I have grown up hearing the story, watching movies and TV shows, based on the great Indian epic The Mahabharata. For years it has remained just a story of war between good and evil, and right and wrong within me. My true journey and exploration began when I attended the course on the Bhagavad Gita with Ravi Ravindra at the Ecumenical Centre in Bangalore a few years ago.
It is clear to me now that good and evil are cultural constructs which are relative to the context and perspective from which any act is viewed; that both are parts of me, and that no spiritual practice is possible unless I can see the two in me – my divine nature and my demonic nature.
Even today I feel I need to read the Gita many times over before I can say that I have fully understood its teaching. Having said that, I have begun to see that both the story of the great battle and the teaching of Krishna to encourage Arjun to face his family in battle, is metaphorically urging every serious searcher to walk the path of Truth through self-discovery and self-study… Koham?… Who or What am I?
It is my journey within, exploring my true nature and facing both my divine and demonic sides. The Great Battle is an allegory of the various levels of our being, of our two natures, and of the battle between the 1000 MEs that co-exist within. The value of the teaching is to observe and non-judgmentally accept all the MEs while seeing and understanding their nature, their role and their impact on my mind, body and emotional complex.
By bringing my attention to each ME and its hold on me, I am able to reduce its stranglehold. Like thick hides that cover the real I, one is able to peel away layers and levels of ME that operate with ignorance, lack of attention and lack of awareness, holding me back from discovering my true reality.
The battle is less about good versus evil, and more about the yoga to face the many MEs within me so that one can move towards the higher I. In doing so all action that will emanate from this I will also be the right action.
Earlier I had believed that the effort on the part of the searcher was to expel and get rid of one’s shadow side but I realize now that to be free from one’s shadow one needs to acknowledge it, be aware and conscious of it, watch it non- judgmentally and even embrace it knowing this to be the human condition. This is the only path for any true transformation or change to occur. For only when one is in the light of true understanding can one see one’s shadow clearly. If I am steeped in the darkness of my ignorance, I cannot see my shadow selves.
When I observe my ‘self’ I can see many of the key characters in the Mahabharata echoing across the various MEs within me.
Dhritarashtra, the blind king, typifies the usual me before I began my spiritual journey to explore what I am. Before I responded to the call, I was unaware and blind to the two in me. Blindness also typifies the tendency of the searcher to rely on a second-hand experience of the Truth rather than personally verifying and exploring it for oneself on a regular and daily basis. What of the teachings must I verify and experience first-hand to know that they are of immense value and true?
Gandhari, Dhritarashtra’s wife, who blindfolds herself to share her spouse’s blindness is also that part of me that is conflict-averse and not willing to be a true mirror to myself when the exploration is revealing a truth about me that is unpalatable or difficult to face. It is easier to justify one’s need to be blind so that the inner conflict is less.
Bhishma, the great sire who renounces his kingdom and his right to marry and have progeny so that his father can marry, is the ME within me that can be selfless and ascetic. However, if this preoccupation with the call takes me away from my role and responsibility to my world, family and other beings, then the same act, in my view, become selfish and self-centred. The aim is not to reject the world but to live one’s daily life with awareness and attention.
Duryodhana is the powerful side of my usual self, the strength of never-ending desires, the ME that makes me do things that I know are not beneficial for me. Often, I know something is wrong, but I still wish to do it for it feeds something in me that belongs to the lower self. This me is the one that I have a regular tussle with, in my daily life. How does one vanquish desire that is a source of, and feeds the lower emotions of power, arrogance, anger, desire, pettiness, self-pity, vengefulness etc.?
Agni is the force of aspiration, my wish to connect with the higher I in me. The force that has propelled me on the spiritual path.
Kunti is the shadow side of motherhood who abandons Karna (her first born son from Surya, the Sun God) and then robs him of his protective ‘kavach’ (armour) to protect her other five sons in the war. Kunti represents the compromise we often make because of what we believe is the love that we have for our children. It is tainted by our own needs and wishes. It is not objective when it is being led astray by incorrect behaviour.
Shakuni is the power of the cunning cheat in me that operates with stealth and slyness teaching me how to be expedient in life, how to walk the easy path, and how to avoid real work and real self-study.
Yudhishtir represents the conscience in me but also signifies that it can be compromised whenever I deviate from the Truth and being the right actor. It is the conscience that understands what is needed to be the right actor but can be compromised by a white lie.
Bhima represents the force of my spiritual effort to vanquish or at least face the 1000 MEs within me. He is the slayer of the Kauravas, the demonic forces within oneself.
Arjun is the spiritual searcher within me. He dithers and refuses to fight as I did when I needed to start the journey of self-discovery. All my skill and knowledge came to naught in the face of this task. It needed a preceptor to ignite and guide me on this journey, and reveal the path and how to walk it.
Krishna is my higher self who resides within me and who I meet occasionally as either the beloved who suffuses my body and soul with love, compassion, kindness; or the inner guide who shows me the path of generosity, gratitude, non-judgmental behaviour, and evokes in me the wonder and awe of being connected with him.
He is also the innocent, loving playful child within me that finds joy in just being me and not being coloured by gloom, depression, and hopelessness.
This in my view is the first level of the value of this incredible text. As I delve deeper and repeatedly, I wish to uncover more mysteries and truths that act as guides on this journey.