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akeertim chaapi bhootaani kathayishyanti te'vyayaam
sambhaavitasya cha akeertir maranaad atirichyate ll 2.34 ll
bhayaad ranaad uparatam mamsyante twaam mahaarathaah
yesham cha twam bahumato bhootwaa yaasyasi laaghavam ll 2.35 ll
avaachya-vaadaamsh-cha bahoon vadishyanti tavaahitaah
nindantastava saamarthyam tato duhkhataram nu kim ll 2.36 ll
And people will speak of your disgrace forever. Isn’t disgrace worse than death for a man of honour, Arjuna? Mighty warriors will think that you have backed away from war out of fear. You will fall in the eyes of those who once held you in high esteem. And your enemies will laugh at you, saying shameful things about you. What can be more painful than this?
As we saw earlier, Krishna tried all he could to avoid the war because of its horrors, even going to the extent of trying to tempt Karma to join the Pandava side by offering him the crown of the Bharatas and the temptation of Draupadi, seeing that all other attempts have failed. As Krishna explained to the Rishi Uttanka when the aged rishi wanted to curse Krishna for failing to stop the war, it is in the nature of things that an incarnation accepts certain limitations on himself when he incarnates [See my article Krishna: When I am Born a Human Being,] and there was nothing more he could do to avoid the war except accepting defeat for dharma, which he wouldn’t do because it is to establish dharma that he had taken birth.
So that the side of dharma wins the war, Krishna guides the Pandavas right from the stage of preparations for the war till the very end not because they are his friends but because they are on the side of dharma and Duryodhana is adharma. Throughout the war Krishna does many things to make sure the side of dharma wins. For instance, Krishna says that he used his power as a yogi – he is a maha-yogeshwara – to prevent one particular thought from entering the mind of Karna: the thought of using the unfailing shakti called Vaijayanti given to him by Indra when Karna gave him the kavacha and kundalas he was born with that made him invincible in battle. When Karna eventually uses Vaijayanti against Ghatotkacha who had become unstoppable, Krishna becomes so relieved that Arjuna’s life has been saved he leaves the reins in his hand and jumping on to the chariot floor, picks up Arjuna in his arms and patting his back and holding him in his arms jumps up and down, whooping in joy all the while. He tells Arjuna here that for three months he had not been able to sleep properly for fear that Arjuna might lose his life to Vaijayanti.
Krishna helps the Pandavas win the war for dharma by so many other ways as we all know. His agreeing to be Arjuna’s driver – a position far beneath his dignity as the greatest warrior of the day, the most respected man and a kingmaker before whom crowned heads from across the land bowed – being just one of them. He saves Arjuna’s life so many times, like when the naga Ashwasena who had escaped the Khandava bonfire enters one of Karna’s astras and comes at Arjuna with murderous intent; by advising Arjuna to bow down before the Narayanastra, and so on. It is Krishna who persuades Yudhishthira to tell the lie that Ashwatthama has been killed so that Drona would lay down his weapons and could be killed. It is again Krishna who advises Arjuna to signal to Bhima how Duryodhana’s thigh could be crushed in the final battle of maces.
The victory of dharma was important for Krishna, it was the purpose of his incarnation. True he uses some devious means for the victory of dharma, but reluctantly, as the very last option and only when there are no other means available. Sometimes to defeat adharma, adharma itself has to be used, something Indian culture approves of as an apad-dharma by saying shathe shaathyam samaacharet, use wickedness against the wicked, just as to remove a thorn you have to use another thorn. But you have to make sure that it is used with great reluctance, only when there is absolutely no other path available, and only against the wicked [or those who are on the side of the wicked, as Drona was with Duryodhana].
It is because Krishna now sees the war as absolutely unavoidable that he is trying to repeatedly persuade Arjuna to fight it, giving him reason after reason to do it.
Besides, just as the war is a necessity for the victory of dharma, it is a necessity for Arjuna too – it is his swadharma, it is the path Arjuna must tread for his growth, just as it is the path he must tread for his keerti.
And now Krishna shows him the other side of the picture: he tells him that just as the war for dharma will give him keerti, if he does not fight it he will bring him akeerti.
akeertim chaapi bhootaani kathayishyanti te'vyayaam
sambhaavitasya cha akeertir maranaad atirichyate ll 2.34 ll
Loka-bheeti, loka-bhaya, the fear of the censure of the world, is one of the ways of motivating oneself and others, particularly for motivating a kshatriya, a man of rajas. The approval of the world is important for all, but it is not so important for a man of sattvva, he can grow above that and it is not so important for a man of tamas, he is beneath that, but for a man of rajas it is central.
In the fourteenth chapter of the Gita Krishna speaks of rajasic people as those with a need to grow horizontally, as against sattvic people whose need is to grow upward and tamasic people who tend move downwards.
oordhwam gacchanti sattvasthaa madhye tishthanti raajasaah
jaghanya gunavrittisthaa adho gacchanti taamasaah ll 14.18 ll
As a rule, the approval of the world is not just important for the rajasic people, they live for it.
Western motivational psychology speaks of what motivates people. Abraham Maslow, for instance, speaks of the basic human needs that motivate us. For him, the vast majority of people are motivated by physical and physiological needs and to a lesser extent safety and security needs. Hunger, thirst, sex, these are the most basic physical and physiological needs and safety and security are essentially the need for a roof above our heads, the possibility of hunger and thirst being appeased tomorrow too. At a slightly higher level, people have the need to belong – to a family, to a few people who love them and care for them, to some organization and so on. And then we have esteem needs at the next higher level – the need to be looked upon with respect by people.
In the original work of Maslow, at the next level is the need for self-actualization, which is the need for making actual the potentials we have within us, such as someone with music potentials making real his potential by becoming a musician, someone with potentials with sports or someone with leadership potentials making his potentials real and becoming a good sportsman or a good leader. Subsequently however, three other needs were added to Maslow’s hierarchy, making it eight types of basic needs. On the revised list of Maslow, we have the need for meaning, called cognitive needs, at the fifth level and the need for beauty, order and so on, called the aesthetic need, at the sixth level.
Cognitive needs are the need for a purpose in life, for meaning in what we do for a living and in our life as a whole and so on. The cognitive need being not fulfilled is one of the biggest problems in the world today. A huge section of the world’s people today do not find any meaning in what they do and the lives they live. Which is the reason why life has become such a tragedy for so many people, there is so much depression in the world today, diseases and suicides related to depression is on a constant rise.
Aesthetic need is the need for beauty in our life and in our surroundings, some kind of ‘music’ to our life. People have a need to be surrounded by beauty and order, by some kind of rhythm in their life. This second highest kind of human need may by a result of the fact that existence is essentially beautiful, the world is made of what mystic India called saundaryam or sundaram, as in the expression satyam-shivam-sundaram. All existence is beautiful, even the smallest things have immense beauty in them, but we miss that unless we grow in our sensitivity and reach the stage where this need is important to us. Tibetan culture speaks of drala, the beauty of ordinary things: the least thing in existence is bathed in immense beauty they say. In Indian culture, we have visualized the Mother of the Universe, the source from the universe has come into existence, as an embodiment of beauty. One of the spiritual paths India developed is meditation upon the Goddess as the embodiment of beauty, with everything about her as beautiful. One of the most important spiritual classics by Adi Shankaracharya is called Saundarya Lahari, Waves of Beauty, which teaches sadhakas to meditate upon the ultimate reality in the feminine and as the personification of beauty.
On Maslow’s revised list, both cognitive needs and the aesthetic need come before the need for self-actualizatioin and the final need is for self-transcendence.
Some people understand the self-transcendence need as the need for each one of us to reach out to others and in that sense, live a life that is not just ego-centric but larger. However, for Maslow himself the self-transcendence need meant the need for what he called peak experiences, experiences of ego transcendence and time transcendence, the feeling that you are not the ego but something vaster, the bhooma, that you are not bound by time but is free from it, experiences that most of us have had occasionally. BBC has published a book that is a compilation of such experiences hundreds of people have had and the name they chose for the book is The Common Experience.
Transcendence, self actualization, aesthetic need and meaning needs, the kind of needs we call spiritual needs, are highly pronounced in the case of sattvic people, though the rajasic people are not altogether devoid of these needs. However, the vast majority of rajasic people are dominated by esteem needs and belonging needs. When Krishna tells Arjuna that if he does not fight the war for dharma, the Kurukshetra war, he will lose his keerti, Krishna is appealing to his esteem needs in an attempt to motivate him. He tells Arjuna that not fighting the war will lead to infamy for him and asks him what could be worse than that infamy for a man of great renown like him.
He adds that people are not going to see Arjuna’s refusal to fight as an act of charity or compassion, that it is out of the impropriety of his fighting his own gurus and seniors, how own people, that he refuses to fight. They would see it all as just one thing: fear, cowardliness. The great Arjuna ran away from battle out of fear, that is what they are going to say, he tells him. And they are going to laugh at him in royal palaces, in town squares, in the markets, in villages, everywhere. They are going to say shameful things about him, that he is a coward, that he is afraid of Duryodhana. Krishna implies here, though he does not say it, that people are going to say that the Pandavas endured all kinds of humiliations by the Kauravas because they were cowards. People respect only one thing – power – and when they see he has run away from battle, they would lose all respect for him. The only way to live in dignity is to fight the war, that is what Krishna tells hm.
This is motivation through the fear of loss of esteem, through the fear of akeerti, infamy, disgrace.
In our own personal and professional life too, if we are basically rajasic and want to motivate ourselves, it is to our esteem and belonging needs we will have to appeal to and in the same way, if we want to motivate other rajasic people, say people working in our office, industry or business, it is to their esteem and belonging needs we will have to apply. Applying to rajasic people using physical and physiological needs or safety and security needs may not be very effective: rajasic people do not care much for those things. In fact, as far as safety and security are concerned, rajasic people do not care much for them, they are great risk takers, lovers of adventures and danger. The Mahabharata warriors who run ecstatically into the battlefield to face danger and death are examples of rajasic people – all kshatriyas are.
Similarly, appealing to tamasic people using esteem and belonging needs also might fall on deaf years. What they care for are creature comforts, physiological and physical needs, and safety and security needs. True they cling to whatever they have, as Dhritarashtra, highly tamasic, clings to power, but that is because they associate loss of power with loss of safety and security.
In the same way, to appeal to sattvic people, you will have to appeal to the highest needs in Maslow’s revised need hierarchy: meaning needs, aesthetic needs, self-actualization needs and self-transcendence needs.
Ancient India understood motivation at a much deeper level than the west understands it today. The main weakness of western theories is that they ignore individual differences among people. No two people are the same, just as the same person is not the same at all times. The gunas, which make us what we are, are very dynamic and no two people have the same guna combination. Two sattvic people do not have exactly the same amount of sattva in them, nor do all rajasic people have the same amount of rajas or all tamasic people the same amount of tamas. Each individual has a unique combination and that combination too changes from moment to moment. On the whole, children are more sattvic, young people more rajasic and old people predominantly tamasic. We are more sattvic in the mornings, more rajasic during the day and more tamasic towards the evening. The food that we eat, the thoughts we entertain in our minds, the people we associate with, the surroundings we live in, the motions we experience from moment to moment – all influence our gunas and their dynamism.
Krishna knows Arjuna only too well to accept what he says at its face value and not to understand his genuine concerns and needs. Arjuna is a rajasic person and all rajasic people have the need to challenge themselves constantly, to have adventures, to face dangers, to risk their lives. And a war, a war for dharma as the Kurukshetra war in which Arjuna is standing now, provides all these.
So, apart from the fact that this war is essential to establish dharma for which Krishna is born, it is the ideal situation that Arjuna wants. It is during battles that Arjuna comes fully alive; he never feels as intensely alive as during a battle, exactly as a teacher never feels so alive as when he teaches, a singer never feels so alive except when he sings, a dancer never feels so alive as when she dances, a leader never feels so alive as when he leads. Arjuna never forgets himself, never goes beyond himself, never self-transcends, except in a battle situation, surrounded by weapon wielding enemies, when death stares him in the face, when one single moment of carelessness can mean instant death to him, exactly as a dancer never forgets herself and goes beyond herself except in her moments of dance, a teacher never except in his moments of teaching, a sportsman never except in his moments of playing his favourite sport. Living a life without danger staring at his face is a zombie’s life for Arjuna, a state worse than death, life without facing danger is like vegetative existence for Arjuna. So just as the war is a necessity for establishing dharma, particularly for establishing dharma among the ruling class, among the leaders of the day, it is essential personally for Arjuna too. For Arjuna, life away from danger is like life out of water for a fish.
As I said in an earlier article in this series, Krishna never abandons his friends, he never gives up anyone. Krishna literature is full of stories of how he never gives up his friends.
When Krishna hears of what happened to the Pandavas during the dice game, he comes running to the forest where they had just begun their twelve years of exile. And Krishna is angry at what was done to the Pandavas and especially at what was done to Draupadi at the end of the game. He regrets that he did not know of the game in advance, he was away from Dwaraka and was at Saubha fighting a battle with the Saubha king. Had he known of it in advance he would have gone to Hastinapura and requested Dhritarashtra not to hold the dice game and if he did not listen to him, would have used force to prevent it from happening. If it was necessary, says Krishna, he would have killed Duryodhana and all who stood with him if they insisted on the dice game.
And Krishna would have without a doubt done that, such is Krishna’s commitment to his friends, apart from his commitment to dharma. There is nothing he wouldn’t do for his friends and devotees. Speaking of his friendship with Arjuna, Krishna says in the Mahabharata that if needed he would pull out his own flesh and give it for Arjuna’s sake. In the Gita, he assures Arjuna, and through Arjuna, all humanity: “Know this, Arjuna, my devotee never perishes.”
Kaunteya Pratijaaneehi Na Me Bhaktah Pranshyati [BG 9.31]
I have put the entire line in bold because so important is Krishna’s assurance. It is God assuring man that his devotee never comes to a band end. Those words carry all the power of God with them.
Once a student in a top business school asked me if Hinduism has any scripture where God speaks directly to man. These are words God speaks directly to man.
The entire Bhagavad Gita is.
A magnificent poem in Malayalam written in the slow, stretched out, long, melodious tune of vanchippattu, boatman’s songs, by Ramapurathu Variar about the friendship between Krishna and Sudama [who is more widely known there as Kuchela, meaning Rags.] tells us that Krishna wept only once in his life: seeing his childhood friend Sudama coming to meet him in Dwaraka.
antanane-kkandittu santosham kondo tasya
dainyam chintichchitt-ullil-undaaya santaapam kondo
entukondo shauri kannuneer-aninju
dheeranaaya chentaamara-kkannan-undo karanjittulloo
As is widely known, their friendship began in the gurukula where the two of them were together, the Sandeepani Gurukula [Incidentally, the modern gurukula in which I lived and studied for several years is named after this gurukula.]. Years later, Sudama comes to meet Krishna in Dwaraka. By now he is extremely poor, married with children, living in his decrepit house, with hardly any means to feed his wife and children, his only strength his devotion to Krishna. His wife Susheela repeatedly urges him to go and Visit Krishna so that their poverty would be removed with his blessings. Just a side glance from his eyes is enough, his wife tells him. And taking with him the only thing he had at home, some beaten rice, and wrapping it in a piece of cloth, he proceeds to Dwaraka.
Here is the poet describing what happens as he approaches Krishna’s fourteen-storey palace:
The lord who rules over the fourteen worlds
Saw from his fourteen storey palace his friend
He was far down below and in the distance.
The loin cloth he wore and his upper cloth
Were mere rags, dirty from travel
In his armpit he had a book that never left him
And an offering for Krishna in a small bundle of cloth
On his forehead were sacred ashes
And a mark formed by repeated touching
The ground with his forehead in surrender
He had a mala of rudraksha in his hand
And he constantly repeated Krishna’s name
Walking slowly, with his mind fixed on
Pure Consciousness enbodied in human form.
I do not know if it was from the joy
of seeing the brahmana
Or from seeing his misery
But Krishna wept, his eyes full of tears –
Krishna who has never wept in his entire life.
We know the rest of the story. Krishna comes climbing down the palace steps running, runs towards the gate and gathers his childhood friend in his arms, dirty clothes, perspiration and all. He is lovingly taken up the palace, given a royal reception befitting a god. He is served a delicious meal by Rukmini. Krishna asks him what he is hiding from him in his armpit, what he has in the cloth bundle. Sudama is ashamed of his poverty, ashamed of what he has brought for his friend who lives in a fourteen-storey palace, and tries to hide the bundle still further, as though you can hide anything from the lord of the universe.
Akka Mahadevi asks in one of her vachanas:
When all the world is the eye of the lord,
what can you cover and conceal?
Krishna snatches the bundle from him, opens it and greedily eats the beaten rice, as though it was the sweetest thing he has ever eaten. Unknown to Sudama, he is feeding the entire universe, the whole earth and heaven are being satiated. Krishna eats one handful and then another and as he grabs a third handful, Rukmini holds his hand and stops him. No more, she says; if you eat another handful, it will be more blessings than he can bear, she signals to him. She knows, she is Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity. And Krishna stops.
Sudama stays with Krishna for two full days but he forgets to ask Krishna what he had come for, what his wife had sent him to Krishna for. He goes back bathed in bliss, constant tears of ecstasy running down from his eyes. And he is puzzled when he reaches his home – or what was his home before he left, the small hovel. In its place stands a golden palace, and out comes running a woman he hardly recognized, younger and more beautiful, dressed in the richest clothes and ornaments, followed by his children, all smiling and shining in their new clothes.
That is Krishna’s friendship.
Friendship with Krishna elevates you to heavenly heights. Exactly as friendship with the wicked drags you down to the depths of hell.
Arjuna rises to the heights of heaven through friendship with Krishna. And Karna falls again and again through friendship with Duryodhana.
I have always loved Krishna.
One of the most beautiful experiences of my life is my daughter Anagha as a baby suddenly bursting out in tears as we were crossing the Yamuna by train on our way back from Rishikesh. She was two and half years old then, her mother and I had taken her to Rishikesh to keep a promise I had made to Mother Ganga before she was born. I asked her why she was crying and she told me, because she couldn’t see Radha and Krishna on the banks of the Yamuna.
Being able to shed tears because you miss Krishna speaks of his grace.
That is Krishna. That is Krishna’s blessings.
Love for Krishna is pure bliss.
All of us may not be able to love Krishna with all our heart, but one thing we can all do is live by dharma and fight for dharma – waging dharmyam samgramam – as Krishna did all his life, as Arjuna eventually learns to do.
There are endless opportunities to fight for dharma all around us all the time.
The recent Tamil movie Aramm with Jyothika in the lead role shows her as a District Collector who fights for the rights of the downtrodden masses against all kinds of odds, including political and media corruption. Of course the Jyothika character is in a position of power, but you do not have to be in a position of power to fight for dharma. Each one of us can in his or her own way, wherever we are.
Power comes from fighting for dharma.
Remember when Mahatma Gandhi began his fight against the mightiest empire in the history of the world, he was not a man of power. The fight made him the mightiest man on earth. Abraham Lincoln who fought against black slavery in America was a cobbler’s son, and his fight made him the mightiest man on earth in his days.
Fighting for dharma is everybody’s duty. It is the best prayer you can offer Krishna who fought for dharma all his life.
Trust in Krishna. Have complete faith in him. And strength comes from him, power comes from him. Such strength and power you hadn’t imagined existed in you.
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