Did Karna have to choose the side of evil due to his past karma?
Transcription by– Keshavgopal Das & Ambuj Gupta
Question: Did Karna never get any chance to improve his prospects? Was it because of his past karma that he has to choose the side of vice?
Answer: Actually our past karma determines our positions. It never determines our decisions. Our past karma determines our positions – where we will be – it doesn’t determine our decisions. Where we will go that is that is up to us. Now Karna was a demon in his previous life namely Sahastrakavacha. He had thousands kavachas. It’s a long story but nine hundred ninety nine kavachas were destroyed by Nar Narayan Rishi. Then he took shelter of Surya. When Kunti chanted the mantra for invoking the gods and she called Surya. Surya came and then Surya gave Karna son to Kunti. Because he had break the law of terror as a demon in his previous life, the result of that bad karma which he had done was that he was born in a Kshatriya family but he did not get Kshatriya honour. People say there is some injustice from this life perspective but then it was because of his past life karma and even then we see that from this life perspective he had an advantage which the Pandavas also did not have. What was that? He had a kavacha. The Pandavas were also born from the gods but they did not have the kavacha like that. So you could say that he had some advantage.
Yes, in the marshal exhibition when Duryodhana offered him support, offered him kingdom and he accepted it. He said that he was grateful for that and I will forever be your friend. In that situation if somebody has done good to us and to be grateful to that person and wanted to do something good for that person in return that is natural and that is desirable. Krishna tells Karna that your error is – misdirected loyalty. For example, in Pakistan and Afghanistan, there are many poor muslim children. They have very dim prospects for life but now these terrorists come and tell them you also become a terrorist. Then at that time when they are starving and dying if somebody says I will give you food clothing and shelter and you do as I say. They may accept and they will be grateful. But later on they find out that ok, these people what are they doing? They are just killing thousands of people. Just because somebody helped you once that doesn’t mean that one has to do whatever that person wants throughout one’s life. Karna he could have helped Duryodhana. He should have helped Duryodhana in return but he did not have to commit his life and especially when the cause was so clear.
Just before the war started Krishna came as shantidoot. Krishna tried every possible way to avoid the war. He first, as a shantidoot spoke to Dhritrashtra. Dhritrashtra said I have no desire for war but please speak to Duryodhana. Duryodhana did not listen then next day early morning before departing, Krishna told Karna that I will talk to you. Krishna told Karna that you are the son of Kunti. You are the eldest Pandava. Actually he already knew it because Kunti had already told him, you are meant to be the king of Pandavas. If you stay on side of Duryodhana you will die because they are vicious and they are going to die. Karna said, yes I also had a dream and I know the Pandavas are going to win and the Kaurvas are going to die. But he said Duryodhana helped me in my time of need. How can I abandon him when he needs me. I will fight on his side.
He thought when I gave my word of honor that I will be your friend lifelong then how can I give up my word. Actually Karna had to choose between the word of honor and life of honor. His mistake was that he considered the word of honor to be ultimate. I have given my word and I must keep it. Yes, it’s good to keep our word but then in what situations. If somebody takes a promise from us and then the whole ground reality changes, then one has to review his position accordingly.
See one of the most important lessons of Mahabharata is that morality is not categorical. It is contextual. Morality is not categorical means it is not that in all situations this is right and in all situations this is wrong. No, what is right and wrong will vary depend on time, place and circumstance. There are some rioters about to kill an innocent person and that innocent person take shelter in our house. If I have taken a vow that I will speak truth all the time, and the rioters come to my house and ask, is he here? Should I speak the truth at that time? The truth will cause great violence. The truth will be untruth at that time. Therefore morality is not categorical.
The mistake of Karna was he thought morality is categorical. I have given my word and I must keep it. Krishna offered most accommodating terms to Karna also that you will become the king. What was his desire? Karna’s desire was that I be acknowledged as a kshatriya and I be given the respect of a kshatriya. So Krishna offered to fulfill that desire in the best possible way but what he thought was that I will be doing defection. Defection means going towards the enemy side. But what Krishna was offering him was not a chance of defection but a chance of redemption. Redemption means come back to the right side after being on the wrong side. So he unfortunately did not took advantage. We see that time and time again those who are on the side of evil, the Mahabharata shows that Krishna and Pandavas offered them chances to right themselves but they never accept that chance. Thank you.