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Then, O Lord of the earth, seeing Duryodhana's men in position and the armies about to clash, Arjuna, raising his bow, told Krishna, “O Krishna, take my chariot between the two armies. I want to see the warriors I am about to fight. I want to have a look at those gathered here for battle wishing to please the evil-minded son of Dhritarashtra”. BG 1.20-23
Arjuna here calls Duryodhana the evil-minded son of Dhritarashtra. The word he uses for Duryodhana is durbuddhi – dhaartaraashtrasya durbuddheh.
Sage Vyasa meets Dhritarashtra the night before the Kurukshetra war begins in a last minute attempt to avoid the slaughter of millions. He asks his son to stop the war and the blind king says he has no power over Duryodhana, he is helpless. Hearing these words Vyasa concentrates his mind using his yogic power and meditates for a short while. Coming out of his meditation he again tells Dhritarashtra he has the power to avoid the slaughter of the war by restraining his sons and asks him to do that. Of course Dhritarashtra does nothing of the sort because though he does have authority as king and as father, he had no real power over his son because of his weakness for him and the free reins he has given him throughout his life.
Dhritarashtra here is a warning for all of us who overindulge his children. Just as constantly criticizing and punishing children is bad, never restraining them when they start walking on evil paths too is bad. Love is not overindulgence. It is not freedom for licentiousness. Children have to learn from the beginning that they are responsible for their actions, that their freedom comes with responsibilities.
Duryodhana’s story is also a warning to mothers who neglect their responsibilities as mothers and give those responsibilities over to others who do their job not out of love but for payment. Gandhari neglected her responsibilities as a wife – towards the end of his life Dhritarashtra bitterly complains about this in strong, emotion-filled words, saying how different things would have been had she been a good, caring wife for him, had she been his eyes for him.
For all we know, she neglected her children too – unlike Kunti who lived for her children. The popular story in which she removes her blindfold and using her spiritual power and transforms Duryodhana’s naked body into vajra, makes it diamond-like, all of it except the part below his waste where he had worn a piece of cloth, has no place in the Sanskrit Mahabharata and is in fact against the spirit of the epic. She lives all her married life and eventually dies with those blindfolds on – without ever having taken one look at any of her sons, except once through the divine vision given her by Vyasa after the war. There is no substitute for a mother; there are certain things a child should get directly from its mother, like love, affection, care, the physical touch and so on. When the mother neglects these responsibilities, for whatever reason, calamities ensue. Modern sociology bewails what would happen to the generation of children now growing up in societies where mothers have no time or energy for their children.
The epic speaks of Duryodhana as an incarnation of the Age of Kali. Kali is the age of wickedness and darkness and it is wickedness and darkness we find in the actions of Duryodhana from a very young age.
Western psychology believes that we are all born with our minds like empty slates, with nothing written on them, whereas eastern psychology believes that we come into the world with memories, karmas, vasanas and samskaras from our past lifetimes. There have been countless cases where people are hypnotically regressed and when that is done, they relive their past lives, memories of which lie buried deep within us. Dr Brian Weiss has written several books such as Many Lives, Many Masters and Through Time into Healing in which he discusses real past life experiences as does Dr Rosemary Ellen Guiley in her book Tales of Reincarnation. Countless cases have been reported where children remember their past lifetimes in precise details. [Please see my article Reincarnation: Persistence of Memory available online.] Krishna in the Gita says: bahooni me vyateetaani janmaani tava chaarjuna; taany aham veda sarvaani na tvam vettha parantapa – “I have lived numerous lifetimes in the past and so have you; I remember them all, but not you, O Arjuna.” BG 4.5
The sixteenth chapter of the Gita speaks of people being born either with daivi qualities or with asuri qualities. None of us comes into this world as blank slates. We come into this world with the psychological tendencies and life scripts that we carry with us from our past lifetimes. While the life scripts and psychological tendencies lie dormant so long as right conditions are not available for them to sprout and grow, given the right conditions, the scripts ripen and the tendencies start unfolding one by one.
Duryodhana had come into this world, like everyone else, with these scripts and tendencies. In his case they were predominantly dark and negative. The overindulgence of Dhritarashtra and the complete neglect of Gandhari in his early years provided the right atmosphere for these to sprout and grow, making him the durbuddhi that we find in the Mahabharata who in his jealousy and greed for power causes the death of practically the entire kshatriya varna of India.
Once of the first incidents that the epic mentions in detail is the picnic at Pramanakoti which was plotted by Duryodhana along with Shakuni and Karna, which shows Duryodhana as an evil genius even as a child. The incident happens when he was very young – before he begins his studies under Drona or even Kripa. The thoroughness with which he plans the wicked deed is amazing and the ruthlessness he shows here is scary.
After plotting out the entire wicked plan in detail with Shakuni and Karna he goes to Pramanakoti on the banks of the Ganga, selects the place and gives orders for a beautiful mansion surrounded by rich gardens to be built there. Then, when the mansion is fully ready, he invites the Pandava brothers for a picnic there. By the time they reach there, on Duryodhana’s orders the best cooks have prepared all kinds of delicious food and drinks for the princes. Reaching there Duryodhana takes them all on a tour of the place and then the food is served. They eat with relish both the food cooked by expert cooks and fruits fallen from trees. Duryodhana and his brothers feed the Pandavas by their own hands and the Pandavas do the same to them too. Secretly Duryodhana has the deadly poison kalakuta mixed in Bhima’s food and it is this food that Duryodhana smilingly feeds him with his own hand. The innocent, unsuspecting Bhima, fond of food that he is, happily eats everything Duryodhana gives him.
If in the Gita Arjuna uses the word durbuddhi for Duryodhana. the epic uses the word durmati for him here. Both words mean precisely the same: evil minded, of crooked intellect. The epic calls Dhritarashtra’s dark-hearted son here a papi, an evil sinner. Speaking of him the epic also says: hridayena kshuropamah,,,vaachaa amritakalpas cha, meaning, like a dagger in his heart and like nectar, like ambrocia, in his words.
Following the meals, they all sport in the Ganga. As always, Bhima is more active than all his brothers and cousins. He gives himself totally to the sport in water and continuously encourages others to give all of themselves to the fun. Eventually, after a long time in water, they go back to the pleasure palace and lie down there to rest, relax and have a nap. Bhima soon enters a deep slumber. He is fatigued with all the swimming and encouraging others, and the deadly poison that would long ago have killed any other person has finally started having its effect on his strong body. Duryodhana now ties him up with forest vines and drops him into the Ganga from a cliff, hoping that if the poison does not kill him, he would drown in the torrent of the river.
However, contrary to his expectations, when deadly snakes bite him underwater the poison in his body is neutralized. Eventually Bhima reaches the land of the Nagas and there, recognizing that he is a kin of theirs through Kunti, whose mother Marisha was a Naga woman, they save him and give him medicinal drinks that make him far more powerful than before. Soon Bhima is back in Hastinapura.
But Duryodhana’s durbuddhi does not rest even after this. Once again Duryodhana plots to kill Bhima with poison that was even more deadly than the one used before. Yuyutsu, Duryodhana’s half-brother who had become friendly with the Pandavas realizing their goodness, informs Bhima of this and Bhima in spite of knowing his food is poisoned, swallows it all without being harmed in the least by it because of the medicinal treatments he had received in the land of the Nagas. Duryodhana keeps making attempt after attempt to end the life of not just Bhima but all of the Pandavas.
Speaking of this the Mahabharata tells us:
evam duryodhanah karmah shakunis chaapi saubalah
anekair abhyupaayais taan jighaamsanti sma paandavaan
– [MB BORI 01119042a-c] [MB GP Adi 129.40]
“Thus through numerous means Duryodhana, Karna and Shakuni the son of Subala repeatedly kept trying to kill the Pandavas.”
As we all know, not only in their childhood but throughout their life Duryodhana treacherously tries to destroy the Pandavas, the house of lacquer and the cunning dice game being just two examples.
It is to see the forces of this Duryodhana that Arjuna asks Krishna to take his chariot between the two armies.
The sixteenth chapter of the Gita is a short chapter that discusses just one single idea: daivi sampada vs. asuri sampada. Among daivi sampada, noble or divine virtues, Krishna lists twenty-six qualities such as fearlessness, purity of heart, self mastery, tapas, straightforwardness, and so on. The list of asuri sampada or demonic qualities Krishna gives us is shorter, though it is the asuri sampada that he discusses in greater detail. The short list consists of just six qualities: hypocrisy, arrogance, conceit, anger, harshness and ignorance, but the discussion of the asuri people only begins with this list. The asuri people are slaves to hundreds of desires, he continues, and, given over to lust and anger, they constantly strive to amass wealth by unjust means and hoard it for sensual enjoyment. They are driven by power hunger, lust, anger and jealousy and are slaves to egoism and pride.
Of course, Duryodhana is not all evil – no one in the Mahabharata is. The Mahabharata is not written in black and white, but in grey colours. There are positive qualities in him too, like courage and so on which he displays on many occasions in his life. But if we look at Duryodhana’s life from his birth to his death, at his life as a whole, the description of people with asuri sampada Krishna gives in the sixteenth chapter of the Gita seems to fit him perfectly.
Such people create hell for themselves wherever they are and live in that hell perpetually. Because a man with endless desires in his mind, with constantly burning anger in his heart and filled with insatiable greed lives constantly in hell. Hell is not a geographical place, but a psychological state in which you are constantly haunted by desire, anger and greed, by hatred and the need for vengeance. The light of the joys of life is denied for them, he sees no beauty in the sunrise or the sunset, the cool wind does not blow for him, clouds do not shower rains for him, and when flowers bloom him do not see any beauty in it, nor does he see the beauty of a child’s smile. The Ishavasya Upanishad says: asooryaa naama te lokaa andhena tamasaavrtaah taams te pretya abhigacchanti ye ke chaatmahano janaah – Sunless indeed are called those worlds, steeped in blinding darkness. And whoever slaughters their own selves, they enter those worlds.
To slaughter oneself is to live a life without joyfulness, denying the ananda which is our true nature. Rather than living in the present moment, in the now, where alone all joy is, all happiness is, all ananda is, when we are constantly on the run seeking it, constantly living in the future, we are slaughtering our selves, denying ourselves the ananda that is our true nature.
Modern life is encouraging this kind of life. That is why there is less and less peace in the world, less and less joy. Stress dominates our life and we seem to be constantly on the run, to reach where nobody knows. The strange thing is that even after knowing we get nothing from all this running, we still keep running.
Modern Psychology and Organizational Behaviour speak of the Type A Personality. Type A people are highly competitive and lack the sense of joy in their life. They get easily wound up, tend to overreact, live with a sense of desperate urgency and are impatient with delays. Easily aroused to anger and hostility, they see only the negative side of others. They are full of envy and lack compassion. Hostile towards people in general, highly aggressive, they bully everyone over whom they have power. Restless, bulldozing through life, they drive people around them insane, spreading stress and unhappiness all around.
That reads like a description of Duryodhana.
Woe to you if you have someone in power around you like him, like a boss, your spouse or a parent. I know someone who had a boss like that. After three years of every day abuses, humiliations, threats, bullying, conflicts and tensions he finally resigned and left, moving into a new profession in which he was his own master.
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