Sunday, 26 September 2010

Questions, questions, questions

The simplicity of Krishna's argument, and the utter difficulty of practising it, always stuns me. Krishna, through out the Gita, makes a very simple point - Do what you must, what the situation demands (from a larger cosmic point of view) unfettered by personal desire, power, lust, envy, anger, fear, vengance or any other emotion. Do it out of love he says. Not the love that is personal and exclusive, but love that is as large as life and all inclusive. Only then are you acting in favour of the cosmic balance of the universe.

It is this same principle that allows Krishna to manipulate and break the rules of righteous war, to dupe the Kauravas at every stage of the battle, allowing the Pandavas to win. Yet, at the end of the war, the Pandavas have done Krishna's bidding without understanding his purpose (with the possible exception of Yudhishtra who is the only Pandava who enters heaven).

Yet, as an individual, when I think about anything, it is hard to view a situation free of personal prejudice. How does one, at any point, determine whether a course of action is being undertaken because that is truly what the situation demands or because there is a subconscious desire for a particular outcome that one has not been able to identify yet? When do you know that you have peeled back all layers of prejudice and conditioning and desire? How does one calculate the merits and demerits of a situation without taking into account the gain or loss (happiness or sorrow) that one is expecting from it?

Yet another reading of a retelling of the Mahabharat and I only have more questions. Still more questions and no answers at all (that in itself is perhaps, a good thing).

PS: I do recommend everyone to read at least a couple of retellings of the Mahabharat. The retellings themselves are an exercise in understanding perspective and points of view. Some of the ones I've read are:
  1. Mahasamar (Narendra Kohli): This one is in Hindi and was recommended by a friend who knows the epic better than anyone else I know!
  2. Palace of Illusions (Chitra Banerji Divakaruni): The Mahabharata told from Draupadi's perspective, the woman who is the pivot of the plot of the Mahabharata.
  3. Mahabharata retold by C Rajagopalachari: This one was my first, perhaps the simplest, as the tale would be told to a child.
  4. Difficulty of being good (Gurcharan Das): This is not a direct retelling of the Mahabharata but an analysis of its characters and plot, the lessons that can be drawn from it and the continuing relevance of the epic in present times.
  5. Jaya (Devdutt Pattanaik): This is one I just finished. It is a simple retelling but what I love about it is the little side stories and the notes at the end of each chapter pointing out the moral, sociological and political debates and setting the historical context of vedic lifestyle for the reader. It brings out both the context that created the Mahabharata as well as the underpinning values that make it eternally relevant. 
All of these books are available in India on and
At this point, I am regretting not knowing to read a vernacular language such as Tamil. Would love to read a folk retelling of the epic!


rehab said...

I am always confused with this question -- personal good over worldly good. Should you take life's biggest decision keeping in mind the world or keeping in mind your own personal individual self?
And then what value do we place on detachment.

Unknown said...

Hmmm I am not really thinking about personal good vs. wordly good. It's more personal good vs. personal good. Only that there are two kinds of presonal goods (at least according to Krishna) - one the kind that are motivated by immediate desires of the mortal body and second, the kind that are motivated by the immortal soul. As far as he is concerned, you don't need to consider the notion of worldly good at all. As long as you consider the second kind of personal good, you are automatically acting in favour of worldly good as well. Also, according to him, worldly good is too intricate, dependent on too many things an individual cannot control.
My problem lies in distinguishing where the body ends and the soul begins so to speak.

rgc said...

You made my day with this comment.

Nikesh Rathi said...

Yuganta (by Irawati Karve) is a wonderful read ... Try it if you haven't already ... All cahracters in it are "humans" unlike that in most of the interpretations.

Unknown said...

@Nik been trying to get my hands on that book. It's been out of stock on flipkart and indiaplaza forever. Any other suggestions on where I can get it?

Nikesh Rathi said...

I read it on ... just search a bit ... the book is not too long, so reading an e-book might be ok, i believe.

I couldn't locate it in crosswords & landmarks ... guess it is always out of stock!

Unknown said...

@Nik Thanks. I did find a copy of Yuganta online... tho I must say I dont like reading ebooks :(