The stage has now been set for the action of this great drama of life; and the two sets of combatants, starting from Vaisesika or the character of the Mind, as a common meeting place, proceed in different directions one towards Nyaya and Sankhya, and the other towards Yoga and Vedanta. For a long time the issue hangs in the balance; but in the end the latter succeeds. Then, after some time, when the victory, is won and Man (Pandavas) reigns happily in Vedanta, a new cycle of life begins. The idea of God, as the sole creator of the universe, is forgotten and lost; and so Krshna passes away, and with him the Man who believed in him. Vedanta comes to an end, and the other systems of thought reign in its place; but it will be restored yet once more, for that is the one great Truth of Life.
This is the central idea of this great Epic; but it would be helpful to examine it in some little detail here. The chief events of this great story will be explained later; and here a bare outline will suffice.
Number Eighteen in the Mahabharata: We have seen that the Mahabharata is a conflict of Vedanta and Vedanta-Yoga on the one hand, and Vaisesika and Nyaya and Sankhya on the other, with Vaisesika as the common ground for both. But, as we have seen, Vedanta, based on the unmanifest energy of the Heart, is made manifest as Yoga (Vedanta-Yoga), based on Buddhi; and it is for this reason that, for practical purposes, Buddhi and Atman or Soul, (referring to Heart-energy) are identified. Thus, as the contest is to be carried on in the light of the evidence of the senses, and is limited to the world of the manifest, Yoga or Vedanta-Yoga takes the place of Vedanta, with such assistance from the latter as it properly can; and so the fight is between the system of Buddhi (Yoga) on the one hand, and the systems of Mind and Purushic Ether combined (Vaisesika and Nyaya) on the other. As these systems are represented by the numbers 7, 6, and 5 respectively, we get a total of 18, corresponding to the 18 days of the battle29. This also explains why the Pandavas had only 7 Aksouhinis or divisions; whereas the Kauravas had 11; for the former refers to the number of Buddhi, and the latter to that of Mind and Purushic Ether combined; and the word Aksouhini derived from Aksa, really refers to the senses, which is also a meaning of this word. The word Aksa also occurs in the Gambling Match, where it is interpreted as Dice; but there too it refers to the senses, by means or in the light of which the contest is to be carried on. This is the significance of the number 18 in the Mahabharata; and the idea of its 18 Parvas or sections and of the 18 Chapters of the Bhagavad Gita is the same.
Personification: We have seen how the Upanishads refer to energies and ideas having the form of a Man and this is the basis of the system of personification adopted in the Puranas and the great Epics. It requires only a little imagination to extend the same idea; and in constructing their sacred stories the ancient Hindus personified systems of thought in terms of different kinds of structures and institutions houses, palaces, forts, cities, and kingdoms; and transformed the whole country, India, into a picture of Brahmanda or the manifest universe a philosophical or religious discussion relating to single ideas, assumed the form of a combat between individuals; and that relating to systems of thought, of a battle between contending armies, when kingdoms of thought were lost and won and so their weapons of war swords, javelins, bow and arrow, mace and discus and shield; together with horses, chariots and elephants; as well as divisions of force, arrays, combinations, generals, leaders, and men foot soldiers, horsemen, and those riding on elephants and cars; are all to be interpreted in terms of ideas, energies of life, and systems of thought, where "killing" signifies not merely defeat, but being assigned to Prakrti or a Prakrtic, as distinguished from a Purushic, system of thought Sometimes again a contest would assume the form of a "Game", as between Yudhisthira and Sakuni; for their ideal "games" , like their ideal cities, and kingdoms, were pictures of systems of thought; and the Game of Dice, played by Yudhisthira and Sakuni, is a contest between Vaisesika and Nyaya; while the Game of Cards, also invented in India, is a contest between Vedanta and the other systems. This might appear to be strange at first; but all this can be demonstrated to be true in the light of the ancient method of analyzing words and names into their component letters and syllables.
Analysis of eighteen Parvas: Thus the whole story of the Mahabharata, in general design as well as the minutest detail, is a picture of the great systems of thought and their corresponding religions, written in a pictorial form of Sanskrt, to be understood, by means of the method of letter analysis, in the light of the Vedas, Upanishads, Brahmanas, and the systems of Hindu philosophy. Like all other sacred works, it is the product, not of an individual mind, but a great school of thought, which flourished in India in the past; and its magnitude only proves how necessary it was that sacred literature should be properly explained, and presented in interesting and agreeable story-form. That this method has led to a great misunderstanding of the original idea, cannot be denied; but it has preserved it in the popular mind more than anything else could have done and so the Mahabharata continues to live in the heart of millions of people to this day, when great and abstruse systems of thought have long been forgotten, and are studied only by the learned few. But all can understand the story the delight of the child, the pleasure of youth, and the comfort of age; and for those who wish to understand the idea more exactly, there is the method of letter analysis. The loss of this system has been great indeed; but the gain greater still; and through the passage of centuries and the long lapse of time, the Mahabharata yet lives. It would be of interest to give a brief outline of the story of this extraordinary work according; to its Parvas or Sections.
Adi Parva: The Adi Parva relates to Origins, and narrates the creation of different forms and forces of life in terms of the Nyaya and Vaisesika systems of thought. It describes how Man (Pandava brothers), born in the Vaisesika and brought up in the Nyaya system, escapes from the Sankhya and Nyaya and understands the idea of Action as a sacrifice; and so is united with Draupadi, who represents it. As this is the first step in his realization of God consciousness, he meets Krshna, the Supreme Purusha of Vedanta. He has escaped from Sankhya and Nyaya into Vaisesika; but his position in the latter is recognized as akin to Nyaya; and with that he is, for the moment, satisfied.
But it is Prana or Heart-energy as Breath (Arjuna) that performs all action, and its instrument is the human arm; and so it is Arjuna who wins Draupadi, the creative sacrifice of Action. But Prana is not only physical Air, the element of Action; it functions in every part of the body, Ether, Mind, Buddhi, and the Heart; and so to understand itself, Praia must know all of these. But Man has so far attained only to the Vaisesika or Mind-stage, associated with Purushic Ether on the one hand and Buddhi on the other; and so the knowledge of Prana must be limited to these for the present. Corresponding to this Arjuna marries three more wives, Ulupi, Citrangada, and Subhadra, the sister of Krshna. The first refers to Ether; and thereby Arjuna understands the senses of knowledge and action, born of its twofold character; their relation to one another, and to the Mind on the one hand and to Action on the other. The second refers to the Mind, by means of which he realizes the power of Imagination, born when Prana functions in connection with the Mind. This is Babhruvahana, the child of this union; who "carries the image of all manifest life on his brow", the place of both the Imagination and the Mind. The third refers to Buddhi, closely allied to the energy of the Heart; and so Subhadra is the sister of Krshna, the Supreme Purusha of the Heart. United with her, Arjuna realizes partial self-consciousness or Egoism; and so out of this union is born Abhimanyu or Abhimana meaning Egoism. Thus, when Prana or Breath (Arjuna) functions in Ether or the organs of the senses, there is Mind-consciousness on the one hand and Action on the other; when it functions in connection with the Mind, Imagination is born; and when it dwells on Buddhi or the Intellect, it is partially conscious of itself as Egoism or Abhimana.
Sabha Parva: Thus Man (Pandavas) is established in the Vaisesika or the philosophy of the Mind, associated with Nyaya on the one hand, and Yoga on the other. He wishes to understand these two ends of Vaisesika more clearly; and so he gets a Sabha; or an Assembly-Hall built for himself, as a picture of Nyaya. Thereafter he performs the Rajasuya Sacrifice, as expressive of the idea of Yoga.
But this rouses the jealousy of those who believe in the Nyaya, viz., Duryodhana and others; for Nyaya is associated with Vaisesika on the one hand and pure Sankhya on the other. So long as Man was content with the Vaisesika it did not matter very much, for that is the higher limit of Nyaya and Sankhya too. But his association with Yoga was dangerous to the very existence of Nyaya; for Yoga can easily lead to Vedanta, and that excludes Nyaya and Sankhya completely. They thought it necessary, therefore, to bring down Man to accept the Nyaya system of thought and so Dhritarashtra, at the instance of Duryodhana, built his own Sabha, as a picture of Nyaya, from his own point of view, and called Man to see if it was not the same as his own, and to hold a friendly discussion on the subject. Thus was held the great "Gambling Match" between Yudhisthira and Sakuni.