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Sanjaya said: Having spoken thus, Arjuna told Krishna he would not fight and became silent. And then Krishna, spoke these words to Arjuna who was thus depressed between the two armies.
Krishna said: “You speak words of wisdom and yet grieve over those you should not grieve for! The wise do not grieve either for the dead or for the living.” BG 2.9-11
Speech and the sense of power and powerlessness are closely related. In our moments of power we do not feel compelled to speak. We speak when necessary and say just what needs to be said. We can see this all around us. In movies based on powerful characters, like the Hindi movie Sarkar with Amitabh Bachhan in the lead role and the English movie Lincoln with Daniel Day-Lewis in the lead role, also portray powerful people who speak very little. Both Sarkar and Lincoln wield enormous power – Sarkar as the uncrowned king of Mumbai and Lincoln as the elected president of the United States, and both are sure of their power and for that reason they do not feel compelled to speak except when necessary. But the powerless feel compelled by their powerlessness to speak. They blabber in an attempt to don the robes of power and the very blabbering betrays their lack of power.
At the moment Arjuna, the mighty warrior, the greatest archer of the day, is feeling completely powerless. In a simple situation – like in a battlefield facing true enemies – Arjuna is sure of himself, but right now the situation is not at all simple. The enemies are people whom he loves and reveres – his gurus, his grandsire. And he just does not know what to do.
So strong are the feelings in Arjuna’s heart that even after surrendering to Krishna and asking him to teach him, he is not able to stop. The pain in his heart still comes out in more words, like a vehicle that keeps moving because of its momentum even after the engine has been shut off. So before stopping and becoming silent, announcing his decision not to fight, he adds that he does not see that even getting sovereignty over the entire kingdom, even after becoming the unrivalled master of the Kuru empire, his sorrow will not be alleviated. Why, he tells Krishna, his sorrow is not going to go away even if he gets lordship over the gods. When he says this, he is not saying anything new, but only repeating what he has already said in other words earlier.
All his life Arjuna has lived under the belief that he would be happy if he and his brothers became the undisputed rulers over the Kuru kingdom, under the belief that his unhappiness was because he is not the master of the kingdom. He had gone on successful digvijayas earlier, on conquering kings of the land through wars, and the underlying belief was that if you become the ruler over all the other kings of the land then you would be happy.
There is no doubt that if you conquer all the kings of the land, if you become bigger and more powerful than all of them, there will be a sense of achievement. But will that make you happy? Did other kings in the past who conquered all attain happiness? That is a question we do not ask in our race to conquer all, to be more famous and successful than all others, to be wealthier than all others, to own bigger cars and bungalows than our neighbours. The underlying belief that wealth will bring us happiness, fame will bring us happiness, power will bring us happiness.
Krishna too fought wars – several of them. He fought with Jarasandha seventeen wars, but none of them was for power. He wanted Mathura to be left free and all the wars with Jarasandha were for that – for the freedom of his land. He fought wars with Kashiraja, with Salva, with Paundraka Vasudeva, but not one of them was for power. Every one of them was for destroying adharma. When a ruler was adharmic, he fought with him and after slaying him, he gave power over to someone who was dharmic – usually the emperor’s or king’s son himself if he was dharmic. For instance, after the death of Jarasandha, his son Sahadeva was installed king. Not once did Krishna entertain the belief that through power over another he would be happy.
Krishna was born with the knowledge that Arjuna has just had. Unrivalled kingdoms do not give you happiness, nor does power over the gods themselves.
Nahusha’s is the story of a king who was given power over the gods. Indra had to go into hiding for a sin he had committed – the sin of brahmahatya, killing a brahmana. Nahusha was the most powerful king on earth at that time and he is requested to take over as Indra. Nahusha politely refuses saying that he is a mortal with limited powers and so cannot rule over the gods. The gods then give him a boon – half the power of anyone on whom Nahusha’s eyes fall will go to Nahusha.
Nahusha takes over as the ruler of heaven and for a while everything goes well. But gradually he falls a prey to the irresistible temptations of the world of the gods – the drinks, the music, the dances and of course, the apsaras, each of whom more alluring than the others. His life plunges into the quicksand of sensuality and he starts spending every moment of life in indulging in sensual pleasures. Over time he has every apsara in the celestial world in his bed. It is then that he sees a woman passing by Nandana, the celestial garden of Indra, a woman more beautiful than any apsara, a woman who took his breath away. He asks the men with him who she is and is told it is Indrani, the queen of Indra.
His now wants Indrani in his bed, claiming he is now Indra and hence Indrani belongs to him by right. His lust for Indrani eventually leads to his fall from heaven. Even if you are all powerful, with power over the gods themselves, with every god at your back and call, if you are a slave to desire, then you are bound to fall. If the chaste Indrani had submitted herself to him, which does not happen in the story, then he would have desired something else. The very desire for things speaks of your lack of happiness. Why should a happy man be obsessed with desire for something forbidden?
In his quest to conquer the entire known world, Alexander had conquered all countries between Macedonia and India, hoping that the conquest would make him happy, looting, plundering, pillaging, raping and razing cities all through the way. And yet happiness had evaded him. That is how he reached what the Greeks call a gymnosophist – in all probability a Jain monk – on the Himalayas who was the happiest man he had encountered all through his journey. The monk teaches him that you don’t need power to be happy, the most powerful man in the world had nothing to give him that can increase his happiness.
Krishna is not against success. Nor is he against achievements or pleasures or anything else for that matter. He is easily the most life assertive teacher known to man, who says speaking of himself as God that he is desire in man, so long as that desire is not against dharma, so long as it does not harm others – dharmaviruddhe bhooteshu kaamosmi bharatarshabha. Perhaps no other master has said that God is desire – that is how life assertive Krishna is. He teaches us to say yes to life – welcome life as it comes with open arms, says he. But at the same time he cautions – neither fame, nor achievements, not wealth or pleasures can give us happiness.
Because happiness is not something to be achieved, it is not a destination at all, it is our very nature, though at the moment we are not in touch with happiness because we have lost touch with our true nature, because the mind has come between us and our true nature.
India uses several names for the mind. One of them is avidya – Ignorance, primal Ignorance, Ignorance of our true nature, self-forgetfulness. Speaking of it, Bhagavan Shankaracharya says in the Vivekechudamani: na hyastyavidyaa manaso’tiriktaa, mano hyavidyaa bhava-bandha-hetuh; tasmin vinashte sakalam vinashtam, vijrimbhite’smin sakalam vijribhate – there is no avidya other than the mind, the mind itself is the avidya that is the cause of the bondage to samsara, the constantly changing world; when that is destroyed, everything [that binds us] is destroyed and when that manifests, everything comes into manifestation.
That mind has to be stilled, silenced. And through stilling and silencing, it has to be transcended, so that it does not come between us and our real nature. It is the mind that blocks ananda and if the mind is silenced, it no more blocks the happiness that is our true nature. Making the mind still, which is the goal of yoga as Patanjali puts it, reconnects us with ananda.
Obviously, if achievements make the mind still for a few moments, then we do experience happiness. If fame makes the mind still for a few moments, then we experience happiness in those moments until we go back to the disturbed state of the mind, desiring something else. In the case of a man who is hungry after wealth, his mind is quieted for a few moments when he achieves wealth, until the desire for still more wealth asserts.
This feeling that we can become happy through achievements, through possessions is called maya, which is another name for the mind. Maya tells us, do this and you will be happy. Be popular in the social circles, you will be happy. Be the most powerful man around,you will be happy. Boss over people, you will be happy. Accumulate wealth, you will be happy. And we run after these things, forgetting that for each thing we obtain we have to pay a heavy price.
In the world of Truth, everything is free. But in the world of maya, everything has a price – and the price you have to pay is invariably much more than the value of what you get. And frequently, you pay heavily and get nothing in return – that is the world of maya.
W. W. Jacob’s The Monkey’s Paw is one of the world’s most famous short stories. Several radio adaptations of it have been made and there are many stage plays and movies based on it. The story is centered on a mummified monkey’s paw with magical powers that a British army officer takes to England from India. The paw can fulfill three of your wishes, but for every wish you will have to pay an unknown and terrible price. Sergeant-Major Morris, the army officer, shows it to his friends the Whites while he is in their home one evening and then throws it into the burning fire in the fireplace telling the Whites he has had a horrible experience with it. But Mr. White retrieves it and, after Morris leaves warning them again of the hellish consequences that might follow if they used its powers, makes a wish on it in a light mood – he wishes for the money they need to make the last installment of the mortgage on their house, a not too large amount.
The next morning young Herbert White, the son of the family, leaves for his work as usual and sometime later a man comes running from the factory where he works, informing the Whites that there has been a terrible accident in the factory, their son has been killed, his body mutilated by a machine. The company, informs the man, takes the responsibility for the accident and has decided to pay a sum as compensation – and the compensation, the Whites learn, is exactly the amount for which Mr White had made the wish.
A week passes after their son’s funeral when a grief torn Mrs. White insists that her husband should make a wish for their son’s return. In spite of the premonitions he has had about his son’s mutilated and decomposing body coming to them, Mr. White submits to his wife’s insistence and makes the wish. Such is his dread of what will happen now that the monkey’s paw falls from his hand. He collapses into a chair.
His wife goes to the window and opening it, peers out looking for their son, holding a candle in her hand, which the wind from the window blows out, filling the room with darkness. Nothing happens for a couple of minutes and the old man, relieved, goes to his bed where his wife joins him after a minute.
And then they hear the first knock on the door. Mrs. White gets up and runs to the door, Mr. White runs after her and holds her back, asking what she is going to do. “It’s our son, Herbert,” she says, a thousand emotions struggling against one another in her heart. “For God’s sake, don’t let it in,” says he, mortal dread filling his voice.
The word Mr. White uses is ‘it’, not their son, not Herbert.
The old woman frees herself from him and rushes to the door to open it, but she is not able to pull the bolt free, she cannot reach it.
There are repeated, urgent, insistent knocks on the door. In the middle of the volley of knocks that reverberate through the house, Mr White hears his wife dragging a chair to the door. He is on his knees and hands on the ground frantically searching for the monkey’s paw on the floor in the darkness. He wants to make his last wish. And as he hears the sound of the bold slowly being pulled back by his wife, he finds the paw and makes that final wish.
The knocking ceases suddenly. He hears the chair being pulled back by his wife, the door being opened. A cold wind rushes into the house. A loud wail of agony and unspeakable grief escapes from his wife. That emboldens him and he gets up and rushes towards her and then beyond her to the gate.
In the light of the flickering street lamp, he sees that the dark street beyond the gate is quiet and deserted.
Maya is called ‘thagini” because she cheats us. And she is so effective in her cheating that in spite of knowing she is cheating us, we submit ourselves to her, we become playthings in her hands. She tells us if you get that bigger house, you would be happy, if you get that better job, you would be happy, if you get that beautiful woman or that handsome man, you would be happy, if you get that Mercedes, you would be happy, if you have more followers on the social media, you would be happy. She tells you what you need to become happy is to become a powerful politician, a minister in the cabinet, the Managing Director of the company...endless are the temptations she gives us, and we can see all around us people who have got all these, reached all these places and yet not happy. Her power is such that even the wisest of men become helpless victims to her.
Jnaaninaam api chetaamsi devee bhagavatee hi saa balaad aakrishya mohaaya mahaamaayaa pravartate, says the Saptashloki Bhagavata
She, the Goddess Mahamaya, draws to her by force even the minds of wise men – that’s her way.
And the Bhagavad Gita is the way out of the world of maya.
What Arjuna has realised is the truth: neither an unrivalled kingdom on earth nor the overlordship of the gods can remove our unhappiness, neither can give us happiness. Nothing that can be achieved through our efforts can.
Because happiness is not something to be achieved.
The secret of happiness is inner stillness, is making the mind still.
We are searching for happiness in the wrong place.
Rabia is the most famous female Sufi saint, the greatest of them all. One evening a man saw her searching for something under a street lamp and he asked her what she was looking for. “My needle,” Rabia told him. The man joined the search and after some time another man joined them and then another. Soon there was a small crowd of people looking for Rabia’s lost needle under the street lamp, with no success. It was then that one of them asked, “Mother, are you sure you lost the needle here?” And Rabia laughed and said, “Of course not. I lost it at home”
“Why are you searching for it here, Mother?” asked the confused man.
“Because there is no light at home,” said the wise sage.
We have lost what we are looking for somewhere else and we are all searching for it in the wrong place. We have lost happiness in the inner depths of our being and we are searching for it wherever there is light out there – in the malls that are aglitter with light, in the political arenas where power hungry politicians wrangle over power, in the boardrooms of the corporate world, in five star hotels, in the arms of our beloveds, wherever we find the glitter, light.
Artjuna has just realized that he is not going to be happy even if he wins an undisputed kingdom or overlordship of the gods.
Sanjaya reports that after telling Krishna he will not fight Arjuna becomes silent.
The moment Krishna has been waiting for has come.
The teachings of the Gita are about to begin. Teachings that can pull the whole humanity out of the mess it is now, the mess it has reduced itself to.
Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya – says the ancient prayer: Led us from darkness to light. That darkness is our own creation and without grace it cannot pull itself out of it. Krishna’s grace in the form of the teachings of Gita is about to shower on us, as it does on Arjuna.
And Krishna begins with a smile on his face: “You speak words of wisdom and yet grieve over those you should not grieve for! The wise do not grieve either for the dead or for the living.”
Our sorrows are all uncalled for. They are unfounded.
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