Saturday, December 29, 2012

the good and the bad

Verse 1.7: But for your information, O best of the brāhmaṇas, let me tell you about the captains who are especially qualified to lead my military force.

I find Duryodhana, the speaker of this verse, to be such a fascinating character. The eldest of one hundred brothers called the Kauravas, he is the reason why the battle took place

Why am I fascinated? Because he represents a part of each of us. In me, he is representative of my ego, the part that doesn't want to take good council and always feels it is right and can never be wrong.

That being said, like all of us, Duryodhana also has some good qualities. How can someone who is the cause of so much negativity, evil and pain have good qualities? Shocked? Well, so was I the day I realized that not everything is black and white in life.

I'll just name one example, but a powerful one which demonstrates Duryodhana has some good in him. It touches on one of my other favourite characters of the Mahabharata. He is the perfect example of a fallen hero and his name was Karna. Karna (whose other name was Radheya) was actually the eldest brother of the Pandavas.

Kunti, the mother of the Pandavas, was just a girl at the time. In serving a great sage she received a benediction that she could invoke any demigod she wanted by reciting a sacred mantra. Young and naive, she one day invoked the sun god, Surya. Imagine her surprise when he appeared! Confirming that the mantra indeed worked, she assumed that he would leave. What she didn't realize was the true purpose of the mantra which was to be blessed by a son from that demigod. Unmarried and not knowing what to do, Kunti with great remorse put the baby, Karna, in a basket and set it afloat on a river.

Years later at a tournament the Pandavas and Kauravas were showcasing their military skills. At that tournament this boy, now named Radheya, came and displayed his skills. He had been adopted by a charioteer and his wife whose name was Radha. Just as the nature of fire is to burn, similarly Radheya's nature of a warrior was displayed. He was incredible, even better than Arjuna, and at one point in time Radheya challenged Arjuna. At that time Kunti was in the crowd watching and she fainted at the thought of her sons fighting one another.

Before Arjuna could take up the challenge, Radheya was asked to provide information from where he came from and his parentage. When it was revealed that he was the son of a worker and not warrior, he was asked to leave. It was not appropriate for two persons to fight who were not of the same background. At that time Duryodhana, recognizing greatness, immediately crowned Radheya the king of a small land called Anga. That one incident inspired such loyalty in Karna that despite knowing that Duryodhana acted unscrupulously on many occasions, never left his side.

In this verse we see the leadership ability of Duryodhana. He is expertly boosting the morale of his army by exalting the virtues of the great warriors on his side.

Why do I bring this up? Because it serves as a lesson for all of us to realize that in everything there is some good. It is not an excuse to turn a blind eye to all the negative aspects that may be present in a person or situation but by being able to see beyond that, we can get a better perspective on how we can act from a personal level. Instead of reacting, we can act with intelligence.

The fact that Duryodhana was about to cause so much catastrophe didn't stop the Pandavas from recognizing that he was a great warrior. Just the same way, we should not be oblivious to the good that may be there in an overwhelmingly amount of bad. By recognizing both, only then can we properly practice bhakti.

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