THE MAHABHARAT AS AN INSTRUMENT FOR SPIRITUAL GROWTH
The Mahabharata is perhaps the oldest epic tale. It tells the story of a great family war. There are two ways of looking at it - the first is that of an event which took place many thousands of years ago, and the other of something happening every moment in our lives. My teacher always told me that every aspirant on the spiritual path has to fight his own inner Mahabharata and that all the characters in the drama are lying within our minds or our psychic nature and the great book shows the spiritual science of how to recognise each one of them within us and to free our consciousness from them.
The first recorded date in human history is 326 B.C. when Alexander stood on the banks of the river Jhelum ready to start his conquest of Bharata. A story goes that one day Alexander lost his way in the jungle. He followed the flow of the river and came upon an old man lying completely naked enjoying the rays of the sun by the riverside. Alexander stood by his side figuring out who it was, the old man opened his eyes, looked at Alexander and told him to step aside as he was blocking the rays of the sun. Alexander was shocked, he was the king of nearly the whole world and here a naked fakir was talking to him in this way. Then Alexander looked into his eyes and all his vanity vanished, the fakir’s name was Diogenes. Alexander said ‘I am the king of the world and you an ordinary beggar, but when I look in your eyes it seems to me that you are the emperor and I, just an ordinary beggar.’ To this, Diogenes replied that ‘all men spend their whole lives asking, and you desire the whole world, and so you are the greatest beggar. I am free of desire, and so I am an emperor who has the greatest treasure of all.’
Alexander asked him to give him this treasure, and Diogenes told him to take off his clothes, lie down and enjoy the sun. But Alexander said that ‘I still have to conquer China, I will do so quickly and come back to learn from you.’ It is said that Diogenes looked at him with great compassion and told him that by then it would be too late. Alexander’s men felt homesick and he turned back without conquering China. A few days later on the borders of Persia, he fell victim to a great fever, and it is said that in his dying hours he remembered Diogenes and of the great opportunity he lost, and he gave instructions that ‘when I am buried keep my two empty palms outside the grave, that I was the king of the whole world but died an ordinary beggar.’
See the mind of Alexander who wanted every inch of the world and see Duryodhana who was not willing to part with even a pin point of land to the Pandavas. In all of us, this Duryodhana is present. The Sanskrit derivative, Duh- yuddham-sah means the warrior who cannot be defeated. Desire to own things can never be satisfied but we all feel that, in this life we will fulfil all our desires, knowing fully well that no one has ever fulfilled theirs. But we can free our consciousness from desire and then kill the ego that wants more and more, who in everyone is Duryodhana.
What did Alexander see in Diogenes’ eyes - he saw the epitome of human consciousness which in the Mahabharata is called Krishna. These are the two poles open to all humans, either one can let oneself fall to the level of Duryodhana or one can rise in consciousness and be one with Krishna. All the other characters fall in between these two.
brings to light all the people living in our minds. They all lie in our lower psychic nature; when we are cunning, we are Shakuni; when we are
angry and animal-like, we are Dushashana; when we are jealous and covet other peoples’ things, we are Kritvarma - Krishna’s kinsmen who desired Satyabhama who was Krishnas wife; when we are obstinate about anything (even truth), we are Bhishma whose pratigya was the cause of the whole war - the world is full of Bhishmas who invite pain and downfall through their obstinacy.
Arjuna is the inner seeker who through hard work has come in contact with his inner guru, Krishna.
Once the inner teacher reveals himself to the disciple, he takes the reigns of the chariot of his life in his hands and leads him to conquer the lower psychic nature which is done in a symbolic 18 day war. Krishna is our inner teacher who is waiting for us to call upon him. The Mahabharata can become a work-manual for all of us to reach that highest state of individual consciousness which remains as a potentiality in all of us.