Yudhisthira is frightened seeing the might of the Kauravas just as the Great War was about to begin on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. He felt his army was much smaller and subject to defeat. Arjuna and Sri Krishna console him. Arjuna tells Yudhisthira that he has the ‘Pasupata Astra’, which if he uses, could destroy the whole Kaurava army in the blink of an eye. Rather, he would engage in ordinary warfare and achieve victory the hard way, slowly and with great difficulty.
In this small episode, Vyasji unravels to us two ways to enlightenment – one, a shortcut and immediate approach and the other, a slow and steady process. The first is a secret method, fraught with dangers of many imbalances of the body-brain system, given directly by a master to only certain disciples. The second is a slow and steady method which can be taught freely.
When Pandu and his wives were in the forest, Kunti successfully used the mantra given to her by Rishi Durvasa to give birth to both, Yudhisthira and Bhima. Nonetheless, she could not invoke Indra to give birth to Arjuna. Pandu performed severe austerities by standing on one foot, signifying balance and voluntary suffering. After a period of one and half years, Arjuna was born. Arjuna was born an advanced soul; not only is he one of the five Pandavas, he also represents the student or disciple.
The aim of all disciples is to reach the stage of ‘pratyahara’ or freeing of attention from the attractions of the sense organs. In the twelve years of vanvaas (exile), Arjuna has worked hard on his attention. The name of his bow is ‘Gandiva’, which represents the diaphragm and his arrows symbolise attention. Every small disturbance, emotional or mental, immediately affects the diaphragm and makes our breathing chaotic, fragmenting our attention. By practicing rhythmic breathing, we bring our diaphragm into rhythm and balance, sharpening and making the attention one-pointed. When we are able to hold a sustained arrow of attention within us, we have reached pratyahara. This is the greatest moment in our spiritual quest and at this moment the inner guru appears to the disciple and guides him to higher paths of yoga. In the Mahabharata, Sri Krishna becomes Arjuna’s charioteer and guides his chariot between the two armies or no-man’s land, symbolising the state of pratyahara. It is here that the immortal knowledge of the Srimad Bhagwad Gita is given to the deserving disciple.
Arjuna represents the emotional centre and before this centre can communicate with the divine, it must be purified. Dhritarashtra gave to the Pandavas the barren country of ‘Khandavprastha’. This comes from the word ‘khand’ which literally means a small part (or something that has been destroyed). For a disciple, it signifies chaos in all the centres of the body-brain system. From Khandavprastha, the Pandavas established ‘Indraprastha’, the city where the energy of the senses rules. Ordinarily, the five senses work with the energy of sensitiveness or excitement, creating chaos in our lives. Here, the disciple shifts from sensitiveness to sensitivity, establishing the state of Indraprastha within.
Let us study an event during this phase of the Mahabharata. One day, Agni (the God of fire) asked Sri Krishna and Arjuna if he could burn the Khandava forest and satisfy his hunger. Every time he tried to burn it, Indra sent rain and quelled the fire. Agni then asked Sri Krishna and Arjuna for help. Arjuna asked Agni to start burning the forest and as soon as Indra sent rain, Arjuna created a canopy of arrows which stopped the rain from cooling the fire, allowing Agni to satisfy his hunger. In return Agni gave Arjuna a special chariot with horses and the ‘Gandiva’ with two quivers, which would never be short of arrows. This whole episode symbolises how Arjuna purified the emotional centre. The Khandava forest symbolises our sub-conscious, full of samskaras. The spiritual fire of tapa burns this chaotic forest. Once this is done, we have freed our attention from the momentum of past samskaras and that is how we can get the Gandiva, representing rhythm and balance of the breath, and the quivers of arrows, representing quality of attention.
From the Yoga perspective, in our solar plexus area there are the two chakras, Manipura and Kundli. Manipura is active and holds the energy of excitement (sensitiveness). Kundli is inactive but holds the energy of sensitivity. The yogi slowly stops the working of the Manipura and activates the Kundli. Karna represents the Manipura chakra and Arjuna, the Kundli chakra. Both are in the solar plexus signifying that the source of energy is the Sun. Karna is the son of Surya, but he is also Angaraj, signifying solar energy wasted in excitement and bodily pleasures. Arjuna is the son of Indra or lightning (solar energy in a concentrated form). When the Manipura withers, the Kundli opens up and we are freed from excitement, and now energy takes on a concentrated form allowing us to invoke and thereafter, hold the divine presence.
When emotions are purified and attention becomes one-pointed, the emotional centre is filled with the powerful energy of love, leading to real shraddha or faith. From this point onwards, our spiritual progress would be very fast.