Monday, May 18, 2015

The Mahabharata (and me, part one)


I decided to embark on the ‘adventure’ of getting acquainted with this legendary text, The Mahabharata, for two main reasons, one, because I have read the Bhagavad Gita (the ‘Song of the Lord’, one of the chapters in the Mahabharata) and found it to be one of the most beautiful books I have ever read, and two, because I spend a lot of time in India so I wanted to understand the people and their culture better. What better way than to read their most treasured book? In fact, it was this latter reason that gave me the final ‘push’ to buy this book. 
I was in for a surprise, a very pleasant surprise indeed.
At first, I was immediately struck by the beauty of the words themselves. The stories told can be described with a myriad of words: moving, fascinating, poignant, amusing, appalling, frightening, uplifting, shocking, devastating…everything..it’s all in here. My first thoughts were, ‘oh so now I know why the Indians think like this, or they behave like that…interesting…intriguing…’ And then, the more I listened to this great epic, the deeper it took me. These are not just mere stories relating to one group of people, these stories relate to everyone. I began to realise that everything and every character, human, animal, plant, half-human/half-demon, all demon, those of this world or another, were all allegories. Allegories of what goes on in the mind. And the metaphors! Every story is full to the brim of metaphors expressing all possible emotions. The allegories and metaphors weave through the complex net that is life. Example: it seems to me that the forest the five Pandav brothers and their wife Draupadi are exiled to, is not just a forest. It is a metaphor for the mind and everything the mind must go through to purify itself. The fact that they are five brothers is not simply for the enrichment of the tales, my understanding is that they represent our five senses of perception and action, and, of course, they could only have one wife amongst them because she is Prakriti Herself, the one through which the five senses are activated. So, if these allegories and metaphors reveal the deepest archetypes of the mind, then they represent my own mind. 
I had an ‘epiphany moment’. Every tale is an allegorical narrative of my own life, of my own thoughts and emotions. Through these tales, every aspect of a human being is revealed. 
This is no ordinary book full of tales.

It seems to me that if one is to really understand what Veda Vyāsa (he to whom the compiling of the Mahabharata is attributed) is telling and get the most benefit from these tales, one cannot choose one single character with whom to relate, as one does when reading a book or watching a movie, i.e., we tend to relate to the character that most appeals to us in that particular, limited time in our life, hence transforming him or her into our own personal alter-ego. Therefore, each and every character of the Mahabharata represents a part of me, in this life or in a past life, even the ugliest, most despicable ones. One cannot side with the character that is most convenient to the ego. This book explains how to look at oneself at a 360 degree angle, inside and out, and it so beautifully portrays how to see others in the same way; as whole and not fragmented beings. 
If there is any one book about the true meaning of karma and dharma, it is this one. This one explains it all.
By the time the Bhagavad Gita arrives in the Mahabharata, it uplifts you to the highest level. It takes you from the darkest depths of the underground to the highest realm above the clouds and holds you there in a state of almost breathless ecstasy. No title could be more perfect for this chapter than the Bhagavad Gita, ‘The Song of the Lord’. 
I don’t know if it was placed in the Mahabharata at a later time or if Vyasa included it there from the beginning, but I think that there could be no better place for the Bhagawad Gita than exactly where it is, in the middle of a battleground, at an ever-so-perfect time in the grand epic. 
I could never have truly appreciated or understood the meaning of the Bhagavad Gita without knowing the Mahabharata.
I’m going to listen to it again….and again…..and again….

If you have read this epic, please let me know what your thoughts are on the subject.