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Shri 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
Sensitivity is a measure of how human we are. Throughout his life, Arjuna was a very sensitive man. He is among the most sensitive of all people in the Mahabharata – sensitive to people, sensitive to ethics, sensitive to values like commitment and loyalty.
Of the three gunas the Gita speaks about devoting practically three full chapters out of eighteen to it, sattva, the upward tendency, is the highest. And sensitivity is a sattvic quality. Tamas is the opposite of sattva. Tamas makes us insensitive – to ourselves and others, to values and ethics.
Sensitivity is one of the most precious human qualities. It is this that makes us human. Insensitivity plunges us into monstrous worlds of darkness – the kind of worlds that the Upanishads speak of when they say asuryaa naama te lokaah andhena tamasaavrtaah – sunless worlds swathed in blinding darkness.
All the atrocities in the world are committed by insensitive men and women. When sensitive people commit horrid acts, it is in those rare moments when they are rendered insensitive by the demons of anger, jealousy, vengeance, lust and other asuri powers.
Power without sensitivity gives birth to the monsters of the world. The serial killers of the world, the rapists, those who practice human slavery, human trafficking and forced prostitution are all powerful people without sensitivity. Hitler who wanted to wipe out the entire Jewish race and under whose extermination programme six million Jews died is an example for what insensitivity can make us do. People like Dr Joseph Mengele known as the angel of death who conducted hair-raisingly ghastly medical experiments in Auschwitz death camps are possible only with insensitivity.
The inquisition in Europe lasted for several hundred years beginning in the 12th century and led to the deaths of innumerable innocent people. This meant particularly unspeakable horrors to women accused of being witches who were tortured using instruments specifically invented for the purpose until they confessed and when they did that unable to stand the torture, they were burnt at stake. It has been said that the inquisition systematically wiped out for centuries every single woman in Europe who showed any sign of light within her. The cruelties of Stalin in Russia, slavery of black people in America, the atrocities of King Leopold of Belgium in colonial Africa and colonial powers all over the world, the dropping of the atom bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasati which wiped out entire cities and killed several lakhs of innocent people and caused generations of children to be born mutilated because of radiation were possible because of human insensitivity.
The caste system born of the failure and decay of the varna experiment that India began in the Vedic times resulted in living hell for millions of people. Until a few generations ago, I have read, the so called untouchables in some parts of the country were forced to walk backward when they used public road, with broom tied at their waist so that as they walked their footprints were automatically wiped out – the footprints polluted the upper classes if they stepped on them. Another result of human insensitivity.
Insensitivity has Many Faces
Sometime back I was in a coastal town giving a training programme to the executives of a company on behalf of XIM Bhubaneswar. The programme was on stress management and work/life management. During our discussions I asked the officers about the various ways they managed stress. One of the answers was fishing – something practiced for fun and relaxation all over the world. Since it is so common, we do not realize what it means for the fish. I remember seeing the movie I Know What You Did Last Summer in which we see a giant hook a man carries as he stalks a group of young people – the hook is big enough to go into the mouth of people and come out through the top of their head. The hooks we use to fish do precisely the same thing for fish – they enter the mouths of fish and come out through their heads. From the standpoint of the fish, the hooks we use are the same size as the giant hook we see in I Know What You Did Last Summer.
We really do not think. We really do not feel. And we are taught fish do not feel pain and we are willing to believe it because it is very convenient to us. All we have to do to learn the truth is to open our eyes and see fish in their moments of death as they thrash about in the air hanging from the hook.
I was on my morning walk one day when I came across this sight some two minutes away from my home. There were two or three men standing under the overhanging branches of a tall roadside tree. The men were looking up and calling aloud “Mithoo, Mithoo” and I looked up too – there was a pretty green parrot with a red beak perched on one of the topmost branches – a beautiful parrot that instantly reminded me of J. Krishnamurti’s green parrot with a red beak on the dry branch of a green tree against dark rain clouds in the sky, a sight that sent the master into instant samadhi.
And then I heard a sweet female voice – one of the sweetest female voices I have ever heard. The voice was calling out “Mithoo, Mithoo,” the most common pet name in north India for a parrot. Looking in the direction of the melting voice, I saw a beautiful young woman – tall, slender, fair, intelligent looking, her eyes sparkling, her skin aglow. it is as though she lighted up the whole street as she walked in the direction of tree. And then I saw it in her hand – a beautiful cage! The love in her voice was as though she was calling her child who is playing under the tree, but it was for the parrot. Mithoo was her pet.
She came and stood under the tree and called Mithoo to her again and again. And the parrot answered every call, his voice no less sweet than hers. Soon several men on the morning walk stopped and they too started calling out Mithoo, Mithoo – who wouldn’t want to help a sweet girl like her?
But Mithoo had tasted the girl’s love and preferred the dangers of the free world to the comfort of the nest she had for him. One instant he was there on the tree and the next instant he had spread his wings and taken off. I sighed deeply in relief.
Caging birds and clipping their wings are considered to be acts of affection for them!
Our cosmetic industry and our fashion industry are very insensitive to animals and birds that share our world with us. We justify our cruelty to them by saying God has created them for us, for our consumption, a belief India does not subscribe to. All our prayers have always been for all living beings, never for men alone.
It requires sensitivity to see that every living creature has as much claim on the resources of the earth as we have.
When Arjuna refuses to kill his own people, what we see is this mighty warrior listening to the voice of sensitivity from within his heart, albeit at the moment that sensitivity is only towards his own people. True, Arjuna is emotionally hijacked, many of the arguments he gives do not stand rational enquiry, but the core of his arguments is not wrong: How can you live happily after killing your own people? A sensitive person will ask that question. And it is this sensitivity that qualifies Arjuna for the teachings of the Gita. Minus that sensitivity, he would not be fit for the Gita.
The Gita is only for sensitive people.
There are around five hundred Jataka Tales – stories about Buddha’s past lifetimes. And every single one of them speaks of Buddha’s sensitivity and sacrifice for others.
Spiritual growth is only for the sensitive. The insensitive have no place in the spiritual world.
India tells the story of Goddess Manasa, worshipped widely in many parts of the country, particularly in Bengal, Bihar and north-eastern India. The Mahabharata knows Manasa by another name, or by no name at all, depending on how you look at her story. Her story as told by the epic, read between the lines, is one of total self-sacrifice, of sacrificing the ego and its needs for the good of others. And whoever sacrifices the ego becomes divine, rises to the level of God. Because minus the ego each one of us is God, as the Gita teaches us.
We are told Manasa’s story as part of the story of Janamejaya’s snake sacrifice, the sarpa satra. As Janamajaya begins his snake sacrifice, thousands of snakes come and fall into the roaring sacrificial fire, to be reduced to ashes. The sacrifice is Janamejaya’s revenge on the snake people, the Nagas, because Takshaka, the Naga chief had bitten his father Parikshit and killed him. Despair spreads throughout the Naga world and they are told by Brahma that the son born to the Naga Vasuki’s sister and the wandering ascetic Jaratkaru will save the Nagas from Janamejaya’s wrath.
The ascetic Jaratkaru, however, does not want to marry. Forced by the spirits of his ancestors he agrees to marry on certain conditions – someone should come and offer a young woman to him as his wife, he would in no way take care of her, but she should be completely obedient to him and serve him in total humility. And the first time she offends him, he would abandon her. One of his conditions is that the woman he marries should have the same name as him – which could be read as his demand that she should lose her name, her identity, her everything in his service, she should not exist in any way except to serve him. Naga Vasuki comes and tells Jaratkaru that he has a sister with the same name as his and offers her to him in marriage saying that all his conditions are acceptable to him and his sister.
The Naga maiden’s story is told by the Mahabharata, the Devi Bhagavata Purana and Brahmavaivarta Purana. The Brahmavaivarta Purana tells us that such is Jaratkaru’s total rejection of his wife that for a long time he even refuses to sleep with her, preferring to sleep under a fig tree. Eventually however she – Jaratkaru to Mahabharata and Manasa to some other tellings of her story – conceives. One day while the ascetic is sleeping with his head on her lap, the sun begins to set and she, afraid that her husband might miss his evening worship, wakes him up. The angry sage shouts at her in fury saying that the sun has no power to set before he performed his evening sandhya and abandons his wife for displeasing him. Before leaving her he however tells her she is pregnant – there is a child growing in her womb.
The child is subsequently named Astika, meaning someone who exists, from the word asti spoken by his father before leaving his mother, reassuring her a child exists in her womb. It is this Astika who saves the Nagas from Janamejaya’s wrath.
Jaratkaru-Manasa’s story is one of sacrificing her everything, her personal needs and desires, her hopes and ambitions, even her name, for the good of others. which is possible only when you deeply sensitive to other’s suffering and their needs.
To India such sensitivity to other’s needs and sufferings was always precious. It is this sensitivity in him that qualified Arjuna for the Gita. And the Gita would be meaningful to us only when we are deeply sensitive. To the insensitive the Gita will be just an intellectual exercise, if anything at all.
Krishna’s presence and his teachings mean nothing to an insensitive man like Duryodhana, though Krishna was available to him too as much as he was to Arjuna, because he lacked sensitivity to other’s sufferings that is the first requirement to begins the spiritual journey. He is obsessed with power and would do anything for power – he makes the innumerable attempts on the life of his cousins and their mother. During Krishna’s peace negotiations in the Kuru assembly, every time Krishna makes a request for peace, Duryodhana counters it with a single question: but who has more power, they or we?
Obsession with power destroys your sensitivity to other people and to the world around you.
Krishna does not want Arjuna to become like Duryodhana. Krishna loves Arjuna’s sensitivity. Had he not, he would not have helped him elope with his sister Subhadra, nor would he have stood with him in thick and thin throughout their life.
So when Krishna asks Arjuna to kill Bhishma and Drona in battle, he is not asking him to be insensitive, but to do that in spite of his sensitivity because there is no other way. When you destroy the edifice of adharma, the pillars on which it is built also will have to be destroyed – and that is what Krishna asking Arjuna to do. The evil empire of Duryodhana is built on the strength of Bhishma and Drona and without destroying them, there is no way that empire could be built. So along with Duryodhana, Shakuni and Karna who is Duryodhana’s greatest source of strength, these two noble souls too will have be killed.
But that is precisely what Arjuna does not want to do. He cannot imagine killing in battle his guru and his grandsire. And that centrally is the problem for which he is seeking Krishna’s guidance.
Unfortunately at Arjuna’s level there is no answer for that problem so Ajuna has to be taken to a higher dimension – from the vyavaharika dimension to the paramarthika one. So Krishna points out that from a higher dimension we can see things differently.
And that higher dimension is what he begins teaching with the words: “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 2.11
In the Mundaka Upanishad we see Shaunaka approaching Rishi Angiras in humility and asking him, “Bhagavan, what is it knowing which everything else becomes known?” “Kasmin nu bhagavo vijnaate sarvam idam vijnaatam bhavati?”
And Rishi Angiras tells him, “There are two kinds of knowledge that we can acquire: the higher and the lower.” The rishi then explains, “The lower knowledge consists of the Rig Veda, the Yajur Veda, the Sama Veda, the Atharva Veda, phonetics, the science of rituals, grammar, etymology, prosody and astronomy.” Basically the seer is listing all sciences that existed in his days. And then he explains what the higher knowledge is: “It is that through which the Imperishable is attained.”
We have a very similar story told by the Chhandogya Upanishad too. Here we have Narada approaching Sanat Kumara requesting him to teach him. Sanat Kumara tells him, “Tell me what you have already learnt and then I shall teach you what is beyond that.”
Narada now lists all he has learnt: Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda Atharva Veda; the epics and the Puranas; mathematics, the science of auguries, the science of divining hidden treasures, logic, political science, the science of administration, astrology, astronomy, the six limbs of the Vedas, dance, music, art, the science of the spirits, the science of the gods... And then he adds that in spite all this knowledge he still grieves. He tells Sanat Kumara he has heard that those who know their own self go beyond all sorrows and requests him to teach him self-knowledge and take him beyond grief. Which is what Sanat Kumara does.
At the end of every chapter of the Gita we are told that it is both brahma avidya and yoga shastra – brahmavidyaayaam yogashaastre. Brahma vidya shows us the path and the destination, and yoga shastra helps us walk that path. It is this brahma vidya and yoga shastra that Krishna is has begun to teach Arjuna.
Krishna has a smile on his face as he begins his teaching. The smile is not, as a great Sanskrit commentator has said, mocking Arjuna. It is not a smile of superiority though Krishna is definitely superior to Arjuna. It is not a smile of arrogance because the egoless cannot be arrogant. It is a smile of pure joy. Joy because Arjuna is finally showing the eagerness to go beyond all he has learnt and to learn the higher knowledge, the para vidya as the Upanishads call it, knowing which everything else becomes as good as known.
Krishna’s is a teacher’s joy at finding a student fit for his teachings. A teacher’s greatest joy is finding the right student. Which in the spiritual world means a student who has completely surrendered to him and is ready to open his eyes to the highest knowledge. A student whose surrender is unconditional, who expects nothing in return for his surrender but the grace of the teacher.
Krishna also smiles because the auspicious moment has come for him to give the world his greatest gift: the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita. He smiles because he sees time has come for spirituality to climb to a higher peak, for the world to soar to a higher dimension. He smiles because human consciousness is now going to soar into boundless skies where it will blossom in its fullness. He smiles because now man will not have to give up all he is doing and seek what he wants in caves and monasteries but can attain it where he is now, even if it is a battlefield where he is called upon to slaughter his own people. He smiles because time has come for man to effortlessly break free from all his shackles and become what he has always been: existence without limits, bliss without bounds and consciousness without confines.
He smiles because he is going to show man how to wake up to the truth of what he is without doing anything different for it but by doing whatever he has been doing differently.
Para vidya does not require you to memorize the Vedas or any other scriptures. It does not require you to perform elaborate rituals. It does not require you to torture yourself by standing on one leg or fasting for days on end. It does not require you to abandon your wife and children, your home and responsibilities, your career and profession.
And there is no question of your making errors of omission or commission here – of vidhi or nishedha. No abhikrama-naasha – sin of abandoning a ritual in the middle. No pratyavaaya – punishment for procedural errors. And even a little of this helps us transcend our great fear – svalpam api asya dharmasya traayate mahato bhayaat.
Doing nothing different but by doing things differently, Krishna’s path awakens us to the truth of what we are and helps us live your life as a festivity, in utsava bhava – with a smile on our lips, serving those around us, with no goals for ourselves because we are not here to achieve things but to enjoy this dance of consciousness called life, this dance of prakriti and purusha that happens as much in the cosmos as in every cell of our body, in our breath itself.
Can Krishna help smiling?
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