the second volume in hand. Though a number of points, dealt with in the first volume have been amplified and explained in greater detail in the second, I have had little reason to alter the conclusions of the first part, and it is issued without any change. The second part, relating to the "story" of the Mahabharata, will appear at an early date.

The main idea of the present work is that the sacred books of the Hindus, from the Vedas to the Mahabharata, described as the fifth and the last Veda, deal with the one problem of all problems, the Truth of life conceived in various ways. The Vedas examine the different theories of life, its origin, manifestation, and end in the form of Hymns; the Brahmanas represent the supreme creative energy conceived as Action in Sacrifice; the Upanishads and the Systems of Hindu Philosophy deal with the same subject with less symbolism and more directly; while the Puranas and the great Epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata describe it in Story-form and all this can be demonstrated by means of the ancient method of interpretation, based on the analysis of words and names into their component syllables and letters, which has the sanction of all the sacred works of the Hindus. I have dealt with only the Vedas and the Mahabharata in this manner; but a method that applies to the first and last of the sacred works, must apply equally to all.

I am conscious of the character of the present work and its new point of view, when judged in the light of modern theories and modern criticism, especially those that come from the West. But no student of the original works of the Hindus can, I believe, lightly dismiss this interpretation; for the heart of Hinduism has always held that there is a deep philosophy of life, now lost, behind the "hymns" of the Vedas, the "sacrifices" of the Brahmanas, and the "stories" of the Puranas and the great Epics; and this is also the old traditional belief and in the light of this method of letter analysis, the sacred works of the Hindus are easily found to admit of this view. But if this be correct, the principal Sanskrt works will all require a new interpretation, not only in the mass, but in detail; and this is beyond the power of a single individual, however devoted to his task. I therefore hope that some others also may feel interested in the work and assist.

KEY TO SACRED WORKS

The Law of Life: Brahmanda: The reader will find little difficulty in grasping the main idea of the subject. The whole conception of Life, as understood by the Hindus, is based on the organic Cell or Ovum, the first and final form of all manifest life, out of which has been evolved the great ancient idea of Hiranya garbha or the Golden Foetus, Brahmanda. Or the Ovum of Brahma, the Creator of the universe for it is said "As it is in the Cell, so is it in Brahmanda". All manifestations of life, the meanest and the mightiest, are conceived as created out of this one pervading, omnipotent energy; and held together by one fundamental, universal Law. Nor will there be any difficulty in understanding the method of interpretation, in the light of which the sacred works of the Hindus are seen to relate to but different ways of expressing different theories of life, as arising out of the conception of the universal Ovum or Cell. According to this idea the Sanskrt language itself is conceived as a picture of Brahmanda, reproducing, by means of its vowels and consonants, general structure, Sandhi rules and grammatical forms, the idea of the nucleus, cytoplasm, centrosomes and chromosomes of the Cell; and the form, action and inter-action of its constituent parts; so that each expression, word or letter might be the mirror of a great science, a great philosophy, and a great religion, all united together in one Truth. This theory of the origin of the Sanskrt language will be found to be in harmony with the ancient tradition that the Lord Mahadeva played on his "drum", and the notes that arose constituted the letters of the Sanskrt alphabet; for the form of the "drum" in action is identical to that of the Universe; and it is this that explains why each letter of the alphabet has so many meanings in Sanskrt.

This single, great, and universal Law is found to apply not only to Biology, but also to Physics, Mathematics, Astronomy and Medicine; indeed, to all that the ancients imagined or knew; and furnishes a key to a proper understanding of their ideas of science, philosophy, and religion as expressed in their sacred works. This might, at first sight, appear to be almost stupendous; but a theory of life may not be rejected merely because of its comprehensiveness. Indeed, no new interpretation of the sacred works can be satisfactory or convincing unless it is complete and comprehensive; for these books are believed to be a great storehouse of divine and universal knowledge revealed to Man; and the Mahabharata, regarded as the fifth Veda or the most perfect work of wisdom, is said to be "a lamp, lighting up properly and completely the whole womb of Nature; dealing with the eternal Brahma, the existent and existent-non-existent universe; together with the principles of philosophy, medicine, reproduction, progression, birth, death, re-birth, Time, Space, Sun, Moon, Planets and Stars"; indeed, all that the human mind can imagine or understand; and it is described as the great source of knowledge in the universe. Hence no new interpretation of the sacred works of the Hindus can be satisfactory, unless it can show, in a scientific and systematic manner, how the Vedas can be accepted as divine, or the Mahabharata as a great source of universal knowledge; and so all other works, each in its degree.

That the task is difficult cannot be denied; but it cannot be beyond human capacity; for that, which has been conceived, can equally well be interpreted by man. But, when we come to examine the ideas of the universe, as understood by the ancients, they appear to be remarkable, not for their complexity, so much as their simplicity; and it is in its simplicity that we have the one and only great test of Truth.

Fundamental Ideas: Leaving aside details, which have been dealt with in the following pages, the fundamental ideas of the ancients may be summed up as follows:

  1. The whole universe is created out of Purusha and Prakrti, the male and female energies of life; but whether Purusha or Prakrti is its first and original source, or the two are united together from the very beginning, it is difficult, if not impossible, to know.
  2. The most elementary form of life is the Cell; and such is also Brahmanda or the Cell of the Universe. Each object of life is created out of it and formed in its image, containing all the energies and characteristics of the parent Cell and so it is said "As it is in the organic Cell, so is it in Brahmanda".
  3. The universe is partly manifest and partly unmanifest. The unmanifest is the Heart, and out of it are created the seven manifest energies of life; Buddhi, Mind, and the five elements, Ether, Air, Fire, Water and the element Earth. These, with their properties, characteristics, and modifications, constitute all manifest life.

Method of Interpretation: These are the simple and basic ideas of the ancients; and it is by examining them in different combinations and from different points of view, that they have constructed their systems of thought and religion, each to be a picture of a great idea of the universe and it is in the same light that they have, in my opinion, constructed a new language, Sanskrt, to be a living, moving form of imperishable Brahmanda. It is unnecessary to relate how I came to this conclusion; it is enough to point to its significance; and its test is the interpretation of the sacred works themselves.

But the reader is not obliged to accept this theory of Sanskrt, as a new creation of the genius of man, to the able to accept the interpretation of the sacred works. This theory of the origin of Sanskrt, as a picture of Brahmanda or the organic Cell, only serves to explain the peculiarities of its general structure, grammatical rules, and the different meanings attaching to each letter of its alphabet, which have apparently little connection with one another. But so long as we accept the dictionary meanings of letters, the actual method of letter analysis, as applied to both the Vedas and the Mahabharata, will stand; and the authority for its application is to be found in every sacred work of the Hindus.

Result of Interpretation, Problem of the Mahabharata: That this system of interpretation should lead to some extraordinary results in lighting up hidden recesses of ancient thought, or explaining ideas never fully understood before, is only to be expected. Indeed, it depends for its very acceptance not only on its general application to all the ancient sacred works of the Hindus, but also on its ability to harmonize them all into one whole; and explain what has, at least for many years, never been properly understood and perhaps there is nothing in the world more wonderful than the ancient works of the Hindus, or more amazing than the Puranas or the "story" of the Mahabharata. It is impossible to conceive of a more difficult, and yet a more fascinating problem than that presented by this "story" of the Bharata race. The field it covers is so varied and vast, and the subjects it treats of so diverse and conflicting, that the mind is easily dazed by the splendour, mystery, and confusion of it all. It claims to be the essence of the four Vedas, and the fifth Veda itself; the source of all knowledge and wisdom, dealing with all that has been known or ever can be known. "That which is in this, is elsewhere: that which does not occur here, occurs nowhere else", thus it is said. Yet how far does the actual Story bear this out? Beyond the Celestial Song of the Bhagavad Gita, repeated in the Anu-Gita and the discourses of Bhishma in the Santi and Anusasana Parvas, and a few scattered references to morality, philosophy, and religion, there is little in the story itself that can inspire the mind or elevate the soul.

Indeed, as the story is ordinarily understood, there is much to repel and little to attract in the life history of the Kauravas and Pandavas, or the account of their adventures and deeds. Right up from the story of Ganga and Santanu and the birth of Vyasa, to the close of the battle of Kurukshetra, strange and extraordinary events take place which can only shock the moral sense, and dull and deaden the higher sensibility of man and it is only a vague, undefined feeling that the whole conception is somehow divine, and that somewhere there is a missing link now lost, and a mysterious meaning at present understood, that has prevented the work from tainting the very springs of Hindu life. The problem is, indeed, a most extraordinary one.

From the very beginning we get strange accounts of the birth of the principal characters of the Epic: sages losing self-control; a Rishi practising Niyoga; and even the great Sun himself compelling a young, innocent virgin to his will. Then there is the story of mother Ganga drowning her seven sons as soon as born, and separating from her husband when at last he remonstrates. The great hero, Bhishma, carries away by force the three daughters of the King of Kasi; and Arjuna, going out to practise Brahmacharya, marries three wives instead; carrying away by force the sister of Kia himself, and that too at Krishna's own suggestion. Then there is the Gambling Match, played openly with deceit; and Yudhisthira, knowing that it was So, stakes away his wealth, kingdom, brothers, himself, and Draupadi all and then the spectacle of the insult and exposure of Draupadi, in the very presence of heroes, kings, elders and preceptors; and not a voice, not a word is uttered by the great ones in protest to prevent the deed. It is unnecessary to refer to more incidents of this character; and we might pass on to the great battle of Kurukshetra.

Apart from the question, whether Krshna, the Supreme Purusha himself, was justified in asking the Pandavas to fight, not for a whole or half of a kingdom, but for the sake of getting five villages alone, which they demanded in order to spend their lives in peace with the result that millions of men were slain and millions of homes rendered desolate, one might ask whether the conduct of Krshna in the course of the battle itself was proper or just. Not a law of honour but was broken, not a rule of chivalry but was transgressed by the Pandavas; and all at the instance of Krshna, the Supreme Creator himself. Drona is killed by means of a lie, uttered by Yudhisthira at his suggestion; it is he who leads Arjuna to shoot Bhishma when the latter has laid down his arms; it is he who clouds the last rays of the setting sun to deceive Jayadratha, to enable Arjuna to slay him before sunset as he had vowed; it is he who presses Arjuna to strike Karna when his chariot has got stuck in the ground and he asks for some respite to extricate it; and it is he at whose suggestion Bhima, contrary to all rules of the combat, hits Duryodhana on the thigh, and strikes him dead. And, as if all this were not enough, by a strange irony, Krshna is hailed as Supreme Purusha and Creator of the universe by the very people he has helped to slay.

Judged by the standards of civilized people, the actions attributed to Krshna and other heroes and gods are so reprehensible, that there are many who hold that the Mahabharata gives an account of a semi barbarous age, when the very idea of God was copied from the low standards of human conduct and life of the day; and they believe that there is nothing surprising in Krshna, a powerful prince, a popular hero, and a shrewd and practical man of affairs, being deified into the Supreme Creator of the universe, in course of time. This, according to them, is a common characteristic of all the great ancient epics of the world; and they would explain away the magnificent episode of the Bhagavad Gita and other philosophical, moral and spiritual discourses scattered throughout the work, as interpolations of later times, introduced to partake of the popularity of the original story, and so pass current among the people.

Real Character of the Mahabharata: But the real character of the Mahabharata is what is described in the book itself, as a wonderful picture of the universe; and the whole "story" is written in a peculiar form of Sanskrt, which, while it appears to be a narrative, is really a picture of great ideas and systems of thought, when interpreted in the light of the ancient method of letter analysis and then all the strange and extraordinary events and disgraceful and dishonourable deeds, are found to be but a beautiful exposition of great and sublime ideas; and all the error is due to a misunderstanding of the original context. This is the significance and the result of this method of interpretation.

But the interest of the reader is not limited to textual exposition alone. The sacred books of the Hindus claim to be a store house of universal knowledge; and so the student of Biology will see in the idea of Brahmanda and the structure of the Sanskrt language, the different constituents of the organic Cell, and the action and inter action of its parts. The student of Physics will come across ideas relating to Heat, Electricity and Magnetism; Time Light, Sound, Space, and the properties of Matter; and see, with the student of Philosophy and Religion, how the three great energies of life, Heat. Electricity and Magnetism, have become the basis of the three principal systems of Hindu thought Vedanta, Yoga, and Sankhya on which have been reared the three corresponding systems of religion which had their birth in India, associated with the names of Vishnu, Siva, and Buddha respectively. The student of Astronomy will see how the Solar system is reproduced in the days of the week, from Sunday to Saturday, and yet why the order of the days is different to that of the planets in the sky; and he will find that our planet Earth is not the same as the element of that name; and that the Moon is a higher energy than our Earth, directing, together with the Sun, its course of life. Then there is the theory of Astrology, relating to the bearing of the planetary system on human life; of Medicine and the cause and cure of disease; of Arithmetic and the significance of numbers; followed by what relates to the four forms of organic life, the Viviparous, born from the womb; the Oviparous, born from eggs; the Vegetable kingdom, and Germs; together with the four Ages of Time, the four castes, the incarnations of God, and the sacrifices, religious forms and ceremonies of the Hindus.

But above all this knowledge, born of the exercise of the senses, the inquiry of the Mind, the flight of the imagination, or the calm, deliberate judgment of Reason (Buddhi), is the Heart, the inmost recess of the Soul, conscious of its own existence and kindred with the Eternal; and it is the problem of the Atman or the Soul that is the chief subject of the sacred works above everything else.

This is but a bare outline of a great and mighty civilization to which the ancients were witness in the past; and modern Archaeological research, in India as well as Asia, has succeeded in unearthing a few fragments of it today. How wonderful it was may yet be seen from what has been preserved, though now worn out and decayed, in the religion, laws, institutions, monuments, customs, traditions, and the literature and life of the people of India even at the present day. But how far I have succeeded in giving a correct interpretation of the sacred works in these directions, the reader must judge for himself. I am conscious that this view of mine must give rise to a controversy; but the conclusions have appeared to me to be irresistible, and they must be taken for what they are worth.